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Suicide Note of WePhone Founder Su Xiangmao (Translation)

Manya Koetse

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Full translation of the suicide note left on Chinese social media by Su Xiangmao, founder of the WePhone app, on September 7:

 

See full story here

 

“I am the founder of the WePhone app, and today I have to go. The app cannot continue, and I am sorry about that. I would have never expected things to turn out this way. It was my extremely vicious ex-wife Zhai Xinxin who killed me in the end.

I met her on Jiayuan [a Chinese marriage/dating site, MK] and already spent thousands of dollars on her before we even married. It wasn’t until the day before tying the knot that she told me she’d actually been married for a short time some years ago (that guy also ended up paying her 200,000 yuan [±$30,700]).

I accepted it. I did not cheat during the month we were married, there was no violence, but I lost my love for her. The main reason for that was the fact she liked to make up lies about things, which left me with this horrible feeling. She wasn’t the same woman I’d brought to my home town, I realized how hateful she actually was. We both raised the topic of divorce together.

While we were preparing the divorce papers, she often brought people to my house to harass me, or she made them call me. That vicious woman eventually used 2 points to blackmail me:

1. That I personally was guilty of tax evasion and that she would report me for that.

2. That the WePhone app online call-function was a ‘gray business,’ and that she would use her uncle Liu Kejian (who is a big government official according to her) to take my app offline and make sure I’d lose a fortune in fines.

She went as far as to demand 10.000.000 RMB [±1.5 million US$] from me as well as my house in Sanya. She also asked some low-life gangster lawyers to intimidate me.

I admit I was a coward, and hid in the bar for a few days. I became so mentally and physically exhausted that I finally signed those evil divorce papers in a very muddled and mixed-up state of mind.

Just thinking of this now shames me like nothing else, this divorce agreement now hounds me to death. Each and every word in this agreement was carefully placed there. The main point is, that she clearly prepared to report me anyway after paying her this money, so she added a sentence ‘the debt on the man’s side has nothing to do with the woman.’

I feel so desperate.

All my funds are gone, I am really desperate.

I didn’t ask my family for help in time. And now it is too late to regret it. They are fantastic people and would come from my hometown to support me at any time, but I was fighting this battle by myself in Beijing. It led to me making a series of foolish decisions.

Zhai Xinxin: [adds phonenumer, left out here], [mobile phone number], [address].”

我是WePhone 的开发者,今天我就要走了,App以后无法运营了,抱歉。我从来没想过我是这样的结局,我竟然被我极其歹毒的前妻翟欣欣给逼死了。

我跟她在世纪佳缘认识,结婚前我已经在她身上花了几百万的钱,领证前一天她才告诉我几年前有段简短婚史(也是以告男方获利20万元结束)我也忍了,一个多月的婚姻期间也无出轨、暴力行为,但我失去了对她喜欢的感觉,关键她爱撒谎,极有心机,让我觉得有种恐怖的感觉,这点跟以前她到我老家时完全不一样,我现在才知道心机婊有多可恶。离婚是一起提出的,准备离婚时,她经常带人来我家骚扰我,或者电话骚扰,恶毒的她竟然用两点来要挟我:

1. 我个人有漏税行为 ,要举报我

2. WePhone有网络电话功能是灰色运营 ,各种暗示能利用她亲戚舅舅刘克俭(据她说是不小的公安局的官)的关系让我产品下架罚款、倾家荡产

她竟然索要1000万天价还有三亚的房子归她。还请了个素质极低的流氓律师各种恐吓我。

我承认自己当时太懦弱,在酒店里躲了几天后,身心俱疲,最后竟然无头无脑地签了那个万恶的离婚协议,现在想起来极其羞愤不已,就这个离婚协议把我逼死了,这个协议里每个字都精心设计,关键是,她明显准备在我付完全款后继续各种举报我,所以加了一句 “男方债务与女方无关”

我感到很绝望。

我资金链已经断裂,实在很绝望。

我没有及时跟我家人求助,现在后悔莫及。他们都那么棒,随时都能从老家过来支援我,我却在北京孤军奋战,作出一系列很傻的决定。

翟欣欣,37090….,手机 +86 152….,住址:北京市朝阳区……, 工作地点:北京房地…..。

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.


Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Insight

Critical Essay: “The Hype Surrounding Zibo BBQ is a Sign of Social Wasteland”

The essay suggests that the recent popularity of Zibo BBQ is a symptom of a society that’s all about consumerism and empty social spectacle.

Manya Koetse

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Fast, fun, BBQ travel is a major topic on Chinese social media these days. One WeChat essay recently attracted attention for arguing that the hype surrounding Zibo barbecue is a symptom of a “sick society” in which people are disconnected from meaningful topics. While serious social issues are muted and superficial marketing tricks are blasted all over the internet, China’s “hypocritical youth” actively participate in the societal emptiness they say they reject.

Everyone is talking about Zibo. The old industrial city in Shandong suddenly became the hottest city in China earlier this year when big groups of young people hopped on trains to seize the post-Covid travel opportunity and enjoy a BBQ-filled weekend.

As described in our previous article on Zibo, the town achieved hit status through a combination of factors: its appealing local barbecue culture, the city’s hospitality to students in difficult zero Covid times, the 2023 spring travel craze, smart city marketing, and the social media trends surrounding Zibo which further fueled the hype.

The Zibo BBQ craze. Image via 163.com.

Ever since April and throughout this Labor Day holiday, Zibo managed to crawl into Chinese social media’s top trending lists on a daily basis. And now Zibo has also become part of a bigger travel trend by Chinese younger generations that is all about fast, frugal fun (read here).

But despite all the videos showing BBQ parties, travel excitement, and smiling visitors, the Zibo hype is not all about roses, and there are also voices criticizing the craze.

One of these voices is that of the author of a recent article titled “The Hype Surrounding Zibo BBQ is a Sign of Social Wasteland” (“淄博烧烤走红是社会荒芜的表现”), which was posted by Chinese Professor of Journalism and Communication Liu Yadong (刘亚东).

Liu Yadong is a senior journalist and former editor-in-chief of Science and Technology Daily (科技日报). He is now a professor at Nankai University and the Dean of School of Journalism and Communication.

Although the article is attributed to Liu in most Weibo discussions, the article originally appeared on the WeChat account Jiuwenpinglun (旧闻评论), authored by ‘Picture-Taking Master Song’ (照相的宋师傅), pen name of prominent Chinese journalist Song Zhibiao (宋志标).

The article includes some hot takes on China’s recently hyped Zibo travel culture, which is strongly connected to social media governance and city marketing initiatives. The aurthor argues that the Zibo craze is a symbol of “societal illness” that uses temporary hypes, facilitated by social media, to cover up existing problems and, most of all, is a sign of a society that is devoid of true value.

It also criticizes those netizens/young people that jump in on the hype. Despite claiming to go against various top-down policies, they willingly and collectively are driving the hypes that are supposedly also part of dynamics that are strategically used by those in power to maintain influence.

Here, we provide a full translation of the short essay, translated by What’s on Weibo. Some parts are loosely translated or slightly edited for clarity, the Chinese original is included for your reference.

 
“The Hype Surrounding Zibo BBQ is a Sign of Social Wasteland” [TRANSLATION]
 

“Zibo barbecue has gone viral overnight, and with giant steps, we’re seeing a preposterous scene unfold: crowds of people are flocking to Zibo, long lines are forming in front of the BBQ stalls, the municipal government is making emergency preparations in various ways to facilitate “two-way travel” for young people coming to the city. This immersive scene is unfolding at the barbecue grills, while we are seeing Zibo’s ‘northeasternisation’ (东北化)* and the accelerated desolation of society. *[‘Dongbei-ization’ or ‘northeasterisation’ is a term used to refer to the phenomenon where people are leaving the northeastern provinces of China and moving to other provinces or regions which are then ‘northeasternized.’]

This desolation of society does not refer to a lack of people or empty streets. On the contrary, the contemporary social wasteland is crowded, grimy, and lively. The youth, in particular, are unconsciously marching in the same direction, and with fervor, they are chewing on Zibo BBQ ‘soul food’ as if they were devouring their own souls. In this existence, we are witnessing the demise of certain parts of themselves and our own.

Many people really want to explore the reasons why Zibo became such a hype, and they can list various factors, but they all stay at the instrumental level and do not go beyond it. This kind of result of up-and-down marketing of [China’s] cultural tourism industry is not so much because of collusion between local officials and traffic-generating mechanisms, as it is a random and hollow expression of society’s desolation. Society is sick, and the hyping of things like barbecue is just a symptom of that.”

淄博烧烤一夜走红,正在大踏步铺陈一副荒诞景象:成群结队的外地人蜂拥前往,烧烤摊前排满长队,市政府正在从各个方面应急建设,以奠基淄博与年轻人的“双向奔赴”。这是发生在烧烤架边上的沉浸式场景,淄博东北化,而社会加速荒芜化。

这里的社会荒芜并不是指人流量稀少,或街面荒凉,相反,现在的社会荒芜群集、油腻且热闹,尤其是年轻的躯壳无意识地追求整齐划一的动作,以饱满的热情,像吞噬自己灵魂一样咀嚼淄博烧烤的“灵魂三件套”。这样的存在,见证了自己和他人某些部分的死亡。

有人很想探究淄博烧烤走红的成因,罗列各种因素,但都停留在工具的层面,而没有往前更推进一步。这种文旅行业乍起乍落的营销成果,与其说是主政者与流量制造机制的合谋,莫若说是社会荒芜化随机的、空洞的表现。社会病了,烧烤等走红是它的症状。”

 

It’s especially the young people that are unconsciously moving in the same direction and, full of enthusiasm, they are chewing on Zibo BBQ ‘soul food’ as if they were devouring their own souls.”

 

Pulling stunts like turning barbecue into an online sensation and tourism bureau directors dressing up etc., help places to be covered by a huge filter, and it enables local authorities’ supervisory departments to shift their cultural and creative thinking to the short video era. One of the characteristics of the short video era is the shrewd operation that appears to conform to the lifestyle of the lower classes, grabbing their attention and using large-scale deception to cover up the rapid social barrenness of everyday life.

In this everyday life, a large number of more valuable topics are first decoupled from power, and then detached from the people closely related to them. In this process, these meaningful topics receive blows from two directions: firstly they are restrained and smeared by authorities, and then they are ridiculed and abandoned by the public. The erosion of our basis of values is similar to the process of desertification, and it is achieved through manipulation and conformation.

It seems that we can’t regard the people in this social wasteland purely as tools. They happily laugh in front of the barbecue stalls, they skillfully jumble up words and use special characters on social media to be influenced and influence others. For a moment, they forget about the ubiquitous risk of unemployment, and without a sense of history or awareness of problems, they fantasize about the next paradise.

The satirical thing is that while the young generation prides itself in ‘lying flat’ and in rejecting the policy lines [that encourage them] to have more kids, struggle, buy houses, etc, they vigorously participate in a movement to create a landscape of social desolation. The social wasteland provides them with a life kit where one thing after the next comes dashing up and then speeds away. This makes the wastage of the hypocritical youth especially evident, and because they are overly exploited, they are particularly ill.”

“烧烤网红、文旅局长便装等把戏,让一个地方罩上巨大的滤镜,帮助当局的主管部门从文创思维过渡到视频时代。短视频时代的特征之一,就是以名义上附和底层生活方式的精明操作,收割底层的注意力,以规模化的欺骗掩盖社会急速荒芜的日常。

在这种社会日常中,大量更有价值的议题先是与权力脱钩,再与和议题密切相关的人群脱钩。脱钩过程,价值议题遭到了两个方向的捶打:先是被权力遏制与污化,然后再受到民众的嘲笑与抛弃。价值基础的流失近似荒漠化进程,在操作与附和中达致。

似乎还不能将荒芜社会中人视作完全的工具人,他们在烧烤摊前发出快乐的笑声,他们娴熟地使用掺杂字母、异形字的话术在社交媒体上接承接灌输并灌输别人。一时间,他们忘了四面楚歌的失业风险,没有历史感与问题意识,却在畅想下一个乐园。

讽刺的是,年轻世代一边以躺平自诩,排斥多生、奋斗、买房等政策口径,另一边却精力旺盛地参与社会荒芜化的造景运动。社会荒芜提供了一个个飞奔而来又疾驰而去的生活套件,这让虚伪的年轻人损耗尤其明显,也因为被过度地利用,他们病得特别厉害。

 

“The people in this social wasteland aren’t just tools as they happily laugh in front of the barbecue stalls. For a moment, they forget about the risk of unemployment, and without a sense of history or awareness of problems, they fantasize about the next paradise.”

 

“The short video and click-through economy originated on the internet, and with the aid of the social wasteland, they have given birth to plastic flower-like gardens. The official attitude is very straightforward. On the one hand, they tame the flow of serious topics, directing and filtering their moral assessment; and on the other hand, they utilize it [the short video & click-through economy] to their advantage, harnessing the power of traffic to soften underlying anxieties.

Recently, cultural tourism chiefs in all parts of the country, according to the symbols of their local culture, competed with each other in [online] costume shows put together due to safe traffic flows.* These costume shows, realized for the sake of clicks, ended up straight in the social corner of topics such as the Zibo BBQ stalls – because there are no social topics to compete with, – and similarly resonated with spirit-lacking audiences. *[for more information on this trend, see our article about the cultural tourism chief video hype here.]

The “Zibo BBQ hype” and the trend of “cultural tourism chiefs costume” may appear as noteworthy accomplishments for cultural tourism bureaus, but the growth of such “light industry” is insufficient in addressing real issues, let alone the ongoing financial crisis affecting different regions. It is ineffectual in resolving the predicaments of economic development. While it is hailed in a desolate society, it may only serve as a temporary distraction, numbing the senses and blinding people from reality.

In the process of society becoming more desolate, the concept of “yān huǒ qì” (烟火气)* is almost destined to be emphasized, and it carries a feeling of nationalism and forlorn. Its visual effect is quite impressive, providing the illusion for both young and old in a desolate society, while dulling the strict street order enforced by the city police, giving people a feeling of intoxication. With the twinkling of the neon lights and the smoke filling up the air, the world can be anything.
*[Yān huǒ qì is a 2022 buzzword, initially means the smoke and fire produced from cooking food, but after ‘zero Covid,’ the phrase has come to be used to capture how restaurants and the hospitality sector across China seeing vitality again.]

Not long ago, ‘yān huǒ qì’ was a rhetoric to decorate the facade of the controlled economy, but now its existence has become like a common understanding between the government and the people. This rhetorical resonance, recited from above and echoed from below, has unexpectedly masked the perspective the term ‘yān huǒ qì’ represents, [namely that of] those in power overseeing it.”

“短视频及流量经济是局域网的原创,它们借助社会荒芜衍生出塑料花一样的花园。官方的取态非常干脆,它一方面驯化严肃议题的流量呈现,引导阻击它的道德评价;另一方面,它又滥用“为我所用”的原则攫取流量利益,以柔化深层次的焦虑。

前段时间,各地文旅局长按照当地的标志性文化,竞相登上由到安全流量组装而成的变装秀场。这些冲着流量变现而去的变装秀,因为没有与之竞的争社会议题,它们长驱直入到类似“淄博烧烤摊”的社会角落,与精神贫乏的受众同频共振。

“淄博烧烤走红”,“文旅局长变装”也许可作为文旅局的业绩,但这种“轻工业”的繁荣无法求解真问题,丝毫不减席卷各地的财政危机,更无助于解决经济发展的困境。当然,它们在荒芜社会空间搞出几声官民合唱,兴许可以暂时麻醉神经,遮断望眼。

在社会荒芜化的进程中,“烟火气”这个词得以强调几乎是命中注定,带着某种民族性与悲凉感。它的视觉效果相当可观,为荒芜社会提供了老少皆宜的幻觉,同时钝化了城管严控的街头秩序,令人们获得醉酒般的感受,假如霓虹闪烁,缭绕烟雾,亦可人间万象。

在不久之前,“烟火气”还是装点管控经济门面的修辞,现如今成为官民共识一样的存在。这种上有念叨、下有回声的修辞共鸣,出人意料地掩盖了“烟火气”这个词所象征的权力俯瞰视角,社会的荒芜化不仅蚕食价值议题,也以不知畏惧的憨态吞噬阶级差异。

 

“Have you considered that the desolation of society does not necessarily make it safer? In fact, it may just be another extreme form of a risky society. It is only ignored because the script of click-through traffic plays around the clock.”

 

“Similar to the intensity of a desert storm, the attention span of a desolate society is also brief, and the pace of the attention economy is fast. In a desolate society, the density of life for its members is low, and they can bear with or ignore their quality of life, but they cannot endure a short-lived infatuation. As the Zibo barbecue hype gained momentum, the countdown to the conclusion of the Ding Zhen craze* had already commenced. *[read about the hype surrounding Ding Zhen here.]

Some people believe that eliminating social diversity will also eliminate certain unpopular hidden dangers. However, have you considered that the desolation of society does not necessarily make it safer? In fact, it may just be another extreme form of a risky society that is ignored because the script of click-through traffic keeps playing around the clock. While you can control the click-through traffic, the logic of a decaying society remains uncontrollable.

Ultimately, the Zibo barbecue hype is very boring. It offers little solace to the government’s concerns about development or the public’s pressures for survival, unless we define a drunken and reckless lifestyle as positive. While we cannot fully blame the click-through economy for the desolation of society, it does contribute to numbing society’s awareness of how it operates, and the warning signs of a hollow society are all around us”.

“就像沙漠上的风暴特别强,荒芜社会的注意力也相当有限,注意力经济快速来也会快速去,毕竟荒芜意味着社会成员的生活密度低,他们可以容忍或漠视生活质量,但无法容忍略微时长的钟情。就在淄博烧烤走红的同时,始乱终弃的丁真式命结局就开始倒计时。

有人以为,消除了社会的多元化,就可以消除某些不受待见的隐患。何曾想,社会的荒芜化并不与安全社会划等号,它是风险社会的极端形式之一,只因日夜不停上演的流量剧本被忽视了。流量或许可以驯服,但社会荒芜化却沿着它的逻辑如脱缰之马。

说到底,淄博烧烤走红是非常无聊的事,它既不能真正安慰官方的发展焦虑,也无法减轻大众的生存压力,除非醉生梦死也被定义为积极的生活方式。当然,流量无法为社会的荒芜化负上全部责任,但它在合谋中钝化社会敏感度也是事实,荒芜将警讯紧紧包裹。”

 
Online Responses
 

The short essay is a critique of China’s youth, the online media sphere, and the click culture that goes from one hype to the next. But it is also a serious critique of Chinese authorities and the dynamics in place to mute serious social issues while blasting superficial trends.

The author suggests that everything is becoming less diverse (places like Zibo are ‘northeasternized’) and that society is actually so empty that people are constantly trying to fill the holes of their attention with the next meaningless buzz. Besides Zibo BBQ (link), he also mentions the Cultural Tourism chief cosplay trend (link), and the sudden rise to fame of Ding Zhen (link).

With Zibo and other domestic travel destinations being such a hot topic on Chinese social media recently, Liu’s critical essay – published on WeChat account Jiuwen Pinglun 旧闻评论 on April 17 – has inevitably become a topic of discussion.

By now, the essay has been deleted from Weixin, but online screenshots are still circulating online and have triggered new discussions this Labor Day holiday week (this link and this ifeng link are also still active). Various Weibo threads on the essay received hundreds of likes and comments over the past two days.

Some bloggers on Weibo value Liu’s perspective. As one blogger (@校长梁山) writes: “This is a thoughtful and high-quality article that you rarely come across (..) I have no intention of criticizing the government, but in terms of social management, the views in this article are worth thinking about.”

“Actually, he is right,” another commenter writes: “What he’s expressing is that the current economic downfall cannot be solved by the next barbecue hype, but this is something the media is burying” (the idiom used is yǎn ěr dào líng 掩耳盗铃, meaning covering one’s ears while stealing a bell, burying one’s head in the sand).” Those agreeing with the author suggest that Zibo’s success might be a win for its local cultural tourism department, but actually says nothing about a recovery of other industries and economy at large.

But there are also those who think Liu’s perspective is outdated and that, while talking about a lack of meaning, his own words are actually meaningless: “I have no idea what he is talking about.”

Zibo crowds, image via 163.com.

Some say he is making a big fuss over nothing, suggesting that it is only normal for people to want to seek for entertainment and simple pleasures like eating BBQ skwers, and that it does not represent a bigger problem at all. He is “moaning over an imaginary illness,” one Weibo user wrote (“wú bìng shēn yín” 无病呻吟).

Content deleted on WeChat.

Although not everyone agrees with Liu’s takes, many do agree that it gives food for thought. However, the deletion of the essay itself and the removal of some related online comment threads also prevents further discussions on the topic, which ironically exemplifies one of the issues that the author aimed to address in his essay.

By Manya Koetse

Edited May 19, 2023: An earlier version of this article suggested Liu Yadong (刘亚东) is the original author of the critical essay. Although the article is attributed to Liu on Chinese social media, Liu reposted it and had his own bio under the article, but the original (censored) article is authored by Song Zhibao (宋志标).

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China Memes & Viral

The Dissertation Acknowledgement That Went Viral on Chinese Social Media

“I knew I would always remember the sacrifice my brother made for me. But looking back, it was just the first of many sacrifices my brother would make.”

Manya Koetse

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A ‘thank you’ section in a PhD thesis has gone viral on Chinese social media these days, moving many netizens to tears.

The dissertation acknowledgments by Southeast University PhD student Zhong Jitao (仲济涛) started circulating on Weibo and beyond. The thank-you section was written by the Civil Engineering PhD candidate Zhong Jitao (仲济涛), who is now an associate professor at the Shandong University of Science and Technology. It was published in People’s Daily ‘Nightly Reading’ column before it went viral.

By now, the hashtag dedicated to the dissertation acknowledgment has been viewed over 170 million times on Weibo (#这篇博士论文致谢刷屏了#).

This is a translation of the acknowledgment (translation by What’s on Weibo*):

 

————————————————

1. Studying By Heart

“My hometown is a small rural village in the east of the Shandong Peninsula. When I was young, the village saw its first PhD graduate. In the depths of my carefree childhood memories, that was one of the few intense spiritual shocks.

When I attended my second year of high school, my dad fell ill and I experienced a sudden increase in stress. By the time I was a third-year student, I started to withdraw and I didn’t feel like going to university anymore. Later I couldn’t stand to see the disappointed expressions on my family’s face and I reluctantly entered an undergraduate program. I thought I would start working as soon as I graduated from college.

Later, my dad’s condition gradually improved, and I continued my studies as a graduate student. I thought I would stop studying as soon as I’d finish graduate school, and that I would hurry to find a job to share some of the burdens with my older brother. Eventually, I still continued my studies as a PhD student. If I look back on this curious turn of events, I feel guilty about my own selfishness and callousness. Step by step up to today, if the external factor was the relentless support of my parents and brother, behind their silence, then the internal factor perhaps was that one moment of spiritual shock.

2. My Brother as Father

The grass can’t repay the kindness of the warm sun. There are not enough words to thank my parents. Besides them, I’d like to express my thanks to my brother, who is seven years older than me. Perhaps it’s because he is so many years older than me that I’ve always felt that my older brother is somewhat like a father to me.

In the third year of elementary school, my brother faced the choice of getting into senior high school or getting into a vocational secondary school. If he’d go to senior high school, he would be able to get into university, but it would take several years of studying and several years of paying tuition fees. If he’d go to vocational school, there would be less tuition fees and he could start working earlier. It would also mean he’d miss out on the chance of getting into university. Based on my brother’s grades at the time, he could’ve picked either. But to alleviate the financial burden on our family, and mostly for the future studies of me as his little brother, my big brother, without hesitation, went to vocational school at the cost of his own future.

I felt that I would always remember the sacrifice my brother made for me at this time. But looking back on how life unfolded afterward, it was just the beginning of the many sacrifices my brother would make.

Because in the second year of high school, dad fell ill, and my brother, who had just started working, took on all the burden. I didn’t see my brother tossing and turning in bed during all of the sleepless nights, I didn’t see my brother take our dad to all the big and small hospitals in the province and in the city, I just saw my brother’s eyes sinking deeper every day, I saw how he was skin and bones, how his face was as pale as paper, how his hair was disheveled and ash-colored.

And while all of this was happening, I was studying in a warm and quiet classroom, because my brother had assumed all responsibilities.

3. The Lake and Sea Come Together

If I say that besides my dad, my brother is the number one guardian angel in my life, I must also acknowledge my wife and my former classmates.

As I prepared to do my PhD in Nanjing, my then-girlfriend, now wife, just completed her master’s degree. She had to make a choice. Going back to her hometown would mean going to a different place, coming to Nanjing would mean leaving her home. While the situation had me ruminating, my wife’s ticket to Nanjing dispelled all of my worries. We got married during the first year of my PhD. My wife worked every day, I studied every day. The faculty, the dining hall, and the home were our three frontline places. Every weekend, if we weren’t busy, we would go out strolling. If I was busy with studying, my wife would keep me company at the faculty, while also pretending to be a PhD student.

Living in a place far away from home, you’ll always run into people and situations that will upset you, and sometimes you have to deal with a sense of dispiritedness and disappointment. But all the grievances, frustrations, and depressions were dissolved by my wife’s comfort.

Ever since I met my wife, I found my ultimate trust and my home in her. She gave me inner strength, but also helped me grow a sense of responsibility.

4. Don’t Forget the Original Intention

Someone said, even if you can’t change the world, you also cannot let the world change the innocent you. This is perhaps my most lucky point – although time brings great changes and is unpredictable, and I have long ceased to be innocent, I am still me, still with a grateful heart.

Recently, on my train back to school, I was chatting with my brother on WeChat about our concerns regarding dad’s health. My brother replied to me saying: we are the ones to continue our parents’ lives and spirits. The best thing we can do to repay them is to live well and to keep on going. While reading that sentence on a train filled with snoring sounds at 2AM in the morning, tears started streaming down my face. I know my brother wanted to comfort me, and he also wanted to guide me in life. What I can do is definitely not let down those who love me and have placed their hopes in me, yes, I won’t disappoint them.

Time is like electricity, it slips through our fingers like sand. From starting my PhD to defending my dissertation, like a goose’s footprint in the snow – it’s already a part of my past. It’s useless to dwell on past mistakes, but we can still change the future.

In the end, I rarely drink but I will raise my glass; one to honor my parents and the bitter hardships they faced; one to my brother’s iron shoulder; and one to my wife and her steadfast loyalty and unfailing companionship.”

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Many people on social media comment how moved they are by Zhong’s words, and some share their own experiences.

“I’m also a PhD from Shandong Peninsula,” one commenter (@xiaolei雨田) writes: “While I was studying for my PhD, my mum passed away. I always felt guilty towards my parents, and like the author, I felt that studying for my doctorate was selfish, like I was only pursuing my own goals while the people who had silently supported me were passing away. After graduation, I was determined to go back to my hometown to help and take care of the family, making up for those years of regret.”

“This acknowledgment is heartfelt and resonates with so many people,” others write.

There are also those who, while praising Zhong Jitao’s dedication, also worry about the future prospects of other PhD candidates in China who come from impoverished families who have to sacrifice so much for one degree that might not even guarantee a well-paid job in China’s current-day competitive job market.

“This really moved me,” another commenter says: “It’s not easy to complete your PhD, and there’s always people who have your back and support you. When you feel like giving up, it’s their support that keeps you going.”

If you liked this story, you might also like “I Am Fan Yusu” (我是范雨素) (Full Translation) here.

By Manya Koetse

* Please note that this is a translation by What’s on Weibo, not all parts of the text are literal translations and that some sentences have been loosely translated.

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