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Where is Tang Lanlan? Chinese Netizens and Media Clash over Decade-Old Sexual Abuse Case

Ten years after it happened, a sexual abuse case involving a 14-year-old rural girl has ignited a huge debate.

Boyu Xiao

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A photo of Tang (right) with her mother and sibling in 2006.

The story of a highly unusual criminal case from 2008, in which 11 villagers were sentenced to prison for the abuse of a 14-year-old girl named Tang Lanlan (alias), has caused an online war between netizens and Chinese media reporters. On Thursday night, the hashtag ‘Tang Lanlan Sexual Abuse Case’ had received 50 million views on Weibo.

The story of a decade-old abuse case is causing an uproar on Chinese social media since it was first reported by The Paper (澎湃新闻) and other Chinese media outlets in late January. Many netizens on Weibo are outraged, as they believe reporters of the story are biased and have harmed the privacy of Tang Lanlan, the alleged victim in the case.

The story that is at the center of this ‘online war’ between media and netizens starts in October of 2008, when a then 14-year-old girl named Tang Lanlan (汤兰兰, pseudonym) wrote a letter to the local police station in Longzhen town in Wudalianchi, Heilongjiang Province, declaring that she had been raped and sexually abused by her own father, grandfather, uncles, teachers, the rural director and neighbors since she was seven years old.

Photo of the letter written by Tang in 2008, pulished by various Chinese media outlets.

The letter was the beginning of a police investigation into the case, leading to the arrest and prosecution of more than a dozen people, Chinese online news outlet The Paper reported. Throughout the prosecution period, Tang’s teachers and custodian parents supported the young girl.

In 2008, 16 people from the town were arrested on sex assault charges against a minor. Four years later, 11 of these suspects were sentenced to prison for rape and forced prostitution. Amongst them were Tang’s parents, who were also found guilty of forced prostitution.

Various Chinese media outlets report that although all of the 11 suspects sought to appeal the judgment against them and denied all allegations, the court remained with its original verdict during a second trial that took place by the end of 2012.

At present, five of the 11 suspects have been released, including Wan Xiuling, Tang’s mother, who was released from prison in 2017 after serving a sentence of almost nine years. Wan and the others are now asking lawyers to appeal, Global Times reports, claiming the 14-year-old Tang had been instigated by others to fabricate the story.

However, the only one able to verify the alleged falsity of the whole case, Tang Lanlan herself, now 23 years old, has changed her name and has moved to another place.

 
“Where is Tang Lanlan?”
 

Although the case was already reported on January 19, it caught the attention of Chinese netizens when The Paper (澎湃新闻) published its article about the case on January 30, which was titled “Looking for Tang Lanlan” (“寻找汤兰兰”*).

The article, for which a reporter traveled to Longzhen with Tang’s mother to interview the relatives of the other convicts, caused so much uproar online that it has since been removed from the website.

Many netizens criticize The Paper and its journalists Wang Ruifeng and Wang Le for their alleged bias in reporting about the case, and for posting a photo with the article that – although blurred – showed details about Tang’s possible new address and identity. Reporters were allegedly able to get their hands on the document upon a visit to the local police station.

The photo of a document regarding Tang, which, according to netizens, reveals too much information. (Blurred by What’s on Weibo).

Some Weibo users especially blame reporter Wang Le (王乐) for the controversial reports and claim that because she is female and around the same age as Tang, she should protect the victim instead of choosing the suspect’s side.

Although reports by The Paper and other media, such as BJnews (新京报), emphasize the lack of evidence in the case – suggesting the 14-year-old Tang fabricated the story – many commenters on Weibo say that it is normal for authorities to not disclose any information about a minor in an abuse case to protect the privacy of the child.

Some angry netizens felt so wronged about the reports on the matter that they even came forward and posted personal details of The Paper‘s reporters on Weibo in an act of ‘revenge.’

The Paper, or Pengpai (澎湃) in Chinese, was launched in 2014 as a new online media outlet, backed by government funding, aimed at young, mobile-focused people.

 
“Keep a clear mind”
 

Since the online commotion over the case and its reports, authorities in Wudalianchi city issued a notice on Thursday that urged netizens to “keep a clear mind,” Chinese state media outlet Global Times reports, writing: “We urge netizens not to believe in some people who deliberately create confusion.”

Despite the notice, the hashtag “Tang Lanlan Sexual Abuse Case” (#汤兰兰性侵案#) was already viewed over 49.8 million times on Weibo by Thursday night, proving the case has caught the strong interest of Chinese netizens.

“The public security authorities change the name and identity of the child, and then it’s the media who start a ‘human flesh search’ and reveal her identity, who would have expected this,” some netizens write.

“F*ck this, why turn this into a public trial now instead of going through the official legal channels?” others write.

By now, Tang Lanlan’s story has also attracted the attention of some of Weibo’s ‘big V’s,’ online influencers with a major following, who have shared their sympathy for the young woman.

Micro-blogger @Yijinyexing (@衣锦夜行的燕公子), who has nearly 4 million fans on Weibo, pointed out that the private information about Tang, released by the media, reveals that she is studying for her Bachelor’s degree. Yijinyexing wrote: “That’s good. I hope you can go abroad after your studies and see the world. We never need to know who you are, or who you’ll be. You can live the life of an ordinary person, and you’ll be just fine.”

By Boyu Xiao and Manya Koetse

*Full title of the controversial article is “Looking for Tang Lanlan: Girl claims she is the victim of sexual assault by relatives and their friends, 11 people jailed for years, now she’s gone ‘missing'”《寻找汤兰兰:少女称遭亲友性侵,11人入狱多年其人“失联”》

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

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Boyu Xiao is an MPhil graduate in Asian Studies (Leiden University/Peking University) focused on modern China. She has a strong interest in feminist issues and specializes in the construction of memory in contemporary China.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Idol Survival Shows – The Start of a New ‘Idol Era’

Idol reality survival shows are riding a new wave of popularity in China.

Yin Lin Tan

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China has a vibrant online popular culture media environment, where new trends and genres come and go every single day. Chinese idol survival shows, however, have seen continued success and now seem to go through another major peak in popularity. What’s on Weibo’s Yin Lin explains.

On May 30, the finale of Chinese online video platform iQIYI’s Youth With You 2 (青春有你2) broke the Internet. Official videos on iQIYI’s Youtube channel garnered over 300 million views. At the time of writing, the hashtag “Youth With You 2 Finale” (#青春有你2总决赛#) has 3.15 billion views; the hashtag “Youth With You 2” (#青春有你2#) has 14.5 billion views. 

In recent years, China has produced a slew of so-called ‘idol survival shows.’ They have enjoyed much popularity among local audiences, as well as overseas—more than 393 hashtags related to Youth With You 2 trended in Asia, Europe, South America, and North America. In this overview, we explore the background, status quo, and future of China’s idol survival shows.

 

The Start of The ‘Idol Wave’ in China 

 

In China’s idol survival reality shows, so-called ‘trainees’, or aspiring idols, participate in a series of different challenges to compete for a chance to debut.

The ‘idol culture’ (偶像文化) has been dominating popular culture in Japan and South Korea for many years. An idol is, in short, a heavily commercialized multi-talented entertainer that is marketed – sometimes as a product – for image, attractiveness, and personality, either alone or with a group.

Especially K-pop and the Korean entertainment industry have since long been extremely popular among Chinese youth, heavily influencing pop culture in China today (more about Korean and Japanese idols here and here, and also read our article “Why Korean Idol Groups Got So Big in China and are Conquering the World“).

These kinds of shows are ubiquitous in South Korea’s popular culture, with Produce 101 (2016) becoming one of the most popular and successful South Korean reality series ever. 

The concept is simple. Every week, viewers vote for their favorite contestant. Trainees with insufficient votes during elimination rounds are eliminated from the competition. 

Nine Percent, the group formed from Idol Producer (Source).

The group formed from the final trainees then goes on to ‘promote’ for a period of time, usually one to two years.

This method of creating an idol group, in which the members are basically selected by their own fans, is a major way to bridge existing distances between fans and their idols. Fan participation is a key factor in the success of idol reality shows.

While China has had several idol survival shows, iQIYI’s Idol Producer (青春有你, 2018) was the first to reach levels of popularity similar to that of South Korea’s Produce 101

Idol Producer premiered in January 2018 with Zhang Yixing as the host and Li Ronghao, MC Jin, Cheng Xiao, Zhou Jieqiong, and Jackson Wang serving as mentors.

This first season of Idol Producer brought together a total of hundred trainees. Though most trainees were from China, there were a few from overseas, such as You Zhangjing from Malaysia and Huang Shuhao from Thailand. The younger brother of Chinese actress Fan Bingbing, Fan Chengcheng, also participated in the show.

The first episode of Idol Producer attracted more than 100 million views within the first hour of broadcasting. In the final episode, more than 180 million votes were cast, with first-place winner Cai Xukun raking in more than 47 million votes.  

Trainees performing on Produce 101 China (Source).

Two months after Idol Producer, Tencent launched Produce 101 China (创造101) in March 2018. Both shows marked the start of the ‘idol wave’ in China. 

In the next two years, more idol survival shows would dominate the Chinese entertainment scene. iQIYI released Youth With You 1 (青春有你) and Youth With You 2 (青春有你2) in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Tencent, too, released Produce Camp 2019 (创造营2019) and Produce Camp 2020 (创造营2020), the latter of which is currently airing. 

 

China’s New Idol Survival Show Era 

 

In 2018, both Produce 101 China and Idol Producer enjoyed overwhelming popularity, accumulating more than 4.73 billion views and 3 billion views respectively. Their sequels, however, have failed to achieve the same level of success.

At the time of writing, 150,000 viewers have completed Youth With You 1 on Chinese community site Douban, versus 470,000 viewers for its predecessor, Idol Producer. Additionally, the number of votes cast for the first episode of Youth With You 1 was much lower compared to its Idol Producer equivalent. 

The number of votes for the top 19 trainees on Idol Producer (left) versus Youth With You 1 (right) in the first episode (Source).

As for Produce 101 China, 510,000 viewers have completed the show on Douban, but only 340,000 viewers have finished watching its sequel. 

Groups formed from these shows have met with varying amounts of success and have run into problems regarding scheduling conflicts. 

Nine Percent, the boy group formed from Idol Producer in 2018, was known as a group that rarely met. Their second album was a compilation of tracks from solo members. Members had existing contracts with their own companies while simultaneously promoting with Nine Percent; hence, due to scheduling conflicts, members would often forgo Nine Percent activities for those of their own company. 

Rocket Girls from Produce 101 China. (Source)

Rocket Girls, formed from Produce 101 China, also faced problems after debuting. Due to conflicts between Tencent and their management company, Yuehua Entertainment, Meng Meiqi and Wu Xuanyi, who placed first and second respectively, left the group two months after debut.

Despite the problems faced by groups formed from such shows, some idols were able to ride on the momentum they gained from participating.

For instance, Cai Xukun, first-place winner of Idol Producer, swiftly rose to become one of the most popular trainees on the show, consistently ranking first place in every round of elimination. He was also the host of the recently concluded Youth With You 2.

Liu Yuxin obtained first place in the last episode of Youth With You 2. (Source)

Other trainees have also seen individual success. Liu Yuxin, the first-place winner of Youth With You 2, gained attention for her androgynous look: short hair, a cool personality, and wearing shorts instead of a skirt. Her hashtag “Liu Yuxin” (#刘雨昕#) has been viewed more than 550 million times on Weibo. In the final episode, she received more than 17 million votes.

Despite the lowering audience ratings for other recent idol shows, the success of Youth With You 2 might mark the start of a new ‘idol era’. Even Chinese netizens wondered why the show is so popular compared to Youth With You 1.

Just one day after the finale premiered, the hashtag “Youth With You 2 Finale” had already been viewed more than 2.2 billion times on Weibo. On Douban, 580,000 viewers have finished the show—more than any of the previous idol survival shows by iQIYI and Tencent.

 

The Future of Idol Survival Shows 

 

Chinese idol survival shows were received with much fanfare when they first entered mainstream popular culture in 2018. But the ensuing conflicts that the resulting groups ran into resulted in netizens doubting the success and effectiveness of these shows. 

Trainees from Produce Camp 2020 practicing for the theme song. Source

This year, however, the popularity of both Youth With You 2 and Produce Camp 2020 might signal a comeback for the idol era in China.

And this time around, Chinese idol survival shows are also gaining more traction outside of the PRC, becoming more and more popular among global audiences. Both Youth With You 2 and Produce Camp 2020 have been well-received by viewers from many different countries.

On social media, online commenters praise the two shows – and Chinese idol survival shows in general – for having a more “laid-back atmosphere” between the trainees and mentors. Web users also comment that they enjoy how the shows highlight the friendship between the trainees, rather than the feuds.

It seems that what sets Chinese idol survival shows apart from the South Korean ones is precisely why some viewers prefer them. The longer running times, for example, makes it possible to give more screen time to the different trainees and to give a deeper understanding of the relations between them.

Youtube comment on Episode 1 of Produce Camp 2020. Source

Youtube comment on Episode 1 of Produce Camp 2020. Source

Reddit comment on Episode 9 of Idol Producer. Source

With the popularity of idols like Liu Yuxin and Wang Ju who challenge conventional beauty standards, shows can also look into moving away from the cookie-cutter aesthetic that idols usually adhere to. 

Furthermore, management companies and broadcasting companies have to come to an agreement regarding what scheduling arrangement would benefit all parties and be conducive towards the idols’ physical and mental health. 

Selected trainees from Produce Camp 2020 took part in a photoshoot with Elle. Source

It remains to be seen whether THE9, the newly formed group from Youth With You 2, will be able to flourish in the time to come and avoid the troubles that other groups ran into. 

As for Produce Camp 2020, it seems set to enjoy just as much success as Youth With You 2 did – if not more. Only five episodes have been released, but the show’s hashtag already has 16.1 billion views.

A reviewer on Douban writes: “The trainees are all confident, taking opportunities to express themselves and actively showcase their talents. So much youthful and positive energy!” 

The latest newcomers to the idol reality show genre further consolidate the success of the format. Recently, Mango TV released Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风波浪的姐姐们, 2020), where female celebrities above 30 years old compete to make it into the final five-member girl group. The first episode was viewed more than 370 million times within the first three days of release and immediately became top trending on Weibo.

The number of survival shows in China right now and their growing popularity shows that audiences seemingly can’t get enough of the genre. It is an indication that, despite setbacks in the past, China’s idol survival reality show genre is still going strong and might be here to stay.

You can watch the currently airing Produce Camp 2020 and Sisters Who Make Waves here and here.

By Yin Lin Tan

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

When Weibo Stopped Updating Its Trending Topics List…

..Chinese netizens made the super-popular reality show “Sisters Who Make Waves” go viral anyway.

Wendy Huang

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Sina Weibo stopped updating its trending topics list from June 10 to June 17 in compliance with an order from the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) for “disrupting online communication order” and “spreading illegal information.”

During the seven day suspension, Weibo users had no access to the list of the most popular search terms and topics, which, similar to Twitter, appears in the feed or sidebar of the user interface.

One new reality show, however, became all the rage among Chinese web users and inspired some trending hashtags.

The popular reality show, titled Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风波浪的姐姐) was produced by Mango TV. The show follows the idea of idol group reality shows such as Youth with You (青春有你) produced by iQIYI.

What makes the show different from other Chinese idol reality shows, is that all thirty contestants are familiar faces in the entertainment industry. These thirty ‘sisters’ are all singers, dancers, and actresses over the age of thirty, with some of them having made their debut a decade ago.

The first episode of the show premiered on June 12 11:50 AM, during Friday’s working hours. Though its launch date and time were not even pre-announced on the show’s official Weibo account, the premiere still raised heated discussions and soon became ‘trending’ – but with Weibo’s temporary ban on trending lists, the topics were not displayed in any lists on the site.

Netizens found original ways to still show their big interest in this show and make it go viral.

Some Weibo users, for example, made “handwritten lists of ‘Sisters Who Make Waves’ trends” (#乘风破浪的姐姐手写热搜#). That hashtag alone already received more than 3.2 million views.

All these user-generated handwritten topics are related to some details of the first episode of the show, including quotes by the ‘sisters’, or the behavior of the show’s presenter and judges.

Actor Huang Xiaoming, the official presenter of the final group, garnered more than 130 million views with a hashtag that had his name included. “Huang Xiaoming, the Master of Carrying Water”(#黄晓明端水大师#) went viral, hinting to Huang’s behavior during the show; he posted thirty messages to the thirty ‘sisters’ in alphabetical order on Weibo just before the premiere, and he comforted each one of them by telling them that the show is nothing but “a plus” for them (#黄晓明这是加分项#).

Actress Ning Jing (宁静), one of the thirty sisters who is known for her straightforwardness, responded to the director’s request to do an on-camera “self-introduction” by questioning out loud why she still needed to introduce herself at all. After all these of being active years in the industry, she wondered, had it all been for nothing? Her quick and witty response triggered another Weibo hashtag (#宁静 我几十年白干了#).

The hashtag “Sisters Who Make Waves Kick Off” (#乘风破浪的姐姐开播#) has attracted more than 430 million views on Weibo so far, with the hashtag of the show’s title (#乘风破浪的姐姐#) receiving more than 7.6 billion views.

One thing is clear –  Sisters Who Make Waves definitely knows how to make waves on Weibo. No matter if Sina Weibo has trending lists or not, Weibo users will make sure that the topics they love go viral anyway.

By Wendy Huang

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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