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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.”

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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.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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 and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

The Voices of April – The Online Rise of a Shanghai Protest Video

‘Voices of April’ is the biggest topic in China’s Covid social media era since the death of Dr. Li Wenliang.

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Voices of April is a video containing edited audio snippets that show the reality of a Covid-stricken Shanghai where residents struggle with feelings of powerlessness. The video seeped into every corner of WeChat, but not long after, it was gone.

On Friday, April 22, a video was shared on Chinese social media and when the evening fell, it suddenly was on everybody’s smartphone screen.

Voices of April (四月之声) is a compilation of real audio snippets from conversations recorded in Shanghai throughout April, providing an emotional and heart-wrenching account of what residents in Shanghai have gone through since the Covid crisis started in their city.

By early Saturday morning, Beijing time, the Voices of April (四月之声) video had seeped into every corner of WeChat. Not long after, it was gone.

The video, made by a person named ‘Cary’, first seemed to have appeared online on Friday with the following message:

One month after the outbreak of the epidemic in Shanghai, I’ve seen too many online voices coming by which then soon disappeared. Over time, I’ve become somewhat desensitized, but some things shouldn’t have happened. Since they did, they shouldn’t be forgotten. Too many of our compatriots have suffered in ways that could have been avoided. I made a video, as objective and realistic as possible, as a record to remember the voices of April, and hope that all of them will pull through.”

The video in question, embedded below, is almost six minutes long. (Update: Here is a link to a version including English subtitles.)

It starts its narrative on March 15, just a day before Shanghai introduced its so-called “grid screening” strategy – meaning that every resident in a city Covid key area would do two nucleic acid tests within 48 hours. That day, the total amount of Covid cases since the onset of the outbreak in early March was 1156. The audio is real – as all snippets are – and was recorded during an official Shanghai Epidemic Prevention and Control news conference.

“Right now, Shanghai has no lockdown, and there is no need for a lockdown,” the spokesperson can be heard saying, while the video shows aerial footage of Shanghai city.

The video then jumps to March 26, when the total number of cases since the beginning of the outbreak had risen to 12,527 (asymptomatic and symptomatic combined), the daily new added cases being 2676.

Still, Shanghai officials can be heard saying that there will ‘never be a lockdown’ in the city, suggesting that Shanghai is not just important for Shanghai, it is important for the economy of the entire country.

The video then shows its title page: Voices of April.

The video, showing aerial footage of Shanghai for the entire six minutes, then continues with snippets of audio fragments starting at the beginning of April, with worried residents calling local authorities to voice their concerns about their personal situation after the sudden announcement of a phased lockdown in Shanghai on March 27.

Through dozens of audio snippets, we hear the voices of residents, delivery drivers, community workers, parents, children, Covid patients, pet owners, volunteers, and more.

In doing so, through the words of those who witnessed it, Voices of April raises the issues that so many have been concerned about over the past 25 days or more. Shanghai residents going hungry; food supplies going to waste due to mismanagement and failing logistics; parents and children being separated in quarantine facilities; people unsuccessfully trying to get urgent care for a medical emergency in their family; cancer patients being unable to return to their homes after getting chemotherapy at the hospital; Covid patients arriving at centralized quarantine locations that have no supplies nor beds; a desperate mother who finds herself calling out to neighbors to get medicine for her sick child in the middle of the night; pet owners in tears over their dog being killed by anti-epidemic workers.

“The virus is not killing people, the hunger is,” one voice can be heard saying.

“Distribute supplies! Distribute supplies! Distribute supplies!” a group of people can be heard shouting.

Through the audio snippets, it becomes clear that it’s not just residents who have been suffering throughout this whole ordeal – it’s the entire city, including its volunteers and community workers who are also helpless in helping others due to the policies in place.

The video ends with a black and white screen showing the characters “上海, 早日康复” (Shànghǎi, zǎorì kāngfù): “Shanghai, get well soon.”

Not long after the video went viral, Wechat and Weibo users discovered they were no longer able to forward the file, and soon all links to the video ended up leading to a ‘404’ deleted message.

The censorship seemingly only added fuel to fire. “[You want] war? War it is!”, some said, with others posting images protesting the censorship: “You can’t censor the unity of the people of Shanghai!”

Straight away, netizens started coming up with various alternative ways to refer to the title of the video to circumvent censorship, suggesting that there can never be a ‘zero policy’ when it comes to silencing people’s voices.

Nevertheless, alternative hashtags and phrases were also soon taken offline, such as the hashtag “The Voices of Shanghai” (#上海之声#).

“You can’t treat everything that’s being deleted as something that never happened,” one Weibo user wrote. Another commenter said: “What are you deleting? For what? What is so terrible for us to know that you’ve come so quickly to censor it?”

“It’s just a record of actual events, what good does it do to censor it? Originally, we were just sad, not angry. Now it’s a revolt of the people. A cover-up only makes matters worse.”

The only time during China’s Covid era when there was an online outpouring of anger comparable to this instance is probably when Li Wenliang passed away – the doctor who was initially silenced when he tried to warn others about the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (read more here). His death, and the censorship surrounding it, also led millions of people to vent their frustrations online. The censorship, as in this case, only added fuel to the fire.

One word that many people commenting on the Voices of April video use after seeing it is ‘powerlessness’: “I watched the Voices of April. Putting all of the powerlessness together, this world seems even more helpless.”

“Tonight is the night of the deleted voices [404之声],” one Weibo user wrote.

For context:
Growing frustrations during early outbreak of the city’s Covid crisis
Children and parents being separated for isolation
Pet dog killed by anti-epidemic worker
Deplorable conditions at quarantine locations

Update, also read: Voices of April, The Day After.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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