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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.”

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*):

 

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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 Celebs

Gu’s Year: How Eileen Gu Became a Beloved Icon and Controversial Role Model in China

Patriotic, privileged, perfect? A year after Eileen Gu became an online sensation in China, she is still generating discussions.

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Eileen Gu, the American-born freestyle skier and gold medallist who represented China in the 2022 Beijing Olympics, has made headlines again for her excellent halfpipe World Cup performance during the Chinese New Year. One year after Gu first became an internet sensation, she is, once again, receiving praise and triggering discussions on Chinese social media.

This Chinese Lunar New Year, the three Chinese Winter Olympic athletes Wu Dajing, Xu Mengtao, and Gao Tingyu, were widely discussed on Chinese social media after their debut at the CGM Spring Festival Gala.

Over 8000 kilometers away, another Winter Olympic athlete, Eileen Gu – better known as Gu Ailing 谷爱凌 in China, – also garnered huge attention for her excellent performance at the Calgary halfpipe World Cup. Just as people were celebrating the Chinese New Year, Eileen Gu claimed her second gold medal at the FIS Freeski World Cup.

It has almost been a year since the then-18-year-old Chinese-American freestyle skier grabbed gold at the Olympics and became front-page news in China.

Although Gu already garnered attention online when she announced in June of 2019 that she would switch national affiliation and compete for China, it wasn’t until the Olympics that she appeared all over social media, was featured in dozens of ad campaigns, and practically became a household name in China.

Now, in light of the FIS Snowboard World Cup and the X Games in Aspen, Gu is back in the limelight.

On January 21st, the first day of the Year of the Rabbit, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV celebrated Gu’s victory on social media using the hashtag “Eileen Gu Claims Two Golds within Three Days during the New Year Celebrations” (#谷爱凌过年3天2金#), with a two- minute video clip recording the highlights of her recent race. The hashtag has since received over 180 million views.

Gu herself also shared her victory on Weibo and wished people a prosperous New Year. That post attracted over 110,000 likes.

Many Chinese people celebrated Gu’s new achievements with words of admiration, praising her capabilities and determination. One Weibo user commented: “I have to say, Gu Ailing is truly excellent. Three days, two medals. She has an indisputable talent.”

Another user posted a video of Gu practicing while waiting for her flight and commented: “A healthy, energetic, diligent, excellent Gu Ailing who even continues training while waiting for boarding. Success doesn’t come overnight.”

Others also view Gu as a national icon for her gold medal wins for China. The phrase “wèi guó zhēngguāng” (“为国争光”), “winning glory for the country,” appeared in many posts under the hashtag related to Gu’s win.

But over the past year, since Gu’s Olympic success, she has not always merely been viewed as a patriotic hero. Despite her popularity, Gu also triggered controversy and sometimes came under fire, with some wondering if she truly was patriotic and others blaming her for being privileged.

 

PATRIOTIC

Everybody knows Eileen Gu is Chinese

 

During the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the fact that Gu had switched her international allegiance and represented China instead of the US instilled pride among many Chinese. Chinese media flooded with stories on Gu that focused on the narrative of the multi-talented “mixed kid” who gave up her United States citizenship to represent the People’s Republic of China.

However, when being asked about her citizenship in interviews, Gu’s replies left many people wondering about the facts of the matter; they wanted to know whether or not Gu actually gave up her American passport, as China does not recognize dual nationality. Gu’s response “I’m American when in the US and Chinese when in China” triggered dissatisfaction among Chinese audiences.

“I have stopped liking her since she said that,” one Weibo user reflected in December 2022, and the post received 35,000 likes. To this day, there are many social media comments bringing up Gu’s comment: “You’re in America, so now you’re American, right?”

Others also attacked Gu after Forbes listed her as the third highest-paid female athlete in the world in 2022 (#谷爱凌年收入1.4亿#). Some commenters argued that she had earned her money in China and was spending it in the US, and that she was unpatriotic for doing so.

However, some netizens defended Gu by stressing what she had done for China. In Weibo posts and comment threads, users supporting Gu wrote: “She won two gold medals and more for China, what did your patriotism contribute to China?” Others also said Gu had shown her love for China through her performances, and that it would be impossible to expect her to distance herself from the country she grew up in.

Meanwhile, Western media outlets described how the bi-lingual Gu had been “dodging” explicit questions about her US citizenship status. This also led to Gu getting attacked by Americans. When Gu returned to the US and enrolled in Stanford University, there was even an online petition about getting Gu’s admittance to Stanford revoked due to Gu’s supposed “lack of integrity about her nationality” and indifference to “the human rights violations” in China.

Among Chinese netizens, questions also rose about whether Gu had only represented China during the Olympics and if her return to the US might mean that she would give up her Chinese nationality and play for the US team instead.

But with Gu’s debut at the FIS Freeski World Cup in the Year of the Rabbit, Chinese bloggers pointed out that Gu’s nationality was still listed as Chinese.

“No matter where she is, Gu Ailing still has the Chinese nationality,” one Weibo blogger wrote, with others also saying: “She is still representing China, we should all support her! The rumors about her changing nationalities are false!”

“Everybody knows Eileen Gu is Chinese,” another social media user wrote.

But not everybody is convinced: “Don’t fool yourself. I’m happy she helped China win gold, but dual citizenship is dual citizenship, there’s no point in covering it up.”

 

PRIVILEGED

Gu’s success is unrelated to normal people

 

Another discussion that has flared up during Eileen Gu’s past year of success is focused on her alleged privileged status, especially within the context of her being praised as a role model for Chinese (female) younger generations.

In February of 2022, an Instagram comment made by Gu regarding the use of VPNs in China caused some controversy. At the time, one person asked Gu about “internet freedom” in China and how it was possible for her to use Instagram while she was in China, where the platform is blocked. Gu then replied: “Anyone can download a vpn its literally free on the App Store [thumbs up]”

A screenshot of the exchange then circulated on Weibo, where many netizens were surprised about Gu’s statement. VPNs are generally not available on app stores in mainland China, as there are numerous restrictions on virtual private networks (VPNs) which are commonly used to browse websites or apps that are otherwise blocked in China.

Gu was then criticized over the fact that she seemed unaware of the restrictions on VPNs along with her suggestion that ‘internet freedom’ only referred to the accessibility of foreign platforms, allegedly showing her privileged position.

After Gu enrolled in Stanford University and posted her all-A transcript of the first semester at the end of 2022, many praised her hard work but there was also criticism about her “showing off” and strategically choosing a supposedly easier curriculum.

“She posted it to impress Chinese people who do not understand the system,” one person commented, with others replying that an “S” grade does not equal full points and that she had no A+ grades. Others claimed that Gu probably received help with her schoolwork.

Gu’s Weibo post at the end of 2022 reviewing her achievement of the year, including her transcript of the first semester at Stanford University.

As online discussions intensified (#谷爱凌斯坦福所有课程全部满分#), Gu herself responded to online criticism, stressing that she – without anybody’s help – had worked hard for her grades and that only 5% of students can get an A at Stanford.

The idea that Gu comes from a very privileged background and that it is not just her diligence that brought her success is a recurring one on social media.

Gu was raised by her Chinese mother, a molecular biology graduate who studied at Peking University and Stanford University and who used to be a speed skating athlete as well as a part-time coach at Peking University. She allegedly worked at Wall Street and later became a CEO of a risk investment company. Her grandmother, a former official at China’s Ministry of Transport, was a university basketball player, while her grandfather was a soccer player at school who was also good at swimming, skiing, and skating. Her family members’ background is exceptional. University students were rare among Gu’s grandparents’ generation, and studying abroad was also uncommon for her mother’s generation.

As people believe that this family background has largely contributed to Gu’s success, Gu’s position as a “role model” is questioned.

“Gu’s success is unrelated to normal people,” one Weibo user wrote. “What is the meaning of having this kind of role model? I have no parents from the Ivy League, no pretty face of mixed race, no elite education from the mix of Chinese and American cultures, no exceptional family background, and even no talent,” one Zhihu user wrote.

“Gu started skiing at three years old, and practiced running, basketball, piano, and ballet soon after; I started playing in the mud at three years old and I can still only play in the mud,” another user wrote. “Gu’s mother meticulously planned Gu’s life, but my mother could hardly spare any time for me while she was working.”

 

PERFECT

Congratulations, Little Gu, you’re the greatest!

 

Amid all the online discussions surrounding Eileen Gu, there is the view that people have not necessarily grown tired of Gu herself but of the (online) media narratives surrounding her which present her as the perfect daughter, the perfect athlete, or the perfect role model.

Some people admit that they feel jealous or say that they feel it is unfair because they feel they could never reach that standard.

One article published by The Paper in 2022 reiterated the popular view that Gu’s success “has nothing to do with ordinary people” (“谷爱凌的成功与普通人没啥关系”), but argued that people should draw inspiration from her story rather than focusing on all the aspects of her life that are unattainable to them.

A commentary by PLA Daily also argued that Olympic athletes should not be turned into “gods” for their overnight success; neither should they be vilified because of their shortcomings. It’s not about the pursuit of perfection, the author wrote, but about facing up to one’s own shortcomings.

There are also those who remind others that Gu is still a teenager. Not only have some of the controversies over the past year shown that Gu is not “perfect,” they also showed that fame is a double-edged sword.

As one netizen put it: “Success can be magnified to an extreme, and mistakes can be enlarged without boundaries (..) She’ll be carefully walking on the sharp edge of the sword because if she does something that does not conform to what people expect of her, the same people who praise you today will step on you tomorrow.”

Meanwhile, many Chinese fans of Eileen Gu have had it with those leaving “sour comments.” “She is representing China, she snatched gold, your empty ‘patriotism’ is contributing nothing!”

“Congratulations, Little Gu, you’re the greatest!” some say: “You did a good job, and we’re proud of you.”

By Zilan Qian and Manya Koetse

 

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©2023 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 “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse

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This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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