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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*):

 

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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 Memes & Viral

Chengdu Disney: The Quirkiest Hotspot in China

How a senior activity park in Chengdu was ‘Disneyfied’ and became a viral hotspot.

Manya Koetse

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How did a common park turn into a buzzing hotspot? By mixing online trends with real-life fun, blending foreign styles with local charm, and adding a dash of humor and absurdity, Chengdu now boasts its very own ‘Chengdu Disney’. We explain the trend.

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

Have you heard about Chengdu Disney yet? If not, it’s probably unlike anything you’d imagine. It’s not actually a Disney theme park opening up in Chengdu, but it’s one of the city’s most viral hotspots these days.

What is now known as ‘Chengdu Disney’ all over the Chinese internet is actually a small outdoor park in a residential area in Chengdu’s Yulin area, which also serves as the local senior fitness activity center.

Crowds of young people are coming to this area to take photos and videos, hang out, sing songs, cosplay, and be part of China’s internet culture in an offline setting.

 
Once Upon a Rap Talent Show
 

The roots of ‘Chengdu Disney’ can be traced back to the Chinese hip-hop talent show The Rap of China (中国新说唱), where a performer named Nuomi (诺米), also known as Lodmemo, was eliminated by Chinese rapper Boss Shady (谢帝 Xièdì), one of the judges on the show.

Nuomi felt upset about the elimination and a comment made by his idol mentor, who mistakenly referred to a song Nuomi made for his ‘grandma’ instead of his grandfather. His frustration led to a viral livestream where he expressed his anger towards his participation in The Rap of China and Boss Shady.

However, it wasn’t only his anger that caught attention; it was his exaggerated way of speaking and mannerisms. Nuomi, with his Sichuan accent, repeatedly inserted English phrases like “y’know what I’m saying” and gestured as if throwing punches.

His oversized silver chain, sagging pants, and urban streetwear only reinforce the idea that Nuomi is trying a bit too hard to emulate the fashion style of American rappers from the early 2000s, complete with swagger and street credibility.

Lodmemo emulates the style of American rappers in the early 2000s, and he has made it his brand.

Although people mocked him for his wannabe ‘gangsta’ style, Nuomi embraced the teasing and turned it into an opportunity for fame.

He decided to create a diss track titled Xiè Tiān Xièdì 谢天谢帝, “Thank Heaven, Thank Emperor,” a word joke on Boss Shady’s name, which sounds like “Shady” but literally means ‘Thank the Emperor’ in Chinese. A diss track is a hip hop or rap song intended to mock someone else, usually a fellow musician.

In the song, when Nuomi disses Boss Shady (谢帝 Xièdì), he raps in Sichuan accent: “Xièdì Xièdì wǒ yào diss nǐ [谢帝谢帝我要diss你].” The last two words, namely “diss nǐ” actually means “to diss you” but sounds exactly like the Chinese word for ‘Disney’: Díshìní (迪士尼). This was soon picked up by netizens, who found humor in the similarity; it sounded as if the ‘tough’ rapper Nuomi was singing about wanting to go to Disney.

Nuomi and his diss track, from the music video.

Nuomi filmed the music video for this diss track at a senior activity park in Chengdu’s Yulin subdistrict. The music video went viral in late March, and led to the park being nicknamed the ‘Chengdu Disney.’

The particular exercise machine on which Nuomi performed his rap quickly became an iconic landmark on Douyin, as everyone eagerly sought to visit, sit on the same see-saw-style exercise machine, and repeat the phrase, mimicking the viral video.

What began as a homonym led to people ‘Disneyfying’ the park itself, with crowds of visitors flocking to the park, some dressed in Disney-related costumes.

This further developed the concept of a Chengdu ‘Disney’ destination, turning the park playground into the happiest place in Yulin.

 
Chengdu: China’s Most Relaxed Hip Hop Hotspot
 

Chengdu holds a special place in China’s underground hip-hop scene, thanks to its vibrant music culture and the presence of many renowned Chinese hip-hop artists who incorporate the Sichuan dialect into their songs and raps.

This is one reason why this ‘Disney’ meme happened in Chengdu and not in any other Chinese city. But beyond its musical significance, the playful spirit of the meme also aligns with Chengdu’s reputation for being an incredibly laid-back city.

In recent years, the pursuit of a certain “relaxed feeling” (sōngchígǎn 松弛感) has gained popularity across the Chinese internet. Sōngchígǎn is a combination of the word for “relaxed,” “loose” or “lax” (松弛) and the word for “feeling” (感). Initially used to describe a particular female aesthetic, the term evolved to represent a lifestyle where individuals strive to maintain a relaxed demeanor, especially in the face of stressful situations.

 

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The concept gained traction online in mid-2022 when a Weibo user shared a story of a family remaining composed when their travel plans were unexpectedly disrupted due to passport issues. Their calm and collected response inspired the adoption of the “relaxed feeling” term (also read here).

Central to embodying this sense of relaxation is being unfazed by others’ opinions and avoiding unnecessary stress or haste out of fear of judgment.

Nowadays, Chinese cities aim to foster this sense of sōngchígǎn. Not too long ago, there were many hot topics suggesting that Chengdu is the most sōngchí 松弛, the most relaxed city in China.

This sentiment is reflected in the ‘Chengdu Disney’ trend, which both pokes fun at a certain hip-hop aesthetic deemed overly relaxed—like the guys who showed up with sagging pants—and embraces a carefree, childlike silliness that resonates with the city’s character and its people.

Mocking sagging pants at ‘Chengdu Disney.’

Despite the influx of visitors to the Chengdu Disney area, authorities have not yet significantly intervened. Community notices urging respect for nearby residents and the presence of police officers to maintain order indicate a relatively hands-off approach. For now, it seems most people are simply enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.

 
Being Part of the Meme
 

An important aspect that contributes to the appeal of Chengdu Disney is its nature as an online meme, allowing people to actively participate in it.

Scenes from Chengdu Disney, images via Weibo.

China has a very strong meme culture. Although there are all kinds of memes, from visual to verbal, many Chinese memes incorporate wordplay. In part, this has to do with the nature of Chinese language, as it offers various opportunities for puns, homophones, and linguistic creativity thanks to its tones and characters.

The use of homophones on Chinese social media is as old as Chinese social media itself. One of the most famous examples is the phrase ‘cǎo ní mǎ’ (草泥马), which literally means ‘grass mud horse’, but is pronounced in the same way as the vulgar “f*ck your mother” (which is written with three different characters).

In the case of the Chengdu Disney trend, it combines a verbal meme—stemming from the ‘diss nǐ’ / Díshìní homophone—and a visual meme, where people gather to pose for videos/photos in the same location, repeating the same phrase.

Moreover, the trend bridges the gap between the online and offline worlds, as people come together at the Chengdu playground, forming a tangible community through digital culture.

The fact that this is happening at a residential exercise park for the elderly adds to the humor: it’s a Chengdu take on what “urban” truly means. These colorful exercise machines are a common sight in Chinese parks nationwide and are actually very mundane. Transforming something so normal into something extraordinary is part of the meme.

A 3D-printed model version of the exercise equipment featured in Nuomi’s music video.

Lastly, the incorporation of the Disney element adds a touch of whimsy to the trend. By introducing characters like Snow White and Mickey Mouse, the trend blends American influences (hip-hop, Disney) with local Chengdu culture, creating a captivating and absurd backdrop for a viral phenomenon.

For some people, the pace in which these trends develop is just too quick. On Weibo, one popular tourism blogger (@吴必虎) wrote: “The viral hotspots are truly unpredictable these days. We’re still seeing buzz around the spicy hot pot in Gansu’s Tianshui, meanwhile, a small seesaw originally meant for the elderly in a residential community suddenly turns into “Chengdu Disneyland,” catching the cultural and tourism authorities of Sichuan and even Shanghai Disneyland off guard. Netizens are truly powerful, even making it difficult for me, as a professional cultural tourism researcher, to keep up with them.”

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

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©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Memes & Viral

The Benz Guy from Baoding and the Granny Xu Line-Cutting Controversy

While the public initially supported ‘Grandma Xu’ and criticized the Benz driver from Baoding, the narrative took an unexpected turn.

Manya Koetse

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Following the rapid spread of a video capturing a man and woman involved in a road rage incident, Chinese netizens named and shamed them. But when the situation turned out to be different than it seemed, the focus of the story shifted, emphasizing the responsibility of the so-called ‘melon-eating masses’ actively participating in these kind of hyped-up incidents.

A Baoding license plate with the number 冀F8656Z briefly became China’s most talked-about car tag this week following a road rage incident that was captured on camera (see video). The incident involved the passenger of a black Mercedez-Benz, who went viral on Chinese social media for smashing the hood of another car at a ferry terminal in Zhanjiang. The altercation was triggered by a dispute over line-cutting.

The incident occurred on the afternoon of January 29 at Zhanjiang’s Xuwen Port, where vehicles were queuing up in the car and coach ticket lane. When a Mercedes-Benz Vito attempted to cut into the line, a white Chery car – with an older woman in the passenger seat – refused to yield. In response, the alleged Mercedes owner (male) and another passenger (female) angrily exited their vehicle and scolded the white car’s driver and passenger, as well as slamming their hood and seemingly causing damage to the car.

Meanwhile, the black Mercedes, apparently driven by a third individual, proceeded to cut in line and eventually drove off after the passengers got back in.

The 71-year-old lady in the white car who recorded the incident, Ms Xu or Granny Xu (徐老太), just so happened to have a relatively large social media following on a Douyin account run by her daughter (五莲徐八月). When she posted the video of the incident online, her 500,000 followers (now 800,000) came into action to name and shame the couple who insulted and intimidated her. As a result, the license plate, clearly visible in the footage, became a top trending search query.

This phenomenon, wherein netizens unite to research and expose information about individuals involved in controversial incidents, is also known as the “Human Flesh Search Engine” (人肉搜索) in Chinese (read more).

On January 30, the story started gaining massive attention on Chinese social media and online media sites. What mostly angered people was not just the arrogant and aggressive behavior of the Benz passengers, but also the fact that they acted so rude and entitled toward an elderly lady.

It came out that the aggressive man, the 40-year-old Mr. Wang, is a teacher at Hebei Agricultural University, and people started targeting their anger towards the Agricultural University, the city of Baoding, and even Hebei province as a whole.

The couple triggered China’s meme machine and popped up in various funny edited images.

“Do not cut in line” bumper stickers showing the Benz guy from Baoding.

They even appeared on some online merchandise, namely on bumper stickers warning others not to cut in line.

 
Another Point of View
 

While the public initially supported ‘Grandma Xu’ and criticized the Benz driver from Baoding, the narrative took an unexpected turn. Because in the midst of this controversy, dashcam footage from the Mercedes Benz also surfaced online, along with other images showing the scene from different angles.

This footage offered an alternative perspective, revealing that the Benz driver was attempting a zipper-style merge into the lane but was intentionally blocked by the white car, with the passenger filming the confrontation.

Later on, the surveillance video from the Xuwen Port was also released (video). That 7-minute video showed the entire conflict from the start, and although it showed that the Mercedes driver was at fault for cutting in line and damaging Xu’s car, it also showed that the Chery car was not without fault.

The new information caused a shift in public opinion as people started to think the Ms Xu purposely misrepresented the situation by omitting her role in the traffic altercation. It also became evident that, contrary to initial assumptions, Ms. Xu was not the driver of the white sedan at all; instead, a younger male was behind the wheel.

Bird’s eye view images of Xuwen Port also revealed that in lane 7, where the altercation occurred, all cars eventually merge in a zipper-style pattern.

As a result, both the Benz driver and the elderly lady now faced public condemnation – one for traffic misconduct, the other for distorting the truth on social media.

 
The Role of the Melon Eaters
 

As online discussions about the entire incident are still unfolding, there’s been a change in what people focus on regarding this story.

Initially, the rude and agressive Benz guy and his female companion, a meme-worthy couple, were the main topic of conversation. Then, as people started realizing the role played by the so-called ‘granny’ influencer – who edited and posted the footage in such a way that made her seem like the mere victim, – they were angry at her.

Ultimately, however, some commentators and bloggers noted that it is actually the so-called ‘melon eating masses’ who are responsible for making this story go viral and choosing sides without knowing all the facts. The Chinese term is chīguā qúnzhòng (吃瓜群众), translated as melon-eating masses or peanut gallery, referring to the netizens who are enjoying the spectacle as it unfolds, sharing details or opinions with limited knowledge.

While the story is still simmering online, the the Xuwen County Public Security Bureau has imposed a 10-day administrative detention and a fine of 500 yuan ($70) on Mr Wang for his actions of smashing the hood of the car. Ms Xu reportedly is getting her car fixed, renewing the entire hood of the dented sedan.

The original video that sparked all the controversy has since been removed from Ms Xu’s Douyin account.

In the end, the story has a negative impact on both Wang and Xu, which will probably haunt them for some time to come. The only one benefiting is the seller of ‘please don’t cut in line’ bumper stickers, which have since become a viral success.

Regardless of all disagreements regarding this incident, there’s one thing virtually everyone agrees with, especially during this busy Chinese New Year travel season: bad traffic etiquette and cutting in line is not cool, and resorting to aggression and vandalism is never the solution.

By Manya Koetse

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