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China Insight

“The First Weibo World War”: Is Weibo an International Social Media Platform Now?

Some see the rising relevance of Weibo in the international social media scene as a sign of a rising China.

Wendy Huang



Over the past years, Weibo’s international significance has risen when it comes to celebrities and pop culture. With the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine war, Weibo’s role as an increasingly international social media platform has become all the more clear.

On Feb 21st, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed two decrees recognizing the self-proclaimed breakaway states Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) and the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) as independent and sovereign states.

Following the news, the Weibo account ‘Ukrainian Courier’ (@乌克兰信使), which is the verified information center of the Embassy of Ukraine in China, responded in Chinese via Weibo on February 22nd, condemning the move and urging the world to put an end to Russian aggression.

That post received about 12,000 comments within four hours after publishing. The hashtag ‘Ukraine Publishes a Statement on Weibo’ (#乌克兰在微博发表声明#) topped the trending list for hours, and so far has received about 350 million views.

One comment under the post, receiving more than 142,000 likes, is not about the content of the statement, but instead responds to what is happening on Weibo now:

“In my lifetime I didn’t expect to actually see such international affairs appearing on Weibo like it’s a public court.”

Comments of a similar nature – transcending the post content yet receiving many likes – could also be found days earlier, on February 15th, when the official Weibo account of the UK Prime Minister (@英国首相) published a post in Chinese saying:

“We are on the verge of a cliff. But President Putin still has time to step back and think. We urge everyone to participate in the dialogue. The Russian government should avoid doing what would be a disastrous mistake for the country.”

The comment that received the most likes (about 151,000) under the post is a short message to Boris Johnson, hinting that there should be a new season of the popular British mystery crime drama TV series Sherlock.

Two other popular comments also completely ignored the topic’s main subject, tagging the Weibo account of the Russian Embassy in China (@俄罗斯驻华大使馆) and saying: “He’s on the verge of a cliff, quick, push him off,” and “Solve the problem by yourselves please, you two are grown up enough.”

The next day, on February 16, the Weibo account of the Russian Embassy in China shared the UK Prime Minister’s post on their own account (twice), calling the Downing Street statement “absurd” and saying it was an example of the West propagating “information terrorism.”

Russian Embassy in China reposted the Downing Street statement twice.

In response, one commenter hinted at how US officials earlier claimed that Russia would initiate an attack on February 16, jokingly suggesting they meant this Weibo collision: “Oh, now I understand what ‘attack’ they were talking about.”

Another popular comment under the shared post was: “I could never have imagined that the war would start on Weibo.”

With more countries publishing their statements in Chinese on the Weibo platform, another hashtag also went trending, namely “Russia, the United States, Britain, and France have spoken out on Weibo” (#俄美英法纷纷在微博发声#).

One netizen called these Weibo interactions between countries in conflict “WWWI, short for the First Weibo World War.”

On Feb 24, Putin authorized ‘special operations’ in the Donbas region, making the words ‘Ukraine’ and ‘Russia’ peaking on Weibo.

Peaking terms ‘Russia’ and ‘Ukraine’ on Weibo (screenshot of Weibo Index @微指数 page)

On Feb 25, the Ukrainian Embassy in China posted a call on Weibo to raise money – dollars, euros, pounds – for the military. A hashtag dedicated to this topic (#乌克兰驻华使馆发博为军队募款#) received more than 53 million views. One Weibo user wrote: “What were you thinking when asking for donations on Weibo, but not including account information for Renminbi?”

On Feb 28, the same account published an updated post, this time including donation information for the Chinese currency. Though some Weibo users were questioning the legitimacy and compliance of this action – a comparable situation previously did not occur in China, – it did show that the Ukrainian Embassy read Weibo users’ comments and that they actually quickly acted to them.

There was a short period of time when jokes and misinformation started circling around the platform, but soon the Weibo platform announced that they were cracking down on those remarks. So far, Weibo has not banned any official accounts of other countries’ embassies or international organizations involved in the conflict.

Another recent Weibo post of the Ukrainian Embassy interacted with the Weibo account of the European Union (@欧盟在中国), and was basically a thank-you note for receiving global support, the words written in classical Chinese style.

The Russian Embassy in China also recently posted on Weibo again, this time with a video titled “How Ukraine Incites Hatred Towards Russia and Russians” (“乌克兰是如何煽动对俄罗斯和俄罗斯人的仇恨情绪的”).

Meanwhile, the latest Weibo post of the Embassy of the United States in China is promoting the word “peace” while using the supposedly apolitical hashtag “Learning English” (#英语学习#). However, in the comment section, many Weibo users did take the post as a political statement and accused the US of being a “peace-breaker,” posting images of America invasions in Iraq, Libya, Yemen, and Syria.


A New International Role for China’s Weibo?


The Russian Embassy in China has since long been on Weibo, using the Chinese platform for its “foreign diplomacy” with other countries. As early as 2014, the account already saw an online clash with another nation as it argued with the China-based Polish ambassador Tadeusz Chomicki on Weibo over MH17.

The Iranian and American embassies in China became all the talk on Chinese social media in 2020 when the US-Iran tensions also heightened on Weibo, where the two argued over the assassination of Soleimani. Their exchanges were all in Chinese. Later that same year, the U.S. and Iranian Embassies again fought on Weibo, this time over the so-called “Wuhan virus” stigmatization of Covid-19.

In addition to emerging as a platform for international diplomacy, Weibo has also become more important in international pop culture – and the drama that comes with it. In late 2021, when the divorce of the U.S.-born “King of Chinese Pop” Wang Leehom (王力宏) and his former wife Lee Jinglei (李靚蕾) played out on Weibo, also involving a female singer from Singapore, more Chinese netizens started wondering: is Weibo already an international social media space, as the platform has increasingly become a hotspot for official and popular international public conversations?

A post published on Dec 18, 2021, with the hashtag ‘The International Role of Weibo’, explaining the key functions of some Chinese social media platforms in a humorous manner. Weibo after Dec 19, 2021, was referred to as the Hague International Court of Justice, no longer just a typical old-style ‘court’ in China.

According to Weibo’s latest press release, its number of monthly active users (MAUs) was 573 million in December 2021, and its average daily active users (DAUs) were 249 million in December 2021.

Twitter, which has stopped reporting MAUs and switched its user reporting metric to monetizable daily active usage (mDAU) since Q2 2019, reported 217 million in Q4 2021. Its lastest number of average MAUs is 330 million as of Q1 2019 (for reference, Weibo’s MAUs were 465 million in that same period).

It seems that looking at users alone, Weibo is qualified enough to serve as a major social platform like Twitter. But as a platform originally launched and mainly operated in Chinese, the language seems to be the first barrier for more international users, along with its functionality and strict content management (censorship) system.

In March 2017, Weibo launched its international version specifically for overseas account holders. However, non-Chinese international users did not respond to that with too much enthusiasm and for that user group, Weibo never came near to Twitter. Google Trends shows how worldwide searches for the keyword Weibo were drastically low compared to those of Twitter.

Screenshot: Comparison between Twitter and Weibo in Google Trends in the past 5 years (via Google Trends).

In 2018, Weibo chose to focus more on the “overseas Chinese-speaking world” to gain a foothold in the worldwide social media market, rather than concentrating on English-speaking communities. Nonetheless, being China’s most popular social media platform for public dialogue, Weibo has still drawn in many foreign government departments, companies, celebrities, and international organizations.

There are many international celebrities using Weibo, including six of the top 10 most followed Twitter accounts. Through Weibo, where they usually post in English, they can stay in touch with their Chinese-speaking fans.

On Weibo, you will find the accounts of 80 tourism boards of different international cities and countries, over 20 international airports, more than 40 football clubs, and at least 50 foreign embassies in China are using Weibo to publish statements and interact with Chinese netizens, including the embassies that have been using Weibo to post statements in Chinese on the Ukraine crisis.

Some see the rising relevance of Weibo in the international social media scene as a sign of a rising China. “The British Prime Minister ran to Weibo shout at Russia, indicating that China’s international status has heightened and indicating that the role of Weibo has improved,” one blogger wrote.

Popular Weibo account VShanshan also agreed, writing:

“Because of the growing influence of China’s international position and Chinese online platforms, China’s social media platforms, and specifically Weibo, have in fact also become a battleground of the global public opinion war, and Weibo is now also at the forefront of the cyberwar between Russia and Ukraine. Before the Russian-Ukrainian military conflict and war happened, it already started on Weibo.”

On February 24th, when Russia announced the so-called “special military operation” in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, the Weibo accounts of France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.S., Poland, the UK, and others all posted statements on Weibo. One netizen proposed to call these international accounts the “Weibo United Nations.”

On that same day, the hashtag “World Peace” (#世界和平#) went trending on Weibo. Whether or not Weibo already is an ‘international’ social media platform is up for debate, but it is nevertheless evident that most Weibo users want to raise their voices for a peaceful international society. Hopefully, their voices will be heard.

Click here to see more of our articles on the Russia-Ukraine war.

By Wendy Huang

Edited for clarity by Manya Koetse.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

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

Wendy Huang is a China-based Beijing Language and Culture University graduate who currently works for a Public Relations & Media software company. She believes that, despite the many obstacles, Chinese social media sites such as Weibo can help Chinese internet users to become more informed and open-minded regarding various social issues in present-day China.

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    March 5, 2022 at 6:04 pm

    Great article, nice job!

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China Insight

The Tragic Story of “Fat Cat”: How a Chinese Gamer’s Suicide Went Viral

The story of ‘Fat Cat’ has become a hot topic in China, sparking widespread sympathy and discussions online.

Manya Koetse



The tragic story behind the recent suicide of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ has become a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media, touching upon broader societal issues from unfair gender dynamics to businesses taking advantage of grieving internet users.

The story of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer from Hunan who committed suicide has gone completely viral on Weibo and beyond this week, generating many discussions.

In late April of this year, the young man nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ (胖猫 Pàng Māo, literally fat or chubby cat), tragically ended his life by jumping into the river near the Chongqing Yangtze River Bridge (重庆长江大桥) following a breakup with his girlfriend. By now, the incident has come to be known as the “Fat Cat Jumping Into the River Incident” (胖猫跳江事件).

News of his suicide soon made its rounds on the internet, and some bloggers started looking into what was behind the story. The man’s sister also spoke out through online channels, and numerous chat records between the young man and his girlfriend emerged online.

One aspect of his story that gained traction in early May is the revelation that the man had invested all his resources into the relationship. Allegedly, he made significant financial sacrifices, giving his girlfriend over 510,000 RMB (approximately 71,000 USD) throughout their relationship, in a time frame of two years.

When his girlfriend ended the relationship, despite all of his efforts, he was devastated and took his own life.

The story was picked up by various Chinese media outlets, and prominent social and political commentator Hu Xijin also wrote a post about Fat Cat, stating the sad story had made him tear up.

As the news spread, it sparked a multitude of hashtags on Weibo, with thousands of netizens pouring out their thoughts and emotions in response to the story.

Playing Games for Love

The main part of this story that is triggering online discussions is how ‘Fat Cat,’ a young man who possessed virtually nothing, managed to provide his girlfriend, who was six years older, with such a significant amount of money – and why he was willing to sacrifice so much in order to do so.

The young man reportedly was able to make money by playing video games, specifically by being a so-called ‘booster’ by playing with others and helping them get to a higher level in multiplayer online battle games.

According to his sister, he started working as a ‘professional’ video gamer as a means of generating money to satisfy his girlfriend, who allegedly always demanded more.

He registered a total of 36 accounts to receive orders to play online games, making 20 yuan per game (about $2.80). Because this consumed all of his time, he barely went out anymore and his social life was dead.

In order to save more money, he tried to keep his own expenses as low as possible, and would only get takeout food for himself for no more than 10 yuan ($1,4). His online avatar was an image of a cat saying “I don’t want to eat vegetables, I want to eat McDonald’s.”

The woman in question who he made so many sacrifices for is named Tan Zhu (谭竹), and she soon became the topic of public scrutiny. In one screenshot of a chat conversation between Tan and her boyfriend that leaked online, she claimed she needed money for various things. The two had agreed to get married later in this year.

Despite of this, she still broke up with him, driving him to jump off the bridge after transferring his remaining 66,000 RMB (9135 USD) to Tan Zhu.

As the story fermented online, Tan Zhu also shared her side of the story. She claimed that she had met ‘Fat Cat’ over two years ago through online gaming and had started a long distance relationship with him. They had actually only met up twice before he moved to Chongqing. She emphasized that financial gain was never a motivating factor in their relationship.

Tan additionally asserted that she had previously repaid 130,000 RMB (18,000 USD) to him and that they had reached a settlement agreement shortly before his tragic death.

Ordering Take-Out to Mourn Fat Cat

– “I hope you rest in peace.”
– “Little fat cat, I hope you’ll be less foolish in your next life.”
– “In your next life, love yourself first.”

These are just a few of the messages left by netizens on notes attached to takeout food deliveries near the Chongqing Yangtze River Bridge.

AI-generated image spread on Chinese social media in connection to the event.

As Fat Cat’s story stirred up significant online discussion, with many expressing sympathy for the young man who rarely indulged in spending on food and drinks, some internet users took the step of ordering McDonalds and other food delivery services to the bridge, where he tragically jumped from, in his honor.

This soon snowballed into more people ordering food and drinks to the bridge, resulting in a constant flow of delivery staff and a pile-up of take-out bags.

Delivery food on the bridge, photo via Weibo.

However, as the food delivery efforts picked up pace, it came to light that some of the deliveries ordered and paid for were either empty or contained something different; certain restaurants, aware of the collective effort to honor the young man, deliberately left the food boxes empty or substituted sodas or tea with tap water.

At least five restaurants were caught not delivering the actual orders. Chinese bubble tea shop ChaPanda was exposed for substituting water for milk tea in their cups. On May 3rd, ChaPanda responded that they had fired the responsible employee.

Another store, the Zhu Xiaoxiao Luosifen (朱小小螺蛳粉), responded on that they had temporarily closed the shop in question to deal with the issue. Chinese fast food chain NewYobo (牛约堡) also acknowledged that at least twenty orders they received were incomplete.

Fast food company Wallace (华莱士) responded to the controversy by stating they had dismissed the employees involved. Mixue Ice Cream & Tea (蜜雪冰城) issued an apology and temporarily closed one of their stores implicated in delivering empty orders.

In the midst of all the controversy, Fat Cat’s sister asked internet users to refrain from ordering take-out food as a means of mourning and honoring her brother.

Nevertheless, take-out food and flowers continued to accumulate near the bridge, prompting local authorities to think of ways of how to deal with this unique method of honoring the deceased gamer.

Gamer Boy Meets Girl

On Chinese social media, this story has also become a topic of debate in the context of gender dynamics and social inequality.

There are some male bloggers who are angry with Tan Zhu, suggesting her behaviour is an example of everything that’s supposedly “wrong” with Chinese women in this day and age.

Others place blame on Fat Cat for believing that he could buy love and maintain a relationship through financial means. This irked some feminist bloggers, who see it as a chauvinistic attitude towards women.

A main, recurring idea in these discussions is that young Chinese men such as Fat Cat, who are at the low end of the social ladder, are actually particularly vulnerable in a fiercely competitive society. Here, a gender imbalance and surplus of unmarried men make it easier for women to potentially exploit those desperate for companionship.

The story of Fat Cat brings back memories of ‘Mo Cha Official,’ a not-so-famous blogger who gained posthumous fame in 2021 when details of his unhappy life surfaced online.

Likewise, the tragic tale of WePhone founder Su Xiangmao (苏享茂) resurfaces. In 2017, the 37-year-old IT entrepreneur from Beijing took his own life, leaving behind a note alleging blackmail by his 29-year-old ex-wife, who demanded 10 million RMB (±1.5 million USD) (read story).

Another aspect of this viral story that is mentioned by netizens is how it gained so much attention during the Chinese May holidays, coinciding with the tragic news of the southern China highway collapse in Guangdong. That major incident resulted in the deaths of at least 48 people, and triggered questions over road safety and flawed construction designs. Some speculate that the prominence given to the Fat Cat story on trending topic lists may have been a deliberate attempt to divert attention away from this incident.

‘Fat Cat’ was cremated. His family stated their intention to take necessary legal steps to recover the money from his former girlfriend, but Tan Zhu reportedly already reached an agreement with the father and settled the case. Nevertheless, the case continues to generate discussions online, with some people wondering: “Is it over yet? Can we talk about something different now?”

Fat Cat images projected in Times Square

However, given that images of the ‘Fat Cat’ avatar have even appeared in Times Square in New York by now (Chinese internet users projected it on one of the big LED screens), it’s likely that this story will be remembered and talked about for some time to come.


On May 20, local authorities issued a lengthy report to clarify the timeline of events and details surrounding the death of “Fat Cat,” which had attracted significant attention across China.

The report concluded that there was no fraud involved and that “Fat Cat” and his girlfriend were in a genuine relationship. Tan did not deceive “Fat Cat” for money; the transfers were voluntary. Furthermore, Tan returned most of the money to his parents.

The gamer’s sister is reportedly still being investigated for potentially infringing on Tan’s privacy by disclosing numerous private details to the public.

In the end, one thing is clear in this gamer’s tragic story, which is that there are no winners.

By Manya Koetse

– With contributions by Miranda Barnes and Ruixin Zhang

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

A Brew of Controversy: Lu Xun and LELECHA’s ‘Smoky’ Oolong Tea

Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy.

Manya Koetse



It seemed like such a good idea. For this year’s World Book Day, Chinese tea brand LELECHA (乐乐茶) put a spotlight on Lu Xun (鲁迅, 1881-1936), one of the most celebrated Chinese authors the 20th century and turned him into the the ‘brand ambassador’ of their special new “Smoky Oolong” (烟腔乌龙) milk tea.

LELECHA is a Chinese chain specializing in new-style tea beverages, including bubble tea and fruit tea. It debuted in Shanghai in 2016, and since then, it has expanded rapidly, opening dozens of new stores not only in Shanghai but also in other major cities across China.

Starting on April 23, not only did the LELECHA ‘Smoky Oolong” paper cups feature Lu Xun’s portrait, but also other promotional materials by LELECHA, such as menus and paper bags, accompanied by the slogan: “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” (“老烟腔,新青年”). The marketing campaign was a joint collaboration between LELECHA and publishing house Yilin Press.

Lu Xun featured on LELECHA products, image via Netease.

The slogan “Old Smoky Oolong, New Youth” is a play on the Chinese magazine ‘New Youth’ or ‘La Jeunesse’ (新青年), the influential literary magazine in which Lu’s famous short story, “Diary of a Madman,” was published in 1918.

The design of the tea featuring Lu Xun’s image, its colors, and painting style also pay homage to the era in which Lu Xun rose to prominence.

Lu Xun (pen name of Zhou Shuren) was a leading figure within China’s May Fourth Movement. The May Fourth Movement (1915-24) is also referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment or the Chinese Renaissance. It was the cultural revolution brought about by the political demonstrations on the fourth of May 1919 when citizens and students in Beijing paraded the streets to protest decisions made at the post-World War I Versailles Conference and called for the destruction of traditional culture[1].

In this historical context, Lu Xun emerged as a significant cultural figure, renowned for his critical and enlightened perspectives on Chinese society.

To this day, Lu Xun remains a highly respected figure. In the post-Mao era, some critics felt that Lu Xun was actually revered a bit too much, and called for efforts to ‘demystify’ him. In 1979, for example, writer Mao Dun called for a halt to the movement to turn Lu Xun into “a god-like figure”[2].

Perhaps LELECHA’s marketing team figured they could not go wrong by creating a milk tea product around China’s beloved Lu Xun. But for various reasons, the marketing campaign backfired, landing LELECHA in hot water. The topic went trending on Chinese social media, where many criticized the tea company.

Commodification of ‘Marxist’ Lu Xun

The first issue with LELECHA’s Lu Xun campaign is a legal one. It seems the tea chain used Lu Xun’s portrait without permission. Zhou Lingfei, Lu Xun’s great-grandson and president of the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation, quickly demanded an end to the unauthorized use of Lu Xun’s image on tea cups and other merchandise. He even hired a law firm to take legal action against the campaign.

Others noted that the image of Lu Xun that was used by LELECHA resembled a famous painting of Lu Xun by Yang Zhiguang (杨之光), potentially also infringing on Yang’s copyright.

But there are more reasons why people online are upset about the Lu Xun x LELECHA marketing campaign. One is how the use of the word “smoky” is seen as disrespectful towards Lu Xun. Lu Xun was known for his heavy smoking, which ultimately contributed to his early death.

It’s also ironic that Lu Xun, widely seen as a Marxist, is being used as a ‘brand ambassador’ for a commercial tea brand. This exploits Lu Xun’s image for profit, turning his legacy into a commodity with the ‘smoky oolong’ tea and related merchandise.

“Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you in an article. ”

On April 29, LELECHA finally issued an apology to Lu Xun’s relatives and the Lu Xun Cultural Foundation for neglecting the legal aspects of their marketing campaign. They claimed it was meant to promote reading among China’s youth. All Lu Xun materials have now been removed from LELECHA’s stores.

Statement by LELECHA.

On Chinese social media, where the hot tea became a hot potato, opinions on the issue are divided. While many netizens think it is unacceptable to infringe on Lu Xun’s portrait rights like that, there are others who appreciate the merchandise.

The LELECHA controversy is similar to another issue that went trending in late 2023, when the well-known Chinese tea chain HeyTea (喜茶) collaborated with the Jingdezhen Ceramics Museum to release a special ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ (佛喜) latte tea series adorned with Buddha images on the cups, along with other merchandise such as stickers and magnets. The series featured three customized “Buddha’s Happiness” cups modeled on the “Speechless Bodhisattva” (无语菩萨), which soon became popular among netizens.

The HeyTea Buddha latte series, including merchandise, was pulled from shelves just three days after its launch.

However, the ‘Buddha’s Happiness’ success came to an abrupt halt when the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau of Shenzhen intervened, citing regulations that prohibit commercial promotion of religion. HeyTea wasted no time challenging the objections made by the Bureau and promptly removed the tea series and all related merchandise from its stores, just three days after its initial launch.

Following the Happy Buddha and Lu Xun milk tea controversies, Chinese tea brands are bound to be more careful in the future when it comes to their collaborative marketing campaigns and whether or not they’re crossing any boundaries.

Some people couldn’t care less if they don’t launch another campaign at all. One Weibo user wrote: “Every day there’s a new collaboration here, another one there, but I’d just prefer a simple cup of tea.”

By Manya Koetse

[1]Schoppa, Keith. 2000. The Columbia Guide to Modern Chinese History. New York: Columbia UP, 159.

[2]Zhong, Xueping. 2010. “Who Is Afraid Of Lu Xun? The Politics Of ‘Debates About Lu Xun’ (鲁迅论争lu Xun Lun Zheng) And The Question Of His Legacy In Post-Revolution China.” In Culture and Social Transformations in Reform Era China, 257–284, 262.

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