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China Memes & Viral

The Rise of China’s “Special Forces Travel”: The Mission to Get the Ultimate Budget Trip in Limited Time

Fun, fast, frugal: this Chinese travel trend is all about doing as much as possible at a low price within a limited time.

Zilan Qian



This Labor Day holiday, ‘special forces travelers’ are flooding popular tourist spots across China. Their mission is clear: covering as many places as possible at the lowest cost and within a limited time. While the travel trend has become a social media hype, there are also those criticizing the trend for being superficial and troublesome.

Social media platforms in China are witnessing the emergence of a new trend in short videos and posts featuring content tagged as “college student special forces” (大学生特种兵).

These posts showcase vloggers’ travels in a particular location, featuring a compilation of photos and video clips of famous tourist destinations. The videos typically begin with the title “College Student Special Forces: 24/48 hours Eating/Exploring [Location]” (大学生特种兵之24/48小时吃/玩遍xx), followed by stylish sentences to provide more context.

The official Weibo account of Sichuan Radio and Television’s Sichuan Observation featured one particular “college student special forces” video that showcased a 24-hour eating tour of Sichuan. The video included photos of various Sichuan dishes, such as Bo Bo chicken (钵钵鸡), tofu pudding (豆腐脑), and shaved ice dessert (冰粉), with succinct commentary such as “[xxx food] has been eaten” accompanying each dish.

This collage features four dishes showcased in the videos. The top row, from left to right, shows ice dessert and bobo chicken; the bottom row features tofu pudding and potato pancake. Screenshots via video.

These videos showcase a new trend in domestic travel called “special forces style traveling.” According to an article by Hongxing News on Weibo, this type of travel is characterized by short durations, visits to numerous tourist spots, low expenses, and excitement.

The article provides an example of this travel style by featuring a college student’s one-day itinerary to Guangyuan in Sichuan. In the itinerary, the student arrives in Guangyuan at 9 am, visits eight tourist spots, and returns to school by 11 pm, spending a total of 202 RMB [$29]. This amount includes the cost of train tickets (111 RMB/$16), entrance fees to tourist spots, local transportation, and meals.

This photo displays the travel itinerary of the college students from the original Weibo article, including the expenses in RMB indicated in the brackets. The author has provided a translation of the itinerary for reference.

This 11-hour travel experience is perhaps only a moderate version of the ‘special forces’ style, which can sometimes be extreme.

According to an article by Toutiao News, two first-year college students left their campus on Friday after class and took a 10-hour train ride to Beijing, arriving at 5:30 am on Saturday. Despite the long journey, they stayed up all night on Saturday to witness the flag-raising ceremony in Tiananmen Square at 3 am on Sunday.

Similarly, one graduate student spent a day at World Studio and then embarked on a late-night climb up Mount Taishan – the highest of the five sacred mountains in China, – at 11 pm on Friday. She then traveled to Jinan at noon for lunch and sightseeing, and headed to Zibo at night for barbecue on Saturday before departing for Beijing at 11 pm.

Remarkably, all of these students managed to return to school in time for their Monday morning classes as usual.

Compilation of posts showing extreme travel schedules, such as: arriving in Beijing at 5:45; 6:10 Nanluoguxiang; 7:00 Gulou; 8:30 Palace Museum; 11:00 moat of the Forbidden City; 14:00 Lama Temple; 15:40 Summer Palace; 21:00 Tiananmen Square.

The rise of the “special forces” style of travel has garnered support from Chinese netizens and media outlets alike.

Xinjing News reports that this approach demonstrates young people’s consideration for time and cost, as well as their ability to adapt to fast-paced environments.

Others also see it as a way for college students to seize the day and build resilience by facing challenges head-on. Local media outlets have also embraced the “special forces” concept as a marketing strategy to promote tourism. They create and promote travel itineraries that showcase all the area’s tourist attractions in under half a minute through short videos.

A screenshot from Hangzhou Public Security’s Weibo post on a new “special forces” style travel route that covers seven tourist spots. Tourists are encouraged to meet with the public security forces at each spot in exchange for special gifts from Hangzhou Public Security.

Despite the hype surrounding the trend, there are also concerns and annoyances about this form of travel.

Some think the trend is unhealthy. As a Weibo post by China News Weekly warns, this travel style, with high-intensity exercise and deprivation of sleep, can be be bad for your health (#特种兵式旅游存在健康隐患#).

Others are more annoyed about the “special force” travelers becoming a nuisance to others due to their frugality. One recent viral hashtag was about so many travelers sleeping at the tables of a 24-hour Haidilao hotpot restaurant that they were unable to serve other customers (#海底捞一门店睡满人导致无法用餐#).

Sleeping at Haidilao.

According to a Weibo post pinned on top of the hashtag page, many college students slept in the restaurant after finishing their meals because of the many performances happening in Nanjing during the Labor Day holiday (五一假期). One Weibo user made a playful comment under the hashtag, joking about the frugality of this type of travel: “It seems like this is a special forces trip after all. The main feature is to simply have a roof over your head.”

A photo from Vista’s Weibo post under the hashtag. Haidilao restaurant customers complain about queuing up at 3 am because of college students sleeping in the shop, showing students’ suitcases outside the restaurant.

Other netizens also question how meaningful this kind of travel style is: does the “special forces” traveler actually experience local culture, or are they just flaunting their travels for social media and skimming over everything without learning anything? The word used is zǒumǎ guān huā (走马观花), which literally means glancing over flowers while riding on horseback: having a superficial understanding from cursory observation.

As one user of the Q&A platform Zhihu comments, this travel style simply enables people to “punch the clock” (打卡, showing to have acquired something new or traveled somewhere) or “clock in” to many places in order to post about it on WeChat or Tiktok: “There is actually no difference compared to to the old travel style of ‘sleeping on the bus, taking photos off the bus’ (上车睡觉,下车拍照)’. Both [kind of travelers] return home with nothing learned.”

Despite raising some criticism, many people view the “special forces” style of travel as a choice made due to limited economic resources and time.

In response to the question, “What does ‘special forces’ style show? Do we forget the meaning of traveling in this fast-paced society?” one Zhihu user explained that for many people, their limited time and financial resources prevent them from fully realizing the meaning of traveling: “Taking a vacation means having to make up for missed workdays, and even working hard doesn’t bring in much money. The workload is so heavy that if you can take a break and have some fun, that’s already pretty good. Meaningful travel…that belongs to the wealthy.”

On the other hand, another Zhihu commenter also challenges the idea of “meaningful travel” by claiming that the so-called “meaning” of travel is a subjective experience: “Any experience is a good experience when you’re young, as long as it’s not illegal or dangerous. Why would others want to ruin their excitement?”

“Only you can add meaning to your travels,” another commenter writes: “The ‘special forces travel’ is fresh, and it’s fun (..) Don’t dive in too much on whether it’s meaningful or not. There’s so many different ways of things being meaningful. For many things, it’s just about doing it, and if you like it, then you keep doing it and otherwise you stop. It’s basically what life is all about.”

By Zilan Qian

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Zilan Qian is a China-born undergraduate student at Barnard College majoring in Anthropology. She is interested in exploring different cultural phenomena, loves people-watching, and likes loitering in supermarkets and museums.

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    May 7, 2023 at 8:10 pm

    Reminded me somehow of the 1964 JP Belmondo movie L’homme de Rio, minus the narcissistic component of today. Or would these youngsters do these trips, this (IMO boring) gamification of travel, if they had no way of bragging about it? An honest question, to a degree, because I seriously don’t care what they do.

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China Memes & Viral

‘Auntie Goose Legs’ Goes Viral after Becoming Sensation in Beijing’s Student Scene

She has become all the rage in Beijing’s student district, but Auntie Goose Legs just wants to run her roasted goose leg stall in peace.

Manya Koetse



A Beijing food vendor, affectionately known as ‘Auntie Goose Legs,’ has become a viral sensation after becoming super popular among the city’s student community. However, this beloved ‘auntie’ has caused quite a commotion recently after relocating her stall, triggering debates among local students over which university she truly ‘belongs’ to.

This winter, students at Peking University, Tsinghua University, and Renmin University are all craving hot, roasted goose legs. This snack has gained quite the reputation in the Beijing’s Haidian District, where ‘Auntie Goose Legs’ has been selling her food near the dorms and entrances of the various local universities.

The food vendor, who is known for wearing a pink helmet, initially sold her goose legs near the entrances of Peking University and Renmin University, not too far from Haidian South Street. All went well for years. She would let students know when she would be setting up her stall near what entrance, and the neighbourhood kids could come and enjoy her roasted goose legs.

Although her business was doing well, Auntie Goose Legs still found it necessary to remind students she was coming and promoted her goose legs through WeChat to ensure sufficient sales.

Then, one day, Auntie made a sudden decision to relocate further north, near the entrance of Tsinghua University. This move stirred conversations in many Beijing students’ WeChat groups.

While the Peking University student community mourned the loss of convenient access to their beloved goose legs, the Tsinghua crowd welcomed Auntie with enthusiasm. Besides eagerly buying her goose legs, they went a step further by assisting her in professionalizing her business, setting up special Goose Legs WeChat groups, and implementing online queuing and payment systems.

Popular meme showing a neglected ‘Beida’ (Peking University) on the left, while mother ‘Auntie Goose Leg’ is playing with Tsinghua.

As reported by WeChat account Meishaonv023 (美少女挖掘机), the students at Peking University pleaded for the return of their beloved Auntie. Meanwhile, concerns arose among Tsinghua students, as the Auntie’s skyrocketing popularity made it increasingly challenging to secure their goose leg snacks. Perhaps their campaign to promote her business had become a little bit too successful?

Long lines for auntie’s goose legs.

Where is Auntie Goose Legs?

According to Meishaonv023, Auntie Goose Legs has become so famous locally that among Beijing’s university students and in Wudaokou circles (Wudaokou is the famous student hub in Beijing’s Haidian), there are now only two groups: those who have tasted her goose legs and those who have not.

Roasted goose, with is deep flavor and golden skin, is a dish that is commonly enjoyed in various international cuisines, especially during winter seasons. According to some people who have tasted the Beijing food vendor’s goose legs, they are the perfect mix of juicy and tender, sweet and spicy.

Amidst the hype surrounding the goose leg food stall, Auntie decided to raise her prices by 1 yuan, increasing from 15 yuan ($2.12) per goose leg to 16 yuan ($2.26). Unexpectedly, some people also decided to make some extra money by becoming ‘Goose Leg scalpers’ and adding another 2 yuan to the price of one goose leg when reselling it to other students.

Auntie Goose Legs, wearing her pink helmet, surrounded by students.

And there were more developments in the Auntie Goose Legs saga. When she decided to announce that she would no longer set up her stall at Tsinghua on Sundays, the students argued that she then should not set up her stall anywhere else on that day, either. If they can’t have goose legs on Sundays, then the Peking Uni students certainly shouldn’t have goose legs on Sunday either?

Then, the canteen manager at Renmin University suddenly made a surprising move on November 27 and introduced roasted goose legs in the university’s canteen, selling them for just 15 yuan. Some people, however, argued that they lacked the ‘soul’ of Auntie’s food. Meanwhile, the people at the nearby Forestry University also showed their interest in joining the Goose Leg battlefield.

One of the reasons why this story has blown up on Chinese social media is because the universities involved are among the most prestigious of the entire country. It strikes people as amusing that instead of focusing on applied mathematical problems, these top academics are actually engaged in bickering over roasted goose legs.

As the success of her business blew up, Auntie Goose Legs, seemingly overwhelmed, announced that she was going to take a short break from her food stall on November 28, writing: “It’s all too messy now.” One day later, she seemed emotional in a Douyin video, in which she said she felt too much pressure because of how the situation was unfolding, and that she just wanted to sell her goose legs in peace (“只想平平安安做烧烤”).

Auntie Goose Legs said she was overwhelmed in a video posted on November 29.

Her story shares some resemblance to that of the duck head seller in Zibo (鸭头, duck head, is a Chinese snack). Earlier this year, when the Shandong town of Zibo became all the rage, a local duck head seller became an online sensation after a video showing how a female tourist touched his muscles went viral overnight. What do you do when you suddenly see 180,000 visitors a day passing by your small duck’s head shop?

The duck head seller in Zibo.

Although his hit status initially boosted sales, the crowds of people coming to his shop soon became so overwhelming that he could no longer run his business as usual. As some even started harassing and physically assaulting him, he could no longer do his work and had to temporarily close his shop. In a live stream, he tearfully talked about how his business, ironically, was facing difficulties due to his viral success.

“It’s not always good to go viral like this,” one Weibo commenter wrote about Auntie Goose Legs. “If she wants some peace, just let her.” While many share the sentiment, suggesting that the food vendor deserves a break after becoming a local sensation, others just want to try out her food. One thing is certain; goose legs are the trending snack for this Beijing winter.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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China Media

Xi and Biden’s “Beautiful” Hongqi Moment: National Pride and Shifting Dynamics in Sino-American Relations

The recognition of the decades-old Chinese Hongqi brand by a U.S. president was a promotion-worthy moment for Chinese official channels, resonating with netizens.

Manya Koetse



After the much anticipated Xi-Biden meeting in California on November 15, one noteworthy detail quickly hit Weibo’s top trending topics, namely Biden’s apparent admiration for Xi Jinping’s Hongqi car. The hashtag “Biden Points at Hongqi Car, Calls it Beautiful” #拜登指着红旗车说beautiful#) had racked up over 300 million views on Weibo by Thursday night.

The short moment happened as Biden accompanied Xi to his car following their meeting. “It’s a beautiful vehicle,” Biden remarked. “It’s a Hongqi car, made in China,” Xi replied. Biden then quickly peek inside before comparing the Hongqi car to his own American Cadillac “beast.”

On Chinese social media, the Hongqi car compliment was prominently featured and amplified by various official channels, framing it not only as a testament to the friendly relations between the U.S. and China but also as a triumph for Chinese-made brands.

The recognition of this decades-old Chinese brand by a U.S. president (similarly vintage) added an extra layer of significance, making it a noteworthy promotion-worthy moment that resonated with netizens.

Image “Hongqi: Recognition by the President of the United States”, circulating on Weibo.

Hongqi holds special significance in China and serves as a symbol of national pride, being the first car and limousine independently produced by the country in 1958 by FAW Group under the guidance of Chairman Mao Zedong. At the front of the car, you find a red flag, while the emblem on the back features Chinese characters for Red Flag in Mao Zedong’s calligraphy. Hóngqí (红旗) literally translates to ‘red flag.’

In the book Development of a Society on Wheels (2018), the Hongqi car is described as “carrying strong political symbols with a strong socialist flavor” as it stands for the success of China’s socialist system and the country’s self-reliance (p. 187). The car first premiered during the military parade in 1959, which celebrated the tenth anniversary of the People’s Republic of China (Hong 2013, 191).

China’s car industry has come a long way since then. China is now the largest automobile market and its car industry has quadrupled exports in just three years, surpassing Japan as the world leader.

Various Chinese media outlet used the context of Biden’s remarks to hold polls on the popularity of Chinese brand cars among netizens, asking them if they’d rather purchase a foreign car or a domestically produced brand. A majority of respondents indicated a preference for made-in-China brands.

Hongqi making its international debut at the Leipzig Trade Fair (Des Foires Internationales, 1960) (Sina).

But the way this incident is showcased on Chinese social media through official channels goes beyond Chinese national pride of esteemed brands and the success of China’s car industry. It also serves as a means to highlight the positive relations between Xi and Biden, as well as between China and the U.S., without delving too deeply into the political aspects of the meeting itself.

Recently, there has been a noticeable shift in Chinese official narratives regarding Washington and Biden, a change reflected in the top-down management of social media discussions on these topics and the guidelines on what is permitted or restricted. As is always the case with bigger high-level events and meetings involving leader Xi Jinping, there is stringent control and limited space for open online discussions when it comes to political content. But it is evident that the comments that now do make it to the front pages of Weibo or Douyin are primarily positive and supportive—this, despite the overall surge in anti-American sentiments on Chinese social media (also see our other recent article here).

The brief exchange between Biden and Xi about their cars is not merely positive, non-political, and non-sensitive; it also possesses another layer that makes it the ideal moment to highlight. It portrays a moment of changing power dynamics in bilateral relations, with the American president appreciating the Chinese leader’s car as much as he does his own Cadillac. Despite their differences, both are equally powerful and “beautiful.” This narrative precisely mirrors the current discourse about Sino-American relations that is especially visible in China’s online media sphere.

On X, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) dedicated two tweets to the Hongqi moment. One of them showed a picture of the two cars next to eachother at the Filoli estate in Woodside, California, with Hua writing: “🇨🇳Chinese Hongqi and 🇺🇸American Cadillac Beast.”

On Weibo, a few commenters playfully suggested that Biden should consider swapping his Cadillac for a Hongqi. “Hey Old Joe, why not opt for a Hongqi, too?” Others humorously proposed that Biden could become an outstanding new spokesperson for the iconic Chinese car brand.

Meanwhile, the Hongqi brand shared the video of the moment on its own social media page with a caption inspired by a quote from Xi: “Staying true to our original aspiration, living up to expectations” (“不忘初心,不负期待”).

FAW Group Hongqi also posted the moment on their own social media page.

One Weibo user (@林妹妹有话说) from Guangdong writes:

Times have really changed. Once, it was us [Chinese] who looked in admiration at the towering skyscrapers and bustling cars and traffic in the United States. Now, the whole situation has turned around and it’s America’s turn to admire China’s infrastructure, Chinese manufacturing, and especially the Chinese automotive industry (..) Our current power has earned us equality, respect, and admiration from the U.S. and the West. This reality is a powerful blow to those ‘intellectuals’ in the past who wanted us to kneel down in return for “friendship” with the West. It’s such a happy moment!

By Manya Koetse

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Hong, Song. 2013. “National Patent Regime and Indigenous Innovations in compliance with TRIPS: A Case Study of China.” In: Sunil Mani and Richard R Nelson (eds), TRIPS Compliance, National Patent Regimes and Innovation, 172-222. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

Wang, Junxiu. 2018. Development of a Society on Wheels: Understanding the Rise of Automobile-dependency in China Springer Nature Singapore.

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