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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

“The Frog in the Well”: China’s Condemnation of the G7 Summit

The most noteworthy criticism of the G7 summit came from Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying, who started the frog analogy.




There has been a lot of talk about frogs in Chinese online discussions following the G7 summit. Over the past week, the G7 summit, that was held in Hiroshima from 19 to 21 May, was criticized in Chinese newspaper headlines and by official media accounts, while China’s ministry of foreign affairs accused the G7 of “smearing” and “attacking” China.

The G7 was called a “failure” on the China Daily front page of May 22. On the same day, Global Times called the summit “manipulative” in its front page headline and suggested the Group of Seven had descended into an “anti-China workshop” in its op-ed, which featured an illustration by Liu Rui that showed the seven nations in a boat, not cooperating and barely moving.

The Global Times op-ed, including the cartoon by Li Rui. Source: Global Times.

But perhaps the most noteworthy criticism on the G7 summit came from Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹).

On her official Twitter account (@SpokespersonCHN) Hua lashed out against the G7 and its participating nations in a series of tweets in which she condemned the summit as hypocritical, deceptive, and biased, while highlighting China’s contributions to global economic growth.

Some of the tweets posted by Hua Chunying in response to the Group of Seven “attacking” and “slandering” China.

The Chinese condemnation of the G7 is a direct response to the G7 Communiqué and to the summit’s supposed “hype around China-related issues.”

During the G7 summit in Hiroshima, the participating nations expressed growing concerns about China’s expanding global influence. The summit’s official statement emphasized the need to “de-risk” rather than “de-couple” from China in their relationship. The statement mentioned China 20 times, a significant increase from the 14 mentions in 2022.

The discussions focused on various aspects related to China, including its relations with Taiwan, human rights issues in Xinjiang and Tibet, interference in democratic institutions, and responses to Russia’s military aggression.

Prior to the summit, President Emmanuel Macron of France made it clear through one of his advisers that the G7 was not an ‘anti-Chinese’ coalition. However, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak of the United Kingdom went beyond the official statement, emphasizing the significant threat posed by China to global security. Speaking to reporters at the G7 meeting, Sunak stated that “China poses the biggest challenge of our age to global security and prosperity. They are increasingly authoritarian at home and assertive abroad.”

From China’s perspective, the Group of Seven is unwilling to go beyond their own distorted world view in which China is labeled a threat. And so, in one of Hua’s tweets, she posted an image showing a frog on the bottom a well, looking up to the sky and wondering: “G7 = world?”

The image tweeted out by Hua Chunying on 22 May, 2023. Source:

The depiction of a frog in the well is a direct reference to the well-known fable by philosopher Zhuangzi about a frog in a well who does not believe it when a turtle tells him that the world is bigger than the view from the well. The frog stubbornly denies the existence of the wider world and asserts that nothing lies beyond what he can see. The fable has given rise to Chinese idioms such as “the frog at the bottom of the well” (井底之蛙) and “looking at the sky from the bottom of the well” (坐井观天). These idioms are commonly used to describe those who exhibit ignorance and resist broadening their understanding beyond their limited perspective.

Hua’s frog-tweet and others were also shared on Weibo by state media outlet China Daily, which initiated the hashtags “Hua Chunying Fires Back with Series of Tweets to Counter G7’s Smear Campaign Against China” (#华春莹连发多条推特回击G7抹黑中国言论#) and “Hua Chunying Uses Frog at Bottom of Well to Hit Back at G7’s Smearing Remarks” (#华春莹用井底之蛙回击G7抹黑言论#).

One nationalistic Weibo blogging account (@大大大餅乾丶) shared additional images of frogs, including one with a frog adorned with an American flag and the word “independence” written on its forehead. The blogger pointed out that some groups in Taiwan believed that Hua’s frog tweet was directed at Taiwan, stating: “It seems like their self-awareness is right on point.”

Post by Weibo account @大大大餅干丶, including the frog image. (Source:

The connection between the frog idiom and Taiwan is not unfounded. In August 2022, during Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan, an illustration depicting a frog leisurely relaxing in a hotpot while the US increased the heat and mainland China held the lid also went viral online.

Illustration by Kokita Chang, circulating on Weibo in August of 2022.

Meanwhile, on Weibo, many praised Hua’s sharp criticism of the way in which China was targeted during the G7 talks and embraced the frog analogy. “One a frog, always a frog,” some wrote.

Other state media outlets, including Global Times, also reported about Hua’s tweets and argued that that the G7 is purposely hyping the “China treat” theory (中国威胁论). The louder their anti-China rhetoric is, the less impact it has, the article argues.

Other commenters, however, seemed to note some irony in the frog analogy. One blogger argued that since the frog in the image himself wonders if the G7 is really the entire world, he actually already does not have such a limited worldview. Several Weibo users wondered who the frog actually represented, suggesting it could either be the G7, Taiwan, or mainland China itself.

Within this context, some individuals expressed curiosity about Hua Chunying’s choice to post the original message on the American Twitter platform, which is inaccessible within mainland China. They humorously remarked, “Twitter? What is Twitter?”

By Manya Koetse & Zilan Qian

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China Memes & Viral

Online Discussions over Income: “When My Dad Was Young, His Monthly Salary Was 2000 Yuan (And I Still Earn the Same)”

Making 2000 yuan ($287) now is not the same as making 2000 yuan then. Some netizens complain that they’ll never earn as much as their dad did.

Manya Koetse



A hashtag titled “When My Dad Was Young His Monthly Income Was 2000 Yuan” (#爸爸年轻时的工资是2000#) received 130 million views on Weibo this week and raised discussions about changes in average monthly salary, inflation, and discouraged youth.

The hashtag comes from a post by a netizen who jokingly wrote: “My dad’s salary was 2000 yuan (US$287) when he was young. My current monthly income is the same, [so] he passed the torch.”

The text contains a word joke, using the idiom xīnhuǒ xiāngchuán 薪火相传, meaning “passing on the torch” or “handing down the tradition,” but the word ‘torch’ also contains the character for ‘salary,’ reinforcing the joke of passing on salary from one generation to the next. The same blogger also posted other similar jokes in the thread.

This week, China’s National Bureau of Statistics released new statistics showing that the average annual salary for a Chinese urban, non-private sector worker in 2022 was 114,029 yuan ($16,400) while private sector workers had an average annual income of 65,237 yuan ($9375).

According to Caixin, the salary gap between the private and non-private sector have been widening since 2008, leading to employees in China’s non-private sector now earning around 75% more than people working for private-sector companies.

In 2019, China’s per capita income reached US$10,000 (Song & Zhou 2021, 1). However, in addition to the differences between the private and non-private sectors, there are also significant income gaps between urban and rural areas, as well as across different regions. Then there are also income disparities related to other things, such as differential treatment in the urban labour market of locals versus migrants.

Right now, a McDonald’s store manager in Suzhou would make a minimum monthly income of 7200 yuan ($1035), plus a 13th month pay. A restaurant staff member in Qingyuan, no experience required, would get a minimum monthly income of 2000-3000 yuan ($287-$430) according to recent online job advertisements.

In discussions surrounding the ‘my dad made 2000 yuan’ joke, many people share their own experiences of what they are making versus what their parents made.

One popular Weibo blogger (@琉玄) wrote: “I remember my dad made 3000 yuan ($430) around the year 2000. However, a lot of people are still at that level of pay nowadays. In 2000, I paid 1.5 yuan ($0.22) for a bowl of rice noodles in Hunan. In 2005 in Beijing, I could get a jianbing (Chinese pancake) for the same price. Now, a bowl of rice noodles in Shanghai will cost 38 yuan ($5.5), and jianbing prices start at 7 yuan ($1).”

“With your dad’s 2,000, he could do whatever he wanted; with your 2,000, you only can only do what your salary will get you,” one commenter wrote.

The idea that some children are still barely making more than their parents did over two decades ago – yet it buys them much less – is prevalent in online discussions.

Some Weibo users also suggest that this is a reason why so many Chinese youth are ‘lying flat’ (tǎng píng 躺平). By ‘lying flat,’ Chinese young adults from middle and lower classes basically refuse to sweat over climbing higher up the social and economic ladder. They will only do the bare minimum and believe that upward social mobility has become an unattainable goal (read more here).

Chinese political/social commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also had something to say about this issue. According to Hu, you could still find some people getting by on 2000 yuan per month in China’s more rural areas, including among farmers and fishermen. In the bigger cities, however, people could not get by with a monthly income of just 2000 yuan, and he suggests that even a cleaner in Beijing would be able to make 6000 yuan ($862) now if they work twenty days per month.

At the same time, urban, white-collar workers are seeing a declining trend in income while competition and work pressure is increasing. It is therefore not surprising, according to Hu, that they are venting online and finding some pleasure in mocking themselves. Nevertheless, Hu argues, Chinese youth is still among the most hardworking in the world.

He also reminds people that a middle income in Beijing around the year 2000 was below 2000 yuan: “If you are now in your early 20s, your dad did not make 2000 yuan as a young worker in Beijing. And if he was working a smaller city, he definitely did not make it [2000 yuan]!”

However, some people in the comment section believe that Hu’s post trivializes a serious issue and demonstrates a lack of awareness of the current realities, especially considering his position of privilege.

“Why don’t they eat meat porridge?” (Hébù shí ròumí 何不食肉糜) one commenter wrote, referring to the famous sentence attributed to Emperor Hui (259–307) of Western Jin. The story goes that when he was told that his people were starving because there was no rice, he asked why did not eat porridge with meat instead. Similar to “let them have cake” (“qu’ils mangent de la brioche“), it showed that he was oblivious to the sufferings of the common folk.

“Hu should go to the counties in Hebei and ask around, he’ll find plenty of people with a monthly pay of 2000.” “Come to Harbin, you’ll find many people on this pay here.”

Others also suggest that Hu was not right in saying that a cleaner in Beijing could earn 6000 a month by only working twenty days.

“I currently make an income of 10k, yet I still can’t afford a house, have one child, and we can just get by.”

Although many people, including Hu Xijin, suggested that it is not actually true that your dad made 2000 yuan when he was young and that you still get the same pay, some claim that it is their reality: “But really. My dad made around that amount back in the day, and now that I’m grown up, my pay is around that amount. I’m speechless.”

“I won’t even tell my dad what I’m making,” another commenter wrote: “After graduating, I just told him I’ll never make what he made.”

By Manya Koetse,

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Song, Ligang, and Yixiao Zhou (eds.) 2021. China’s Challenges in Moving towards a High-Income Economy. Australian National University Press.

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