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China Memes & Viral

Meet China’s Latest Internet Celebrity: The “Vagrant Shanghai Professor” (上海流浪大师)

He is the latest online sensation in China, but what is this hype really about?

Gabi Verberg

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Over the past month, the popular short-video app Douyin flooded with videos of the so-called “Vagrant Shanghai Professor” (上海流浪大师), who has conquered the hearts of millions of Chinese netizens. His fans are determined to make the Shanghai drifter more famous, regardless of his own wishes.

It has been nine years since “Brother Sharp” (犀利哥), a homeless man from Ningbo, became an online hit in China for his fashionable and handsome appearance. Now, another homeless man, this time from Shanghai, has become an internet sensation for his poise, wisdom, and modesty.

‘Brother Sharp’ became an online hit in 2009 (image via Chinasmack).

It all started about three weeks ago when an online video of a homeless man who eloquently discusses literature and philosophy went viral on Chinese social media, receiving millions of views within a time span of just three days. The man was nicknamed the “Vagrant Shanghai Professor” (上海流浪大师).

Soon, more information about the man’s identity started making its rounds on the internet. The “Vagrant Professor” is named Shen Wei (沈巍), a 52-year-old who was born and raised in Shanghai. Shen reportedly once worked as a civil servant at the Shanghai’s Xuhui District Audit Bureau, before he took sick leave and started roaming the streets anonymously for more than twenty years.

Persistent rumors started circulating the internet, suggesting that Shen once graduated from the prestigious Fudan University in Shanghai and that he became a vagrant after his wife and daughter had died in a car crash. Despite Shen himself repeatedly denying these claims, the rumors kept appearing in articles and on social media.

Whether he likes it or not, Shen’s quiet days of reading books and collecting garbage are now seemingly over. Within a few days after the first video of Shen went viral, hundreds of people began searching for him near Shanghai’s Gaoke West Road, the place where he usually stays, hoping to catch a glimpse of the ‘Vagrant Professor’ and take a selfie with him.

Hundreds of photos and videos of Chen started flooding the internet, all showing the same image: Shen surrounded by people, holding their phones in his face.

Shen became a true social media phenomenon, even receiving attention outside of China, with both BBC and Washington Post reporting about this man’s sudden rise to fame.

For Shen, his online celebrity status has come at a price. When the crowds became too big, the Shanghai police had to intervene and escort him out of his shelter. While the police were trying to bring Shen to safety, people were still taking his picture and tried touching him. One woman even held up a cardboard sign saying: “Vagrant Professor, I want to marry you.”

Over the past week, Shen hasn’t been seen out in public. Some recent photos of Chen show that he had an apparent makeover when attending a class reunion that was specially organized for him by his former classmates.

As the hype around the ‘Vagrant Professor’ is slowly quieting down, more critical responses to Chen’s sudden fame are surfacing on Chinese social media, asking who this hype really is about in the end.

Many netizens question the invasion of Chen’s privacy, saying that this craze was not so much about Chen himself but more about people’s needs for a dramatic and touching story, and social media users’ greed for more clicks and likes for themselves through Chen. These so-called “like hunters” will try to get as many ‘likes’ as possible to make them feel good about themselves.

Commenters also point out that if it would have been about Chen himself, his ‘fans’ should have left him alone as he requested. Instead, they disrupted his life so drastically that he had to leave the streets he once called home.

On Weibo, one person wrote: “This is how I see it: all these people who took his photo are the real beggars, begging for likes.”

Other people wrote: “Society has gone mad,” and: “Even if you don’t want to be famous, they will just make you famous.”

The fashionable beggar ‘Brother Sharp’ who rose to fame in 2009 initially benefited from his overnight stardom. He received help from social workers, but once he looked like a ‘regular person’ again, people lost interest in him.

Brother Sharp after his makeover.

According to a recent media report, ‘Brother Sharp’ has, again, lost contact with his family and might be back on the street, anonymous this time. Perhaps the story of the ‘Vagrant Professor’ will see a similar ending once the hype has blown over.

By Gabi Verberg, edited by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

Gabi Verberg is a Business graduate from the University of Amsterdam who has worked and studied in Shanghai and Beijing. She now lives in Amsterdam and works as a part-time translator, with a particular interest in Chinese modern culture and politics.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Pierre

    April 16, 2019 at 7:27 am

    One new Buzz, interesting actually.
    I do not see what they are promoting, maybe a new KOL account.
    What do you think Gabi?

  2. Avatar

    Rod

    February 14, 2020 at 9:49 am

    It is a nice story, I really like it . Even if is fake(or storytelling) it is a nice message for the young generation of Chinese. And good inspiration for personal Branding.

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China Brands & Marketing

About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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China and Covid19

Happiest Lockdown in China: Guests Undergo Mandatory Quarantine at Shanghai Disneyland Hotel

“I wish I could be quarantined at Disney too!” The Shanghai Disney hotel apparently is the happiest place to get locked in.

Manya Koetse

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While many cities across China are experiencing new (partial) lockdowns and millions of people are confined to their homes, there was also a group of people that had to undergo mandatory quarantine at a very special place: the Shanghai Disneyland Hotel.

On September 7, social media posts started surfacing online from people who said they were required to quarantine while they were at the Shanghai Disneyland hotel. Disneyland reportedly had received a notification from the local health authorities that a visitor who previously stayed at the Disneyland hotel was found to be a close contact of a newly confirmed Covid case.

In line with the Center for Disease Control requirements, Disney created a ‘closed loop system’ by locking in all hotel residents and staff members and doing daily Covid tests. While the Disneyland theme park was open as usual, the hotel became a temporary isolation site where people’s health would be monitored for the next few days while all staff members would also be screened.

During their mandatory quarantine, guests stayed at the hotel for free and did not need to pay for their rooms. Room prices at the Shanghai Disneyland hotel start at around 3000 yuan/night ($433).

Some guests shared photos of their Disneyland quarantine stay on social media, showing how Disney staff provided them with free breakfast, lunch, a surprise afternoon tea, delicious dinner, fun snacks, and Disney toys and stickers.

On the Little Red Book (Xiaohongshu) app, one Shanghai Disney visitor (nickname @恶霸小提莫) wrote: “We have three meals a day, there is both Chinese and Western-style breakfast, we also get afternoon tea and desserts, they have shrimp, beef, scallops, drinks, French macarons, yogurt, ice cream, and much more. We watched so many Disney movies for free. We are given so many little gifts, they brought us gifts twice today as they also brought us toy figures at night. We watch the fireworks from our windows every night at 8.30 pm. Although we weren’t allowed to go out, we really had a pleasant stay.”

Another Disney guest named Zoea (Xiaohongshu ID: yiya0313) also shared many photos of the mandatory quarantine and wrote: “When the staff knocked on the door to tell me they were bringing dinner, I even wondered how it was possible that they brought food again. Afternoon tea during quarantine, can you believe it? And fruit before dinner? And midnight snacks brought to us after dinner? And it was so nice to watch all the Disney movies on tv. Disney really is the most magical place.”

“I’m just so happy,” another locked-in Disney guest posted on social media, sharing pictures of Mickey Mouse cakes.

Other guests also posted about their experiences on social media. “They probably feared we would get bored so they brought us glue, stickers, and painting brushes, the kids loved it and so did we!”

Reading about the happy quarantine at Disney, many Weibo users responded that they envied the guests, writing: “I wish I could be quarantined at Disney too.”

“I need to find a way to get in, too,” others wrote.

Earlier this year, one Chinese woman shared her story of being quarantined inside a hotpot restaurant for three days. Although many people also envied the woman, who could eat all she wanted during her stay, she later said she felt like she had enough hotpot for the rest of her life.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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