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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 Memes & Viral

“Hi, Mom!” Box Office Hit Sparks ‘When My Mum Was Younger’ Trend on Weibo

The touching Chinese hit movie “Hi, Mom” has sparked an emotional trend on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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The movie Hi, Mom is all the rage in China, where social media is flooding with hashtags, photos, and texts celebrating moms and the bond between mothers and daughters. One big discussion is focused on all the things daughters would tell their younger moms: “Please don’t marry dad.”

If you could travel back in time and meet your mum before she had you, what would you say to her? What would you do?

This question is the idea behind Hi, Mom (Chinese title Hi, Li Huanying 你好,李焕英), the box office favorite in China this Spring Festival. The movie is directed by Jia Ling (贾玲), who also plays the female protagonist. For comedian Jia Ling, who is mostly known for her sketches during the Spring Festival Gala, this movie is her directorial debut.

Hi, Mom tells the story of Jia Xiaoling (Jia Ling) who is devastated when her mother Li Huanying has a serious accident one day. Jia is especially grief-stricken because she feels she has not become the daughter she wanted to be for her mother. When she finds herself transported back in time to the year 1981, she meets her young mother before she was her mum, and becomes her friend in the hopes of making her happy and change her life for the better.

From the movie “Hi, Mom”

Li Huanying is also the name of Jia Ling’s own mother, who passed away when Jia was just 19 years old. Jia Ling reportedly did not make the movie because she wanted to be a director, but because she wanted to tell her mother’s story.

The film has become super popular since its debut on February 12 and raked in 2.6 billion yuan (over $400 million) within five days. On day five alone, the movie earned $90 million.

The movie has sparked various trends on Chinese social media. One of them is an online ‘challenge’ for daughters to post pictures of mothers when they were young. The hashtag “Photo of My Mother When She Was Young” (#妈妈年轻时的照片#) received 120 million views on Weibo by Wednesday. Another hashtag used for this ‘challenge’ is “This is My Li Huanying” (#这是我的李焕英#). The hashtags have motivated thousands of netizens to post photos of their mother before she became a mom.

The trend has not just sparked an online movement to celebrate and appreciate mothers – it also offers an intimate glance into the lives of Chinese older women and shows just how different the times were when they were young. This also gave many daughters a new appreciation of their mothers.

“I used to have many wishes,” one female Weibo user wrote: “But now I just hope to make my mum happy.” Others praised their mother’s beauty (“My mum is so pretty!”) and said that they are proud to look like their mom, although some also complained that they had not inherited their mother’s looks.

The trend has also provided an opportunity for a moment of self-reflection for some. Seeing the unedited photos of their younger mothers, some called on female web users to stop losing themselves in ‘beautifying’ photo apps that alter their facial features, saying they will not have normal photos of themselves in the future that show their true (and unedited) natural beauty.

 

“Don’t marry dad, don’t believe his sweet talk.”

 

There is also another hashtag trending in light of Hi, Mum. It is “If You Could Go Back to Before Your Mum Married” (#如果穿越回妈妈结婚前#) and started with one popular fashion influencer (@一扣酥) asking her followers what they would want to tell her.

“Don’t marry dad. Don’t believe his sweet talk,” one person replied, with many others also writing that they would want to tell their younger mom not to marry their fathers: “I would tell her to look for someone who loves her, and not for someone she loves,” one person responded.

“Please leave dad,” another Weibo user writes, adding that her father drank too much and would hit her mother.

“Don’t feel like you need to marry because you’re older,” another daughter writes: “Don’t get into a ‘lightning wedding’ and don’t care so much about what other people say.”

“Live for yourself for once,” a blogger named ‘Zhi Zhi El’ wrote, with another young woman named Yumiko writing: “Don’t close your bookshop, be independent and confident, don’t listen to everything dad says, and don’t become a housewife.”

But there are also those who are happy with the way things turned out: “Mum! Marry dad! He’s good!”

In the end, most commenters just want one thing. As this Weibo user (@·__弑天) writes: “Mum, I just hope you have a happy life.”

 
By Manya Koetse
with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

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China Celebs

Six Years After Becoming a Viral Hit, “Little Jack Ma” is Not Doing Well At All

Recent videos of ‘Little Jack Ma’ have caused concern among netizens. They are angry at those who exploited and abandoned him.

Manya Koetse

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He became famous overnight for looking like a mini-version of Jack Ma. Now, he’s worse off than before he became an online sensation.

Six years after he became famous for looking like Alibaba founder Jack Ma (Ma Yun 马云), the young boy known as ‘Little Jack Ma’ seems to be struggling and lagging behind his peers.

The boy’s name is Fan Xiaoqin (范小勤) and he is from a rural village in Yongfeng County in Jiangxi Province. In November of 2015, at eight years old, he became an online sensation for resembling Jack Ma. After his photo went viral – one of his cousins initially posted it online – he was nicknamed ‘Little Jack Ma’ (also ‘Mini Ma Yun’, 小马云).

Fan Xiaoqin’s resemblance to Jack Ma is so striking, that there have even been persistent fake news posts including a photo of Fan, claiming it is Jack Ma as a young boy.

On the left, photo of Fan Xiaoqin that is often falsely claimed to be Jack Ma. On the right, an actual photo of Jack Ma as a young boy.

Fan Xiaoqin was all the rage – he even became a meme. People wanted to take a photograph with him, companies wanted him to promote their business, and social media influencers wanted to share a moment with him for clout-chasing reasons. ‘Little Jack Ma’ traveled the country to attend banquets and fashion shows and to meet with celebrities.

One of Little Jack Ma’s press photos.

After Jack Ma himself even acknowledged the resemblance between him and Xiaoqin in a Weibo post, Chinese state media claimed Alibaba was funding Fan Xiaoqin’s education until university graduation, something that was soon denied by the company’s spokesperson.

State media reported that his education would be funded (left), a rumor that was later debunked (Fortune, right).

At the time, the boy’s sudden fame was already a cause of concern to some. Just a year after becoming famous, it became known that Fan was not doing well at school and that his parents, who are poor and struggling with health issues -his mum has polio and his dad is handicapped -, did not know who to trust or how to deal with their son’s rise to fame.

 

A Tragic Story Behind a Famous Meme


 

At the height of his fame, Xiaoqin was managed by a company that arranged his gigs and he also had his own nanny to accompany him during his travels and performances. At events and dinners, Xiaoqin was often constantly playing a role and shouting out Alibaba slogans.

Traveling with his nanny during the peak of his fame.

Image via https://www.sohu.com/a/449433430_113692.

Now, Fan Xiaoqin is once again a topic of online conversation as recent videos and a live stream on the boy came out, showing the boy is back with his family in the village.

He was previously let go by the company that managed him. His former official Weibo account and Kuaishou account, where he was known as ‘Chairman Little Jack Ma’ (小马云总裁) are no longer online, and there have been no new updates on his activities since the launch of a Mini Jack Ma schoolbag in 2019.

The video shows that the boy, both physically and mentally, appears to be much younger than his actual age. At the age of 14, his physique is more similar to a 6 or 7-year-old child and he suffers from painful legs. Another video also shows that the boy falls behind in language development and struggles to answer the most basic math questions.

Screenshot of the livestream that is making its ways around Chinese social media.

The moment that Xiaoqin is approached by the (self-media) reporters live streaming their visit, he walks up in dirty clothes and says: “Money, do you have money?”

According to an article on Sohu by author Li Honghuo (李洪伙), the company that managed Xiaoqin promised to send the family 2000 yuan ($310) every month, but they have stopped issuing payments seven months ago.

News about Fan Xiaoqin’s current situation triggered anger online, with many people saying Fan Xiaoqin is a victim of greedy people who exploited the boy and then abandoned him. The recent video shows the boy has small spots on his skin; some claim it is because the boy was given hormones to slow down his growth.

What commenters are most upset about is how Xiaoqin did not get the chance to properly go to school together with his peers, and that the most important years of his childhood were taken away from him for a piece of fame that eventually left him empty-handed. He now seems to be worse off than before he became ‘Little Jack Ma.’

“They abandoned him once he was no longer of value to them,” some say. “They destroyed him, let’s hope he can still lead a happy life.”

Some people also wonder if the child has an intellectual disability, with his situation only getting worse during the years he was exploited. They blame his parents for allowing their son to be taken away from them.

But there are also those who criticize the people who now visited Xiaoqin and filmed him, questioning their intentions and calling on people to leave the child in peace.

Overall, the majority of commenters still hope that Xiaoqin can receive a proper education and enjoy what is left of his childhood.

 
By Manya Koetse

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.

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