What’s trending in Western media when it comes to China is not necessarily what is trending on Chinese social media, too. While topics such as the Xinjiang ‘re-education centers’, China’s nascent Social Credit System, #MeToo in China, or the allegedly “banned” Winnie the Pooh movie were some of the biggest China-related topics on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook this year, Chinese internet users were discussing other things – some issues trending in the Western media were not as big within the PRC due to censorship, but some also simply weren’t as big because of a seeming lack of public interest.
What’s on Weibo has selected the 18 biggest hashtags that were trending on Weibo in 2018, mostly based on their total views, but also based on the impact they had on the meme machine, and the overall discussions that flooded Wechat.
This list has been fully compiled by What’s on Weibo.1 Please note that we have left some topics and hashtags out. One such example is the World Cup. While the World Cup hashtag (#世界杯#) has received a staggering 31 billion views on Weibo alone, this is a more general hashtag that has also been used before 2018; we have attempted to make a selection of topics that were the biggest of this year and 2018 alone.
Due to the scope of this article, some major topics such as the arrest of Richard Liu, the Changchun vaccine scandal, or the online success of the two vlogging farmers and their bamboo rats, did not make the cut, simply because other hashtags garnered more views.
Here we go –
#1 The Didi Murders
This year Didi Chuxing, China’s most popular car-hailing app, faced huge public backlash on Weibo, where netizens threatened to boycott the company amid safety concerns. Over the past years, Didi has seen dozens of cases where female passengers were assaulted by their drivers. The terrible murders of two young women in 2018 sparked national outrage.
In May of this year, the murder of a 21-year-old flight attendant by her Didi driver became a major topic of discussion on Weibo. The young woman, Li Mingzhu, was killed in the early morning when she was on her way home from Zhengzhou airport. The body of the driver who killed Li was later found in a nearby river. In August, the 20-year-old passenger Xiao Zhao was raped and stabbed to death by her Didi driver on her way to a birthday party on a Friday afternoon. Hours later, the driver was arrested.
What contributed to the major impact this topic had on social media was the fact that several people came forward on WeChat and Weibo to tell how Didi was warned beforehand: Xiao’s friend immediately contacted Didi after her friend had called out for help during that fatal ride, but she was told to wait and no immediate action was taken. Another female claimed she had already reported the driver to Didi for indecent behavior earlier that week.
In a rapidly changing society where companies such as Didi play an increasingly important role in how people travel and navigate their lives, the Didi murders not only showed the enormous responsibility these companies have in creating a safe environment for passengers, but also showed that the public expects these companies to provide these secure conditions.
After the August murder, Didi suspended its Hitch service, which pairs drivers and passengers traveling the same route (the young women were killed while using Hitch), and added several new safety features to make Didi safer for passengers and to quickly assist customers with any problems they might have.
#2 Flaunt Wealth Challenge
Hashtag “Flaunt Your Wealth Challenge” (#炫富挑战#) – 2,3 billion views
The ‘Flaunt Your Wealth’ or ‘Falling Stars’ hype, in which people post staged photos of themselves ‘falling’ out of their vehicles surrounded by luxury items, first spread on social media in Russia in the summer of 2018, and then made its way to other countries. In China, it became one of the biggest social media hypes of this year.
But besides those photos of seemingly rich Chinese ‘falling’ out of their super expensive cars surrounded by Gucci bags and Chanel make-up, there was also an anti-movement that became hugely popular. It showed how people were mocking the challenge by laying on the floor surrounded by their diplomas, military credential, or study books – defying superficial ideas on the meaning of ‘wealth’ and what it actually looks like.
#3 The Traveling Frog Craze
Hashtag “Traveling Frog” (#旅行青蛙#) – 2,1 billion views
1997 was the year of Tamagotchi, 2018 was the year of the Traveling Frog. The mobile game, designed by a Japanese company, took Chinese social media by storm this year, with thousands of people sharing their struggles in taking care of their virtual frog, which often goes traveling.
The game is characterized by its rather uneventful nature. While at home, the frog sits around and eats or reads, and while away, the player can’t do anything but take care of the garden and wait for their virtual friend to send them a postcard before finally returning.
There are various theories explaining the success of the game. Some say the uneventful app is appealing for young Chinese with stressful lives since it has a calming effect, others might suggest it offers a sense of ‘home’ in a society where fewer people feel at home where they live, and there were even some voices in state media ascribing the success to China’s low birth rates.
#4 Jin Yong Passes Away
The passing of Chinese wuxia novelist Jin Yong (查良鏞), also known as Louis Cha, became big news on Chinese social media this fall. Wuxia (武俠) is a genre of Chinese fiction that focuses on the adventures of martial artists in ancient China, and Jin Yong is regarded as one of the best – if not the top – authors within the genre. Many of his works, of which over 300 million copies were sold worldwide, have been turned into tv series and films.
Jin’s passing set off waves of nostalgia on Weibo, where thousands of netizens shared their favorite works and scenes, thanked the author for all he did, and praised his contributions to Chinese popular culture.
Another person who passed away in November of 2018 is the renowned Hong Kong actress Yammie Lam (藍潔瑛). News of her death also received millions of views on Chinese social media.
#5 Gene-modified Babies
Hashtag “First Case of Gene-Edited HIV Immune Babies” (#首例免疫艾滋病基因编辑婴儿#) – 1,9 billion Weibo views
News that a Chinese researcher from Shenzen has helped make the world’s first genetically edited babies made international headlines in November of this year. He Jiankui (贺建奎) claimed that together with his research team, he succeeded in altering the DNA of embryos, making them resistant to HIV. The twin girls were born earlier this year.
On social media, the topic received many mixed reactions, with many condemning the researcher’s work, and others praising it. Chinese authorities launched an investigation into the research shortly after news came out, and He Jiankui has not been heard of since. Many people on Weibo are now wondering about his whereabouts, what will happen to him, and how this will further impact the lives of the two girls whose genes were edited.
#6 Golden Horse Ceremony’s ‘Taiwan’ Speech
Hashtag “Gong Li Refuses to Confer Award” (#巩俐拒绝颁奖#) – 1,9 billion views on Weibo
The annual Golden Horse Film Awards in Taipei turned out to be a painful confrontation between mainland actors and Taiwanese pro-independence supporters this year. Although Ang Lee, chairman of the Golden Horse committee, had probably hoped to keep politics out of the film festival, the atmosphere of the live-streamed event changed when award-winning director Fu Yue expressed her hopes for an independent Taiwan during her acceptance speech. Later on in the show, actor Tu Men from mainland China struck back on stage by saying he was honored to present an award in “China, Taiwan.”
Things got more polarized and political when famous Chinese actress Gong Li, at the end of the show, refused to get on stage with Ang Lee to present the award for Best Feature Film. The evening officially seemed ruined when, at the end of the night, it turned out that most mainland actors and producers declined taking part in the celebratory award dinner and went straight back to the mainland instead.
This was not the only topic this year that showed that the current and future status of Taiwan is still an incredibly sensitive topic that can set off waves of angry nationalism on social media. A brief visit to Taiwanese bakery 85°C by ROC President Tsai Ing-wen and the surfacing of an old video of actress Vivian Sung in which she called Taiwan her “favorite country” also triggered major discussions on cross-Straits relations.
#7 Chongqing Bus Plunges Into River
Hashtag “Why Chongqing Bus Plunged in the River” (#重庆公交车坠江原因#) – 1,4 billion Weibo views
In late October of this year, an incident in which a public bus plunged off a bridge into the Yangtze river, causing all 15 passengers to die, became a huge topic on Chinese social media. The security camera footage from inside the bus later showed how a passenger who apparently had missed her stop gets angry with the driver and starts hitting him with her mobile phone. The driver then abruptly turns the steering wheel, hitting oncoming traffic, crashes through the safety fence, and plunges into the river.
The incident caused major concerns over aggression in Chinese public transport, with other videos of similar incidents also making their rounds on social media. The city of Nanjing soon introduced security partitions on buses, and the existence of special “grievance awards” for bus drivers who do not respond to angry passengers also became a topic of debate. Many people on Weibo called for bus cards to be linked to one’s identity so that troublemakers will be able to be blacklisted from buses in the future.
#8 The Kunshan Stabbing Case
Hashtag (#追砍电动车主遭反杀#) – 1,25 billion views on Weibo
A bizarre road-rage incident in which a muscular and tattooed BMW driver attacked an innocent cyclist with a big knife, but then ended up dead himself, was the biggest story on Chinese social media this summer, triggering countless of memes.
The entire scene was caught on security cameras. In the night of August 27, a BMW switched from the car lane to the bicycle lane in the city of Kunshan (Jiangsu), colliding with a man driving his bike, who seemingly refused to give way. Two men then step out of their BMW vehicle to confront the cyclist, with one man going back to his vehicle, suddenly pulling out a long knife and going after the cyclist, stabbing him. During the fight, however, the BMW driver suddenly lets the knife slip out of his hands, after which the bike owner quickly picks it up. With the knife in his hands, he now starts attacking the BMW driver, who eventually dies of his injuries.
One of the main reasons for the mass focus on this incident was that there was an ethical question involved, namely: to what extent could this be regarded as legitimate self-defense? It did not take long for the answer to come out, as authorities ruled it self-defense in September. For many, the news was proof that justice had prevailed.
#9 The Dolce and Gabbana Controversy
Although 2018 was supposed to be a great China year for Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana, things unexpectedly spiraled out of control in November of this year, while the brand’s “D&G Loves China” campaign was in full swing.
It started with criticism on a video that was launched by the fashion brand to promote its upcoming Shanghai show. The video, that shows a Chinese model failing to eat Italian food with her chopsticks, was deemed sexist and insulting by many. Things started going downhill real fast after screenshots of comments attributed to fashion designer Stefano Gabbana, in which he scolds China and makes derogatory remarks about Chinese, went viral. It soon led to the cancellation of the big D&G show in Shanghai.
Despite apologies issued by the D&G founders, many netizens called for a boycott of the brand. It is yet unclear to what extent the marketing disaster has affected the brand, but one thing this incident shows is that cultural insensitivities in marketing campaigns can soon lead to a public relations mess.
#10 Wang Baoqiang’s Divorce Drama Continues
Hashtag “Wang Baoqiang Beats up Ma Rong” #王宝强殴打马蓉#) received some 520 million views before it was taken offline
Will there be another year when the 2016 split between Chinese celebrities Wang Baoqiang (王宝强) and ex-wife Ma Rong (马蓉) does not make into the top-trending lists?! Ever since the dramatic divorce of the two became one of the top hashtags of 2016, their fights have continued to be a major topic on Chinese social media.
This time, Chinese actress Ma Rong claimed that her ex-husband attacked her when she came to pick up her children at his house in early December. Dramatic photos and hospital footage soon made their rounds on Weibo, but when news came out that the ‘attack’ might have been staged, and that Ma Rong had caused a scene at her ex’s house, netizens condemned the actress for her actions.
The incident became a major source of inspiration for the Weibo meme machine, where others imitated the dramatic Ma Rong photo and photo-shopped it into gossip magazines.
#11 The High-Speed Train Tyrants
The two train tyrants of 2018 will probably go down in China’s social media history for their meme-worthy and bizarre behavior, that triggered a storm of criticism online. Both of their bad behaviors on high-speed trains were caught on video.
In August of this year, one rude man from Shandong, who refused to give up the seat he took from another passenger, became known as the “High-Speed Train Tyrant” (高铁霸座男 gāotiě bà zuò nán) on Chinese social media. A video showing the man’s rude behavior went viral, and netizens were especially angry because the man pretended he could not get up from the stolen seat and needed a wheelchair – although he did not need one when boarding the train.
In September of 2018, a woman from Hunan, who was dubbed ‘High-Speed Train Tyrant Woman’ (高铁霸座女 gāotiě bà zuò nǚ) by Weibo netizens, had also taken a seat assigned to another passenger while riding the train from Yongzhou to Shenzhen. Despite the conductor’s reasoning, she refused to get up from her window seat to return to her own seat.
Netizens soon linked the two ‘Train Tyrants,’ creating dozens of memes that showed the two as lovebirds getting married. The incidents also showed public support of China’s nascent Social Credit System, with many calling for a system that would allow these kinds of misbehaving people to be blacklisted from public transport in general.
#12 Invictus Gaming: The E-Sports Craze in China
Hashtag “The Meaning of IG Championship” #IG夺冠的意义# – 540 million views on Weibo
People were going absolutely crazy over the success of China’s e-sports when ‘Invictus Gaming’ (IG) became the first Chinese team to win the League of Legends World Championship. Students were hanging banners from their dorm rooms, videos of cheering crowds in school canteens flooded Weibo, and dozens of new memes surfaced on Chinese social media. One of them showed two monkeys with a big “Congratulations IG” above them and one wondering “What is IG?!”, and the other telling him just to follow the rest in congratulating them anyway, signaling that many people had never heard of ‘Invictus Gaming’ before, and were clueless about the top trending lists being filled up with this new topic.
China’s e-sports craze also made one Weibo post the most popular of all time, when billionaire Wang Sicong announced he would be giving away more than $160,000 to Weibo users to celebrate the victory of the Chinese team.
#13 The Boy who was Duped at the Hair Salon
Hashtag “Hairline-boy expressions” (#发际线男孩表情包#) – viewed 470 million times on Weibo
What was supposed to be a quick visit to the hairdresser turned into a disaster when the 18-year-old Wu Zhengqiang (吴正强) was presented with a 40,000 yuan ($5750) bill and a bad haircut. Although the teenager eventually could pay a much lower amount of money to the salon, Wu turned to local media to tell about his unfortunate haircut, and shared that he was not just sad about losing the money, but that he was also unhappy with his new hairstyle and hairline.
The story soon went viral and triggered the creation of dozens of new memes across Chinese social media, turning the duped boy into one of the biggest internet sensations of 2018.
#14 Meng Wanzhou WeChat Moments Post
The December 1st arrest of Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), the financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technology – which happens to have been founded by her father, Ren Zhengfei (任正非), – became huge news in China and across the world.
Meng was detained during a transit at the Vancouver airport at the request of United States officials. She is accused of fraud for violating US sanctions on Iran. Meng allegedly helped Huawei get around these sanctions by misleading financial institutions into believing that subsidiary company ‘Skycom’ was a separate company in order to conduct business in Iran. Chinese officials, demanding Meng’s release, have called the arrest “a violation of a person’s human rights.”
Meng was released on bail on December 11th. She then shared an update on her Wechat ‘Moments’ page, which received mass attention on Weibo. It showed the feet of a ballet dancer along with a quote saying that “there is suffering behind greatness” (伟大的背后都是苦难). Meng also thanked people for their support, and in doing so, once again received thousands of supportive messages on social media.
#15 The Tang Lanlan Case
The news story of a decade-old abuse case caused an uproar on Chinese social media in late January of 2018, when many netizens on Weibo believed that reporters of the story were biased and were harming the privacy of Tang Lanlan, the alleged victim in the case.
In 2008, a then 14-year-old girl named Tang Lanlan (汤兰兰, pseudonym) accused her father, grandfather, uncles, teachers, the rural director and neighbors of sexually abusing her since the age of seven. It later led to the prosecution of 11 people for rape and forced prostitution of a minor – including Tang’s own parents. As some of those people, including Tang’s mother, had since been released after serving their sentence, they sought the attention of the media in claiming that Tang, now 23 years old, had fabricated the story and that they were searching for her.
Netizens harshly criticized Chinese media outlets such as The Paper for featuring the story and giving away details about the identity of Tang, saying they should protect the victim instead of choosing the side of those convicted. The outrage was so huge that some reporters were even doxxed by netizens, and that articles and hashtags were removed, making the Tang Lan Lang case the greatest clash between Chinese media and netizens in 2018.
#16 Foreigners’ “Preferential Treatment”
Hashtag “Pretend to be foreign and Ofo gives back deposit right away” (#假装外国人ofo秒退押金#) – 250 million views.
There have been many topics over the past year that involved national pride and Chinese social media users feeling insulted or discriminated against. One such topic is the recent collective anger directed at bike sharing platform Ofo for allegedly helping foreigners much quicker than Chinese nationals.
A Weibo user who did not feel like waiting for hours on the phone to get his Ofo deposit back decided to pose as a foreigner to see if it would help. He sent an email in English via Gmail to Ofo, requesting his deposit back. It worked. He posted about it on Weibo, and millions of people responded with anger. Earlier in 2018, there was also outrage when a short movie went viral on Chinese social media that exposed the big differences between the dorm conditions of Chinese students and of foreigners studying in China.
#17 The Sweden Controversy
The alleged maltreatment of a Chinese family in Stockholm ignited major discussions on Chinese social media this September when footage showed how a Chinese man was dragged out of a hotel lobby by Swedish police, while his elderly parents were crying on the sidewalk. The dramatic footage was shot after the tourists arrived at their hotel long before check-in time, and were refused permission to stay overnight in the lobby. When they refused to leave, police got involved.
Chinese media greatly criticized Swedish authorities for how they handled the incident, and it even led to the Chinese embassy in Sweden issuing a safety alert. Not long after, a satirical Swedish TV show made fun of Chinese people through a sketch that listed a number of do’s and don’ts for Chinese tourists, including “not taking a poo outside of historical places.” The TV show added fuel to the fire and was condemned by Chinese social media users. The Chinese embassy in Sweden denounced the satirical Swedish TV show for “maliciously attacking” China. The entire ordeal did not do any good for the relations between Sweden and China, that have already been tense due to the imprisonment of Swedish-Chinese author Gui Minhai.
#18 Fugitives on the Loose
Hashtag “Two Fugitives on the Loose” (#两名重刑犯逃脱#) – 170 million views
It was almost like a movie: two criminals spectacularly escaped from a Liaoning prison and the entire country went on a manhunt, with authorities giving out a big reward for those who’d catch them and setting out drones to catch the two.
Social media played an important role in the search for the fugitives, that took place in early October of this year. Ten thousands of people closely followed the ordeal, as security footage from a local store was posted online only hours after their escape, showing the two criminals buying some food and cigarettes. Within 50 hours of their escape, the fugitives were captured by the police through the help of local villagers.
While you’re here, also check out the top 30 best books to understand China we published earlier this year!
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Full Translation of Peng Shuai’s Weibo Post and Timeline of Events
On the night of November 2nd of 2021, a Weibo post by the 35-year-old Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai (彭帅) sent shockwaves across social media. In her lengthy post, the three-time Olympian describes details surrounding an alleged affair she had with the 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli (张高丽), who served as China’s senior Vice-Premier (2013-2018) and was also a member of China’s highest ruling council, the Politburo Standing Committee (2012-2017).
Here, we will give you a short timeline of the things that unfolded from the moment Peng Shuai’s story was published on Weibo, as well as providing the full text of her post and a translation.
Timeline of Events
November 2nd, 2021
On the night of November 2nd of 2021, 35-year-old tennis player Peng Shuai posts her story on her Weibo account, where she has over 590,000 followers. The post comes online at 22:07 and is sent through a mobile phone.
Although Peng’s post was only online for about twenty minutes before it was deleted, its impact was irreversible. Peng Shuai’s Weibo account remained online, but the name ‘Peng Shuai’ started to be censored on Weibo and other Chinese social media platforms, where online discussions about the tennis player and Zhang Gaoli were soon silenced. Peng Shuai’s post and the ensuing silence triggered a wave of global concern about her wellbeing and whereabouts.
November 3, 2021
Peng Shuai’s story makes headlines in the international media, with many Western media outlets describing the issue as a “#MeToo allegation.” within the context of the global #MeToo movement, suggesting Peng’s post was a “MeToo post.” The tennis star did not mention ‘#Metoo’ in her own writings.
November 16, 2021
Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka attracts more international attention for Peng’s whereabouts when she posts the #WhereisPengShuai hashtag on Twitter. Two days later, tennis star Serena Williams also writes on Twitter: “I am devastated and shocked to hear about the news of my peer, Peng Shuai. I hope she is safe and found as soon as possible. This must be investigated and we must not stay silent.”
November 17, 2021
While the issue is still completely silenced in Chinese (social) media, the English-language state media outlet CGTN addresses the commotion on Twitter on November 17, when they share a screenshot of an email allegedly sent by Peng to WTA Chairman Steve Simon, saying she was not actually missing and not unsafe.
November 19, 2021
While many people still raised their concerns on Twitter – and a White House spokesperson even said the Biden administration was ‘deeply concerned’ about the reports alleging that Peng Shuai had gone missing – photos of Peng Shuai in her home showed up on November 19th, posted on Twitter by Chinese journalist Shen Shiwei (沈诗伟) claiming the tennis star posted them on her WeChat moments herself.
November 20, 2021
One day later, a video was also shared on Twitter by the same Shen, showing Peng enjoying dinner with friends and having conversations in which it was clearly indicated that the date was November 20, 2021.
November 21, 2021
During that very same weekend of November 20-21, Peng also reappeared in public when she attended the Junior Tennis Finals in Beijing. This was also the very first time in 19 days that she ‘reappeared’ in mainland China’s online media spheres, where photos of her attendance at the games were also shared online.
On that same day, it was announced by the Olympics governing body that International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach held a 30-minute long video phone call with Peng Shuai. Chinese sports official Li Lingwei and the Chair of the Athletes’ Commission, Emma Terho, reportedly were also on the call, during which Peng explained that she was safe and well at her home in Beijing, but would like to have her privacy respected.
November 22, 2021
A Weibo post published by the French embassy in Beijing marks the first time for Peng Shuai’s case to be addressed on Chinese social media.
In their post, the French embassy expresses concerns about the lack of information surrounding Peng Shuai, and reiterates its belief in promoting freedom of expression, equality between men and women, and combating sexual and gender-based violence. The post receives many replies, but its comment section is heavily censored.
December 1st, 2021
The WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) announces the suspension of all tournaments in China amid concerns about the safety of Peng Shuai.
In a statement by Steve Simon, WTA Chairman & CEO, the immediate suspension of all WTA tournaments in China, including Hong Kong, was said to also be related to concerns about risks that all players and staff could face if the WTA were to hold events in China in 2022.
Due to the Covid19 situation, there were no WTA events scheduled for China in the near future.
December 7, 2021
The US announces a “diplomatic boycott” of the 2022 Winter Olympics in China. American athletes will still compete at the Winter Games. Although this boycott was not necessarily directed linked to Peng Shuai, many media outlets did connect it to concerns over the tennis player.
December 19, 2021
In an interview with Singapore-based media outlet Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), Peng Shuai claims she did not accuse Zhang Gaoli of sexually assaulting her.
A video issued by Lianhe Zaobao shows a reporter asking Peng questions during a skiing competition event in Shanghai, where Peng could be seen talking to Chinese basketball player Yao Ming. When the reporter asks Peng if she is free, she answers that she has always been free and is not being monitored.
When the reporter addresses the allegations of sexual assault, Peng says:
“First and foremost, I must emphasize. I have never said or written about anyone sexually assaulting me. That’s a very important point. On the Weibo post, that’s my personal issue.”
Peng also confirms that the English email that was screenshotted and published by CGTN on November 17 was written by her in the Chinese version, but that it was translated into English for her since her English language skills aren’t good enough to write such an email herself.
Full Text Translation of Peng Shuai’s Weibo Post
In a previous post, What’s on Weibo gave a partial translation of Peng’s Weibo post. Here, we will provide a full translation. Please note that this is a translation provided by What’s on Weibo and not an official translation issued by any other party.
“I know I can’t say it clearly and that it’s useless to say. But I want to say it anyway. I’m such a hypocrite. I’ll admit I’m not a good girl, I’m a bad bad girl. About three years ago, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you had retired and asked Dr. Liu from the Tianjin Tennis Center to contact me again to play tennis at the Kang Ming Hotel in Beijing. After we finished playing in the afternoon, you and your wife Kang Jie took me with you to your home. You then took me to your room, and like what happened in Tianjin over ten years ago, you wanted to have sex with me.”
“I was very scared that afternoon, I had not expected things to go this way, someone was guarding outside, because nobody would believe that a wife would allow this. Seven year earlier we had sexual relations once, and then you – promoted as a member of the Standing Committee – went to Beijing and never contacted me again. I had buried it all inside me, and since you were not planning on taking responsibility at all, why did you come and look for me again, take me to your house, and force me [逼 = force, press for] into sex? I have no proof, and it would be impossible for me to keep any evidence. You denied everything afterward, but it is true that you liked me first, or otherwise, I wouldn’t have had a way to come into contact with you.”
“That afternoon I originally did not agree and cried the whole time, and I still had dinner with you and auntie Kang Jie together. You said the universe is so big, that the earth is just a grain of sand in the universe, and that we as mankind are not even a grain of sand, and you said a lot more to alleviate the load on my mind. After dinner I still did not want to, and you said you hated me! You also said that in these seven years, you never forgot me and that you would be good for me etc etc. I was afraid and panicked and carrying the emotions of seven year ago, I agreed…yes, we had sex.”
“The feelings between two people can be very complicated, I can’t clearly explain, [but] after that day I again began to open up to your love. In the days I interacted with you afterward, purely from how we got along, you were a very good person and also treated me well. We would talk about anything from modern history to ancient times, you spoke to me about so much knowledge and talked about economic philosophy, [we had] endless talks about topics. We played chess together, sang songs, played ping pong, billiards, and, including tennis, we could always have a good time. Our personalities got along well together, it looked like we were a great match.”
“Since I left home early in my childhood, I felt a lack of love in my heart. Facing everything that was happening, I never thought I was a good girl. I really hated myself, hated why I had to come into this world and experience this disaster. You told me that you loved me, very very much, and that in the next life you hoped to meet me when you are 20 and I am 18 years old. You said you were very lonely, that you felt miserable, we had days of endless chats, endless talks, you said there was no way for you to divorce in your position, that if we’d met while you were in Shandong, you could have still divorced, but that there was no way now. I thought about staying with you like this without attracting public attention, which was okay in the beginning, but the days slowly started to change, and there was too much injustice and insult. Every time you let me go, your wife would say many offensive insulting words to me behind your back, [giving me] all kinds of sneers. When I said I like to eat duck tongue, auntie Kang Jie would go and say ~ ugh, how disgusting. During Beijing’s winter smog, I said sometimes the air is not very good, and auntie Kang Jie would tell me ‘that’s just your suburbs, we do not notice a thing here.’ And so on, there were many of such talks, but she would never do it when you were there. It was similar to when we were together – when it was just the two of us you’d be this way, when there were others there you’d act that way. I told you that these kinds of words were really painful to hear.”
“From the first day I met you up to today, I’ve never used a penny of yours, and I’ve never used you for any personal benefits, but a person’s status is very important. I deserved all of this, I courted disaster. From beginning to end, you have always asked me to keep my relationship with you secret, let alone tell my mother that we were in a relationship. Every time she brought me to the Xishiku cathedral, I would have to change to your car to be able to enter the courtyard. She always thought I was going to your place to play mahjong and cards. We were transparent individuals in each other’s lives. Your wife seemed like the Empress in Empresses of the Palace (甄嬛传), and I can’t describe how bad I felt, and how many times I wondered if I was still an actual person myself. I felt like a zombie, I was pretending so much every day that I didn’t know who the real me was anymore. I shouldn’t have come into this world, but I didn’t have the courage to die. I wanted to live a simpler life, but things turned out contrary to what I wanted.”
“There was a big dispute on the night of the 30th [October], and you told me to come to your place on the afternoon of the 2nd [November] so we could talk things over. Today a phone call came that something had come up and you’d contact me again. Evading everything, with the excuse that we would get in touch another day ……, this is the same “disappearing act” as seven years ago, getting rid of me after you’re done playing with me. You said there were no transactions between us, that’s true, with all the feelings and money between us, it had nothing to do with power and wealth. But I have nowhere to leave my feelings of the past three years, it’s very hard to face. You were always afraid that I would bring some kind of recorder and leave evidence or something. Apart from myself, there is indeed no evidence left, no recordings, no videos, only my distorted real experiences. I know that for someone of your status, Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli, you’ve said that you’re not afraid. But even it’s like striking a stone with an egg, and courting self-destruction like a moth to the flame, I will tell the truth about you. With your intelligence, I’m certain you will deny it or you can blame it on me, or disregard it. You always said you hoped your mother in heaven could bless and protect you. I am a bad woman who doesn’t deserve to be a mother, but you are a father with both a son and a daughter. I have asked you this before: if it was your adopted daughter, would you have forced her to do this? Do you still have the courage to face your mother after everything you’ve done in your lifetime? We sure all like to pose as people with high morals…”
By Manya Koetse
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Mainstream, Underground, and Online: Electronic Dance Music in China
A peek into China’s electronic dance music scene, from Jean Michel Jarre to the country’s post-covid club scene.
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, visit Yi Magazin: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
More DJs, more festivals, more fans, more online communities. Over the past few years, China’s dance music scene has seen enormous growth in popularity, and electronic music now appears wherever people go, both online and offline, from live music events, night clubs, and fashion shows to reality shows, movies, and social media.
Following the continued explosion of electronic music culture in China’s major cities, DJMag, a renowned UK-based platform dedicated to electronic dance music, even launched a special China Awards section in 2021. In this year’s Top 100 DJ list there are eight Chinese DJs, the highest number ever since a DJ from China first made the list in 2017.
As an unexpected consequence of the pandemic, China’s local dance community has seen heightened popularity of local DJs. While Covid19 has seriously affected the global dance music scene, it has been an ongoing opportunity to shine for local talents in mainland China.
Just five years ago, China-based DJ Spencer Tarring discussed the huge potential of China as “the rising promised land for electronic dance music.” But what’s the status quo of China’s dance and DJ culture? Here we’ll explore China’s electronic music scene, from mainstream to underground and the online community.
From ‘EDM’ to ‘Haoshi’
Let’s first explain some terminology. ‘Electronic dance music’ is actually a huge umbrella term for percussion-based electronic music produced primarily for nightclubs, raves, and festivals, and performed/presented by DJs. In Europe, electronic dance music is often simply called ‘dance’ or ‘dance music,’ with subgenres including techno, house, trance, and many others (deBoni 2018).
There’s also the acronym ‘EDM.’ Although it literally stands for ‘Electronic Dance Music,’ it is not the same as the overarching ‘electronic dance music’ genre, as it was adopted in the US to label commercial dance music. It has since been commonly used to solely describe the mainstream electronic dance music that is represented by world-famous DJs such as Tiësto, Martin Garrix, Armin van Buuren, or David Guetta (see Androids 2017; Jori 2021; Magnetic 2021).
In Mandarin Chinese, the term Diànzǐ yīnyuè (电子音乐), often abbreviated as Diànyīn (电音), literally means ‘electronic music’ and is used as a catch-all term for any music made using electronic instruments or involving electronic processing.
EDM is translated as Diànzǐ wǔqǔ (电子舞曲) (‘Electronic Dance Music’), and also refers to commercial dance music. House is generally translated as Hàoshì yīnyuè (浩室音乐), techno as Tiěkènuò yīnyuè (铁克诺音乐), and trance as Chūshén yīnyuè (出神音乐).
Rewind: A Very Short History of Electronic Music in China
The history of electronic dance music in China brings us back to the early 1980s. In the decades and years before, there was strict music censorship under Mao’s rule and the influx of Western music was limited. After Mao’s death and the start of the Open Door policy, modern music from outside of mainland China became increasingly popular among young Chinese, inspiring local musicians to start writing and recording their own pop, rock, and modern music (Holm 1983; Latham 2007: 336).
China’s ‘New Wave’ movement was partly triggered by ‘The Concerts in China‘ by the French electronic music pioneer Jean Michel Jarre in 1981, who performed in Beijing and Shanghai in October-November of that year for a combined audience of 150,000 people (Billboard 1982).
Following the Jarre concerts, the New Wave movement also became visible at conservatories and music schools across China in the early 1980s when Chinese composers started to experiment with electronic music. While influenced by Western music, many examples of Chinese electronic music created in these years featured Chinese traditional musical elements (Li 2018).
Many Chinese people became more familiar with modern Western music in the 1980s and 1990s through cassette tapes that were shared and copied hundreds of times, and the so-called dakou culture which emerged in the mid-90s.
Dakou (打口) CDs were dumped by Western countries and imported into China as plastic garbage, intended to be recycled, but then flowed into Chinese cities and became available for listeners to buy from black markets.
Dakou CDs (and tapes) have a cut-out, a punch hole, or crack in them to mark them as waste and prevent them from being resold, but people were still able to restore them and listen to most of the music. The dakou culture greatly influenced China’s music scene.1
Proper nightclubs first started to open up in big Chinese cities in the early 1990s, a time in which many people in the electronic music scene were more focused on the music rather than the money.
This is also when Ben Huang, who would become one of China’s most well-known DJs, started his career. The Shanghai-born Huang was a student of modern dance and fine arts before he became active in the Beijing music scene and kick-started China’s club culture.
Other big names emerging around this time are the so-called “godfather of Chinese dance music” Mickey Zhang, DJ Youdai (Zhang Youdai), Yang Bing, and famous electronic musician Weng Weng. They later also started organizing dance parties or setting up their own labels.
Although illegal rave parties emerged in various cities across the country since the mid-90s, China’s first big rave party took place in the late 1990s at the Great Wall, organized by the Swiss collective ‘Cheese’ (Grefer 2016; Yiu & Charrieras 2021: 233). Vice China (2019) writes:
“What was most magical about China’s party culture in the 1990s, is that it miraculously united all participants of any subculture. The people coming to these rave parties could come from completely different communities, from doctors to lawyers, from hoodlums to diplomats, local punks and sightseeing exchange students (..), on the dance floor surrounded by electronic music, nobody would talk about ideals and doctrines, actions and problems, everyone put all their conflicts aside and danced.”
Nevertheless, much of the scene remained underground and many people in China had not been exposed to electronic dance music yet or did not understand it.
When the renowned British-Canadian electronic musician Richie Hawtin performed in Shanghai at some of the city’s earliest techno events in the 1990s, some people wondered if the CD was stuck and if the mixer needed to be fixed.2
The Mainstream Scene: “Tuhai” and Rock Music Envy
Starting in the 2000s, more money-driven clubs started to open and the electronic dance music scene in China started to develop into two separate worlds; the underground with its underground scene and the mainstream with its mainstream scene.
“And there I am in the middle,” DJ Ben Huang said in a 2009 interview.
Huang’s comment is telling for a market where electronic music has become the second most popular music genre, while the ‘real’ Chinese fans of electronic dance still complain that there has been too little progress in the scene in recent years.
Online discussions indicate that many think that electronic dance music in China has become too commercialized too quickly and has become all about the money rather than the music – leaving little space for the underground scene to flourish, and lacking breeding ground to boost a stronger development of the local electronic music scene.
In 2016, Jiangsu television aired China’s first-ever variety show featuring Electronic Dance Music (EDM) titled Heroes of Remix (盖世英雄remix). The show introduced international electronic dance music genres to a mainstream audience, mixing it with Chinese traditional influences. Two years later, the talent reality show Rave Now (即刻电音) premiered on Tencent Video, further promoting the popularity of EDM in China.
Against the backdrop of an ever-growing EDM industry in China with numerous nightclubs opening up all over the country, the release of the 2021 movie Upcoming Summer (盛夏未来), which focuses on electronic music, further assimilated dance music into China’s mainstream pop culture. A hashtag dedicated to the movie on Chinese social media received over 650 million views (#电影盛夏未来#). (Note: the movie can now also be viewed through Netflix.)
While electronic music is divided into many genres, commercial EDM is by far the most popular type of electronic music in China. Some of the music played by Chinese local DJs that is deemed to be of lower quality than ‘legitimate’ EDM is also called ‘Tuhai’ (土嗨), a wordplay on ‘too high’ that refers to unoriginal bounce music with whistles and repetitive melodies.
The more the popularity of electric dance music is growing among the masses, the more music fans speak out, saying that China’s mainstream electronic music does not represent authentic electronic dance music, even arguing it that it negatively influences the development of the entire genre; excessive commercialization has neglected the music itself.
The recent surge of Tuhai in Chinese clubs is also a side-effect of the pandemic, during which clubs have started booking far more local DJs with little experience to keep the shows going. To counter the so-called ‘Tuhai virus’, China’s top DJ Carta launched the ‘Chinese Bounce Mafia’ alias together with trance DJ Luminn and DJ/producer Unity to mock the repetitive music genre.
In an interview with MixMag (Wycech 2020), Carta says:
“We started Chinese Bounce Mafia after seeing the number of shows these guys were doing and what was happening to the market. We all hated the music, so we said ‘fuck these guys, if they can get all these shows, so can we’. So Chinese Bounce Mafia is our stand against what we see as a problem within the market. The name is a troll because people thought we’ve all sold out and given into bounce but we actually play anything from house to trance to big room to techno.”
It is not easy to counter the Tuhai trend, which is not just ubiquitous in China’s clubs but is also everywhere in the Chinese online music environment, triggering online discussions on how the low-standard music is negatively impacting the overall music quality in the online libraries of platforms such as QQ Music, Kugou, and Tencent Music.
Some Chinese electronic music fans even say they envy China’s rock music scene. One article by the Music Economy Official Weibo Account (@音乐财经官方微博) on Sina said:
“As a fan of electronic music, I feel envious [of the rock music scene]. I envy their music festivals, I envy their good musicians, I envy their good fans, and this isn’t the first time for me to admire China’s rock scene in this way.”
The Music Economy author argues that although it’s been a bumpy ride for rock music in China, the genre has come a long way over the past four decades and has since been embraced by the general public.
One of the reasons why the author argues that China’s dance music community has reason to envy the rock music scene is that there is an alleged pure love for music that draws people into the rock scene, while many people coming to the DJ culture enter the market for the money, not for the music. Because people are prioritizing money over music, too many compromises are often made, resulting in low-effort productions or mediocre festivals.
Another difference between China’s dance and DJ culture compared to the rock scene, is that many rock music fans have grown up listening to the music and have followed their favorite musicians for years. China does not (yet) have a greater electronic music history to build on.
The author writes:
“I know it’s not very scientific to compare rock to electronic music, but they are both imported products and when I see how rock is finally flourishing after having been through so much, I can’t help feeling envious. Electronic dance music and electronic music in China still need to build on more experience. I hope more musicians can stop worrying about income and focus on the music, following their own dreams. I also hope more people will really start caring about electronic music and dance, and that they will start spending money on tickets and records to support their organizers and favorite musicians.”
What also plays a role in this, is that DJ culture mostly takes place inside nightclubs and entertainment venues, where drinks and socializing are often considered more important by Chinese clubgoers than whoever is standing behind the DJ table. China’s current commercial club culture is not a fruitful breeding ground for the further development of China’s electronic dance music scene, the author claims.
Underground & Online Electronic Dance in Post-Covid China
Despite all negative consequences of Covid19 for the music industry, the pandemic has also had an unexpected positive influence on China’s dance culture. With no international DJs allowed to travel into China, local DJ talents are getting increased recognition and there is more interest in the domestic dance scene.
As clubs were shutting down across the world in the spring of 2020, China entered its post-lockdown phase and nightclubs came back to life, with more people ready to explore the club scene.
Despite those voices expressing concern about the lower-quality EDM that is dominating China’s club scene, there are also those who think it is not necessarily bad for electronic dance to go mainstream this way because it also indirectly creates more acceptance for non-mainstream sub-genres and electronic music at large.
In recent years, new underground nightclubs, festivals and independent labels have mushroomed in China. There is now a flourishing club music scene in various cities across the country: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Wuhan, Kunming, and Guangzhou have all played a pivotal role in the development of China’s electro dance music culture, with Chengdu leading the way (Neocha 2021).
Among Chengdu’s many electronic music clubs, there’s .TAG (‘To Another Galaxy’). The club, located on the 21st floor of Chengdu’s Poly Centre, was founded by a small group of Chinese and Dutch music lovers and entrepreneurs, taking inspiration from clubs in Amsterdam and Berlin. TAG has become a city hotspot for underground house and techno, with local DJs such as Cora and HAO attracting a young and free-spirited clubbing crowd.
TAG was founded in 2013, the same year in which renowned record label SVBKVLT was established in Shanghai. SVBKVLT has pushed works from many local talents, including the Beijing-based electronic music duo Zaliva-D and Shanghai producer and artist 33EMYBW (Wu Shanmin).
Chengdu’s .TAG and Shanghai’s SVBKVLT are just some examples of China’s thriving underground scene, as there are many other important players, including Beijing’s underground techno club Zhao Dai, Shanghai’s 3NTRY, club Elevator and ALL, or OIL in Shenzhen, featuring Chinese DJs and electronic music artists such as Slowcook, Yang Yang, Temple Rat, Knopha, Chuan, Max Shen, Luna Li, and many, many more.
China’s electro music culture goes beyond clubs and festivals – the online environment is a big part of it. Although the 2021 shutdown of the Xiami Music app from the Chinese market created a vacuum for online electronic music streaming, other online music libraries such as QQ Music, Netease Cloud Music, Kuwo and Kugou are now competing over listeners.
On social media platforms Weibo and Wechat, there are various electronic music blogging accounts with thousands of followers but there are also hundreds of festival accounts, club accounts, label accounts, and DJ/creator accounts.
More in-depth discussions on China’s electronic music scene can also be found on Chinese Q&A platform Zhihu.com, the social networking sites QQ and Douban, and on Bilibili. Over the past few years, other smaller online communities, from Moresound to Abletive, have also arrived at the scene for people to discuss the development of Chinese dance music.
Although many online discussions about the state of China’s electronic dance music scene are quite critical of how the scene is evolving, it could still be seen as a sign of how the industry and its audience are maturing – growth comes with growing pains.
Despite all hurdles, new China-based talents are gaining traction and electronic music labels are popping up one after another. Covid has posed a major challenge to the scene but has also injected new energy into the domestic market.
Electronic music in China has come a long way since Jean Michel Jarre first made waves in the country, and after all these years, the genre is entering a new era. The next few years will show which direction Chinese electronic music is moving in, but one thing is certain: electronic music is part of China’s music scene today and, whether or not everyone agrees on the quality of the beats that are booming, the music is here to stay.
On one online discussion page about Chinese electronic music, someone asked how others feel about Chinese DJ PantaQ arriving in the DJMag Top 100 DJ list. One commenter answered: “This is only the beginning. Chinese electronic music will start to shine on the international stage.”
1 Professor Jeroen de Kloet did extensive research into China’s dakou culture. For more on China’s dakou generation, we recommend reading: Jeroen de Kloet, China with a Cut: Globalisation, Urban Youth and Popular Music (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010).
2 This scene was described by Chinese DJ / producer Ma Haiing (MHP) in the book by Matthew Collin, Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music (London: Profile Books, 2018), Chapter 6.
– Androids. 2017. “An Idiot’s Guide to EDM Genres.” Complex.com, October 13: https://www.complex.com/music/an-idiots-guide-to-edm-genres/ [Oct 11, 2021].
– Billboard. 1982. “Jarre Fame Spreads – Even to China.” Billboard Magazine (March 13): page 22.
– Collin, Matthew. 2018. Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music, London: Profile Books.
– De Boni, Luka. 2018. “The Rise of China’s Electronic Dance Music Scene: From Underground Culture to Online Communities.” What’s on Weibo, August 26
https://www.whatsonweibo.com/the-rise-of-chinas-electronic-dance-music-scene-from-underground-culture-to-online-communities/ [Nov 1, 2021].
– De Kloet, Jeroen. 2010. China with a Cut: Globalisation, Urban Youth and Popular Music. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press
– Grefer, Philipp. 2016. “Disco(s), Techno and the EDM Storm: A Brief (and Personal) History of Electronic Music in China.” The Beijinger, Nov 16 https://www.thebeijinger.com/blog/2016/11/04/discos-techno-and-edm-storm-brief-and-personal-history-electronic-music-china [Nov 12, 2021].
– Holm, David. 1983. “The Difficulty of ‘Walking on Two Legs.’” Index on Censorship: 12 (1): 34-37.
– Jori, Anita. 2021 “The Meanings of ‘electronic dance music’ and EDM.” In: The Evolution of Electronic Dance Music , edited by Ewa Mazierska, Tony Rigg and Les Gillon, Chapter 1. New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
– Latham, Kevin. 2007. Pop Culture China! Media, Arts, and Lifestyle. California: ABC-CLIO.
– Li, Qiuxiao. 2018. “Characteristics of Early Electronic Music Composition in China’s Mainland,” Contemporary Music Review 37:1-2.
– Magnetic. 2021. “STOP CALLING EDM EDM – HERE IS A PROPER DEFINITION.” Magnetic Magazine, Jan 13 https://www.magneticmag.com/2015/10/stop-calling-edm-edm-here-is-a-proper-definition/ [Oct 12, 2021].
– Music Economy Official Weibo Account 音乐财经官方微博.2020. “电音圈有什么资格羡慕滚圈.” Sina News, August 20 https://k.sina.com.cn/article_5255791141_13945022501900poao.html [Nov 27, 2021].
– Neocha. 2021. “Sleepless in Chengdu.” July 5, https://neocha.com/magazine/sleepless-in-chengdu/ [Nov 27, 2021].
– Yiu, Alex and Damien Charrieras. 2021. “On the Fence: Electronic Dance Music Cultures in Hong Kong and Shenzhen.” In: Sébastien Darchen, Damien Charrieras, John Willsteed (eds), Electronic Cities – Music, Policies and Space in the 21st Century, 223-243. Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan.
– Vice China. 2019. “触电中国 EP1：从荷东到锐舞，中国电音的起源与脉络.” Tencent News, July 30 https://new.qq.com/omn/20190730/20190730A0CTCB00.html?pc [Oct 12, 2021].
– Wycech, Olivia. 2020. “An Edm Club In Taipei Has Unabashedly Banned Bounce Music…But What Even Is Bounce Music?” MixMag, October 20 https://mixmag.asia/feature/what-is-chinese-bounce-music [Nov 17, 2021].
Featured image by Ama for Yi Magazin.
This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
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