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Top 10 Chinese Celebrities with the Most Followers on Weibo in 2021

The top celebrities with the most followers on social media – who are they, why are they famous, and what do they do?

Manya Koetse

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They are the crème de la crème of China’s giant pop entertainment scene. These are the top celebrities and influencers on Weibo in early 2021.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

While celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Barack Obama, and Katy Perry are the leaders of Twitter in terms of followers, there are Chinese celebrities with an equally large fanbase on the country’s biggest social media platform Weibo, yet these are names that are generally less well-known outside of China.

Although China’s social media landscape has seen the rising popularity of new social apps and sites, Weibo is still the number one platform for the entertainment industry. This is a list of Weibo celebrities with the most followers as of early 2021.

There are some things worth noting about this list. First, it does not contain any ‘internet celebrities’ (网红 wanghong), meaning people who have become self-made online influencers through the internet. The biggest Weibo stars are still the ‘traditional celebrities’ in the sense that they have made their big breakthrough through TV drama, cinema, or the mainstream pop music scene.

Second, although the top list of Chinese celebrities with the most followers on Weibo has changed somewhat throughout the years, many of these celebrities have been at the top for a long time already. Some of them simply have become so big on Weibo because they were among the first celebrities to join the platform since its beginning in 2009. Celebrities such as Yao Chen or Chen Kun already had over 50 million followers on Weibo in 2013. This indicates that while China’s social media landscape is becoming more diverse, it is also more difficult for new social media superstars to emerge and become bigger than the long-time Weibo champions.

Third, the most-followed celebrities on Chinese social media are often true ‘superstars’ in the sense that they are all incredibly versatile. They often do acting, singing, presenting, but also have their own (restaurant) business or engage in other activities as ‘celebrity entrepreneurs.’ Virtually all celebrities in this list are also active contributors to charity or represent a good cause, as well as being brand ambassadors – they often have lucrative deals to do advertisements for world-renowned brands, from fashion brands to cosmetics or high-end spirits. This multidimensionality makes these celebrities all the more appealing to fans: they are talented, beautiful, wealthy, fashionable, virtuous and successful in business.

This article first introduces the ten Weibo accounts with the highest number of followers, and then also includes some newer accounts with the highest “influence rate” (博主影响力) according to Weibo Charts, meaning they have high network interaction and follower growth.

 

1. Xie Na 谢娜 – The Queen of Weibo

Fans on Weibo: 129.4 million followers, @谢娜
Main occupation: TV host
Date of birth: 6 May 1981
Birthplace: Deyang, Sichuan

Xie Na (1981), also nicknamed ‘Nana,’ is an extremely popular Chinese presenter, singer, actress and designer who is also known as ‘the Queen of Weibo.’

One of the reasons she has become so famous in mainland China is that she is the co-host of Hunan Satellite TV’s Happy Camp (快乐大本管), one of China’s most popular variety shows that has been running since 1997. She presents the show together with, amongst others, colleague He Jiong, who also appears in this list.

But ‘Nana’ is also very popular because she is such a versatile celebrity. Besides hosting various variety TV shows and starring in many popular Chinese films and television series, she has also released several albums, founded a personal clothing line, and published two books. Xie Na made headlines in March 2017 when she announced she would go to Italy as an overseas student to study design.

The TV host also stars in various commercials. She is, for example, the Chinese brand ambassador for American skin care brand Olay.

Xie Na holds the official Guinness World Record as the First Person to Accumulate 100 Million Followers on Weibo and for having the Most followers on Weibo.

In January of 2021, the 39-year-old Xie Na announced her second pregnancy together with her husband Zhang Jie, with whom she has been together for ten years. If you’re not on Weibo, you can also find Xie Na on Instagram here, where she has 485.000 followers.

 

2. He Jiong 何炅 – Key Figure in China’s Entertainment Industry

Fans on Weibo: 120.6 million followers, @何炅
Main occupation: TV host
Date of birth: 28 April 1974
Birthplace: Changsha, Hunan

He Jiong has been the host of China’s popular Happy Camp TV show for over two decades. He is also a singer, actor, writer, and used to be an Arabic teacher at Beijing’s Foreign Studies University, which is why he is often nicknamed ‘Professor He’ (何老师). Chinese media have called He Jiong “a key figure in China’s entertainment industry.”

Like Xie Na, He Jiong made it to the Guinness Book of Records for being the male celebrity with the most Weibo followers.

He Jiong recently was criticized for ‘exploiting his fame’ when it became known that he was accepting lavish gifts from fans, together with other hosts at Hunan Satellite TV. The broadcaster later stated that they would no longer allow any of their staff to receive gifts from fans, and He Jiong also wrote on Weibo that he would decline all presents in the future.

 

3. Yang Mi 杨幂 – One of the Most Bankable Female Stars

Fans on Weibo: 109.8 million fans on Weibo @杨幂
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 12 September 1986
Birthplace: Beijing

The beautiful actress and singer Yang Mi (1986) gained fame and popularity through her various roles in Chinese hit TV dramas. Born in Beijing, Yang started her acting career at the age of 4. Yang starred in many successful films and tv dramas, including hit shows such as Eternal Love (三生三世十里桃花) and The Interpreters (亲爱的翻译官), which happen to be produced by Yang’s own media company Jay Walk Studio.

Yang is now seen as one of Chinas biggest actresses, and also as one with the most commercial value; she was listed in the Top 10 Forbes Chinese Celebrities of 2020. Yang was previously named as one of China’s “New Four Dan Actresses” (the ‘top 4’ actresses).

Besides her acting career, entrepreneurship, and charity efforts, Yang Mi is also active as a brand ambassador for various renowned fashion and skincare brands, including Estee Lauder, Michael Kors and Victoria’s Secret.
This year, the actress will star in the live action movie A Writer’s Odyssey by director Lu Yang.

Yang has a daughter and was previously married to Hong Kong actor and singer Hawick Lau How-wai, with whom she co-starred in various productions. They announced their divorce in 2018. Fun fact: Yang Mi’s dad is also active on Weibo (@休闲小林哥), where he rebutted ongoing rumors about Yang undergoing plastic surgery by sharing her childhood photos. Though not as impressive as his daughter’s, his fanbase of 364,000 followers is still relatively big. Yang Mi is also active on Instagram here.

 

4. Angelababy 杨颖 – A Household Name

Fans on Weibo: 103.3 million followers @angelababy
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 28 February 1989
Birthplace: Shanghai

‘Angelababy’ (nickname for Yang Ying aka Angela Yeung Wing) has practically become a household name in China over the past years. The award-winning actress, model, and singer started her acting career in 2007 and has taken on many roles in different movies and TV dramas since.

The famous actress married actor Huang Xiaoming (黄晓明) in 2015, with whom she has a son. Their lavish $31 million wedding is the most-discussed Chinese weddings of the past decade, and their marriage and relationship status is a popular gossip topic on social media. There are ongoing rumors that the two might already have separated.

Angelababy is the brand ambassador for Dior. She recently opened her own hotpot restaurant named ‘Douliu Hotpot’ (斗鎏火锅) in Chengdu. She is also involved in charity and has previously donated to hospital relief efforts related to the COVID19 crisis in Hubei.

You can also find Angelababy on Instagram, where she has 8.1 million followers.

 

5. Chen Kun 陈坤 – With Love from Chongqing

Fans on Weibo: 93.3 million fans @陈坤
Main occupation: Actor and singer
Date of birth: 4 February 1976
Birthplace: Chongqing

Chinese top actor, singer and writer Chen Kun, sometimes also credited as Aloys Chen, is known for his roles in many television dramas and movies. The award-winning actor starred in popular TV dramas such as Love Story in Shanghai (像雾像雨又像风) and The Story of a Noble Family (金粉世家), as well as many movies including the 2016 comedy Chongqing Hotpot (火锅英雄) that is set in his hometown. Internationally, he mainly gained recognition for his role in Painted Skin (2008).

Chen belongs to the same generation of Beijing Film Academy graduates as his former classmate Vicki Zhao, who also appears in this list, and Huang Xiaoming, Angelababy’s husband.

Chen Kun is not only popular because of his acting work, but also for his looks – he is known to have a large gay fanbase. He is not shy about his looks, and likes to post a lot of photos of himself on his Weibo page.

Chen is a brand ambassador for Braun, Italian fashion house Prada, and was recently also featured in the campaign for French Cognac brand Martell Noblige. He is also active in charity and is a global ambassador for WildAid. He also founded ‘Power to Go,’ an initiative that aims to encourage people to improve their health and spirit by leading a more energetic lifestyle.

 

6. Zhao Liying 赵丽颖 – An Audience Favorite

Fans on Weibo: 88.4 million followers on Weibo @赵丽颖
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 16 October 1987
Birthplace: Langfang, Hebei

The award-winning actress and singer Zhao Liying, also known as Zanilia Zhao, is an audience favorite in China. Her acting career started some fifteen years ago but Zhao mainly gained recognition when she starred in 2010 Chinese television series The Dream of Red Mansions (红楼梦) and then played the main role in the 2013 popular series Legend of Lu Zhen (陆贞传奇). In 2017, she starred in the film Duckweed (乘风破浪), directed by Han Han.

Zhao is a tourism ambassador for her home province of Hebei, and she is the brand ambassador for fashion house Dior. Like others in this list, the actress was included in the top 10 of Forbes China Top Celebrity List for 2020.

 

7. Jackson Yee 易烊千玺 – Teen Idol with Power Star Status

Fans on Weibo: 86.9 million followers on Weibo @TFBOYS-易烊千玺
Main occupation: Singer/dancer with boyband TF Boys
Date of birth: 28 November 2000
Birthplace: Huaihua, Hunan

Although he is a ‘newcomer’ compared to other celebrities in this list, Jackson Yee (Yi Yangqianxi) is one of the most popular Chinese celebrities of the moment. Debuting as a child star, he is a member of China’s hugely popular band TFBoys and was recently included in the Forbes list of “Asia’s 100 Digital Stars” and ranked first in the 2020 Forbes Chinese Celebrity list. The 19-year-old singer-actor also is the number one blogger with the most influence on Weibo at the time of writing, according to Chinese social media data platform Xiguaji.

Besides a band member and solo singer, he is also an actor ad starred in the movie Better Days (2019), for which he won the Hong Kong Film Award for Best New Performer. He also stars in the box office hit A Little Red Flower (2020).

Yee is the global brand ambassador for Armani, and also works for brands such as Bulgari, Tiffany & Co, and Adidas.

 

8. Vicki Zhao 赵薇 – China’s Billionaire Actress

Fans on Weibo: 85.8 million followers on Weibo @赵薇
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 12 March 1976
Birthplace: Wuhui, Anhui

Vicki Zhao is a Chinese film star, singer, entrepreneur, and director. She is also known for her work as the face for various brands (Samsung, Burberry, Fendi), which has added to her wealth: she was previously named as China’s richest actress and even as one of the world’s wealthiest working actresses.

But above all, Zhao is one of China’s most famous actresses. She starred in the highly successful Chinese costume television show My Fair Princess (還珠格格) which first aired in 1998, after which she went on to star in many TV series and big films, including Painted Skin (2008) and Lost in Hong Kong (2015). Together with actresses Zhang Ziyi, Zhou Xun and Xu Jinglei, Zhao was named as one of China’s ‘Four Dan Actresses’ (四大花旦, the four greatest actresses of mainland China) in the early 2000s.

Zhao is known for her work in charity and her efforts for good causes. She is a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations. Zhao is married to Chinese businessman Huang You Long (黄有龙) with whom she has a daughter.

 

9. Yao Chen 姚晨 – “China’s Answer to Angelina Jolie”

Fans on Weibo: 84.6 million followers @姚晨
Main occupation: Actress
Date of birth: 5 October 1979
Birthplace: Quanzhou, Fujian

Fujian-born Yao Chen is a Chinese actress and Weibo celebrity, who was previously mentioned as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world by Forbes magazine. Speaking out about social issues and being the first-ever Chinese UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, she has also been called ‘China’s answer to Angelina Jolie.’

Yao Chen is not necessarily China’s number one actress, but she was one of the first celebrities to share her personal life on Weibo since 2009, and interact with her fans. On Weibo, she talks about her everyday life, family, news-related issues, work, and fashion. She posts personal pictures every day. Yao Chen’s popularity as an actress and philanthropist combined with her frequent Weibo updates and closeness to her fans have made her a huge Weibo celebrity.

Yao has acted as an ambassador for various brands, including Miu Miu, Fendi, and Lululemon.

 

10. Deng Chao 邓超 – Box Office Hit

Fans on Weibo: 81,6 million followers on Weibo @邓超
Main occupation: Actor
Date of birth: 8 February 1979
Birthplace: Nanchang, Jiangxi

Deng Chao is an award-winning Chinese actor, director, and singer. He is, amongst others, known for his role in the popular variety program Keep Running (奔跑吧). Many films in which Deng played, such as The Breakup Guru (2014), The Mermaid (2016), Duckweed (2017), and The Sacrifice (2020) have been box-office hits. Deng is one of China’s most favorite actors.

Deng is married to Chinese actress Sun Li (孙俪), also known as Susan Sun, with whom he has two children. Like many other celebrities, the two donated money to contribute to China’s fight against COVID19 in 2020, but received some online criticism when some thought their donation was ‘stingy’ compared to those of others.

 

Top Influencer: Wang Yibo 王一博

37.3 million followers @UNIQ-王一博

Wang Yibo (1997) is a Chinese actor, singer, dancer, and rapper who debuted as a member of the South Korean-Chinese boyband UNIQ in 2014 and starred in the 2019 Chinese TV series The Untamed (陈情令). On Sina Weibo, the celebrity was the champion of Weibo’s ‘Most Influential Celebrity’ charts in December of 2020 – he has a huge fanbase. Like many other Chinese celebrities, Wang often features in various commercials and represents various brands, including Audi and Swarovski. He also has an Instagram account with 1.9 million followers.

 

Top Influencer: Wang Junkai 王俊凯

79.4 million followers @TFBOYS-王俊凯

Wang Junkai (1999), also called Karry Wang, is a singer and actor who debuted as the lead member of the super popular group TFBoys in 2013. The boy band consists of three members; besides Wang, there’s Jackson Yee, who is also in this list, and Wang Yuan (王源also known as Roy Wang). The band recently won a Guinness World Record for most-viewed paid concert, which was their live NetEase cloud music concert for which 786,000 fans bought a virtual ticket. Wang Junkai, who also has a thriving career as a solo singer and represent brands like Swatch and Dior, is one of China’s wealthiest people born after 1990.

 

Top Influencer: Xiao Zhan 肖战

28.2 million followers @X玖少年团肖战DAYTOY

Xiao Zhan (1991), also known as Sean Xiao, is one of the hottest Weibo bloggers at this time who consistently ranks first lately in daily ranking concerning most influential and most interaction. Xiao is an actor and singer who co-stars in The Untamed (陈情令) together with Wang Yibo. Xiao Zhan and Wang Yibo are super popular within fan fiction communities, where boys’ love fans imagine a romantic relationship between the two – which is not always appreciated by fans of Xiao Zhan.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 
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.
 

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.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Society

The Concept of ‘Involution’ (Nèijuǎn) on Chinese Social Media

Nèijuǎn (involution) has become a commonly used term on Chinese social media, but what is it?

Manya Koetse

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Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (“小舍得”) has reignited an ongoing debate about the problem of ‘involution’ in Chinese society today.

A scene from the Chinese TV drama A Love for Dilemma (“小舍得”) has reignited online discussions on the concept of nèijuǎn 内卷, “involution,” which was also a top buzzword in China in 2020.

A Love for Dilemma is a 2021 TV drama directed by Zhang Xiaobo (张晓波), who also worked on other hit series including Nothing But Thirty. This season’s popular TV drama A Love for Dilemma is themed around family, parenting, and China’s competitive education system.

In the series, two stepsisters compete against each other over the school results of their children. The family’s ‘grandpa’, played by famous actor Zhang Guoli (张国立), tries to create harmony around the dinner table between his daughter and stepdaughter, but the rivalry between the two and how they raise their children intensifies nevertheless.

Scene from A Love for Dilemma.

While stepsister Tian Yulan urges her little son to work hard in school and focus on his grades so that he can go to the best high school and university, sister Nan Li places more emphasis on the general development of her children and wants them to enjoy their childhood. Both mothers, however, question their own choices when facing challenges with how their children perform at school.

The specific scene that has ignited current discussions is a dialogue between the husbands of the sisters, who sit outside to talk about the education system and how it sometimes feels like everyone is in a theatre watching a show together until one person stands up from their seat. This makes it necessary for other members of the audience to also stand up, until everybody is standing.

The dialogue continues, with the two talking about how it does not stop at the people standing up. Because then there are those who will take it a step further and will stand on their seats to rise above the others. And then there are even those who will grab a ladder to stand higher than the rest. But they are still watching the same show and their situation has actually not changed at all – except for the fact that everybody is now more uncomfortable than they were before.

Many netizens found it striking how this dialogue explains how the term ‘involution’ is used in China nowadays. After the show aired, the hashtag “How to commonly explain involution” (#如何通俗解释内卷#) became a trending topic in the week of April 19, receiving 260 million views in a few days.

 
What Is ‘Involution’?
 

As explained by Jialing Xie in this top buzzword article on What’s on Weibo, involution describes the economic situation in which as the population grows, per capita wealth decreases. Since recently, this word has come to be used to represent the competitive circumstances in academic or professional settings in China where individuals are compelled to overwork because of the standard raised by their peers who appear to be even more hardworking.

The term ‘involution’ and how it is used today comes from a work by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz titled Agricultural Involution – The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia (1963). In this work, Geertz explores the agricultural dynamics in Indonesia during the colonial period’s Cultivation System, where a radical economic dualism existed within the country: a foreign, Dutch economy and a native, Indonesian economy (p. 61-62).

Geertz describes how the Javanese faced a deepening demographic dilemma as they saw a rapidly growing population but a static economy, while the Dutch, who organized Javanese land and labor, were only growing in wealth (69-70). Agricultural involution is the “ultimately self-defeating process” that emerged in Indonesia when the ever-growing population was absorbed in high labor-intensive wet-rice cultivation without any changing patterns and without any progress (80-81).

When Geertz used the term ‘involution’ to describe the dynamics in Indonesia, he built on the work of another American anthropologist, namely Alexander Goldenweiser, who also used the term to describe “those culture patterns which, after having reached what would seem to be a definitive form, nonetheless fail either to stabilize or transform themselves into a new pattern but rather continue to develop by becoming internally more complicated” (Geertz 1963, 81).

 
The Involution Concept in the Chinese Context
 

The popular use of the Chinese translation of ‘involution’, nèijuǎn 内卷, started to receive attention in Chinese media in 2020. It is deviating from the original use of the term and is meant to explain the social dynamics of China’s growing middle class.

As suggested in the article “‘Involution’: The Anxieties of Our Time Summed Up in One Word” by Zhou Minxi (CGTN), the popularity of the term comes from “a prevalent sense of being stuck in an ever so draining rat race where everyone loses.”

China’s ever-growing middle class is now facing the question of how they and their children can remain in the middle class in a situation where everyone is continuously working harder and doing all they can to rise above the rest. Xiang Biao, a professor of social anthropology at Oxford University, is quoted by Zhou:

The lower class still hopes to change their fate, but the middle and upper classes aren’t so much looking upward, and they are marked by a deep fear of falling downward. Their greater fear is perhaps losing what they already have.”

The term ‘involution’ often comes up together with criticism on China’s ‘996’ work system (working from 9am-9pm, 6 days a week). Although Alibaba founder Jack Ma once called the 12-hour working day a “blessing,” the system is a controversial topic, with many condemning how Chinese (tech) companies are exploiting their employees, who are caught in a conundrum; they might lose their sanity working such long hours, and might lose their job and future career prospects if they refuse to do so.

But the term also comes up when discussing China’s education system, where competition starts as early as kindergarten and the pressure on children to succeed in the ‘gaokao’ college entrance exam starts many years before it takes place.

This image shows the “juan” 卷 character from ‘nei juan’ (involution) changing into a person on their bike with laptop. Image via http://www.bajieyou.com/new/431e6ef39aac4a6da232671122f66ff4

This discussion also came up with a now-famous image of a student riding his bike while also working on his laptop, using every moment to study. This was then also called “Tsinghua Inversion” (清华内卷), referring to one of China’s top universities, where competition is so vicious that students must double their efforts to catch up with others.

 
‘Involution’ Discussions on Chinese Social Media
 

By mid-2020, ‘involution’ attracted the attention on Weibo when popular academic accounts started discussing the term. Recently, ‘involution’ is used so often on Chinese social media that it has already gone beyond its original context, leading to many people discussing its meaning.

“We are forced to work overtime and are unable to resist, and yet it seems that everyone is doing it out of free will,” one Weibo user says, with another person adding: “The abnormal state of inversion has already become our normal state.”

A popular legal blogger (@皇城根下刀笔吏) on Weibo writes:

It is an internal bottomless vicious cycle of competition. For example, everyone used to work eight hours per day, five days per week. Then one company comes up where people work twelve hours per day, six days per week. Then this company will have major competitive strength in the market economy. But the outcome is that other companies are also compelled to do the same in order to compete. As time goes by, all companies will shift to a twelve-hour workday, six days a week, and job applicants entering the market can’t find any eight-hour workday positions for five days a week anymore. So, if another company wants to beat its competitors, it will have to introduce a seven-day workweek. And then other companies will need to follow in order to make a living. That is involution.”

By now, there are various images and memes that have come to represent the meaning of ‘involution’ in present-day China, such as one cram school sign saying: “If you come we will train your kids, if you don’t come, we will train the competitors of your kids.”

“The society’s resources are in short supply and to obtain the limited supplies, people are all madly practicing their skills to obtain them – regardless if they need them or not,” another Weibo user says.

Most comments relating to the discussion of ‘involution’ on Chinese social media express a sense of fatigue with an ongoing rat-race in the education and employment market.

On the interest-based social networking platform Douban, there are even some support groups for people who feel stuck in ‘involution’ and are looking for a way out. The “Center for Victims of Involution” (内卷受害者收容中心) group has over 3000 members, with smaller groups such as “Let’s Escape Involution Together” (我们一起逃离内卷) having a few dozen participants.

The generation that is mostly affected by this sense of socioeconomic stagnation is the post-90 generation. In 2020, a record high of 8.74 million university graduates entered the job market, but their chances of finding a job that suits their education and personal expectations are slim; many industries are recruiting fewer people than before in an employment market that was already competitive before the COVID19 pandemic. It leaves them facing a troubling Catch 22 situation: they will be stressed and pressured if they do not find that top job, but when they do, they are often also stressed and pressured.

It is a recurring topic on social media. Five years ago, a song by the Rainbow Chamber Singers (彩虹室内合唱团) titled “The Sofa Is So Far” immediately became a hit in China. Many young Chinese recognized themselves in the hardworking and tired people described in the lyrics, which started with: “My body feels empty / I am dog-tired / I don’t want work overtime.”

How to get away from the involution rat race is also a much-discussed topic on Weibo, where the hashtag page “How can young people resist involution” (#年轻人如何反内卷#) has received over 280 million views.

Some suggest the answer to ending the vicious cycle is to find a way to get rich fast, others suggest that not getting married and staying child-free is also a way to alleviate the pressure to participate in this zero-sum game.

Tech blogger Sensai (@森赛), who has over 2 million followers on Weibo, advises young people to find their true interest and to invest in it before the age of 30. Doing something that sparks joy, such as learning a new language or working on art, might start as a hobby but could turn into a valuable side business later, Sensai says.

For some, however, that goal seems unattainable. “I am already working 15 hours a day, how could I ever do that?!”

“This is just bringing us into a whole other level of involution,” others write.

In order to watch A Love for Dilemma (小舍得), the show that started so many of these discussions this month, you can go over to iQiyi or YouTube.

By Manya Koetse

References

Geertz, Clifford. 1963. Agricultural Involution: The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Zhou Minxi. 2020. “‘Involution’: The anxieties of our time summed up in one word.” CGTN, Dec 4 https://news.cgtn.com/news/2020-12-04/-Involution-The-anxieties-of-our-time-summed-up-in-one-word-VWNlDOVdjW/index.html [20.4.2021].

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China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Movie “Sister” Stirs Discussions on Traditional Family Values in China

The movie ‘Sister’ has sparked online discussions on whether or not personal values should be prioritized over traditional family values.

Manya Koetse

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Mainlaind Chinese drama My Sister (我的姐姐, also known as ‘Sister‘) was just released in theatres and is sparking online discussions on family relations and the role of women in China.

After the hit movie Hi, Mom (你好,李焕英) received praise earlier this year for focusing on the role of mothers within Chinese families, this film zooms in on the role of older sisters.

My Sister, directed by Yin Ruoxin (殷若昕), revolves around the story of An Ran, an 18-year-old daughter who is unexpectedly facing the major responsibility for her 6-year-old brother after the tragic loss of their parents. While trying to find her own path in life, she suddenly has to step into the role of caregiver for her younger sibling. But does she want to take on this role?

Actress Zhang Zifeng (张子枫) is playing the main lead in this movie, which touches upon the issue of dealing with traditional family values and personal dreams and ambitions. Sister reveals the difficulties women face within the traditional Chinese-style family structure and the sacrifices they make for their parents, their children, siblings, and their husbands; and how the roles and tasks that are expected of them also clash with their own ideas about happiness and fulfillment.

For An Ran, the relationship with her little brother is troublesome. As a young girl, she had to pretend to be disabled in order to allow her parents to have a second child, preferably a son (under the One Child Policy, families with children with disabilities were allowed to have more children). Now, as a young adult, she once again has to sacrifice her own individual freedom in order to let her brother thrive.

The renowned Chinese sociologist Li Yinhe (李银河) dedicated a lengthy post to the movie on her Weibo account, where she called the film “fascinating” and “thought-provoking.”

Li suggests that multiple social issues play a role in this film. First, there is the conflict between individual-oriented values and traditional family-oriented ethics. While traditional Chinese ideas about family require An Ran to put her brother first and move personal self-fulfillment to the backseat, An Ran is a young woman who grew up in a rapidly modernizing China where women are more empowered and independent. Why should she sacrifice her personal education and career in order to devote herself to raising her brother?

Another social topic that plays a major role in this film is the deep-seated cultural preference for sons over daughters. An Ran literally had to make herself weaker in order for her brother to be brought into this world – and in doing so limiting the possibilities for her future career, – with these patriarchal practices prioritizing the thriving of sons over the happiness of daughters. An Ran’s anger and resistance show that traditional ideas about male superiority clash with modern-day Chinese society, where profound changes within gender relations are already taking place.

“Sisters do not dislike their little brothers,” one Weibo commenter wrote: “What they dislike is the hidden meaning behind their brother.”

Another female blogger responded: “Within my family, from my grandpa’s generation up to myself, it is actually the women who discriminate against women. I think these are deeply rooted ideas that can’t be changed. Look at my second elder aunt; she had seven children, all girls, and only four were left. The others were given away. However, my grandfather has always been good to me, and has never made me feel any less than the boys. Yet my grandma and my mother sometimes make me doubt about my life.”

Under the hashtag “How to Evaluate the Movie My Sister” (#如何评价电影我的姐姐#), which attracted 150 million views on Weibo, many ask the question of what they would do if they were An Ran. Would you take care of your little brother? Or would you leave his care up to other family members and choose your own path in life?

“If it were me, I’d raise my brother. Although it’s actually the parents’ problem, the little brother is innocent.”

“If it were me, I wouldn’t raise him,” another commenter writes: “Although the little brother is innocent, I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my life for him. And it might be a better choice to leave him with other family members than with me.”

These discussions also triggered the hashtag “Should Personal Values Be More Important Than Family Values?” (#个人价值必须高于家庭价值吗#). One top commenter raised the issue of ‘what if this was about a little sister instead of about a little brother,’ again provoking the idea that existing gender roles and the preference over sons play a major part in these discussions.

“These traditions no longer suit this era of a developing society. Let me ask you this question: would the little brother also take care of his sister once she grows old?”

“Personal values should always have priority. If you are not happy yourself, how could you ever take care of your family?”

“I have the perception that the family-oriented concept is deep-rooted. Although there consistently are new values and personal-oriented viewpoints, when it comes to real problems, most people will still be family-oriented.”

One commenter wrote: “What are ‘values’? What is the family in modern-day society? What does it mean to prioritize something? If we don’t first clarify this, the discussion becomes meaningless.”

Meanwhile, all the online discussions on Sister have boosted the film. By now, the movie has already become a box office hit and defeated the American Godzilla vs. Kong.

By Manya Koetse

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