Connect with us

China Arts & Entertainment

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

Published

on

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 founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

Continue Reading
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Almond

    June 13, 2021 at 7:29 pm

    Why don’t you mention his accomplishments, the brands that support him, his career successes, and a thousand other things Xiao Zhan has accomplished instead of his past controversies or his fan fictions? You have no excuse. Wang Yibo is also involved in these fan fictions but I don’t see any of that in his description. I’m not saying that you put it there as well, but explain to me why if you speak professionally about everyone, with Sean Xiao you are only looking to damage his reputation with those who do not know him. Are you trying to say that his popularity is only due to that? Or do you want to please the fans? Because I’m a fan of both him and the fan fictions, and I’m not satisfied at all. It’s not enough saying “his fans don’t like it” because you know what you’re writing, think about how he would feel reading this in a famous website. His career or his influence has nothing to do with what Boys Love fans do in FICTION. What a lack of professionalism and a final review of what you post. You could even add his achievements below that, but you left it like that just to get attention to your article, right? At his cost. Unbelivable.

  2. Avatar

    Shaara

    May 20, 2022 at 10:00 pm

    “The Untamed” made his name reach people. However, it is not a lie that his controversy gave him a stardom. Before “The Untamed” he worked in average quality productions. After his controversy, he has not been getting good jobs. Wang Yibo on the other hand, is not a good actor, but he has had better opportunities than him. You are just like the fans who hurt Xiao Zhan, look at you, acting irrational, delusional and in a state of denial.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

China Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Social Media Reactions to The New York Times Bad Review of ‘Wandering Earth 2’

A New York Times bad review of ‘Wandering Earth II’ has triggered online discussions: “China’s gonna save the world, the US can’t stand it.”

Avatar

Published

on

This Chinese Spring Festival, it’s all about going to the movies. After sluggish years for China’s movie market during the pandemic, Chinese cinemas welcomed millions of visitors back to the theaters during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday.

Much-anticipated new movies attracted Chinese moviegoers this festive season, including Full River Red by Zhang Yimou, the suspenseful Hidden Blade, or the animated Deep Sea by Tian Xiaopeng.

But the undisputed Spring Festival box office champion of 2023 is Frant Gwo’s Wandering Earth II (流浪地球II), the sequel to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (2019), which also became the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

The narrative of the follow-up movie Wandering Earth II actually takes place before the events of the first film and focuses on the efforts by the United Earth Government (UEG) to propel the Earth out of the solar system to avoid planetary disaster. This so-called Moving Mountain Project – which later becomes the Wandering Earth Project – is not just met with protest (the majority of Americans don’t believe in it), it also bans the Digital Life Project, which supports the idea that the future of humanity can be saved by preserving human consciousness on computers (backed by an American majority). The film is all about hope and resilience, human destiny, and geopolitics at a time of apocalyptic chaos.

Outside of China, the sequel was also released in, among others, North American, Australian, and UK cinemas.

Although the film, featuring movie stars Wu Jing and Andy Lau, received an 8.2 on the Chinese rating & review platform Douban, a 9.4 on movie ticketing app Maoyan, dozens of positive reviews on Bilibili, and was overall very well-received among Chinese viewers, a bad review by The New York Times triggered discussions on Chinese social media this weekend.

Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) initiated a Weibo hashtag about “The New York Times‘s completely sour review of Wandering Earth II” (#纽约时报酸味拉满差评流浪地球2#, 6.2 million views at time of writing).

The New York Times review of Wandering Earth II, titled “The Wandering Earth II Review: It Wanders Too Far,” was written by Brandon Yu and published in print on January 27, 2023.

Yu does not have a lot of good things to say about China’s latest blockbuster. Although he calls the 2019 The Wandering Earth “entertaining enough,” he writes that the sequel is a movie that is “audaciously messy” and has lost “all of the glee” its predecessor had:

“(..) the movie instead offers nearly three hours of convoluted storylines, undercooked themes and a tangle of confused, glaringly state-approved political subtext.”

The topic was discussed on Chinese social media using various hashtags, including “The New York Times Gave Wandering Earth II a 3″ (#纽约时报给流浪地球打30分#, #纽约时报给流浪地球2打30分#).

Instead of triggering anger, the bad review actually instilled a sense of pride among many Chinese, who argued that the review showed the impact the movie has made. Some commenters pointed out that the movie is a new milestone in Chinese cinema, not just threatening America’s domination of the movie industry but also setting a narrative in which China leads the way.

“We’re gonna save the world, and America just can’t stand it,” one commenter replied.

That same view was also reiterated by other bloggers. The author and history blogger Zhang Yi’an (@张忆安-龙战于野) argued that The New York Times review was not necessarily bad; it actually shows that Americans feel threatened by the idea of China’s important role in a new international world order, and by the fact that China actually will have the capacity to lead the way when it comes to, for example, space technology innovation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Zhang argues that if a similar movie had been made by India as a Bollywood blockbuster – including exploding suns and wandering earths – The New York Times would have been more forgiving and might have even called it cute or silly.

But because this is China, the film’s success and its narrative plays into existing fears over China’s rise, and it clashes with American values about what the international community should look like.

Zhang writes: “The China in the movie doesn’t boast itself as the savior of the world, but in reality, China really is capable of saving the world. The United States is no longer able to do so (电影里的中国没有把自己吹嘘成救世主,现实中的中国真的有能力做救世主。而美国却已经不能了).”

One popular Film & TV account (@影视综艺君) also summarized the general online reaction to the bad review in the American newspaper: “Whenever the enemy gets scared, it must mean we’re doing it right. Our cultural export has succeeded.” That post received over 120,000 likes.

On Zhihu.com, some commenters also attached little value to the review and showed how the overseas reviews of Wandering Earth II widely varied in their verdict.

Meanwhile, a state media-initiated hashtag on Weibo claimed on January 28 that Wandering Earth II has actually “captured the hearts of many overseas audiences” (#流浪地球2海外上映获好评#), and that the film’s “imaginative” and “wonderful” visuals combined with its strong storyline were being praised by moviegoers outside of China.

On IMDB, the movie has received 5.9/10; it has gotten a 70% Rotten Tomatoes score. The Guardian gave it 2/5. Meanwhile, on Weibo, one reviewer after the other gives the film 5/5 stars.

Weibo blogger Lang Yanzhi (@郎言志) writes: “Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attacks and slander directed at the China-made science fiction movie Wandering Earth 2, especially coming from Western media and pro-Western forces, because the film’s “Chinese salvation” narrative made them uncomfortable. This was already the case when the first film in the series was released. It is very clear that Wandering Earth is not just a movie: it is a symbol of great influence.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Zilan Qian

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

China Arts & Entertainment

Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala

The first-ever ‘mini film’ of the Spring Festival Gala struck a chord with viewers for its strong storytelling and authentic production.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

This precious and powerful short film by Zhang Dapeng has touched the hearts of Spring Festival Gala viewers. But there is more to the short film than meets the eye. Here’s the noteworthy story behind the 7-minute Spring Festival Mini Film.

On January 21, 2023, China’s Spring Festival Gala, hosted by China Media Group, kicked off the Year of the Rabbit. The annual show, which featured forty different acts and performances, lasted over four hours and attracted millions of viewers worldwide (see our liveblog here, and see a top 5 highlight of the show here).

Traditionally, the Spring Festival Gala always shows several short public service ad films in between the performances, but this year was the first time the Gala featured a “mini-film” or “micro film” (微电影).

Titled Me and My Spring Festival Night (“我和我的春晚”), the 7-minute film was praised among viewers. On Weibo, one hashtag dedicated to the short film received over nine million clicks (#我和我的春晚#).

The film was directed by the Beijing director Zhang Dapeng (张大鹏). Born in 1984, Zhang is a Beijing Film Academy graduate who previously attracted wide attention for directing the Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year movie and the brilliant ad campaign that came with it. Titled What Is Peppa, that short ad film featured a grandfather living in rural China who goes on a quest to find out what ‘Peppa’ is. The promotional video became an absolute viral hit back in 2019 (see/read more here).

Still from ‘What is Peppa.’ 2019.

This time, Zhang’s latest Chinese New Year film is about a hard-working former military man from China’s countryside named Zhang Jianguo (张建国), for whom coming on the show to play the trumpet has been a dream for many years. By featuring his story, the film takes us from the Chinese 1980s, 90s, 00s – as we see him change jobs, move around, and start a family – up to the present.

The main idea behind the film was to honor all the ordinary viewers who have written – and are still writing – to the Gala ever since it first aired in the early 1980s, and to tell a story inspired by these personal letters and ordinary viewers.

Short Summary of “Me and My Chunwan”

At the start of the film, we see Zhang Jianguo dusting off his military honorary awards (光荣军属), putting on his jacket, grabbing his thermos flask and trumpet, and setting out on a journey in the midst of winter.

Riding an electric tricycle in the icy cold, his driver (actor Huang Bo 黄渤) asks him where he is going. “Can you keep your mouth shut?” Zhang replies (“你嘴严实不严实”). “I can,” the driver says, and Zhang then says: “So can I.”

The voiceover narration, a first-person narrative by Zhang himself, explains that he has always been busy: “I never had time for the Spring Festival Gala. My Spring Festival fate is all because of something my captain said.”

The film jumps to a scene showing Zhang as a young military man during the Chinese New Year’s Eve, working outside while people are watching the Spring Festival Gala on a small black and white television inside. As his commander (played by Wu Jing 吴京) hands him his trumpet, he says: “Go and play your trumpet on the television.”

“If the leader asks me to go on the Spring Festival Gala, it’s a task I must complete,” the voice-over says.

But in the military scene itself, duty calls and Zhang has to blow the trumpet to announce dinner time.

In the years that follow, Zhang is always busy during the Spring Festival Gala. Working in the factory, getting married, working on a train, farming cattle, taking care of his family, and always cooking. His trumpet is still there with him, to announce dinner time or hanging on the wall as a memory of times past.

As the years pass by, Zhang realizes that he has gradually forgotten about his commander’s words. Time moves fast. First, he had a son, then his son grew taller than himself, and then his son had his own son. “And I still had never been to the Spring Festival Gala.”

With his captain’s words back on his mind, Zhang, now an older man, sets out on his journey without telling anyone. By foot, by electric tricycle, by bus, and by train, Zhang travels all the way to the famous Beijing Studio 1 to perform at the Spring Festival Gala after being “too busy” for forty years.

Backstage at the Spring Festival Gala, Zhang sits down with famous Chinese Spring Festival Gala performers (Ma Li 马丽 and Shen Teng 沈腾). While unpacking his lunchbox, he tells them he was finally not too busy to come on the show: “I wrote a letter and here I am.” “It’s that simple?” Ma Li wonders.

The producer then rushes to come and get Zhang, who bravely walks towards the stage with his old little trumpet.

A female voice-over then reads out a message, while we see various scenes throughout the years showing Zhang – from young to old – writing letters to CCTV from wherever he is.

The female narrator says: “Dear Uncle Zhang, we’ve received your letter regarding your hopes to realize your cherished stage dream. In this age of emailing, and knowing that you’ve been writing us for 39 years, we’re moved and feel guilty. Our reply may be late, but not our sincerity..

Meanwhile, we see a flashback to a mailman pulling up to old Zhang’s home (the mailman is the actor Wang Baoqiang), and the old Zhang finally receives that much-anticipated letter from CCTV at his remote rural home.

The female narrator continues: “This year, we proudly invite you to be a guest at the Spring Festival Gala and to “ring the dinner bell” [play the sound announcing dinner]. Sincerely, the Spring Festival Director Committee.

In the final shot, we see Zhang blowing the trumpet at the Gala, with flashbacks showing him blowing that trumpet in all those decades before. He has finally made it to the big stage.

A Noteworthy Story

While Me and My Spring Festival Night received a lot of praise on Chinese social media, the story behind the film was not immediately clear to many viewers celebrating the Chinese New Year, but it was explained in several articles and interviews with director Zhang Dapeng.

During the live-televised Spring Festival Gala itself, the airing of Me and My Spring Festival Night was directly followed up by a shot featuring a person (a veteran) in the audience standing up and actually playing the trumpet.

Directly after, the song “Goodmorning Sunshine” began, representing multiple people from all kinds of professions and social groups. About one minute into the song, the camera turns to another audience member: the person who plays ‘Uncle Zhang’ in the mini-film. Later in the song, we can see he is wiping away tears, visibly moved.

Why was he so moved? The older man in the audience, the main ‘Uncle Zhang’ actor in the film, is Jin Changyong (金长勇), and he actually is not a professional actor.

Somewhat similar to the character Zhang Jianguo, Jin Changyong or “Uncle Jin” (金叔) is a hardworking veteran from Hebei’s Huailai County in Zhangjiakou.

Jin Changyong is a 63-year-old farmer who is also active at the Hebei Tianmo Film and TV Park doing security and logistics-related jobs. He served in the army for four years from the age of 19, as, among others, a military chef.

Director Zhang Dapdeng came across ‘Uncle Jin’ one day while shooting another film at the studio. While Jin was busy doing kitchen work, director Zhang saw him and, as he later recounts, was struck by his face that showed he had “lived through many changes” (“这种饱经沧桑的脸”).

Zhang later invited Uncle Jin to star in the movie, and he also made sure Jin’s own story played a role in the script.

Director Zhang Dapeng, image via CCTV.

This makes this short movie all the more special, something which has since been discussed on Chinese social media (#春晚微电影的主演是普通农民#).

The surprising twist in the story is how Zhang Jianguo tells other people he has just always been “too busy” to attend the Gala, while he had in fact already written to the show for 39 years with the hope of one day being invited.

Another noteworthy aspect of the film is how Zhang Dapeng chose to cast some of China’s most celebrated actors as supporting roles to lift up the main character and actor, Jin, who was inexperienced and learnt from his fellow players.

In an interview, Jin expressed that the entire experience of playing in this short film left his overcome with emotion. After the filming had ended, he told reporters that he had sleepless nights because he had not received an actual invitation to the Spring Festival Gala yet, something which he so very much hoped for. Just one week before the show, that invitation finally came.

The fact that Jin, in a way, played a man like himself in the short movie has added to the film’s popularity.

“I was sincerely moved by this film,” one commenter wrote, with others saying: “This was the best program I’ve seen on the Gala over the past decade.”

While some people also remarked that the short film seemed to have been influenced by The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, others praised it for its originality.

“This was just the best part of the night,” several commenters said: “It made me cry.”

“Zhang Pengda – a name to remember,” others wrote.

You can watch the short film on Youtube here.

By Manya Koetse 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

Popular Reads