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Top 5 of Popular Children’s Books in China after Crackdown on Foreign Storybooks

The topic of children’s books in China recently made international headlines following a crackdown on foreign storybooks in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explores the status quo after the ban: has Peppa Pig really left the building? What is the current top 5 of popular children’s books in China?

Manya Koetse

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The topic of children’s books in China recently made international headlines following a reported crackdown on foreign storybooks in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explores the status quo after the ‘Taobao ban’: has Peppa Pig really left the building? What is the current top 5 of popular children’s books in China?

Recently the children’s books market in China made international headlines when the South China Morning Post reported that an order from Beijing will drastically limit the number of foreign children’s picture books published in mainland China this year.

According to The Guardian and other sources, Chinese publishers received orders that foreign children book titles must be lowered or even halted to prevent an “ideology inflow” and to protect and promote children’s books written by Chinese authors. In the New York Times, Hannah Beech also called the crackdown an “ideological crusade.”

On March 3rd, days before the South China Morning Post reported the news, China’s largest e-commerce platform Taobao issued an official statement that, as of March 10th, it was halting resales of all books published overseas to “create a safe and secure online shopping environment.”

 

STATE MEDIA: ALL ABOUT CULTURE

“The Ministry of Culture hopes that Chinese children will be more in touch with cultural products that reflect Chinese values.”

 

Chinese media responded to the international news reports in mid-March, saying that they were “fabrications” by foreign media to make China look bad. On Wednesday, state tabloid Global Times published an article written by a Global Times commentator Shan Renping, writing:

“Recently a number of Western mainstream media have started a hype about China controlling the import of foreign children’s books, suggesting this is China’s way of reducing the influence of the outside world on China, and ridiculing that our “boycott of foreign forces starts with small children.”

According to the column, the imposed limit on foreign children’s books is not necessarily related to “ideology” or other political matters – as children’s books are allegedly “not much of an ideological field” – but that the reason is cultural.

In the past, the author writes, the ratio of imported children’s books versus Chinese ones was 9:1 in 2000. While this gap between foreign and Chinese children’s books has already decreased from 6:4 (2011), officials hope to further develop the local children’s books market.

Children’s book section at Beijing bookstore in 2015. Many of the books featured are translations of foreign publications.

As the article says: “The Ministry of Culture (..) [also] hopes that Chinese children, throughout the course of growing up, will be more in touch with cultural products that reflect Chinese values.”

Children’s books on sale in Beijing (2015) by a Dutch author.

But besides the cultural motives for limiting foreign publications in China, the Global Times column also hints that there might be economic motives involved, as it mentions the growing market of children’s books in China, and that storybooks play a leading role in the publishing industry.

Chinese edition of The Hungry Caterpillar.

In the Chinese Book Market 2016 report by the German Book Office Beijing, 21.9% of China’s online book trade is listed in the category of children’s books: a booming and growing market.

 

WEIBO RESPONSES

“When I think about the garbage we had to read when we were little, I really cannot even imagine that books like these will be banned.”

 

On Weibo, some netizens responded to the crackdown on foreign children’s books with great disappointment. Before March 10, some people also said they would quickly buy foreign books for their kids before the Taobao ban would be implemented.

It is probable that some comments about the ban have been censored; one Weibo user also indicates that a previous post about the limitations “has been deleted.”

Microblogger (@大耳朵猫妹) writes:

“When you look at how kids read children’s books, what I find most surprising is how these foreign children’s books do not seem to have any meaning but just really fit in with children’s minds. I used to read a book to my children about a crocodile family; a daddy, mommy and little crocodile that eat bananas every day. One day, the little crocodile stopped and said he did not want to eat any more bananas, so his parents asked him what he wanted to eat. When he said he wanted to eat humans, his parents laughed. He then angrily left the house and on the street, he met a small child, and said: “I want to eat you.”

Chinese edition of “I’d Really Like to Eat a Child” by Sylviane Donnio (originally a French children’s book).

“The child just laughed out loud and together with his little friends took out some bananas and threw them at the small crocodile, and then laughingly ran away. Later, the little crocodile took the pile of bananas home, and ate them with his parents while wiping away his tears. What does this story explain and teach us? Nothing. But it corresponds with children’s desire to explore the outside world and try new things. My kids really liked it. (..) I really love these cute and fresh children’s books, and when I think about the garbage we had to read when we were little, I really cannot even imagine that books like these will be banned.”

The question is: will these books really be banned? Let’s first take a look at the current top-ranked lists of children’s picture books.

 

MOST POPULAR CHARTS

“The reported restrictions seem to be more symbolical than substantive.”

 

What children’s books rank highest in the popular book charts on Weibo after news of the PRC crackdown has come out?

#1. ‘Chinese Year’ Original Picture Book Series (中国年原创图画书系列)

The top ranking children’s book at the time of writing is a book series called Chinese Year, which is written by author Cao Cong (alias Wuke Lili), a Renmin University graduate specialized in children’s psychology.

The books contents and illustrations are focused on Chinese family life and traditions. This particular story is about Chinese New Year and how it is celebrated.

2. Guess Who I Am? (猜猜我是谁)

This book is aimed at the youngest children (2-4 years old) as a little ‘hide and seek’ game with holes in it, allowing children to look through them and see different things. The book is published by the Chinese People’s Publishing House.

3. Fantastic Book (奇妙的书)

This is another made-in-China children’s book, published by Guangxi Normal University.

It is themed around many different animals. From alligators to penguins, they all look at life in a different way.

4. Paw Patrol (汪汪队立大功)

Who has not heard of Paw Patrol? This children’s book about a boy named Ryder who leads a pack of rescue dogs known as the PAW Patrol is derived from a Canadian animated television series, and is thus a foreign children’s book with no Chinese themes. The book is popular on Weibo, where it is rated 9.1 out of 10 stars.

5. The Princess Kite (公主的风筝)

Although the authors of this book are not all Chinese, the story does focus on ancient China and has a Chinese kite as its central subject – making it a truly Chinese story, published by the Chinese Yellow River Publishing & Media Group.

The top 5 of Weibo’s most popular children’s book of this moment seems representative of the ‘popular’ or ‘recommended’ lists of China’s biggest online bookstores such as Taobao or Dangdang, where there are still many foreign children’s books for sale, but where the originally Chinese children’s books seem to dominate the main lists of book suggestions.

Searching for ‘foreign children’s books’ was possible on all sites – including on Dangdang, Kongfz, JD.com, and also on Taobao – after March 10. There is a wide selection of foreign books available from these sites, from Little Rabbit Couldn’t Sleep to Peppa Pig.

Foreign children’s books still sold on Taobao.

Also in the category for older children (8-12), translations of books like Pippi Longstocking (长袜子皮皮) or Harry Potter (哈利·波特) are still freely available on Taobao.

Seeing that the announced Taobao ban has not really gone into effect, there is a probability that the ‘ban’ on foreign children’s books and the reported restrictions for publishing firms to publish any foreign picture books for children this year are more symbolical than substantive.

 

TONING DOWN THE HYPE

“Chinese children can enjoy Paw Patrol or Pippi Longstocking, along with those books themed around Chinese New Year or Chinese folklore.”

 

On Thursday, Global Times published another article that seemed to want to tone down the hype, quoting the deputy dean of Cultural Studies at Peking University Chen Shaofeng: “Unless the foreign media can name particular children’s books that are banned from being imported, their accusations should be seen as groundless.”

The Beijing Bookstore online: the shop features a Frozen Disney book in its header on the children’s book page.

The article also mentioned a Beijing-based publisher nicknamed ‘Coco’, who reassured worried parents that books that have already received approval to be published would continue to be available, regardless of whether or not import limits (not bans) are introduced in future.

The way things stand now, it seems that it is business as usual for children’s books in China. It is likely that foreign children’s books will not be completely banned from China in the near future. Instead, we can expect a heightened focus on Chinese books for children (especially those themed around Chinese stories and traditions), making it easier for publishers to get approval for those titles.

To make final conclusions about the eventual effects of the announced regulations, however, we will have to wait another year. In the meantime, Chinese children can enjoy Paw Patrol or Pippi Longstocking, along with those books themed around Chinese New Year or Chinese folklore. Perhaps to the disappointment of some parents, Peppa Pig has not left the building (yet).

– By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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.

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1 Comment

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  1. Avatar

    Bruce Humes

    March 20, 2017 at 8:56 am

    If foreign analysts are waiting for written proof that there is a ban or specific limits on the import and sale of foreign books for children, they are likely waiting in vain.

    The authorities in China long ago learned that issuing such specific regulations in black and white makes for bad press. To avoid criticism from abroad, and at home as well, such orders are normally given orally at state-sponsored meetings limited to Chinese-owned publishers, or even by phone to specific publishers/importers. In addition, such orders are permitted to be circulated only among management, and — like so many things such as the amount of pm 2.5 particles in the air in a given city, or gag orders re: what events are to be covered and how they are to be covered in the media — these orders are a state secret. Posting them online is grounds for prosecution and imprisonment.

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China Memes & Viral

Chengdu Disney: The Quirkiest Hotspot in China

How a senior activity park in Chengdu was ‘Disneyfied’ and became a viral hotspot.

Manya Koetse

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How did a common park turn into a buzzing hotspot? By mixing online trends with real-life fun, blending foreign styles with local charm, and adding a dash of humor and absurdity, Chengdu now boasts its very own ‘Chengdu Disney’. We explain the trend.

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

Have you heard about Chengdu Disney yet? If not, it’s probably unlike anything you’d imagine. It’s not actually a Disney theme park opening up in Chengdu, but it’s one of the city’s most viral hotspots these days.

What is now known as ‘Chengdu Disney’ all over the Chinese internet is actually a small outdoor park in a residential area in Chengdu’s Yulin area, which also serves as the local senior fitness activity center.

Crowds of young people are coming to this area to take photos and videos, hang out, sing songs, cosplay, and be part of China’s internet culture in an offline setting.

 
Once Upon a Rap Talent Show
 

The roots of ‘Chengdu Disney’ can be traced back to the Chinese hip-hop talent show The Rap of China (中国新说唱), where a performer named Nuomi (诺米), also known as Lodmemo, was eliminated by Chinese rapper Boss Shady (谢帝 Xièdì), one of the judges on the show.

Nuomi felt upset about the elimination and a comment made by his idol mentor, who mistakenly referred to a song Nuomi made for his ‘grandma’ instead of his grandfather. His frustration led to a viral livestream where he expressed his anger towards his participation in The Rap of China and Boss Shady.

However, it wasn’t only his anger that caught attention; it was his exaggerated way of speaking and mannerisms. Nuomi, with his Sichuan accent, repeatedly inserted English phrases like “y’know what I’m saying” and gestured as if throwing punches.

His oversized silver chain, sagging pants, and urban streetwear only reinforce the idea that Nuomi is trying a bit too hard to emulate the fashion style of American rappers from the early 2000s, complete with swagger and street credibility.

Lodmemo emulates the style of American rappers in the early 2000s, and he has made it his brand.

Although people mocked him for his wannabe ‘gangsta’ style, Nuomi embraced the teasing and turned it into an opportunity for fame.

He decided to create a diss track titled Xiè Tiān Xièdì 谢天谢帝, “Thank Heaven, Thank Emperor,” a word joke on Boss Shady’s name, which sounds like “Shady” but literally means ‘Thank the Emperor’ in Chinese. A diss track is a hip hop or rap song intended to mock someone else, usually a fellow musician.

In the song, when Nuomi disses Boss Shady (谢帝 Xièdì), he raps in Sichuan accent: “Xièdì Xièdì wǒ yào diss nǐ [谢帝谢帝我要diss你].” The last two words, namely “diss nǐ” actually means “to diss you” but sounds exactly like the Chinese word for ‘Disney’: Díshìní (迪士尼). This was soon picked up by netizens, who found humor in the similarity; it sounded as if the ‘tough’ rapper Nuomi was singing about wanting to go to Disney.

Nuomi and his diss track, from the music video.

Nuomi filmed the music video for this diss track at a senior activity park in Chengdu’s Yulin subdistrict. The music video went viral in late March, and led to the park being nicknamed the ‘Chengdu Disney.’

The particular exercise machine on which Nuomi performed his rap quickly became an iconic landmark on Douyin, as everyone eagerly sought to visit, sit on the same see-saw-style exercise machine, and repeat the phrase, mimicking the viral video.

What began as a homonym led to people ‘Disneyfying’ the park itself, with crowds of visitors flocking to the park, some dressed in Disney-related costumes.

This further developed the concept of a Chengdu ‘Disney’ destination, turning the park playground into the happiest place in Yulin.

 
Chengdu: China’s Most Relaxed Hip Hop Hotspot
 

Chengdu holds a special place in China’s underground hip-hop scene, thanks to its vibrant music culture and the presence of many renowned Chinese hip-hop artists who incorporate the Sichuan dialect into their songs and raps.

This is one reason why this ‘Disney’ meme happened in Chengdu and not in any other Chinese city. But beyond its musical significance, the playful spirit of the meme also aligns with Chengdu’s reputation for being an incredibly laid-back city.

In recent years, the pursuit of a certain “relaxed feeling” (sōngchígǎn 松弛感) has gained popularity across the Chinese internet. Sōngchígǎn is a combination of the word for “relaxed,” “loose” or “lax” (松弛) and the word for “feeling” (感). Initially used to describe a particular female aesthetic, the term evolved to represent a lifestyle where individuals strive to maintain a relaxed demeanor, especially in the face of stressful situations.

 

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The concept gained traction online in mid-2022 when a Weibo user shared a story of a family remaining composed when their travel plans were unexpectedly disrupted due to passport issues. Their calm and collected response inspired the adoption of the “relaxed feeling” term (also read here).

Central to embodying this sense of relaxation is being unfazed by others’ opinions and avoiding unnecessary stress or haste out of fear of judgment.

Nowadays, Chinese cities aim to foster this sense of sōngchígǎn. Not too long ago, there were many hot topics suggesting that Chengdu is the most sōngchí 松弛, the most relaxed city in China.

This sentiment is reflected in the ‘Chengdu Disney’ trend, which both pokes fun at a certain hip-hop aesthetic deemed overly relaxed—like the guys who showed up with sagging pants—and embraces a carefree, childlike silliness that resonates with the city’s character and its people.

Mocking sagging pants at ‘Chengdu Disney.’

Despite the influx of visitors to the Chengdu Disney area, authorities have not yet significantly intervened. Community notices urging respect for nearby residents and the presence of police officers to maintain order indicate a relatively hands-off approach. For now, it seems most people are simply enjoying the relaxed atmosphere.

 
Being Part of the Meme
 

An important aspect that contributes to the appeal of Chengdu Disney is its nature as an online meme, allowing people to actively participate in it.

Scenes from Chengdu Disney, images via Weibo.

China has a very strong meme culture. Although there are all kinds of memes, from visual to verbal, many Chinese memes incorporate wordplay. In part, this has to do with the nature of Chinese language, as it offers various opportunities for puns, homophones, and linguistic creativity thanks to its tones and characters.

The use of homophones on Chinese social media is as old as Chinese social media itself. One of the most famous examples is the phrase ‘cǎo ní mǎ’ (草泥马), which literally means ‘grass mud horse’, but is pronounced in the same way as the vulgar “f*ck your mother” (which is written with three different characters).

In the case of the Chengdu Disney trend, it combines a verbal meme—stemming from the ‘diss nǐ’ / Díshìní homophone—and a visual meme, where people gather to pose for videos/photos in the same location, repeating the same phrase.

Moreover, the trend bridges the gap between the online and offline worlds, as people come together at the Chengdu playground, forming a tangible community through digital culture.

The fact that this is happening at a residential exercise park for the elderly adds to the humor: it’s a Chengdu take on what “urban” truly means. These colorful exercise machines are a common sight in Chinese parks nationwide and are actually very mundane. Transforming something so normal into something extraordinary is part of the meme.

A 3D-printed model version of the exercise equipment featured in Nuomi’s music video.

Lastly, the incorporation of the Disney element adds a touch of whimsy to the trend. By introducing characters like Snow White and Mickey Mouse, the trend blends American influences (hip-hop, Disney) with local Chengdu culture, creating a captivating and absurd backdrop for a viral phenomenon.

For some people, the pace in which these trends develop is just too quick. On Weibo, one popular tourism blogger (@吴必虎) wrote: “The viral hotspots are truly unpredictable these days. We’re still seeing buzz around the spicy hot pot in Gansu’s Tianshui, meanwhile, a small seesaw originally meant for the elderly in a residential community suddenly turns into “Chengdu Disneyland,” catching the cultural and tourism authorities of Sichuan and even Shanghai Disneyland off guard. Netizens are truly powerful, even making it difficult for me, as a professional cultural tourism researcher, to keep up with them.”

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Music

The Chinese Viral TikTok Song Explained (No, It’s Not About Samsung)

The viral Chinese ‘Samsung’ Tiktok song is also not about cheating or getting back with your ex.

Manya Koetse

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Over the past few days, a Chinese song ‘challenge’ has been going viral on TikTok, with various TikTokers from America and beyond mastering the phonetics of a Mandarin song, lip-syncing it and delivering their own dramatic performance.

TikTok user Ajibola Olalekan posted the popular part of the song on March 16, receiving over 71k likes within two weeks, with various TikTokers using the sound for their own videos, some receiving millions of views (watch).

TikTok creator Emily, also known as Maverickmother, lip-synced the song from her car, writing: “Admit to your husband you were wrong and apologize or sing in Chinese..”

The popular video maker Azz (@theofficial_azz) also posted a video of himself singing the song, writing: “Admit you were wrong or sing in Chinese.”

TV host and content creator Mark Odea took things a bit further and put on a dramatic performance of himself lip-syncing the song, writing: “I didn’t realize this song was in English.” According to his interpretation of the song, the lyrics go like this:

Woman cheat
So true in shit sun sun
Would you lie? you shout It’s over Ya
But you are now women itchy
Loud loud itchy ya
Woman cheat send some d
Ching eat chang

While some think the song is about cheating or getting back with your ex, others also refer to this song as the “Chinese Samsung song,” because they believe the singer is singing about ‘Samsung.’ It’s actually the word cāngsāng (沧桑) they’re hearing, meaning ‘great changes’ or ‘ups and downs.’

The Chinese song in question is “This Life’s Fate” (今生缘) by the Beijing-born singer Chuan Zi (川子, real name Jiang Yachuan 姜亚川, born in 1969). Released in 2009, it is one of his most famous songs, which is about life and friendship.

The part of the song that has recently gone viral on TikTok is as follows:

我们今生注定是沧桑
Wǒmen jīnshēng zhùdìng shì cāngsāng
哭着来要笑着走过呀
Kūzhe lái yào xiàozhe zǒuguò ya
朋友啊让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a ràng wǒmen yìqǐ láo láo míngjì ya
我们今生兄弟情谊长
Wǒmen jīnshēng xiōngdì qíngyì cháng

“Our lives are destined to be full of change
We cried when we came [into this world], let’s leave with a smile
My friend, let’s remember very well
We’ll always be like brothers in this life”

By now, the Tiktok trend of foreigners pouring their hearts into mastering a song they may not even understand has also attracted attention on Chinese social media, where many netizens are enjoying the spectacle.

“The feelings of a ‘straight guy’ are just universal,” one top commenter writes (the word used is ‘Zhinan’ 直男, originally referring to heterosexual males, but then came to refer to an entire category of men in China).

“They may not get the exact meaning of the song, but the emotion is there,” others say.

The song, filled with nostalgia, contemplates life and death, emphasizing our shared journey and finding solace in companionship.

If you want to master the entire song yourself, here are the full lyrics (see full song here):

我们今生有缘在路上
Wǒmen jīnshēng yǒu yuán zài lùshàng
In this life, we are destined to be on this journey

只要我们彼此永不忘
Zhǐyào wǒmen bǐcǐ yǒng bù wàng
If only we never forget each other

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya
My friend, let’s remember very well

别在乎那一些忧和伤
Bié zàihu, nà yīxiē yōu hé shāng
Don’t mind about all that worry and pain

我们今生注定是沧桑
Wǒmen jīnshēng zhùdìng shì cāngsāng
Our lives are destined to be full of change

哭着来要笑着走过呀
Kūzhe lái yào xiàozhe zǒuguò ya
We cried when we came [into this world], let’s leave with a smile

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya.
My friend, let’s remember very well

我们今生兄弟情谊长
Wǒmen jīnshēng xiōngdì qíngyì cháng
We’ll always be like brothers in this life

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya
My friend, let’s remember very well

我们今生有缘在路上
Wǒmen jīnshēng yǒu yuán zài lùshàng
In this life, we are destined to be on this journey

只要我们彼此永不忘
Zhǐyào wǒmen bǐcǐ yǒng bù wàng
As long as we never forget each other.

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya
My friend, let’s remember very well

别在乎,那一些忧和伤
Bié zàihu, nà yīxiē yōu hé shāng
Don’t mind about all that worry and pain

我们今生就像梦一场
Wǒmen jīnshēng jiù xiàng mèng yī chǎng
This life is like a dream.

有你陪喝醉了又何妨
Yǒu nǐ péi hēzuì le yòu héfáng
What’s the harm in getting drunk together with you

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya
My friend, let’s remember it very well

凡尘过后终了无牵挂
Fánchén guòhòu zhōngle wú qiānguà.
After this mundane life, there will be no worries

朋友啊,让我们一起牢牢铭记呀
Péngyǒu a, ràng wǒmen yīqǐ láoláo míngjì ya.
My friend, let’s remember it very well

By Manya Koetse

Independently reporting China trends for over a decade. Like what we do? Support us and get the story behind the hashtag by subscribing:

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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