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Weibo Netizens Show Support for Shanghai Restaurant Harassed By Muslim “Noodle Gang”

What was supposed to be a celebratory opening of a new Hui noodle restaurant in Shanghai turned into a weeklong nightmare as a local “noodle gang” (拉面帮) harassed the owner and threatened him to close his business. Chinese netizens played an important role in supporting the restaurant to continue its business.

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What was supposed to be a celebratory opening of a new Hui noodle restaurant in Shanghai, turned into a weeklong nightmare as a local “noodle gang” (拉面帮) harassed the owner and threatened him to close his business. Chinese netizens played an important role in supporting the restaurant to continue its business.

On July 1st, halal restaurant Alilan Beef Noodles (阿里兰牛肉面) opened its doors on Shanghai’s famous East Nanjing Road. What was supposed to be a celebratory first day turned into a nightmare when more than 100 angry people, allegedly from the Hui ethnic group, surrounded the restaurant and blocked customers from coming in while threatening the staff. The Hui people are a predominantly muslim ethnic group in China.

In an interview published on video platform Miaopai, Alilan owner Xian Guolin, a Hui muslim himself, stated that he was offered 300,000 RMB (±45,000$) to close his business – a small amount compared to the 1,5 million RMB (±224,700$) he invested in it.

Restaurant owner Xian.

Restaurant owner Xian Guolin.

The people who harassed him claimed to be muslim representatives of Shanghai’s beef noodle shops and demanded the owner to leave. According to owner Xian, he was told that his own life and that of his family would be in danger if he would not close his business.

As reported by Sixth Tone, the people told him he needed to shut down his business because it allegedly violated the so-called “Shaanxi-Gansu-Ningxia treaty”, which claims that there should be no other beef noodles restaurant within 400 meters of a Hui muslim restaurant.

The ‘agreement’, that alleges to promote a “harmonious and stable” noodle market, states that those who do not abide by the rules will have to face the consequences and accept any financial losses. The document also states it is meant to protect ‘ethnic solidarity’.

The noodle agreement is highly controversial as it does not have any legal standing, with some calling it “ridiculous”. A similar conflict erupted in the south of China last summer when Lanzhou beef noodles where at the center of a huge noodle war also evolving around a local noodle contract.

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In the weeks following the opening of Alilan, the group of people remained to stand in front of the restaurant. According to the owner, this caused a daily loss of around 4500 RMB (±670 US$) to his business.

The topic became popular on Chinese social media under the hashtag of “Beef Noodle Gate” (#拉面风云) as owner Xian (@阿里兰牛肉面) shared the turbulence with his followers. It soon attracted 400 million views and 90,000 discussions on Sina Weibo.

With people like Weibo VIP user and editor Hey-Xiaodiao (@嗨-小刁) closely following the event and writing about it, the affair became a social media hype that resulted in many Shanghai residents showing their support for Alilan by dining there despite the presence of the noodle gang.

Diners at Alilan despite of the noodle gang standing outside (from @阿里兰牛肉面, posted on Weibo on 16th July).

Diners at Alilan despite of the noodle gang standing outside (from @阿里兰牛肉面, posted on Weibo on 16th July).

The Alilan restaurant kept its followers up to date on recent developments through its official Weibo account. On July 18, they posted the following pictures, writing: “They were chased away by the police today but then came back during the night with over 40 persons. There were netizens who confronted them while smoking. Because smoking is not allowed according to Islamic religion, this then led to an argument between them, and all our customers were also driven away.”

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Large numbers of Weibo netizens offered their support to Alilan and rejected the noodle gang for their actions. Many Weibo users also expressed their worry that such a thing could happen in one of China’s most famous city centers: “Is this Shanghai or is this Islam territory?!”

But over the past few days, netizens’ help seemed to bring an end to the blockade, as one diner wrote on July 22: “No more people standing in front of the door, and 50% discount thanks to netizens’ support”, and: “Business is quite good. Many things are sold out. Support Alilan and oppose white hats!” (‘White hats’ refers to Hui Muslims, who usually wear the taqiyah white cap for religious purposes.)

“Come over, food is good,” others wrote, posting pictures of the noodles and themselves having dinner at the restaurant.

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The Alilan restaurant thanked Chinese netizens for their overwhelming support through Weibo, and shared that it even had supporters coming from as far as Nanjing and Hangzhou to have dinner at their restaurant.

Although the Alilan owner and staff expressed their joy and gratefulness, many netizens were not satisfied with how the affair was handled as the actions of the “noodle gang” went unpunished.

“The ‘noodle gang’ has won”, one Weibo user (@霜叶不活跃) writes: “This shows all noodle gangs around the country that even if they cause huge problems in cities like Shanghai against their fellow ethnic minorities, they will not be punished for it. If they succeed, they earn loads of money, if they fail, they just need to walk away and find another victim. Nothing serious.”

Other netizens stressed that everyone should be equal before the law , and that there should be no excemptions made for conflicts taking place within ethnic or religious groups: “The Alilan issue seems be to a conflict among muslims (“穆斯林内部冲突“), but if you look at it from another side, it is also a collision and compromise between Han Chinese and muslims, and a manifestation of a culture clash between our national ethnic groups”, writes one netizen.

For now, the Alilan restaurant is seemingly doing good business as many netizens point out its tasty dishes and ignore the negativity of the past few weeks. “We will resist all people who attempt to dominate the market under the flag of religion,” one Weibo user writes.

“I congratulate Alilan noodles,” one netizen writes: “You have now become a famous Shanghai brand.”

-By Diandian Guo and Manya Koetse

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China Food & Drinks

Would You Like Coffee with Your Sneakers? Chinese Sports Brand Li-Ning Registers Its ‘Ning Coffee’ Brand

Li-Ning enters the coffee market: “Will they sell sneaker-flavored coffee?”

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An unexpected competitor is joining China’s coffee market. With over 7000 stores in the country, Li-Ning has the potential to become the biggest athletic coffee chain yet.

Another player is joining mainland China’s growing coffee market. It’s not an American coffee giant, nor a coffee house chain from Hong Kong – it is China’s leading sportswear brand Li-Ning Sports (李宁体育).

Li-Ning registered its coffee brand under the ‘NING COFFEE’ trademark. As reported in an article written by ‘Investment Group’ (@投资界) and published by Toutiao News (@头条新闻), Li-Ning has confirmed on May 6 that it will provide in-store coffee services to enhance customers’ shopping experiences in the near future.

The move means that Li-Ning could potentially become a big player in China’s coffee market, competing with major brands such as Starbucks, Luckin Coffee, Costa and Pacific. If the in-store coffee cafes would roll out in most of its shops, there could be over 7000 Ning Coffee cafes in China in the future. By the end of 2021, Li-Ning Sports had a total of 7,137 stores in China.

Starbucks has 5,400 stores in China. Leading domestic coffee chain Luckin Coffee expanded to over 6000 stores last year. Costa Coffee, although closing some of its China stores in 2021, announced that it aims to have a total of 1,200 stores open in China later this year. Looking at Li-Ning’s presence across China, its in-store coffee cafes could be serious competition for the leading coffee chains in the country.

Over the past few years, various Chinese sportswear brands, including Anta Sports and Erke, have seen a rise in popularity, but Li-Ning is still China’s most famous brand name for athletic apparel and shoes. The company was founded in the early 1990s by Chinese Olympic gymnast and business entrepreneur Li Ning (1963) and was generally seen as a Nike copycat – the original logo was even similar to the Nike swoosh. Although Li-Ning looked like Nike, the brand is more appealing to many Chinese consumers due to the fact that it is cheaper and made in China.

Li-Ning markets itself as being “deeply and uniquely Chinese” (Li Ning official website 2022), which has made it more popular in an era of “proudly made in China” (read more about that here). Moreover, it also promises to offer high-quality sportwear at a price that is cheaper than the American Nike or German Adidas.

Li-Ning’s success is also owed to its marketing strategies. Besides being the official marketing partner of many major sports events, including the NBA in China, the brand has also contracted with many household athletes and famous global ambassadors.

Over a decade ago, marketing observers already noted that despite the remarkable success of Li-Ning in China, the brand still had a long way to go in order to strengthen its image as a long-term brand, recommending Li-Ning to “create excitement around the brand” by building more associations related to lifestyle and coolness to better resonate with younger Chinese customers (Bell 2008, 81; Roll 2006, 170).

With its latest move into the coffee market, it is clear that Li-Ning is moving its brand positioning more toward the direction of lifestyle, trendiness, and luxury. Although purchasing a coffee at Starbucks or Luckin is part of the everyday routine for many urban millennials, coffee is still viewed as a trendy luxury product for many, relating to both cultural factors as well as economic reasons. As noted by Cat Hanson in 2015, the price of a single cup of coffee was equal to a month’s worth of home broadband internet (read more).

Previously, other fashion brands have also opened up coffee stores in China. As reported by Jing Daily, international luxury brands Prada, Louis Vuitton, and FENDI also opened up coffee cafes in mainland China.

Another unexpected coffee cafe is that of China Post, which opened its first in-store ‘Post Coffee’ in Xiamen earlier this year. On social media, many netizens commented that the brand image of the national post service clashed with that of a fairly expensive coffee house (coffee prices starting at 22 yuan / $3,3).

“The postal services are located in cities and in the countryside and are often used by migrant workers, and generally this demographic isn’t buying coffee,” one person commented, with another netizen writing: “This does not suit the taste of ordinary people, it would’ve been better if they sold milk tea.”

Post Coffee, via Jiemian Official.

On Weibo, Li-Ning’s journey into the competitive coffee market was discussed using the hashtags “Li-Ning Enters the Coffee Race” (#李宁入局咖啡赛道#) and “Li-Ning Starts Selling Coffee” (##李宁开始卖咖啡##).

Like with China Post, many commenters say the combination of sportswear and coffee is not something they immediately find logical. “Will they also sell sneaker-flavored coffee?” one person wondered, with others thinking selling coffee – seen as a product from western countries – does not exactly match with Li-Ning as a ‘proudly made-in-China’ brand.

“How would you feel about trying on some clothes at Li-Ning while sipping on Li-Ning coffee? I understand Li-Ning is jumping on what’s popular, and this time it’s coffee,” one Weibo user writes, with others also writing: “I think it has potential.”

“I’m willing to try it out,” various commenters write. For others, they want to see the menu first: “It all depends on the price.”

For more about the coffee and tea market in China, check our other articles here.

By Manya Koetse

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

References

Bell, Sandra. 2008. International Brand Management of Chinese Companies. Heidelberg: Physia-Verlag.

Roll, Martin. 2006. Asian Brand Strategy: How Asia Builds Strong Brands. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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

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China and Covid19

Weibo Has Still Blocked ‘Shanghai Buy Groceries’ Hashtag

“It’s easier to get a Shanghai license plate than groceries around here.”

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While Shanghai is promising to improve food supplies for locked-down residents, many households are still struggling to get their groceries and complain about high prices for basic food items. Over the past week, Weibo has blocked a hashtag page about the issue.

On April 8, during the seventh day of Shanghai’s phased citywide lockdown, the Chinese social media platform Weibo removed the ‘Shanghai Buy Food’ or ‘Shanghai Groceries’ (#上海买菜#) hashtag while many in the city were facing difficulties in getting food delivered to their house and were venting their anger online. Getting daily necessities has become a problem for millions of residents not allowed to leave their homes due to the city’s coronavirus prevention measures.

The hashtag censorship coincided with state media news reports about Shanghai ensuring life supplies for residents and improving delivery capacities at a time when most stores, restaurants, supermarkets, and wet markets have shut down normal operations. Shanghai has registered over 253,000 Covid-19 infections since March 1st of this year, reporting another daily record of 26,330 confirmed cases on Wednesday.

Some joked that just censoring the problem was also a way of dealing with it. “Oh great, they solved the grocery shopping problem,” popped up as a recurring joke on Weibo after the hashtag page was removed.

The hashtag ‘Shanghai Buy Groceries’ first started trending on Chinese social media on March 23, when Shanghai residents started worrying about an impending lockdown amid spiking Covid19 cases.

Although Chinese state media reported on March 24 that Shanghai health authorities reiterated they had no plans to impose a citywide lockdown – and two people accused of spreading rumors about an alleged citywide lockdown were even placed under police investigation -, the city announced its phased lockdowns three days later and scenes of panic buying at local supermarkets ensued.

But around April 8, the moment when the hashtag’s popularity surged, many residents faced food shortages as their home supplies ran out and grocery orders did not come through. While some residents started receiving food boxes issued by the local government, most compounds and buildings also set up their own community WeChat group to place bulk orders at certain food vendors which then deliver the group purchase to the community, where it is distributed by volunteers or property management employees.

Earlier this week, Shanghai implemented a new measure that divides residential units into three risk categories depending on whether or not there have been any cases of Covid in their communities for a stretch of two weeks. For at least 15 million residents, their locked-down status remains unchanged – and for those in the ‘precautionary’ communities, their status could also be downgraded to the ‘locked down’ level the moment a positive case pops up again.

E-commerce and food delivery platforms such as Ele.me and JD have been sending more staff to Shanghai from other parts of China to help ensure quicker and smoother sorting and delivery processes. On April 13, many households also received their first (free) food boxes.

By Wednesday, hashtags such as “Shanghai Residents Are One by One Receiving Supplies” (#上海市民陆续收到物资#) and “Delivery Drivers Increased to Help Shanghai” (#多地快递小哥增援上海#) were circulating on social media. But on Weibo, the hashtag page for “Shanghai Groceries” still comes up with no results.

For some Shanghai residents, the pace of food delivery, even with improved delivery logistics, hasn’t been quick enough to alleviate their current food shortages. Others are also complaining about the costs of their ordered groceries, some spending 285 yuan ($45) or more on some basic groceries including noodles and vegetables.

One Weibo user asks: “Please, where can I buy reasonably priced meat, eggs, and green onions?”

“It’s easier to get a Shanghai license plate than groceries around here,” another netizen complained.

For some, doing online groceries has become an Olympic game; netizens are posting videos of setting a 5AM alarm clock, jumping out of bed, and entering their online orders as fast as they can. One video showed a wife cheering on her husband while his thumb was going as fast as possible to place grocery orders via his smartphone e e-commerce app.

“If I have to keep grabbing groceries like this, I’m gonna have a nervous breakdown,” one thirty-something lady from Shanghai wrote on Weibo: “I really hope the situation in Shanghai gets better soon. What happened to the city I grew up in?”

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly 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.

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