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Weibo Watch: China’s Farm Fever

From Becoming a Farmer to Dopamine Dressing – these are the China trends to know this week from Weibo and beyond.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #5 | READING TIME: 7 MIN

This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – China’s farm fever
◼︎ 2. What to Know – Highlighting hot topics
◼︎ 3. What Lies Behind – Spotted by news editor Miranda
◼︎ 4. What’s Trending – A closer look at the top stories
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – Small news with big impact
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – The latest buzz in arts & pop culture by Zilan
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Best reads from the archive
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – The catchword to know by Slow Chinese

 

Dear Reader,

On Weibo, every day at 9:30 am, the official account of Become a Farmer starts their daily check-in livestream session. Just as China’s office workers are beginning their workday, they can tune in on social media to watch young men fertilizing farmlands, feeding cattle, or harvesting crops in Zhejiang province.

Become a Farmer is the latest hit TV show by iQIYI. Spanning 190 days, the series follows a “farming squad” of ten carefully selected male semi-celebrities in a rural village as they manage a 23-acre farm and experience the challenges of agricultural life. In addition to the daily show, there is a morning livestream, and viewers can also follow their favorite farmers through their social channels and daily vlogs.

The hit show is bringing the Chinese countryside closer to young, urban viewers, allowing them the chance to interact with the series and farmers. Getting a 8.9 rating on Douban and receiving over 4.7 billion views on Weibo, the show is harvesting success among netizens.

Image from Become a Farmer, via cyol.com.

Behind the scenes, Chinese propaganda departments must be delighted with the show’s success. Empowering China’s youth and revitalizing rural areas are both crucial themes for China’s leadership. Earlier this month, Xi Jinping encouraged students to contribute more to rural revitalization, suggesting that immersing oneself in rural areas to understand the well-being of the people embodies the desirable spirit of Chinese youth in the new era.

The message goes beyond ideology. As more Chinese youth find themselves without work in a highly competitive urban job market, they are encouraged to return to villages and help build and boost rural economies, which is especially important in light of China’s food security and a growing economic gap.

As these themes gain importance, they are playing an increasingly prominent role in China’s entertainment industry. While there have been other reality series and TV dramas focusing on the countryside before, Become a Farmer is particularly immersive and serves as an example for the youth. “The post-80s generation doesn’t want to farm, the post-90s generation doesn’t know how to farm, and the post-00s generation doesn’t even ask about farming,” wrote a Chinese media outlet on Weibo, using the hashtags “Who will cultivate China’s land in the future?” (#未来中国谁来种地#).

Meanwhile, on social media, some people admit that they have been learning more about ploughing devices and tractors since the start of the show. Others dream of exchanging their office jobs for the countryside, while some simply appreciate the show as a breath of fresh air in an online media environment filled with fast-food variety shows and quick videos. With the growing interest and excitement surrounding these shows, it’s safe to say that we can expect a bountiful harvest of more Chinese productions focused on farm work and rural life in the near future.

For more about the show, read the latest article by Wendy Huang. For all this and more, see our list of featured articles where we explore the major trends that have recently captured the attention of Chinese social media users. What’s on Weibo intern Zilan Qian, news editor Miranda Barnes, and Andrew Methven at Slow Chinese have contributed to this week’s newsletter.

Last week, I joined Yuval Weinreb’s China podcast, which is the most popular China-focused podcast in Israel. We spoke about the main social media platforms in China, the way they impact public discourse despite censorship, and discussed examples of their influence on Chinese society. Want to tune in? Listen on Spotify here, or on Apple Podcast here.

I always like to hear more about the China topics you’d like to know more about. Contact me via email or DM, or follow me on Twitter for the latest news and trends.

Best,
Manya

 

What to Know

Highlighting hot topics

◼︎ Cathay controversy. The biggest China social story of the past week started with one passenger exposing Cathay cabin crew mocking & discriminating against non-English speaking (Mainland) passengers. His complaint and this audio snippet led to them being fired, and a social media storm. (Hashtag: #国泰空乘歧视乘客录音曝光#).

◼︎ Second Covid peak. China is facing a new Covid wave. According to Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan, the end of this year’s Covid peak will be reached in late June. The number of infections could reach 65 million a week. The XBB variant of Covid is the dominant strain in the second wave of Covid that is trending on Chinese social media. (Hashtag: #钟南山称6月底或是今年疫情高峰#).

◼︎ China’s C919. On Sunday, China celebrated an aviation milestone as its first domestically manufactured passenger jet completed its maiden commercial flight from Shanghai to Beijing. With the successful launch of the COMAC C919, China is positioning itself to challenge industry giants like Boeing and Airbus. (Hashtag: #C919商业首飞成功#).

◼︎ Yunnan protests. Violent clashes erupted between protesters and a substantial police force over the weekend in Nagu, a predominantly Muslim town in Yunnan Province. The unrest was allegedly triggered by the authorities’ plan to demolish the dome of the ancient Najiaying Mosque. The topic is censored on Weibo, Douyin, and beyond, but videos of the clashes circulated on Twitter (link).

◼︎ Baidu dethroned. Baidu, often referred to as ‘the Chinese Google’, is no longer China’s no 1 search engine. Bing has now surpassed Baidu to become the largest desktop search engine in mainland China. As the top went trending, commenters expressed that they started to disliked the messy lay-out of Baidu and how users are ‘getting bombarded’ with ads and news content. (Hashtag: #百度已不是中国第一大桌面搜索引擎#).

◼︎ Shenzhou XVI launch. On Tuesday afternoon, May 30, the crew of China’s Shenzhou 16 space mission arrived at the Tiangong space station, marking the beginning of a five-month mission for the three astronauts – including the country’s first civilian team member. The topic received over 500 million views on Weibo. (Hashtag: #神十六发射圆满成功#/)

◼︎ Elon in Beijing. After the private aircraft of Elon Musk landed in Beijing, the Tesla CEO reportedly met with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Qin Gang on May 30. Earlier reports suggested that Musk is expected to meet with senior Chinese officials and visit Tesla’s Shanghai factory, marking his first visit to China in three years. (Hashtag: #马斯克私人飞机降落北京#).

◼︎ Death penalty for rapists. Three men convicted of raping minors were executed in China last week. The convicts, who were separately convincted in Hubei’s Xiaogan, Shandong’s Weifang, and Henan’s Anyang, reportedly targeted elementary and junior high school girls through online chat tools before raping them. The topic received over 680 million views on Weibo. (Hashtag: #3名强奸未成年人罪犯被执行死刑#)

 

What Lies Behind

Note from the news editor, by Miranda

2023 Population Falls Below 8 Million? Implications and Concerns

It all started with a post that supposedly quoted a source from the National Health Committee. According to the post, as of the fifth month of 2023, all expecting mothers who planned to give birth in this year have already registered with hospitals. Based on this data, it is anticipated that the number of babies born in 2023 will fall below 8 million, marking the lowest figure in recent decades. Although this number has not been officially confirmed by the authorities, the topic (#2023年出生人口跌破800万) has sparked widespread discussions as concerns over population decline intensify.

On social media, Chinese population specialist Huang Wenzheng (黄文政) painted a gloomy picture of how China’s further population decline could impact various industries. First and foremost, the formula and child care industries would be affected, followed by education, food, and clothing in the next 5-10 years. In the span of 20-50 years, industries such as property, the digital economy, vehicles, tourism, and entertainment would also experience decline. Looking even further ahead, in 50 years, declines are expected in healthcare, elderly services, and the funeral industry. Huang suggests that the government should mobilize nationwide resources to boost the population.

Many individuals have expressed their personal conundrum regarding the pressures of their own lives, let alone the decision to have children, and the population’s concern over the long-term impact on the nation. Some question whether they should continue paying into their pension, as there may not be a return on their investment in the future. Others mention facing intense competition in education, career development, and home ownership, which makes the issue of population decline seem distant and unrelated. As much as there is shared anxiety for the nation’s future, it apparently isn’t enough to convince China’s younger generations to overcome their challenges and have more children at an earlier age.

 

A closer look at the top stories

1: Farmer Fever | With its focus on hard farm work and meeting actual targets, Become a Farmer is a fresh breeze of air for China’s variety show business, especially among young Chinese viewers who appreciate the show’s authenticity and the calmness of the rural scenes that pose a stark contrast with stressful urban life. These semi-celebrities have actually become farmers, and to legally sell the products grown on their farmland, they’ve registered as a company.

Read more
 

2: Carpet Pacific | Cathay Pacific flight attendants mocking non-English speaking passengers by saying, “If you can’t say blanket, you can’t have it,” have sparked a major controversy and caused a marketing catastrophe over the past week. The phrase now represents discriminatory treatment of mainland customers by a Hong Kong company, leading to further discussions on anti-Chinese sentiments in Hong Kong and the role of language in fostering (or hindering) Mainland-HK unity.

Read more
 

3: The G7 as “Failure” in China’s View | After the end of the G7, which was held in Hiroshima from 19 to 21 May, the summit remained a topic of discussion in Chinese online media, where the Group of Seven was criticized and accused of “smearing” and “attacking” China. Perhaps the most noteworthy criticism on the G7 summit came from Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹), who suggested the G7 was like a “frog in the well,” a direct reference to the well-known fable by philosopher Zhuangzi about a frog in a well who does not believe it when a turtle tells him that the world is bigger than the view from the well.

Read more
 

4: The Viral Panda | Yaya has become the most talked-about panda of the year. This female panda resided in the Memphis Zoo in the United States for most of her life and attracted significant attention on Chinese social media platforms after netizens expressed concern about her seemingly thin and unhealthy appearance. The concerns surrounding Yaya prompted an online campaign, with netizens advocating for Yaya’s return to China. The 23-year-old panda’s return to China in late April became a true social media spectacle. Now, a month later, Yaya is trending again. This time, it is her move from Shanghai to Beijing that is hitting the trending lists. After twenty years in the US and one month in Shanghai quarantaine, Yaya’s new home will be the main zoo in Beijing, the place where she was born.

Read more
 

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

Extreme Celebrity Weight Loss Trends | On day one, you only drink soy milk; on day two, you only eat corn; on day four, you can have an egg and some boiled shrimp. Could you do it? Chinese actor Chen Hao (秦昊) recently attracted attention for losing a significant amount of weight in a short time for a role he played. After his wife shared his extreme diet, many people started following it and shared their progress. Qin is not the only Chinese celebrity whose weight loss journey has become an online hype. But behind the relentless pursuit of celebrity weight loss plans lies the issue of body anxiety, particularly among young Chinese women.

Read more
 

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture, by Zilan

Happy Hormone Fashion | While the concept of dopamine dressing, the art of wearing clothes that boost the happy hormone, has already gained attention from foreign media outlets and style blogs in mid-2022, it only recently captured the imagination of the Chinese fashion scene. Known as duōbā’àn chuāndā 多巴胺穿搭 (Chinese translation of dopamine dressing), this trend revolves around embracing boldly vibrant and saturated colors that often create striking contrasts. Some enthusiasts even liken this style to a spilled and mixed “human palette” (人间调色盘). The influence of dopamine dressing has even made its way into state media, with firefighters’ uniforms being playfully labeled as examples of “dopamine dressing” due to their eye-catching orange hue.

Many believe that wearing bright and saturated colors can infuse youthfulness, vitality, and create a positive attitude, fostering a good mood for the wearer. Additionally, this style is seen as a way to express strong personal characteristics, showcasing creativity and individual taste. It aligns with the aesthetic preferences of modern young individuals who value personalization, freedom, and fashion.

However, some offer a deeper perspective, shedding light on the less positive aspects of this trend. They argue that dopamine dressing arises as a reaction to the burdens faced by the younger generation, such as the concept of “involution” and the prolonged practice of wearing masks. As one Zhihu user wrote: “We need a window to experience pleasure, and dressing up in dopamine outfits becomes a window for us to experience pleasure amidst the challenges of life”

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

Keeping the School Open for Two Students | For this week’s throwback from the archives, and in light of the ‘rural revitalization’ trend, we’ve picked this article from 2017 about how small rural school in China are slowly disappearing amid rapid urbanization.

As children move out to the cities with their parents, some schools – once lively village institutions – become empty buildings. In the mountainous region of Youyang County, one teacher kept his school open for two remaining students. School teacher Yang Jinhua, then 54 years old, worked at the same school for 35 years. For the last remaining two pupils, he fulfilled the tasks of teacher, concierge, cook, and school principal. “I would do the same if there was just one child left,” he told reporters.

Read more
 

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

Our Weibo Word of the Week is 二阳 èr yáng.

It directly translates as “second positive” and has been a phrase at the top of trending lists over the last week on Weibo and other social platforms. The character yáng 阳 means to test positive for a disease, such as COVID. The actual meaning of the phrase is “to get COVID for a second time.” That’s because there is much talk in China of an imminent second wave of COVID to peak in China over the next few weeks. So everyone is talking about getting COVID again. Expect 二阳 èr yáng to be a phrase you hear a lot if you are travelling to China over the summer!

Want to learn more Chinese? Subscribe to Andrew Methven’s super insightful Slow Chinese free newsletter here.
 

This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed last week’s newsletter? Find it here. If you are already subscribed to What’s on Weibo but are not yet receiving this newsletter in your inbox, please contact us directly to let us know.

Stories that are authored by the What's on Weibo Team are the stories that multiple authors contributed to. Please check the names at the end of the articles to see who the authors are.

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China Memes & Viral

Weibo Watch: Get Up, Stand Up

This week, Chinese netizens discussed subway seat confrontations, a shocking public stabbing, and Hu Youping’s heroism. Also: more trending topics, from hallucinogenic mushrooms to traveling pandas and reactions to the Biden vs. Trump debate.

Manya Koetse

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #32

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Get up, stand up
◼︎ 2. What’s New and Noteworthy – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What’s Trending – Hot highlights
◼︎ 4. What’s Remarkable – Seeing little people
◼︎ 6. What’s PopularWild Child: missing in action
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Bystander effect
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “City bu City”

 

Dear Reader,

 

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of discussion on Chinese social media about young people refusing to give up their seats for older people on the subway, sometimes leading to explosive situations.

On June 16, security was called when a young man on a Shenyang subway crumbled after an old man demanded that he’d give up his seat for him. In a video of the incident, which soon went viral, the young man can be heard screaming: “Are you giving me money? No? Then don’t bother me! I’m just happy to be sitting here. What’s wrong with me grabbing a seat?

Another subway incident went trending a week later. On June 24, a 65-year-old man started harassing a young woman on Beijing Subway Line 10 after she refused to give up his seat to him. The man became aggressive, started slapping the woman and put his cane in between her legs, trying to force her to stand up. The incident, which was filmed by other passengers, caused outrage on social media and the man was later detained by Beijing police.

A day later, in Wuhan, an elderly man and a young woman also got into an altercation that was caught on camera. After female passenger took the only available seat during morning rush hour on Line 2, the man reminded her that she should give up her seat out of respect for the elderly. “Why should I?” she asked: “I don’t owe you anything. I work overtime until 12:00 at night every day, and now you expect me to give up my seat during the morning rush hour?”

These incidents have sparked discussions about how people feel about these situations. In China, where respect for the elderly is deeply ingrained in the culture, should you give up your seat to the elderly on public transport because it is your duty, or is it just a personal choice? In an online poll held by Sina News, over 93% of respondents said they felt it was not their duty to give up their seat but a personal choice—a matter of courtesy.

“As long as you’re not sitting in a priority seat, you don’t have to give up your seat,” a top comment said. “It’s not easy being working class.” Many people echoed this sentiment, siding with the younger people who are facing their own tough struggles in China today. “I’d advise the elderly not to crowd public transport during the morning and evening rush hour,” another popular comment said, receiving thousands of likes.

These discussions signal a social shift: “When the topic comes up about young people not giving up their seats for the elderly, have you ever considered that these young people have been working all day? If you feel so strongly about it being your duty, how about you call a taxi for the elderly yourself?”

While many commenters expressed that people are not obliged to give up their seats to others, some, including pregnant women, complained about the overall reluctance of other passengers to give up their seats for them. “It feels like everybody is tired,” one Weibo user wrote.

 
Standing By
 

Another noteworthy discussion on Chinese social media recently was not about sitting down but about standing by. In a stabbing incident caught on camera by bystanders, a man locally known as “Bag-Clutching Brother” (夹包哥) was killed in the city of Songyuan in China’s Jilin province on June 30. His real name was Mr. Zhao, but he earned the nickname “Jiabaoge” (夹包哥, “Brother Clutch Bag”) for his eccentric square dancing while clutching a bag.

A video of the horrific incident shows Mr. Zhao happily dancing in a public square in Songyuan, with dozens of people present, when a man suddenly draws a knife and starts stabbing him. As the crowd watches on, the attack continues. Moments later, Mr. Zhao can be seen lying in a puddle of blood while still being attacked. Bystanders did not intervene. The attacker, a local drunk who did not even know “Brother Clutch Bag,” was detained by police. Zhao died of his injuries.

The incident caused a shock wave on social media. “They all stand in a circle and watch,” a typical comment said. “Not one of them stepped forward to help.” Some people called the onlookers “cold and detached” (“冷漠围观”).

While many suggest the onlookers are selfish and too preoccupied with filming to actually intervene, others suggested they were just scared to face the consequences of intervening.

There is a complex interplay of factors associated with the likelihood of people intervening when witnessing a crime or other emergency. Research points out that the higher the levels of fear among bystanders, the less likely they are to intervene. The more they perceive themselves as strong, the more likely they are to help. Additionally, the more people witnessing an emergency, the less personal responsibility is felt, reducing the chances of intervention.

As a victim, you might be more fortunate if just one person sees your predicament—and comes to your aid—than if a hundred people look on and do nothing.

 
Hu Youping
 

This issue perhaps also played a role in a third noteworthy topic that became a major trend recently, which I also wanted to mention here. It concerns the death and honoring of Ms Hu Youping (胡友平). Hu Youping, a 54-year-old school bus attendant, stepped in to help when a Japanese mother and child were attacked by a man with a knife at a school bus stop in Suzhou on June 24.

Hu was working that day when, around 4 pm, someone wielding a knife started attacking people at the bus stop near Xindi Center on Tayuan Road. As she rushed forward to stop the attacker, she was stabbed multiple times—one of the stabs hit her heart. On June 26, two days after the incident, Hu succumbed to her injuries.

The story of Hu Youping is remarkable on many levels. Not only was she brave, but she also intervened during a time when multiple stabbing incidents were making the news (also see: Jilin stabbings). Her courage became the focus of Chinese media reports about the Suzhou stabbing, diverting attention from the suspect’s motivations and discussions questioning China’s public safety. Adding to the story is that Hu protected a Japanese mother and child, which, in the context of Sino-Japanese tensions, reinforced her selflessness.

Hu’s face was suddenly everywhere. Netizens praised her kindness, and state media honored her bravery. As she officially received the title of “Model of Righteousness,” she was exemplified as embodying the kindness and courage of the Chinese people by local authorities. The Tianjin Radio and Television Tower even lit up in honor of Hu Youping, projecting her portrait on the side of the building.

Hu Youping is seen as a selfless heroine. Her story is not just propagated by official channels, it also resonates with the people. “People like Ms. Hu Youping and other heroes are remarkable, not only for their willingness to sacrifice themselves but also for inspiring those around them,” one Weibo blogger wrote.

Perhaps Hu Youping is the role model people need at this time, when so many stories about a lack of altruism, conflicting values, and moral crises are trending on social media. She was not necessarily an extraordinary person; she was a normal, kind-hearted and hard-working woman who would not stand by while seeing people in trouble.

However, while Hu Youping’s bravery is inspiring, her courage also serves as a cautionary tale. In one thread about the passive crowds watching Mr. Zhao get killed, commenters wrote: “Look what happened to Ms. Hu Youping. She got killed while bravely intervening, so who would dare to step in here?”

Her courage and ensuing death have ignited a realistic debate on what helping others may look like when confronting an armed attacker directly is not an option: “If someone is attacking with a knife and you are unarmed, your only option is to run. If you can help others to run with you, you are already a hero.”

In the end, Hu Youping triggers discussions on kindness, fearlessness, and doing what’s right. At a time when the social moral compass seems adrift, people like Hu help recalibrate it. Whether it means standing up or sitting down, stepping in or getting out, it’s always best to follow that personal moral compass regardless of what others do. Sometimes, that might mean sitting down when you need to rest, knowing that taking care of yourself is just as important. At other times, it means standing up when nobody else does, and rising not because it’s your duty, but because you know it’s the right thing to do.

Miranda Barnes and Ruixin Zhang have helped compile some of the topics mentioned in this week’s newsletter. As always, please do not hesitate to reach out if you’d like to share something you’ve spotted or share your ideas with me.

Best,
Manya Koetse
(@manyapan)

 

A closer look at featured stories

Humble Prodigy or Deceptive Impostor? | It’s rare for a math competition to become the focus of nationwide attention in China. But since 17-year-old vocational school student Jiang Ping made it to the top 12 among contestants from prestigious universities worldwide, her humble background and outstanding achievement sparked debates and triggered rumors.

Read more
 

“Scared to Intervene” | In a shocking incident caught on camera, a well-known Songyuan resident nicknamed “Brother Clutch Bag” was tragically stabbed to death. On Weibo, people have reacted with disbelief.

Read more
 

Another One Bites the Dust | Li Shangfu allegedly “took advantage of his position to seek benefits for others” and received large sums of money.

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

     
    JUNE 26

    🇺🇸 Biden vs Trump | Just like in the rest of the world, Biden and Trump’s presidential debate became a hot topic on Chinese social media. Chinese America watchers harshly criticized the debate, describing it as a race between a “madman and a senile patient.” Others perceived the overall energy and quality of the debate as indicative of troubled times for America and see the presidential campaign as a sign of Western democracy falling behind. Many commenters suggest that it does not really matter for China who becomes president, as both candidates are expected to adopt a tough stance on China. Nonetheless, there were various posts indicating a preference for Trump because he generates more memes and jokes on Chinese social media and is “more fun to watch.”

     
    JUNE 29

    🐼 From Sichuan to San Diego | They are the first set of pandas to make their way to the U.S. in 21 years: Yun Chuan (云川) and Xin Bao (鑫宝) safely arrived in San Diego on June 28 after a long flight from China. Their caretakers in Sichuan had to say goodbye to them for a loan period of at least ten years. On Chinese social media, many commenters expressed sadness about the pandas leaving China, wondering if their American adventure is really in their best interest.”

     
    JUNE 30

    🚀 Accidental Rocket | Was it a plane? Was it a meteor? Videos of an explosion in the hills near Gongyi City in Henan recently went viral (link). The huge impact was not caused by a meteor; it was a rocket. While performing a ground test, the Chinese rocket by space startup Space Pioneer (天兵科技) was accidentally launched and crashed near a residential area. There were no reports of casualties. A few days later, Space Pioneer sincerely apologized and promised that the company would compensate anyone who suffered property damage due to the test failure. The incident has sparked questions on why a private enterprise was able to test out rockets in Gongyi in the first place.

     
    JULY 1

    🏸 Zhang Zhijie Dies | On June 30, the young Chinese badminton player Zhang Zhijie (张志杰) collapsed and convulsed during a game in Indonesia. Videos of the incident (link) showed how it took about 40 seconds before medics arrived to attend to him. After being rushed to the hospital, the 17-year-old player from Jiaxing, Zhejiang, passed away. According to Indonesia’s badminton association, Zhang died due to sudden cardiac arrest. On Weibo, a hashtag about Zhang’s death garnered over 560 million views (#张志杰去世#) since late June. Zhang’s sister shared her grief and shock about her brother’s death on her Weibo account. Zhang’s mother was so overcome with grief that she had to be temporarily hospitalized earlier this week. Zhang’s family is now in Indonesia, seeking more clarity on his death and holding those responsible accountable.

     
    JULY 2

    🚗 Molly and Mr. Musk | “Hello Mr. Musk, I’m Molly from China. I have a question about your car. When I draw a picture, sometimes it will disappear like this. You see it? So can you fix it? Thank you.” Recently, a 7-year-old girl from Beijing named Molly recorded a video for Elon Musk, in which she complained in English about a bug in Tesla’s sketchpad: when adding a new stroke to her drawing, Molly found that previous strokes would sometimes disappear. In response, Musk replied to her on the X platform, “Sure.” The little exchange generated a lot of attention for Molly on Chinese social media, where the little girl was applauded for how she managed to address an issue with her drawing pad directly with Mr. Musk himself.

     
    JULY 6

    🌊 Dongting Floods | A dike of Dongting Lake in Yueyang, Hunan Province, burst on Friday afternoon, causing serious flooding in the area. What started as a 10-meter-wide breach eventually became a breach of approximately 225 meters (738 feet) wide. This flooding of China’s second-largest freshwater lake has already affected approximately 5,000 people, and around 3,000 people were relocated on Saturday. Efforts to seal the breach in the embankment in Huarong County are underway, with over 4700 people actively helping to control the flood.

     
    JULY 7

    📈 Peak in Death Rates | On Sunday, reports of China facing an imminent peak in death rates went trending on Weibo, where a related hashtag became one of the most-searched topics (#中国将迎来人口死亡高峰#). Chinese news outlet Jiemian News reported on a new study published in the latest issue of the Chinese magazine “Population Research” (人口研究), where researchers predict an unprecedented peak in death rates due to various factors, including China’s rapidly aging population, historical birth fluctuations, and increased longevity. As the aging population from the post-war mid-20th-century birth boom leads to a rapid rise in deaths, researchers emphasize the need to prepare for the societal impacts of this peak, including improved palliative care and better planning for funeral services. “Can we first fix the problem of post-graduate unemployment?” one top commenter wondered.

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

    Do you remember when US Treasury Secretary Yellen had some supposed ‘magic mushrooms’ in Beijing? The mushroom dish she had at a local restaurant is called “jiànshǒuqīng” (见手青) in Chinese; it’s the Lanmaoa asiatica mushroom species that grows in China’s Yunnan region and is considered hallucinogenic if not prepared properly, causing visions that locals call “xiǎorénrén” (小人人), literally meaning seeing “tiny people.” The Chinese is similar to the English term “Lilliputian hallucinations” that refers to visual hallucinations which could also include seeing tiny humans.

    The fact that Yellen had this dish actually made it more popular online in China, leading more people to order the mushrooms through online channels.

    This week, one Chinese girl named Xiaolin who had ordered 500 grams of the mushrooms became a top trending topic online. She used them for her mushroom soup and added them to her noodles. She consumed all of the mushrooms within one day. Later that night, Xiaolin started feeling unwell. She started seeing numerous “tiny people” running around her house, and when the little figures tried to whisper in her ear and get into her bed, the terrified girl rushed to her friend’s house, who decided to take her to the hospital due to her incoherent speech and strange behavior. The girl was eventually hospitalized due to wild mushroom poisoning.

    The story garnered 160 million views on Weibo (#女子吃1斤见手青后看见一屋人#), where many people are now more aware of the dangers of consuming wild mushrooms if not properly cooked. However, there are also many others who are only more curious now; they also want to see ‘little people’ walking around their house.

    Meme comparing Vision Pro to the ‘magic’ jianshouqing mushroom: which surreal experience is better?

    Some memes relating to this topic suggest that having “jiànshǒuqīng” is a cheaper and more interactive VR experience than getting the Apple Vision Pro. It surely isn’t something that authorities would like to see more people experiment with: a vlogger who tried out some raw mushrooms on her livestream was immediately shut down this week.

     

    The latest buzz in arts, marketing & pop culture

    The highly anticipated Chinese film Wild Child (野孩子) was scheduled for a nationwide premiere on July 10. Earlier this year, Wild Child won the Weibo award for the most-anticipated movie of the year. Starring the immensely popular former TFBoys leader Wang Junkai (also known as Karry Wang 王俊凯, 1999), the film had generated significant excitement among Chinese movie-goers. However, this week, the film distributor abruptly announced the cancellation of its release, citing alleged post-production delays. The cancellation, which quickly trended and sparked widespread discussion on Chinese social media, was particularly surprising as tickets were already being sold in the presale box office.

    Directed by Yin Ruoxin (殷若昕), Wild Child is based on a true story about two boys from a poor background who struggle to get by. The film addresses the theme of “children living in difficulty” (困境儿童), depicting the lives of children growing up in poverty. The two boys, one a thief and the other an orphan, are united by fate and bond as brothers as they face their challenges together.

    Why was the movie canceled so close to its premiere date? Was the withdrawal a purely commercial decision driven by poor presale figures, as suggested in a recent column by People’s Daily, or were there political motivations involved? Could its theme be misaligned with the upcoming Party’s third plenary session? Or is the portrayal of children facing social difficulties simply too sensitive? While the true reasons remain unclear, many fans are hopeful they will still have the opportunity to see the film.

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

    For this pick from the archive, and in the context of recent discussions on bystanders not intervening, we revisit a 2015 article about a young Chinese student who helped an elderly lady who had fallen on the street, only to be held liable for her injuries. Stories like these are often cited to explain why people hesitate to help someone in need.

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

    “City or not” | Our Weibo phrase of the week is City bu City a (City不City啊), translated as “City or not?”, a phrase that has recently taken the Chinese internet by storm.

    The phrase first became popular thanks to American influencer Paul Mike Ashton, nicknamed “Bao Bao Xiong” (保保熊, Baby Bear), who runs a Chinese-language account on Douyin. On his channel, Ashton shares humorous snippets about his life in China, where he works as an entertainer and tour guide.

    In one video from April this year, Ashton posted a clip in which he cycles through the city like a Shanghai ‘city girl’ who often mixes Chinese and English words, calling himself “very city” (“我是好city”). He says: “I’m so city, a city girl. It’s so cool, breezy. Life in the city is so good, I feel so free.”

    Ashton later began incorporating this phrase more frequently in his videos, often involving his sister, who also speaks Chinese in these humorous exchanges. Walking on the Shanghai Bund, the brother and sister describe Shanghai as “so city” (“好city啊”). While walking on the Great Wall, Bao Bao asks his sister if it’s “city or not” (it’s not).

    In other videos in which the two are traveling through China, Ashton repeatedly asks his younger sister if certain things are “city or not,” to which she usually responds humorously: “It’s very city.”

    In this context, “city” has evolved from a noun into a quirky adjective, describing something that embodies the essence of urban life; something that is ‘city’ is metropolitan, lively, and modern. It’s very tongue-in-cheek and also serves as a playful commentary on how young Chinese people often mix Chinese and English words to sound more sophisticated and trendy.

    This phenomenon sparked the ‘city or not’ meme, which even reached the Foreign Ministry this week when spokesperson Mao Ning was asked about it. She responded that she had heard about the new use of the phrase and that it is a positive sign of foreigners enjoying life in China.

    Chinese authorities and state media have also jumped on this trend to promote tourism. By now, the meme has been imitated and adapted by various local tourism departments. Ashton himself has encouraged foreigners to come and experience Chinese culture (and its very ‘city’ city life), further boosting its popularity.

     
    This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed last week’s newsletter? Find it here. If you are already subscribed to What’s on Weibo but are not yet receiving this newsletter in your inbox, please contact us directly to let us know.

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Weibo Watch: Bad Manners

A string of violent incidents made people wonder what else is brewing at Manner Coffee besides fresh coffee.

Manya Koetse

Published

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #31

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Bad manners
◼︎ 2. What’s New and Noteworthy – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What’s Trending – Hot highlights
◼︎ 4. What’s Remarkable – AI Against AI
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Fu Bao, the Commercial Gem
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Lying Flat
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Very Tougan”

 

Dear Reader,

 

On the morning of June 17, a Shanghai barista lost his temper when an impatient female customer kept nagging him about her coffee at a small coffee shop at Pudong’s Meihua Road. After she had asked him for his name and then held up a phone in his face to record him, he snatched the phone from her hands and started scolding her.

As the woman continued to rant, the situation escalated quickly. The young man stepped out to the other side of the counter to confront her, which soon turned into a physical altercation. After the woman kicked him, the man slapped her in the face and even threw a few punches (video link).

The incident occurred at Manner Coffee, a Chinese chain known for its affordable, high-quality takeout coffee. The altercation, captured on security video and going viral on Chinese social media, was not the only major incident at Manner Coffee that day.

On the same day, a female barista at another Manner Coffee at Shanghai’s Weihai Road also lost her temper while dealing with a complaint about slow service, after which she threw coffee grounds at the customer (video link).

As both incidents quickly went viral, a third incident came to light, in which a barista and a customer got into a fight behind the service counter at a Manner Coffee in Shanghai’s Haimeng Yifang mall (video link). Unsurprisingly, the string of incidents made people wonder what else was brewing at Manner Coffee besides fresh coffee.

 
A Coffee Company “Filled with Emotion”
 

If you’re based in Shanghai, you might be familiar with Manner Coffee, but it is not as well-known nationwide as Chinese coffee chains like Luckin or Cotti Coffee.

Manner was established in Shanghai in 2015 by coffee enthusiast Han Yulong (韩玉龙), who had a clear vision for the company. Rather than focusing on novel drinks and quick trends, he wanted to offer classic, affordable coffee to go.

As part of offering this kind of high-quality espresso and other coffee drinks, Han insisted that Manner would not use fully automated machines, like Luckin or Starbucks, but that the baristas would work with traditional semi-automatic machines that would require more input from the staff.

“This should be a business filled with emotion” (“有感情的行业”), Han explained, stressing his aspiration to create a “pure coffee shop” (“做一家纯粹的咖啡店”).

In just six years, Han Yulong expanded the Manner Coffee brand to 194 stores nationwide. Now, Manner has opened its 1,000th store, and Han has been included in the list of the top 1,000 richest people in China.

Although the concept behind Manner Coffee is commendable, the recent incidents have shown that Han Yulong has indeed created a business “filled with emotion,” but in all the wrong ways. What were supposed to be good Manner shops have led to bad manners from burned-out staff and impatient customers.

This article [in Chinese] by Huxiu explains how Manner’s baristas sometimes need half an hour to properly set up the coffee machines before their actual work begins.

In many shops, the baristas are furthermore single-handedly responsible for taking orders, handling payments, printing and sticking labels, making coffee, and cleaning.

Manner’s staffing is based on store sales: stores with daily sales below 5,000 RMB ($688) reportedly have only one employee, while those exceeding 6,000 RMB ($826) have two.

This raises questions on the maximum workload one barista can actually handle in a shift.

If it is true that it would take about six minutes per cup to maintain service and quality, then one barista would already be incredibly busy just making 80-100 cups in one shift. But with coffee prices around 20 RMB ($2.75), a daily sales target of 2,500 RMB would mean preparing approximately 120 cups of coffee.

No wonder that Chinese media interviews with Manner employees revealed significant stress and pressure within the company’s work environment.

 
Coffee Involution
 

There are various ways to interpret the recent outbursts at different Manner Coffee shops. In the first incident, where a young male barista slapped a female customer, one might expect widespread condemnation of such male-to-female violence, support for the customer, and discussions about gender-based violence. However, most social media users appear to be siding with the baristas, largely due to how the situation is being contextualized in online discussions. These incidents have opened the floodgates to stories about the immense pressure faced by Manner baristas and the unfair working conditions they endure.

After Manner Coffee issued a public apology for the incidents and promised to do everything possible to prevent such events in the future, the public turned against the company. Critics accused Manner of exploiting its employees, who work tirelessly to earn around 5,000 RMB ($688) per month, while founder Han Yulong has ascended to become one of the wealthiest people in China.

The word that keeps popping up in this context is “involution”, nèijuǎn 内卷. This term, which has become a Chinese buzzword over the past four years, is used to describe the ‘abnormal normal state’ of an ongoing rat-race in the Chinese education and employment market, leaving young people feeling overworked and run down as they try to keep up with the standards set by their peers who appear to be even more hardworking.

As I’ve previously described in my article here, 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).

The term ‘involution’ comes from this book by Geertz, published in 1963.

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).

But how do we make the jump from Geertz to Manner?

The term ‘involution’ often comes up together with criticism of 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 controversial, 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.

The term is also used to describe the complexities that come with the extreme pursuit of high-quality and low prices that is ubiquitous in the Chinese market.

‘Involution’ is happening at Manner Coffee in two ways. Top-down, you see how China’s coffee market has become increasingly competitive while operating costs are rising. Facing financial pressures, coffee chains such as Manner are saving on staff and store size but at the same time are driving up sales while keeping their coffee prices low to compete with Starbucks, Luckin, and other big chains. It’s what this 36kr article calls “suicidal pricing” (“自杀式”定价).

Bottom-up, this results in overwhelmed employees who are working hard to keep their jobs by maintaining an unrealistic standard of making hundreds of cups of coffee during their shifts – after all, their colleagues do it, so they must keep up with a standard set too high without anyone really profiting from it, leading to mental breakdowns and conflicts with impatient customers.

Instead of condemning Manner workers who lash out against customers, many people empathize with them as a way to voice their own concerns about work environments and employee welfare.

Rather than punishing its employees, many argue that Manner should radically change its management practices.

Others say that while Manner’s original concept of aiming for high-quality coffee is admirable, good coffee is not just in the coffee beans but also in how employees are treated. Chinese economist blogger and author Yu Fenghui (余丰慧) calls the turmoil surrounding Manner Coffee a “wake-up call for the entire industry,” arguing that a company’s true quality goes beyond its product but is reflected in social responsibility. Only in this way, he says, can a brand in this competitive market “not only run fast but also go the distance” (“不仅跑得快,而且走得远”). I guess we all like our coffee better knowing it was not made in bitterness.

Best,
Manya Koetse
(@manyapan)

Miranda Barnes & Ruixin Zhang contributed to this newsletter

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

 

A closer look at featured stories

Americans Stabbed in China | The recent stabbing incident at Beishan Park in Jilin city, involving four American teachers, has made headlines worldwide. However, on the Chinese internet, the story was initially kept under wraps. This is a brief overview of how the incident was reported, censored, and discussed on Weibo.

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

    JUNE 13-14

    Jiang Ping | The story of 17-year-old fashion design student Jiang Ping (姜萍) has become the center of online discussions. Jiang, from Jiangsu, unexpectedly placed twelfth in the preliminary round of the Alibaba Global Mathematics Competition, outperforming students from prestigious universities despite attending a vocational school often seen as inferior in China. Her talent was nurtured by her supportive teacher, Wang Runqiu (王闰秋), who helped her excel in the competition, where she was the only girl in the top 30. While many cheer Jiang on, her success has also triggered waves of criticism online, with some netizens accusing her and her tutor of cheating. The final round took place on June 22, and the results will be announced in August.

     
    JUNE 15-17

    G7 | Unsurprisingly, the G7, often accused of holding an anti-China bias, faced a wave of negative reactions on Weibo and other social media platforms in China. One viral image mocked the G7 leaders, highlighting their unpopularity in their own countries, where they are either losing votes or facing significant pressure. The image labeled the leaders as follows:

    • [European Union Charles Michel]: Unelected EU official
    • [German Chancellor Olaf Scholz]: Just lost elections
    • [Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau]: 50-year-low poll numbers
    • [French President Emmanuel Macron]: Just lost elections
    • [US President Joe Biden]: Too old to stand trial
    • [Japan Prime Minister Fumio Kishida]: 26% approval rating
    • [UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak]: About to lose elections
    • [EU Ursula von der Leyen]: Unelected EU official

    The only leader not being criticized was Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.

     
    JUNE 18

    618 | There have been mixed reports on this year’s June 18 “618 Shopping Festival.” Some reports claimed that sales dropped during the major shopping event, which has become nearly as well-known and hyped as the November 11 “Single’s Day” shopping extravaganza. JD.com, the company behind the 618 festival, asserted that this year’s transaction volume and orders broke records.

    Chinese e-commerce and finance bloggers have discussed the matter, suggesting that the festival did not actually experience a decline. They noted that some data did not account for the different sales times across various platforms and that various measuring methods are not entirely accurate. Meanwhile, in an online shopping environment that features constant promotions, online commenters observed that there seemed to be less hype surrounding the shopping festival this year.

     
    JUNE 19-20

    Putin in North Korea | On Chinese social media, many netizens watched with interest as Putin was warmly received in North Korea. Some remarked, “Two international outcasts huddling together for warmth,” while others suggested, “Perhaps we might as well not learn English, but learn Russian and Korean instead.” Despite the unique nature of the visit, coverage of Putin’s time in Pyongyang was minimal in Chinese official media. Some bloggers noted the significance of the trip’s sequence, emphasizing that Putin prioritized his visit to China in May before traveling to North Korea.

    Others focused on a small detail: when Kim Jong-un and Putin went on a ride in a luxury limo, the phone holder was holding something that was apparently deemed more important: cigarettes.

     
    JUNE 23-24

    Gaokao | The results of China’s Gaokao (National College Entrance Exams) were released and quickly became a hot topic on Chinese social media. These results are extremely important to students, as they determine which university they will be able to attend. With this crucial milestone, students now face another significant challenge: filling out college applications.

    During a livestream on Sunday, renowned Chinese educational advisor Zhang Xuefeng (张雪峰) suggested that students should look beyond rankings when choosing a college. He advised that young people should also consider other aspects of the college’s location, such as the feasibility of buying a house, promising job prospects after graduation, and overall good quality of life. “Is there such a place?” one top commenter wondered.

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

    A new technology to detect AI scams recently went trending on Weibo. This “AI against AI” application promises to instantly recognize whether or not a face has been ‘swapped’ through AI tech (0步破解AI换脸诈骗). This application comes at a time of intensified concerns over scams facilitated by AI.

    Earlier this year, a massive AI deepfake fraud case in Hong Kong attracted widespread attention. Fraudsters tricked a worker at a multinational firm into paying them a staggering 200 million HKD ($25 million) by using deepfake technology to pose as the company’s chief financial officer in a video conference call. Last year, a similar fraud case made headlines in China after a legal representative of a technology company in Fuzhou was fooled into transferring 4.3 million yuan (about $612,000) after having a video chat with someone pretending to be his friend through AI-powered face-swapping technology.

    To combat such fraud practices, this new technology can now easily analyze real-time videos on mobile, detecting flaws in the video that are invisible to the human eye to determine whether or not the person you’re talking to is real or AI-generated.

     

    The latest buzz in arts, marketing & pop culture

    Since the young panda Fu Bao (福宝) made her debut at the Sichuan panda reserve in mid-June, she has become a major topic on Chinese social media. Born and raised in a South Korean zoo, Fu Bao has captivated audiences with her charm.

    Fu Bao, who has thousands of fans in South Korea, returned to China in April under panda loan agreements. Born in 2020 at South Korea’s Everland Zoo, Fu Bao is the offspring of Ai Bao (爱宝) and Le Bao (乐宝), who were sent from China in 2016 as part of the country’s “panda diplomacy.”

    Under the current panda loan agreements, all cubs born abroad belong to China and must be sent back to China by around the age of four. However, Fu Bao’s return sparked controversy among South Korean fans, who started a petition to bring Fu Bao back “home” after rumors surfaced about her mistreatment in China. These rumors were refuted by Chinese authorities, who dismissed them as attempts to politicize the situation rather than genuine concern for Fu Bao’s welfare.

    While fans in South Korea mourn Fu Bao’s departure, Chinese enthusiasts are happy they can finally see her, both online and offline. Whether it’s Fu Bao being livestreamed, staring through a window, or eating bamboo, the young panda is a social media sensation. Fu Bao’s success extends beyond panda diplomacy; she’s a commercial gem. From Fu Bao stickers to books, soft toys, power banks, keychains, and magnets, Taobao sellers are also thrilled that Fu Bao has come home to China.

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

    For this pick from the archive, we revisit an article from 2022 about the phenomenon of ‘lying flat’, tǎng píng, which became a hot social trend in China in 2021 and has garnered much attention since. Supporters of China’s ‘lying flat’ movement say it is a form of collective emotional catharsis, but state media suggest it goes against the Chinese Dream.

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

    “Strong Stealth Vibe” | Our Weibo phrase of the week is tōugǎn hěn zhòng (偷感很重), translated as “strong stealth vibe.”

    It’s that moment when you see someone you know and pretend to be busy on your phone to avoid social interaction. Or when someone takes a group picture and you’re unsure how to pose. Or when all eyes are on you and you wish for an invisible cloak.

    Recently, the term “tōugǎn” (偷感) has emerged on Chinese social media. Tōugǎn (偷感) literally translates to “stealth sense” or “secret feeling,” but we can interpret it as an overall vibe of being “under-the-radar.” The phrase “tōugǎn hěn zhòng” (偷感很重) means “the stealth sense is strong,” and can be used to describe someone as being “very under-the-radar” or having “a strong stealth vibe.”

    The exact origin of this term is unclear, but it likely first appeared on Xiaohongshu in response to a videoclip by the South Korean girl group Le Sserafim for their single “Easy,” where they sing and dance effortlessly with some low-key dance moves.

    Tōugǎn (偷感) is used by young people to express a common feeling in their daily lives, where they prefer to go about things quietly and low-key, avoiding too much attention. They can still be smooth and effortless, but out of fear of embarrassment or judgment, they do so in a subtle and low-profile manner. They won’t flaunt their achievements, but wait for others to notice them.

    Unlike earlier internet buzzwords where young people mock themselves, tōugǎn is not negative – it’s a bit tongue-in-cheek and a way for people to connect over their inner worlds that aren’t visible to others.

     
    This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed last week’s newsletter? Find it here. If you are already subscribed to What’s on Weibo but are not yet receiving this newsletter in your inbox, please contact us directly to let us know.

    Featured image: Part of the image is based on photo taken by photographer Liu Xiangcheng, depicting dozens of students sitting down at Tiananmen Square.

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