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Weibo Watch: Different Realities

Encountering very different narratives when scrolling through newsfeeds. From unemployment among graduates to pursuing a journalism major, these are the hot topics you need to know.





This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Alternate realities
◼︎ 2. What’s Trending – A closer look at the top stories
◼︎ 3. What to Know – Highlighting hot topics
◼︎ 4. What Lies Behind – The human ‘Sorting Hat’
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – An inappropriate selfie
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – White People Food
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Best reads from the archive
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Small-town upper class”


Dear Reader,


In the social media era, news travels farther, faster, and deeper than ever before. Although so-called ‘cyber utopians’ may have wished and believed that this would lead to freer and more democratic dynamics in the world of news media, we are now witnessing how news platforms are actually also contributing to increased polarization and frustration among people.

While this may hold true for the global news environment at large, this phenomenon is recently particularly noteworthy in China, where online anger over the lack of recognition and representation in news reports has become prevalent.

With 1 in 5 young Chinese currently facing joblessness, many students and graduates are worried because of the instability that is permeating throughout a society where youth unemployment is a growing problem. The pressure to choose a major that offers a high chance of finding a good job is palpable, with over 88% of young people expressing the wish for guidance in this stressful process.

In response, some students have taken to the Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu to post creative graduation photos, portraying themselves as zombies, runaways, or even dead people, as a way to mock the challenges they have faced and anticipate in the future. One recent graduate sarcastically wrote, “Graduation! Going from being graduated to being unemployed.”

Creative graduation photos.

However, when these students scroll through their newsfeeds, they encounter a very different narrative: positive prospects for youth, news of 26 million young graduates finding jobs, and encouragement to pursue their passions. Rather than finding solace in these rose-colored reports, many are growing increasingly skeptical of Chinese journalism and media tactics that seem to create alternate realities. One person wondered, “Is it really so difficult to acknowledge the ’employment recession’?”

In light of these discussions and recent criticisms of Chinese media reports that clash with everyday realities, it is perhaps not surprising that when needing to pick a major, many people feel that studying journalism is not the road to take. An online debate about this topic has recently garnered millions of views.

Meanwhile, a distrust in mainstream media also does not help when disaster happens. After the deadly explosion that occurred in Yinchuan last week, erroneous reporting by some state media outlets led people to accuse them of purposely spreading “fake news.”

All of these incidents further fuel the ongoing discussions about the current state and future of journalism and news media in China. To delve deeper into these topics and more, please explore our latest stories below. This week’s newsletter includes contributions from Miranda Barnes and Zilan Qian.



A closer look at the top stories

1: Criticism of Journalism in China | Chinese educational internet influencer Zhang Xuefeng (张雪峰) recently sparked a trending discussion by strongly discouraging Chinese youth from pursuing a degree in journalism. While scholars and state media emphasize the merits of studying journalism, a significant number of netizens question its benefits, labeling it as impractical, uneducational, and restrictive. Professor Zhang Xiaoqiang (张小强), on the other hand, argues that pursuing a degree in journalism is worth it. Meanwhile, the ‘Zhang vs Zhang’ online debate has captivated millions of people.

Read more

2: Different Realities | From manipulating employment statistics to the use of euphemistic terms, Chinese netizens are growing increasingly frustrated about how official media and authorities are portraying the situation on the job market. As one in five young Chinese faces joblessness, this article highlights how Chinese youth are growing weary of reading positive news reports about the job market’s prospects, which sharply contrast with the challenging realities they face themselves.

Read more

3: The Wagner Mutiny on Chinese Social Media | The recent developments involving Putin and the Wagner group have gained significant attention in China’s media landscape, with a Russia-focused perspective dominating the online discussions. While some Chinese netizens express support for Russia, there is also a notable segment that mocks and ridicules staunch pro-Russia supporters, labeling them as ‘Yellow Geese’. This article was written on June 24, recording the Chinese responses to the Wagner mutiny situation as it unfolded.

Read more

4: Failing Safety Measures | The tragic gas explosion at a BBQ restaurant in Yinchuan, Ningxia, resulting in the loss of 31 lives and injuring 7 others, has had a profound impact on the local community. Following the incident, many customers at local (bbq) restaurants choose to sit outside, reflecting an increased awareness about the dangers of gas leakage and the importance of good ventilation. However, the impact extends beyond the immediate community. During the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, local authorities across the country, in accordance with Xi Jinping’s instructions, are intensifying safety controls and reinforcing supervision to prevent a recurrence of such an incident, which could have been easily avoided with appropriate safety measures.

Read more


What to Know

Highlighting hot topics

A Chinese tour group was attacked during the riots in France.

◼︎ Riots in France. This weekend, after days of unrest, the riots and chaos in France have also reached the top trending topic lists of Chinese social platforms, including Weibo, where the hashtag “The French Riots Have Spread to Neighboring Belgium” (#法国骚乱已蔓延到邻国比利时#) was among the biggest topics of the day on Saturday. Protests and riots have escalated in France, from Paris and Marseille to Lyon, following the fatal police shooting of a 17-year-old male that occurred during a traffic stop on Tuesday in the Paris suburb of Nanterre. The situation in France is major news in Chinese media, especially after a bus carrying a Chinese tour group had its windows smashed in Marseille, resulting in several minor injuries. Chinese authorities have issued a warning for Chinese citizens in France to take precautions and stay safe in light of the recent unrest. (Hashtag: Chinese citizens in France Should Increase Safety Measures #在法中国公民加强安全防范#, 7.5 million views; “France Continues Seeing Riots in Various Places” #法国多地持续发生骚乱#, 7.4 million views; “Over 40 Chinese Travelers Attacked in France” #40多名中国游客在法遇袭#, 9.1 million views).

◼︎ CPC Founding Anniversary. This week, there have been numerous hashtags related to the Communist Party on Chinese social media platforms as the 102nd anniversary of the CPC’s founding was celebrated on Saturday. The anniversary received significant attention online, with a multitude of images, videos, and official posts praising the Party and emphasizing the goals of national prosperity and rejuvenation. Offline celebrations included a symphony concert in Beijing and the release of multilingual editions of “A Concise History of the Communist Party of China.” According to official media reports, the number of Party members has reached 98.04 million, marking a 1.4% increase compared to the previous year. (Hashtag: “The 102nd Anniversary of the Founding of the Communist Party of China” ##中国共产党成立102周年#
#, more than 290 million views on Weibo by Sunday evening, local time).

◼︎ Cai Xukun Controversy. Chinese singer-songwriter Can Xukun has been all the talk this week after getting caught up in a scandal. Allegations surfaced claiming that Cai had a one-night stand with a woman who later became pregnant, and he allegedly requested her to undergo an abortion. Cai is a major celebrity, as well as brand ambassador of global brands including Prada, Givenchy, and Tag Hauer. As the scandal is unfolding, it is not yet sure how this will impact the singer’s career, but his name was already removed from the Douban pages of some variety shows in which he participated, and CCTV allegedly has also taken down online videos of him. (Hashtag: “Cai Xukun and Forced Abortion of Ms. C” ##蔡徐坤 c女士打胎#, 2.9 billion views on Weibo).

◼︎ Bullied High School Student Commits Suicide. The case of a 16-year-old high school student in Guizhou who recently died by suicide after ingesting poison at the school campus has gained significant attention on Chinese social media. According to reports, the student had been subjected to bullying at school. Earlier this year, he was caught selling cigarettes and had reported his classmates for using smartphones. The bullying he experienced became increasingly severe, causing him to develop fear of returning to school and leading to a decline in his mental health. Following his death, his mother shared his story on social media. This incident has sparked greater awareness about the issue of bullying in Chinese schools, prompting various state media outlets to publish articles aimed at helping parents detect signs of bullying in their children’s lives. (Hashtag: “16-Year-Old High School Student Dies by Suicide after Ingesting Poison on Campus” ###16岁中学生校内服毒自杀身亡#, 180 million views on Weibo).

◼︎ Renmin University Students’ Information Leak On July 1st, a post on social media claimed that a graduate student from Renmin University of China stole students’ personal information to create a “girl rating site” to score their attractiveness based on facial features. The leaked information allegedly includes student ID numbers, names, colleges, hometowns, and birthdays. The topic has gained widespread attention on social media, where the topic is currently still developing. The incident has been reported to police and is still under investigation. (Hashtag: “Renmin University Student Information Leak Incident” #人民大学通报学生信息泄露事件#, 64 million views on Weibo).

◼︎ Biden Calling Xi “Dictator”. Following Blinken’s recent visit to China, President Biden referred to Chinese leader Xi Jinping as a “dictator” during a campaign fundraiser in California. This statement gained international attention, with China’s Foreign Ministry accusing the US president of “political provocation” in response. However, the incident received minimal coverage on Chinese online media platforms. Interestingly, the only relevant Weibo hashtag regarding a leader being called a “dictator” was in reference to a graphic aired on Fox News during Trump’s post-arrest speech, where Biden was labeled a “wannabe dictator.” (Hashtag: “Trump Labels Biden as Wannabe Dictator” ##特朗普称拜登想成为独裁者#).

◼︎ 5-Year-Old Jumps From 5th Floor after Parental Abuse. On June 25, a distressing incident unfolded as a 5-year-old boy attempted to escape physical abuse from his parents by climbing out of the window of their 5th-floor apartment in Changfeng County. Shockingly, instead of ensuring her son’s safety, the mother resorted to further violence, striking the young boy with a stick, ultimately leading to the young boy’s jump/fall. Neighbors who saw the incident unfold immediately alerted authorities, and the child was swiftly transported to the hospital, where he is currently receiving medical treatment and is reported to be out of immediate danger. The incident has sparked widespread discussions about the detrimental effects of parental abuse, with some critics also questioning media reports that suggested the mother had used the stick to coerce the child back inside. As the investigation is ongoing, local authorities are appealing to the public to refrain from sharing a circulating video of the incident, emphasizing the importance of safeguarding the child’s well-being. (Hashtag: “Police Report Regarding Boy Jumping from Building Incident” ##警方通报男童坠楼事件#).

◼︎ Dragon Boat Travel Rush. According to data from China State Railway Group, China’s railway passenger flow reached a record high during the recent Dragon Boat Festival holiday, which started on Thursday last week. Approximately 70.38 million railway passenger trips were made nationwide during a five-day period, which is an increase of 7.14 million compared to the 2019 holiday. On June 22, a single-day record was set with 16.09 million passenger trips.


What’s Behind the Headlines

Note from the news editor, by Miranda

The Human Version of the Sorting Hat: Choosing a Promising Path

After the brief celebration of wrapping up the Gaokao, the university entrance exams in China, hundreds of thousands of students received their results this week and embarked on the next step of their academic journey: submitting their choices of major and university. Faced with immense pressure and a wealth of information, students are turning to consulting services to help them make decisions that are crucial for their future. With an overwhelming 88.1% of Chinese students indicating their willingness to utilize such services, it has become a thriving industry.

One prominent figure in this field is Zhang Xuefeng, an influential education advisor known for providing practical guidance based on various factors, including a student’s Gaokao performance, personal interests, and family background. Zhang has earned the nickname “Human Sorting Hat” (人肉分院帽) for his role in guiding students towards suitable choices, similar to the magical hat in the Harry Potter series.

Although Zhang and advisers like him are increasingly popular, an editorial piece recently published state media outlet People’s Daily criticized the industry for offering purely utilitarian advice, suggesting that there is more to life than simply “getting a job” or “supporting one’s family,” and that dreams should also be taken into account.

Nonetheless, many commenters support Zhang’s approach, arguing that in today’s society and economy, individuals from ordinary families literally cannot afford to make missteps when making life-altering decisions. “I wish I had his advice back in the day,” one person remarked: “I wouldn’t have wasted four years studying something unrelated to my current job.”


What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

A Very Inappropriate Selfie | A notable trending topic emerged on Douyin and in the “society” category on Weibo over the past weekend, concerning a Chinese woman who took a tourist photo in a rather inappropriate setting. The incident took place in Wuxi, Jiangxi Province, where a Chinese domestic tourist reportedly slipped and fell into a ditch while recording a Douyin (TikTok) video during her visit to the scenic water area at Xihui Park. Following her fall, the woman lay motionless in the ditch, face down.

What made the incident controversial was that another woman, who did not even know if the victim was dead or alive, treated the scene as if it were a tourist attraction. She proceeded to take a smiling selfie while standing near the woman in the ditch. This behavior raised questions about the woman’s lack of empathy and sparked discussions about the problematic side of the social media era. Some individuals seem to prioritize their own self-presentation on socials, forgetting to to show empathy those around them.

Read more


The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

They Discovered Our Trend! | Earlier this month, the term ‘white people food’ (白人饭 báirénfàn) gained significant attention in English-language media after it became a trend on the Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu. “White people food” mainly refers to simple meals that are easy to prepare, prioritizing convenience over taste. Examples include crackers and cheese, celery with dip, boiled egg with cucumber, ham sandwiches, or pasta with tomatoes.

Mocking unappetizing, cold, and barely seasoned ‘white people food’ became popular among overseas Chinese posting photos on Xiaohongshu and others criticizing the bland lunchboxes brought to work by white colleagues. As a response to the trend, an online challenge emerged where people attempted to recreate their own version of a white people lunch. This mini-trend caught the attention of English-language media outlets, including Buzzfeed. A month after the ‘white people food’ trend first became popular, Chinese netizens onw reflect on how the trend gained international attention.

Read more


What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

“America is Bad” Post Backfiring | Amid ongoing discussions about Chinese journalism and media, we have chosen this article from our archive to shed light on a noteworthy phenomenon. It examines how Chinese netizens effectively used state media reports as a platform to express their frustrations and amplify their voices. In 2022, when the Chinese government faced criticism for its handling of the COVID-19 crisis and other internal matters, netizens cleverly harnessed state media-initiated hashtags that focused on alleged human rights abuses in the United States. By doing so, they effectively voiced their dissent against the government’s diversionary tactics. Notably, this allowed critical viewpoints to emerge on Weibo at a sensitive time, without immediate censorship.

Read more


Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

Small-Town Elites: Luxurious Lifestyle Away from the City | Our Weibo Word of the Week is 小镇贵妇 xiǎo zhèn guìfù, “small-town upper class lady.”

The phenomenon of the “small-town elites” has been popping up more frequently in Chinese online media and on lifestyle app Xiaohongshu over the past few months. The term “small town upper class ladies” (小镇贵妇) refers to women who reside in small towns and enjoy a wealthy lifestyle with minimal work responsibilities, usually thanks to their affluent families. Their wealth and leisurely lifestyle are not only due to financial stability but also the abundance of free time they have to engage in various activities, decorate their homes, and pursue hobbies such as yoga. This lifestyle is a striking contrast to urban dwellers who face long working hours, challenging commutes, and high living expenses.

While “small-town elites” may express their envy toward their friends in bigger cities who can attend concerts, visit bars, and experience the vibrant atmosphere of cosmopolitan places, they, in turn, are admired by their friends for their comfortable living situations and spacious houses in a relatively stress-free, privileged environment.


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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Weibo Watch: “Bloglator in the Era of Social Media”

By examining the influence of the “tragically ugly” schoolbook case, Bai demonstrates that WoW reporting had considerable impact on overall international media coverage.

Manya Koetse




Dear Reader,


It’s been a little while since the last Weibo Watch newsletter. Those of you who follow me on X might already know that some personal circumstances have made it difficult for me to get a lot of work done this month following the unfortunate loss of two close family members and all the arrangements surrounding it. When it rains, it sometimes really does pour. However, life goes on, and I’m now ready to return to doing what I love most at What’s on Weibo. Thank you for your understanding as we dive back into the swing of things.

On that note, I am very happy to share some exciting news: my work at What’s on Weibo is the focus of a new study by Prof. Bai Liping (白立平) from the Department of Translation at Lingnan University (Hong Kong). The study, titled “Bloglator in the Era of Social Media: A Case Study of the Reports about the ‘Tragically Ugly’ Math Textbooks on What’s on Weibo,” has been published in Perspectives journal (2024, 1–16). You can find a link to the study here (limited free online copies available).

The study examines the role played by bloggers in the present-day news ecosystem, where social media has become increasingly important in various ways, making both news consumption and news production more multi-dimensional. In doing so, Bai zooms in on What’s on Weibo (WoW) as a prominent example of what he calls a ‘bloglator’: a blend of ‘blog’ and ‘translator’ to refer to someone who “translates, adapts, and recreates content from articles or posts on blogs, or does any translation on blogs” (3).

The research suggests that WoW’s work, reporting on trending topics on Chinese social media since 2013, constitutes a special form of news-related blog translation as well as blog-related news translation, carving out a special niche within journalistic translation and the broader news ecosystem.

Serving as a case study is an article published on the site in May 2022 about illustrations in a Chinese schoolbook series for children that triggered controversy on Weibo for their peculiar design and for being perceived as ‘aesthetically displeasing.’

The controversy began when concerned parents noted that the quality of the design in their kids’ math textbooks was ugly, unrefined, and overall weird.

The controversial schoolbook.

Children depicted in the math book illustrations had small, droopy eyes and big foreheads. Besides the poor design quality, many people found some illustrations inappropriate: a girl sticking out her tongue, recurring depictions of American flag colors, an incorrect depiction of the Chinese flag, a bulge in the pants of depicted boys, and boys grabbing girls. These elements led many to believe the books had “evil intentions,” with parents expressing concern that these “tragically ugly” books could negatively impact children’s aesthetic appreciation.

The explosive online discussions about the textbooks sparked a chain of events, covered in various articles here. Ultimately, it led to an official investigation by China’s Ministry of Education, holding 27 staff members accountable for their poor performance.

Among them were the Party Committee Secretary of the People’s Education Press, President Huang Qiang, who received a “serious warning” from the Party. Chief Editor Guo Ge was removed from office, along with others, including the head of the editorial office for elementary school mathematics textbooks. Illustrator Wu Yong and two other designers involved in the mathbooks reportedly will never work on national school textbooks or related projects again. The entire event was significant in various ways, also drawing increased attention to the quality of illustrations in teaching materials and shedding light on the dynamics behind Chinese schoolbook publications.

Bai’s study notes that WoW was among the first English websites to report on this topic, subsequently picked up by numerous other media outlets. While some sources, such as Australian news site and The Guardian, included links or references to WoW, other news sites did not explicitly mention WoW but still used my translations, most notably the “tragically ugly” comment.

This non-literal translation of a Chinese phrase (most probably derived from 惨不忍睹 cǎn bù rěn dǔ “so horrible that one cannot bear to look at it”) exemplifies “translingual quoting,” a process where the original discourse is translated during quoting (6). You could consider it a ‘creative translation’ to convey meaning rather than exact words. As other reports also reproduced these exact words, it was evident what their source was. These two words ultimately became pivotal in the English coverage of the event; even today, a Google search directs you to this textbook controversy.

By examining the influence of the “tragically ugly” schoolbook case, Bai demonstrates that WoW reporting had considerable impact on the overall international media coverage of the event. It was cited by various English media outlets from Australia to the UK, from India to Hong Kong, including in traditional newspapers like The Independent, Sunday Times, and South China Morning Post.

He concludes:

“In the era of social media, just as Weibo has supplemented traditional media in the Chinese news ecosystem, WoW has filled a niche left by traditional media in the English news media ecosystem. Through WoW, readers can stay informed about the trending topics on Weibo, learn the views of the netizens and foster a deeper understanding of Chinese social and cultural life. The case study demonstrates that WoW’s reports about the tragically ugly math textbooks are consistent with its founder’s objectives of explaining the stories behind the hashtag and facilitating a better understanding of contemporary China, and that a ‘bloglator’ may play an important role in the evolving news ecosystem in this era of social media.”

Of course, I’m thrilled to see this finalized study on WoW’s impact in the news ecosystem. Beyond that, I value the term ‘bloglator,’ which aptly describes my role, and is different from the work done by journalists who translate news. It involves various strategies such as translingual quoting, providing explanations and background contexts, omitting irrelevant information, summarizing source texts, and most importantly, complete independence in choosing what to write about & the best way to cover it.

This independence enables WoW to spotlight interesting, noteworthy topics that help you stay connected to the Chinese social media sphere and its dynamics. As a subscriber, your support makes What’s on Weibo’s continuity possible. I look forward to working on many more topics in the future. Even the “tragically ugly” ones can sometimes turn out beautifully.


– Your ‘bloglator,’
Manya Koetse


Bai, Liping. “Bloglator in the Era of Social Media: A Case Study of the Reports about the ‘Tragically Ugly’ Math Textbooks on What’s on Weibo.” Perspectives, (2024), 1–16. doi:10.1080/0907676X.2024.2343047.


A closer look at some featured stories

1: “Fat Cat Jumping Into the River Incident” (胖猫跳江事件) | The tragic story behind the recent suicide of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ has become a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media, touching upon broader societal issues from unfair gender dynamics to businesses taking advantage of grieving internet users. We explain the trend here👇🏼

Read more

2: TV show Triggers Nationalistic Sentiments | Forget about previous song competitions. Hunan TV’s ‘Singer 2024’ is all the talk these days. Besides memes and jokes, the show – which now invited notable foreign talent to compete against Chinese established performers – has set off a new wave of national pride in China’s music and performers on Chinese social media.

Read more

3: Storm over a Smoky Cup of Tea | Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy. “Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you.”

Read more

This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed the last edition of our 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: The Battle for the Bottom Bed

“The battle for the lower bunk beds” (“下铺之争”) is a reflection of society and generational difference in China, touching upon expectations regarding the respect younger individuals should show the elderly.






This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Battle for the Bottom Bed
◼︎ 2. What’s Been Trending – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What More to Know – Five bit-sized trends
◼︎ 4. What’s the Drama – Top TV to watch
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – Zara x Haidilao
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Martin Garrix x Huang Zitao
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Social media in times of flood
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – Coffin rooms


Dear Reader,


Sometime around last summer, a significant debate about train etiquette began trending on Chinese social media. Central to the discussion was a question that attracted over 190 million views on Weibo: Can passengers bring their own “bed curtains”?

The curtains in question (床帘 chuánglián, also 火车遮挡帘 huǒchē zhēdǎnglián) are often used in the cheapest class of sleeper cabins on Chinese trains, known as hard sleepers (硬卧 yìngwò). In these cabins, each compartment features six bunk beds, with three beds on each side separated by a small table. Only the bottom bunk offers sufficient space for seating and is also the most expensive among the three.

Example of Chinese hard sleeper train compartment, image via Sohu.

Train carriages usually comprise 11 semi-open compartments, each featuring a corridor and two foldable seats per cubicle. With so many people in one carriage, noise can become an issue, and privacy can be hard to come by.

“Bed curtains” have emerged as a popular strategy to combat these nuisances, creating a somewhat private and quiet space on trains without disturbance from fellow travelers. Essentially, they are pieces of fabric that can be easily secured above or on the sides of the bunk bed using clips or ropes. These days, Taobao sells them in various colors and patterns.

Bunk bed curtains, sold on e-commerce sites likes Taobao, turn lower bunk beds in a more private space.

Recently, the debate over these curtains reignited on Chinese social media, particularly focusing on how their use creates an additional barrier for other passengers, especially the elderly, to sit on the lower beds. This sparked discussions about whether younger passengers should consider swapping their lower bunk beds with senior passengers, who may find it difficult to access the middle and upper berths, where it’s often impossible for them to sit up straight.

The catalyst for these discussions was a viral video featuring an elderly lady confronting two young people who had hung covers on their bottom bunk beds. She accused them of selfishness for not allowing older passengers with upper bunk tickets to sit on their beds.

Many commenters expressed support for the young passengers in the video, emphasizing that they are not obliged to let other passengers sit on their bed. The topic unleashed a flood of stories of train annoyances about strangers sitting on people’s bottom beds, depriving them of privacy.

The topic further popularized the use of bed curtains, with commenters writing: “I dislike others sitting on my bed but find it difficult to confront them; this is such a clever solution!”

There are currently no explicit regulations prohibiting or allowing these bed curtains, as long as they do not cause inconvenience or block access to other bunks, but many people view them as “uncivilized” and “impolite.”

The online critics of bed curtains often fondly recall their experiences traveling on China’s sleeper trains in past decades. They reminisce about meeting strangers, sharing snacks, playing cards, and forming friendships—experiences characterized by less privacy, but more camaraderie.

As this discussion has been dubbed “the battle for the lower bunk beds” (“下铺之争”), it’s evident that it encompasses more than just seating arrangements. Some say it is a reflection of the current society. It touches upon societal shifts, traditional/cultural expectations regarding the respect younger individuals should show the elderly, and mostly, generational differences.

Unlike the older generations preceding them, Chinese younger generations, products of the one-child policy and growing up amid increasing prosperity, have undergone a significant transformation in their familial roles over the past decades. Not only were they both pampered and pressured to succeed, they also often enjoyed having their own rooms from a young age. Their upbringing has fostered a more individualistic perspective, a heightened emphasis on personal happiness, and a greater value placed on privacy.

Additionally, while previous generations typically ‘served’ their parents, you see that parents often prioritize ‘serving’ their children of younger generations, treating them as equals within the household. This has also led to different views on the interaction between younger and older members of society. Many younger people won’t accept Chinese seniors acting rude or entitled simply because of their age.

The “battle for the bottom bed” essentially symbolizes clashes between different generations. While older generations value communal experiences and respect for elders, younger generations assert their individual rights and prioritize personal space. Given the insufficient seating for all six passengers in current hard sleepers, they argue that it’s China Railways’ responsibility to adapt the layout to better cater to passengers’ needs.

Meanwhile, some Chinese ‘experts’ are cited by media, encouraging young people who have bought lower berths to be understanding and swap with the elderly for their convenience. A related hashtag on the matter was viewed more than 400 million times on Weibo, and the most popular replies basically told the experts to shove their suggestion up theirs. “I have the right to what I pay for,” some said: “If they need a lower bed, let them pay for a lower bed.”

Some bloggers comment that the very fact that this seemingly trivial topic has become such a major topic of debate on Chinese social media is a sign of a “regression in morality.” Some propaganda accounts raise the example of the humble PLA soldier Lei Feng, who would help out other passengers and train staff while traveling, instead of occupying a seat. While most do not expect the same of modern-day travelers, they do think that people, young and old, should show a little more understanding for each other.

In this light, another video garnered attention. It showed an elderly woman on a train politely requesting to swap a top bunk with a young passenger occupying a bottom bunk. The request was made on behalf of her 83-year-old travel companion, and they were happy to compensate for the price difference. That video received praise from netizens, who expressed that it’s the attitude that matters. The young passenger swapped beds with the older lady and did not accept payment for it.

In the end, it’s clear that kindness and empathy are cross-generational, and that communication always helps bridging differences.

In case you don’t feel like bridging differences on your next hard sleeper train, however, here’s the link to the bed curtains.

Warm regards,

– Manya Koetse & Miranda Barnes


A closer look at the featured stories

1: Chengdu Disneyland | Chengdu Disney is the latest viral hotspot on Chinese social media, and it’s probably unlike anything you’d imagine. How did an ordinary outdoor senior gym in a local Chengdu neighborhood become nationally known as ‘Chengdu Disney’? 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 here👇🏼

Read more

2: Unleashing Flood of Stories | The recent marriage announcement of the renowned Chinese calligrapher/painter Fan Zeng and Xu Meng, a Beijing TV presenter 50 years his junior, has sparked online discussions about the life and work of the esteemed Chinese artist. Some netizens think Fan lacks the integrity expected of a Chinese scholar-artist.

Read more

3: Yellen’s Favorites | Earlier in April, Yellen concluded her second trip to Beijing within a year, and once again, it’s not her official talks but rather her choices in food and drink venues that are sparking discussion on social media. From Yunnan classics to fusion cuisine, these are Janet Yellen’s picks for dining and drinking in Beijing.

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What More to Know

Five Bite-Sized Trends

◼︎ 🌧️ Guangdong Floods | Flooding, landslides, power outages. It’s been a rough few days in Guangdong. From the provincial capital Guangzhou to smaller cities like Shaoguan, Zhaoqing, and Qingyuan, exceptionally heavy rainfall since April 18 has brought significant problems to various areas. At least 4 deaths have been reported, with 10 people still missing. More than 100,000 people have been evacuated. The regions hardest hit are along the Beijiang River, which flooded on April 21. This marks the second flood of the river this year, with the first occurring on April 7, marking the earliest date in the season since floods in major Chinese rivers began being numbered in 1998. As with previous floods, social media is used as a channel to warn people about the ongoing situation, with further rainfall expected. Meanwhile, state media are honoring rescue workers as local heroes, or ‘those going against the tide’ (nìxíngzhě 逆行者).

◼︎ 🌋 Ijen Crater Death | A 31-year-old Chinese tourist tragically lost her life after falling from the edge of Indonesia’s Ijen volcano while attempting to take a photo. She tripped over her own long skirt, plummeting from a height of 75 meters early on the morning of April 20, while the tourists were there to witness the sunrise. With the May 1st holiday approaching, Chinese authorities, through social media, are using this incident as a cautionary tale to warn tourists of the hazards of prioritizing that ‘perfect social media photo’ over personal safety.

◼︎ 💀 Another University Poisoning Case | One recurring case that surfaces on Weibo is that of Zhu Ling, the female victim in the notorious 1995 thallium poisoning incident at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Although Zhu Ling survived, she was left paralyzed and reliant on her parents for care for the rest of her life. The case remains unsolved, with many pointing to her roommate as the primary suspect. Now, a new suspected poisoning incident at a university has gained attention, following the death of a 25-year-old male student at Xiangtan University due to organ failure after seeking medical treatment. His 27-year-old roommate is currently under suspicion and has been detained. This is a case that is likely to draw further scrutiny in the time to come.

◼︎ 🏃‍♂️ Marathon Controversy | There was something fishy about the conclusion of the Beijing Half Marathon and the four runners at the finish line. In a video clip that went viral on Chinese social media (see here), viewers observed that three African runners seemed to intentionally slow down to allow Chinese competitor He Jie (何杰) to win the gold medal. Now, the Beijing Half Marathon Organizing Committee has announced the disqualification of all four runners for “breaching the rules of the competition,” nullifying their results, and reclaiming their trophies and medals. The Chinese Athletics Association has also introduced new regulations for discipline management in national events. It appears that the three African runners were “pace setters” who were not intended to be competing athletes, and sponsor/partner Xtep (特步), a sports equipment company, was responsible for not properly identifying them. Consequently, the company has been terminated as a partner. Marathon fraud and the importance of properly regulating major sports events has become a recurring topic on Chinese social media. Last October, the Chinese Athletics Association issued an emergency notice to standardize and regulate China’s national marathon and running events more effectively after Chinese marathon runner Yin Shunjin appeared to be intentionally obstructed by a support vehicle, forcing him to navigate around it and costing him valuable time in the crucial final two minutes of the marathon.

◼︎ 🎲 Little Tuan Tuan Goes to Jail | Popular Chinese influencer “Little Tuan Tuan” (一条小团团), who has millions of followers on the Douyu livestreaming app, became a top trending topic on Chinese social media on April 23 after news came out that she had been arrested. The famous game livestreamer had already stopped airing since last month, but it only now became known that she is suspected of engaging in large-scale illegal gambling activities. In late 2023, Douyu’s chairman and CEO Chen Shaojie was also arrested for allegedly hosting online gambling, which is illegal in mainland China. At the time, state media already reported that the arrest of Chen may lead to a group of top game anchors being implicated due to their involvement in gambling and money laundering. After the earlier arrest of four other anchors, Tuan Tuan is the latest livestream host to be arrested, signaling a zero tolerance approach towards gambling activities in China’s game-focused livestreaming world. Little Tuan Tuan could face up to five years in prison.


What’s the Drama

Top TV to Watch

Best Choice Ever (Chéng Huān Jì 承欢记) is the latest Chinese TV drama hit. Produced by CCTV and simultaneously broadcasted on CCTV-8 and Tencent, it premiered on April 9, and some are already calling it the best romcom drama of the year. This urban family/romance drama centers around the story of Mai Chenghuan (麦承欢), a post-95 young woman living in Shanghai, who is preparing to marry her boyfriend Xin Jialiang (辛家亮), who comes from a wealthy family. However, when Chenghuan’s mum is doing all she can to meddle in their relationship, Mai Chenghuan must break free from her mother’s overbearing influence and focus on her own personal growth.


▶️ This drama is based on a book by the same name by Hong Kong writer Yi Shu or Isabel Nee Yeh-su, who is known for the strong, intelligent female characters in her stories.
▶️ The main protagonist is played by the super popular Chinese actress Yang Zi (杨紫), who previously starred in hit series such as Ode to Joy (欢乐颂) and The Oath of Love (余生).
▶️ This series is also airing in Thailand starting from April 29, but you won’t hear Yang Zi speaking Chinese there; the entire show will be dubbed in Thai.
▶️ The Shanghai Culture and Tourism office has also been involved in this production, that features some pretty scenes from around Shanghai, which is drawing in young visitors wanting to visit film locations like the Zhapu Road Bridge and Huaihuai Mansion.

You can watch Best Choice Ever online here (with English subtitles) via YouTube.


What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

A short dress sold by Zara has gone viral in China for looking like the aprons used by the popular Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao. “I really thought it was a Zara x Haidialo collab,” some customers commented. Others also agree that the first thing they thought about when seeing the Zara dress was the Haidilao apron.

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The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

Dutch DJ Martin Garrix found himself embroiled in controversy following the first F1 China Grand Prix Music Festival in Shanghai, which took place from Friday to Sunday. Garrix was allegedly supposed to perform together with Chinese singer Huang Zitao (黄子韬), who initially complained via livestream that the DJ did not show up to their joint rehearsal, and then claimed the DJ showed disrespect by performing his song without him being present on stage. On Weibo, one hashtag about the incident attracted over 160 million views.

Both Huang and Garrix are popular on Weibo, where the Chinese singer has over 66 million fans while the Dutch DJ has more than 360,000 followers.

In response, Garrix promptly posted a video on Weibo refuting what he called “misinformation and lies,” asserting that he and Huang Zitao were never scheduled to perform together. Hearing about Huang’s complaints, he still invited him up on stage, but he never showed up (Garrix claimed he was hiding in the bathroom). Following this, the event organizers issued an apology for the confusion.

Online, opinions remain divided, with some defending Garrix and labeling Huang a “crybaby,” while others support Huang, arguing that Garrix was rude for not wanting to share the stage with the Chinese singer. Either way, it seems the two performers won’t be sharing a beer, nor a stage, anytime soon.


What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

This pick from our archive – in light of the current floods – revisits the flood of three years ago. The social media trends during China’s heavy rainfall and floods in Henan in July of 2021 show the multidimensionality of online communication in times of disaster. Facing the devastating downpours, Weibo became a site for participation, propaganda, and some controversial profiting.👇

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Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Coffin Room” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “Coffin Room” (guāncái fáng 棺材房), or even “Mini Coffin Room” (mínǐ guāncái fáng 迷你棺材房), referring to extremely tiny spaces being rented out at rooms.

The term “coffin room” isn’t new; it previously appeared in mainstream media to describe small cubicles rented out in Hong Kong to people who couldn’t afford larger spaces in the exorbitantly expensive housing market. However, it has recently resurfaced on Chinese social media to describe similarly cramped spaces in Shanghai.

One viral video showcased a rental room of about 5m² (approximately 53.82 square feet) with a makeshift sleeping space right behind a toilet, measuring about two meters long and one meter wide (approximately 6.56 feet long and 3.28 feet wide), all for a monthly rent of 300 yuan ($41). This so-called “coffin room” sparked controversy, with many deeming it absurd and a testament to Shanghai’s overheated housing market. However, the landlord mentioned that the room was already rented out to a Didi driver the day it was posted. See video here.

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What’s on Weibo is run by Manya Koetse (@manyapan), offering independent analysis of social trends in China for over a decade. Subscribe to show your support and gain access to all content, including the Weibo Watch newsletter, providing deeper insights into the China trends that matter.

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