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Weibo Watch: Doing Homework at the Hospital

Much lies behind the image of Chinese kids doing their homework in hospitals. We discuss that powerful image, the latest film about Zhang Guimei, the Three Subject Dance, and the Weibo hashtags to know.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #19

This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Homework at hospitals
◼︎ 2. What’s Featured – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What More to Know – Highlighting 8 hot topics
◼︎ 4. What Lies Behind – Observations beyond the headlines, by Miranda Barnes
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – Much ado about fried eggs
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Shaoxing opera draws in a new kind of audience
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – One year since the ‘White Paper Protests’
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Subject Three Dance”, a viral hit

 

Dear Reader,

 

‘What is this mysterious illness coming from China?’ ‘I heard Chinese hospitals are filled with kids?’ ‘Are face masks mandatory again?’ ‘Is the Health Code coming back?’ Over the past two weeks, while I was lying in bed with a fever of 39 degrees, I received numerous messages from non-Chinese friends expressing concern about images circulating online showing parents and their sick kids lining up in Chinese hospitals. For some, these scenes evoked memories of the early days of the pandemic and worries about an unknown virus.

While attracting global attention, the recent surge in China’s respiratory illnesses even prompted the World Health Organization to request more information from China about the clusters of pneumonia in children. Chinese health authorities reported no detection of unusual or novel pathogens. This current wave, occurring as China enters its first full winter season since the end of its ‘zero Covid’ restrictions, appears to be a mix of Mycoplasma infections, influenza, Covid-19, Norovirus, and Adenovirus. Coughs, colds, and fevers are notably affecting school-aged children.

A particular image that went viral recently showed Chinese school children doing homework while hooked up to an IV in the hospital. To some on the X platform, the image seemed so bizarre that they questioned its authenticity, suggesting it was fake or AI-generated. The English-language state media outlet SHINE (Shanghai Daily) clarified in one of its recent articles that the image was, in fact, real, and that study areas at some hospital infusion centers have been around since at least 2019.

However, that particular article, titled “AI-generated? Photo of Chinese students doing homework in hospital stirs X debate” was later taken offline and now leads to a 404 page.

Perhaps the disappearance of the article reflects the discomfort surrounding the scenes of Chinese schoolkids doing homework at hospitals. For many, seeing children in hospitals is already disheartening, but the sight of them doing homework in that setting –gasp– is the most dreadful thing they can imagine while also feeding into prejudiced ideas some foreigners may hold about life in China.

One thing I noticed about those messages I received about the images and videos depicting the surge in respiratory illnesses in China is that many people, especially those speaking from a European perspective, assume that children receiving IV fluids at the hospital must be seriously ill. The idea of letting such children do their homework is simply inconceivable.

In reality, it doesn’t necessarily take much to receive IV fluids in many Chinese hospitals or clinics. Unfortunately, part of China’s healthcare culture involves a profit-driven approach that can lead to over-prescriptions, excessive antibiotic use, unnecessary admissions, and the administration of intravenous fluids. Coupled with patients’ preference for hospital-based services and widespread expectations that IV infusions will make them feel better and speed up recovery, it’s not surprising that the practice of administering IV therapy has become routine among Chinese patients, even when their symptoms are mild.

Despite the prevalence of IV use and the many concerned parents who (partly also due to a lack in General Practictioners) are quick to take their sick kids to hospitals and clinics, the image and news articles of children doing their homework in hospitals also triggered discussions on Chinese social media.

The main point of discussion was not that the kids were too ill to do their homework nor that it was bizarre (many people actually praised local hospitals for setting up special study corners); the main focus was how these images embodied the concept of nèijuǎn 内卷, “involution.”

This buzzword has been generating discussions on Chinese social media for years now, and represents the competitive circumstances in academic or professional settings in China where individuals are compelled to overwork because of the standard raised by their peers who appear to be even more hardworking. One popular slogan used by a Chinese cram school showed that this societal rat-race already starts at a very young age: “If you come to us, we will train your kids, if you don’t come to us, we will train the competitors of your kids.”

Chinese clinics and hospitals offering special study rooms or homework corners for kids are actually also part of this ‘rat race.’ One hospital in Nantong, Jiangsu, recently opened up its brand-new study corner in the IV area (输液区一角“学习区”). A spokesperson argued that the hospital does not encourage parents to let their sick kids do homework at the hospital while hooked onto an IV. Still, without such spaces, kids would end up doing homework on floors and in dimly-lit hallways, creating a messy situation and making them even more uncomfortable.

Similarly, schools in Beijing have clarified that students who are ill are not required to finish their homework. Parents have also voiced their opinions, saying they don’t want their kids to do school work when they are ill, but the pressure is simply too much to avoid it.

Much lies behind the image of Chinese kids doing their homework at a hospital, but there’s also a lesson in how quickly people jump to conclusions without understanding the context. While that powerful image is interpreted differently in various contexts, one thing most people seem to agree on is that it’s never a bad idea to take things slow when feeling ill, especially for kids who could use a break.

As I pour myself another hot water with honey and ginger, I hope you also take care of your health during this cold and flu season and remember to take a pause from the everyday rat race, no matter your age or location.

Best,
Manya

 

A closer look at the top stories

1: The Challenges of an Ordinary Chinese Couple | Two years after they first started sharing their story on Chinese social media, millions of netizens are engrossed in the struggles of the Chinese young parents Li Jun and Liang Liang, whose journey of starting a family and buying an apartment in the city at a time of economic downturn turned into an emotional rollercoaster.

Read more
 

2: Overwhelming Success of a Haidian Food Vendor | A Beijing food vendor, affectionately known as ‘Auntie Goose Legs,’ has become a viral sensation after becoming super popular among the city’s student community. However, this beloved ‘auntie’ has caused quite a commotion recently after relocating her stall, triggering debates among local students over which university she truly ‘belongs’ to.

Read more
 

3: Hu Xijin and Others Discuss Dutch Politics | The Dutch general elections on Tuesday, November 2022, resulted in a victory for the right-wing Freedom Party (PVV). The party, established in 2006, is led by the 60-year-old Dutch politician Geert Wilders who is known for his outspoken populist rhetoric and anti-establishment sentiments. On Chinese social media, the Dutch election outcome became a topic discussed by some well-known bloggers.

Read more
 

4: Hospitals Flooded during Wave of ‘Flu’ Cases | Recent discussions on Chinese social media platforms have highlighted a notable surge in flu cases. The ongoing flu season is particularly impacting children, with multiple viruses concurrently circulating and contributing to a high incidence of respiratory infections. Among the prevalent respiratory infections affecting children are Mycoplasma pneumoniae infections, influenza, and Adenovirus infection. The spike in flu cases has resulted in overcrowded children’s hospitals in Beijing and other Chinese cities. Parents sometimes have to wait in line for hours to get an appointment or pick up medication.

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Highlighting 8 hot topics

◼︎ 1. “OLD FRIEND OF CHINA” KISSINGER DIES AGED 100 | The death of the 100-year-old Henry Kissinger made international headlines this week. In China, the former US Secretary of State is mostly remembered as “an old friend” of the country. His lifelong connection to China started in 1971, when he traveled to Beijing for a private meeting with Premier Zhou Enlai to plan the details of the significant and groundbreaking visit by President Nixon, which eventually took place in February 1972. Kissinger would eventually visit China over a 100 times, even after his retirement. His last visit to China took place in July of 2023, when he attended a meeting with President Xi Jinping. This week, Xi sent a condolence message to President Biden and extended sincere condolences to Kissinger’s family. Kissinger’s book On China is still a much-read classic in China.

Besides grieving over the death of Kissinger, Chinese netizens also mourned the loss of another American this week, namely Charlie Munger. The legendary investor, who had many fans in China, died at the age of 99. (Weibo hashtag “Kissinger Passes Away” #基辛格逝世#, 680 million views).

◼︎ 2. GETTING FINED IN SICHUAN’S PUGE | In November, the leaders of a village in Puge, a county in southern Sichuan Province, sparked heated debates by introducing new regulations. According to these rules, local residents could potentially face fines for maintaining a ‘dirty and disordered’ (‘脏乱差’) living environment. Examples of offenses include leaving spider webs in the home, having an untidy bed, or neglecting to do the dishes. The fines range from 3 yuan to 30 yuan ($0.42-$4.20). While some commenters believe that these regulations reflect the village’s attempt to promote cleanliness and order, an online poll revealed that the majority of respondents disagree with the idea of local village leaders imposing fines for personal messiness. (Weibo hastag “Place in Sichuan Gives 10 Yuan Fine for Not Folding Blanket” #四川一地规定不叠被子罚10元#, 140 million views).

◼︎ 3. VISA-FREE CHINA TRAVEL FOR 5 EU COUNTRIES + MALAYSIA | On November 24, China’s Foreign Ministry announced that, starting from December 1st 2023, individuals holding ordinary passports from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Malaysia can enjoy visa-free entry to China for business, tourism, family visits, and transit, as long as their stay does not exceed 15 days. This initiative, which aligns with China’s broader efforts to boost tourism and promote international exchanges, will continue until November 30, 2024. On Weibo, many netizens expressed disappointment that the visa-free travel regulation was unilateral; Chinese travelers still need a visa to enter these countries. (Weibo hashtag “China Tries Out Visa-Free Policy for France, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and Malaysia” #中方将对法德意荷西马六国试行免签政策#, 110 million views.)

◼︎ 4. CIVIL SERVANTS EXAMS | The yearly national public servant exams in China began last Sunday. With over 3 million candidates, this year marks a historically high number of candidates who are vying for the available 39,600 job openings in central government agencies and affiliated institutions – twice the amount of positions that were available in 2019. (Weibo hashtag “Average of 77 People Competing for One Position for 2024 National Exam” #2024国考平均约77人竞争一岗位#, 34 million views).

◼︎ 5. PINDUODUO’S 11-11-6 WORK SCHEDULE | As news circulated on November 29 that Pinduoduo, the Chinese online retailer, was on the verge of surpassing Alibaba as China’s most valuable e-commerce firm (spoiler: Alibaba remained the largest by day’s end), discussions about the company’s demanding work schedule gained traction on Weibo. According to insiders, employees are required to follow an “11-11-6” work system: start work at 11:00 a.m., get off at 11:00 p.m., and work six days a week. Sometimes they allegedly also work overtime until the early hours of the morning, making 70-hour work weeks. The harsh work culture at Pinduoduo already triggered national debates in 2021 after the sudden death of a 22-year-old female employee. (Weibo hashtag “Pinduoduo Work System” ##拼多多 工作制##, 50.9 million views).

◼︎ 6. COTTI COFFEE GOES TEA CAT | Cotti Coffee (库迪咖啡), founded by Charles Lu and Jenny Qian, former Luckin Coffee executives who departed in 2020, has expanded to over 5,000 locations across more than 300 cities in five countries. The brand gained attention last week with the announcement of its entry into the tea market. Starting from January 2024, Cotti is set to unveil its Milk Tea brand “Tea Cat” (茶猫), which is now in its pilot store testing phase. Given Cotti’s remarkable growth over the past 2 years, we can anticipate a surge in the number of ‘Tea Cat’ outlets in Chinese cities in the near future. (Weibo hashtag “Cotti Coffee Marches into the Tea [Industry]” #库迪咖啡进军奶茶#, 42,5 million views).

◼︎ 7. CHINESE BILLIONAIRE BUSINESSMAN REUNITED WITH SON | On December 1st, Jie Kefeng (解克锋), a wealthy Chinese entrepreneur from Hebei who had offered a million yuan reward to find his missing son, Jie Qingshuai (解清帅), finally reunited with him after 25 years. Jie Kefeng and his wife held a thank-you banquet on December 2nd, which attracted considerable attention online. Jie Qingshuai, the couple’s second son, was abducted in 1998 when his mother left him at home to run a quick errand. The couple never gave up on finding their son and finally, through the help of anti-child trafficking authorities and technology, they found their son, who was sold by human traffickers as a child. The people responsible for his kidnapping have since been arrested. (Weibo hashtag: “Billionaire Family Throws 26th Birthday Party for Abducted Son” #亿万富翁全家为被拐儿子补过26岁生日#, 32.2 million views).

◼︎ 8. YANG MING’S LOVE STRUGGLES | The renowned Chinese basketball player and head coach of the Liaoning Flying Leopards, Yang Ming (杨鸣), took center stage on Chinese social media this week due to rumors about his divorce from his wife Tang Jialiang, with whom he has two children. Despite Yang Ming being a prominent figure in the sports realm rather than in the Chinese entertainment circle, the private aspects of his life, particularly his romantic relationships, continue to captivate netizens who have been following the gossip surrounding the handsome coach for years. This heightened interest is fueled by past speculations of Yang Ming being involved with a female college student. His current romantic interest supposedly is a 45-year-old music teacher. (Weibo hashtag “Exposed: Yang Ming Divorced” ##杨鸣被曝离婚##, 430 million views).

 

What Lies Behind

Observations beyond the headlines, by Miranda

Discussions over ‘True Feminism’

Beyond the Clouds (我本是高山) is a biographical film that premiered in China on November 24. Directed by Zheng Dasheng (郑大圣) and Yang Jin (杨锦), the film portrays the life of Zhang Guimei (张桂梅, 1957), a nationally renowned female principal who manages a girls’ school in the impoverished Huaping County, Lijiang, Yunnan province.

As a teacher in Huaping County, Zhang noticed many girls dropping out of school, forced into marriage or work. In many underprivileged areas of China, where sons are often favored over daughters, girls’ education takes a hit when finances are tight. Driven by her commitment to the higher Communist cause and the belief in the pivotal role of female education in shaping the nation’s future, Zhang established the first free girls’ school in China in 2008 with the help of donations. Over the past 15 years, this school has sent over 2000 girls to universities, setting them on diverse career paths.

Over the past decade, Zhang Guimei’s selfless work has been praised by the people and recognised by the authorities. In 2021, she even received a medal from Xi Jinping for her lifelong dedication to girls’ education in rural China, precisely where women’s emancipation is most crucial. Despite her popularity as a feminist championing girls’ education in China, the film has faced criticism for distorting elements of her story.

For instance, the film portrayed Zhang’s motivation to sustain the school as a personal response to mourning her husband’s early death. Feminist supporters of Zhang argue that this narrative transforms her commitment to a higher cause into a personal and romantic motive: ‘Can’t she just be doing this because she believes in the importance of female power? Why does everything have to be motivated by a man?’ they challenged.

Another point of discussion is how the film portrays female students skipping school to go shopping or hang out at internet cafes. Many commenters argued that this is far from the reality, “do you know how much these girls value their opportunity to continue school? Why do you portray them like that?” Another reason why some argued the movie was actually not supporting the feminist cause is how it changed a real story relating to an abusive alcoholic father into one about an alcoholic mother instead. Outraged, some fans of Zhang’s work see these kinds of seemingly trivial changes as an attack on Chinese women, going against the nature of Zhang’s lifework.

Although Chinese state media is promoting Beyond the Clouds through online platforms and news articles, the voices criticizing the adaptation will not be silenced. While official channels mostly emphasize how Zhang is a true communist, many of her fans mostly see her as a true feminist – and they vehemently resist any attempts to frame Zhang or her story within a patriarchal narrative.

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

Much Ado About Fried Eggs

Mao Anying, Chinese military officer and the son of Mao Zedong, died on November 25 in 1950. Every year, there are some sensitivities surrounding this date because of fried egg rice. One part of Mao Anying’s death that has become an ongoing, urban-legend-kind-of online story is that he supposedly disobeyed army rules and cooked egg fried rice at the Chinese headquarters in the North Korean battlefield. The smoke of the fire supposedly alerted the enemy and led to the bombing in which he would lose his life. The anniversary of Mao Anying’s death has therefore come to be mocked and celebrated by some netizens as “Egg Fried Rice Day” (蛋炒饭节) or “Chinese Thanksgiving” (中国感恩节), since it’s close to the American Thanksgiving.

A few years ago, the sensitive nature of this meme became clear when Chinese celebrity chef Wang Gang (王刚), with many social media followers, uploaded a video on how to prepare Yangzhou-style fried rice. As described by Dennis E. Yi (2020), the chef was accused of “humiliating China” due to the alleged – and perhaps unintentional – connection to Mao Anying.

This year, Wang Gang once again found himself apologizing for sharing an egg fried rice tutorial around the anniversary of Mao Anying’s death, sparking allegations of disrespect towards Mao Zedong’s son. As this marked the third instance of Wang Gang facing backlash over fried rice, he has now pledged to refrain from making egg fried rice in the future (“作为厨子,以后再也不做炒饭”). Relevant hashtag pages have since been removed from Weibo.

If you want to know more about a renewed focus on Mao Anying in Chinese online media, where official voices communicate why – and in which way – Mao Anying needs to be remembered by the Chinese people, do read this feature article we published in 2022.

Read more

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture, by Ruixin

Why Shaoxing Opera is Popular Among Chinese Youth

Yue opera (越剧), also known as Shaoxing opera, is a Chinese opera genre that originated in Zhejiang Province and is particularly popular in Shanghai. Although Chinese opera is generally mostly loved by China’s older generations, new adaptations of classic plays or films featuring a fresh generation of opera performers have now also generated a buzz among China’s younger audiences.

Recently, it’s Yue opera New Dragon Gate Inn (新龙门客栈) that has gone viral, featuring six actresses (they also play the roles of men) of the Zhejiang Xiaobaihua (小百花) troupe. The play is actually an adaptation of the 1992 martial arts film. One actress in particular has become popular online for her cross-gender acting (女扮男装), namely Chen Lijun (陈丽君), who plays the role of Jia Ting. She joined the Xiaobaihua troupe in 2013, right after her graduation.

The online succes of this show (and other ones, including Butterfly Lovers 梁祝) and their performers has led to a run on opera tickets and has cultivated a new kind of theater audience. New Dragon Gate Inn is performed at the Butterfly studio theater in Hangzhou (杭州蝴蝶剧场) and uses immersive theater styles to break away from traditional forms of opera performance. If you want to grab a ticket, you’ll have to really try since you’ll join thousands of others who are eagerly waiting to attend one of the shows in real life.

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

One Year Since White Paper Protests

Exactly one year ago, news of protest movements popping up in various cities across China went buzzing around the internet. After enduring months of stringent Covid measures, students in Nanjing and Xi’an gathered around campus and held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship. Their white papers said what could not be expressed, and so the movement was soon dubbed the “white paper protest” or the “A4 Revolution.”

Unrest and protests happened from Urumqi to Nanjing, from Beijing to Shanghai. People sang the ‘Farewell’ song (送别) to commemorate those who died in the tragic 11.24 Urumqi fire and who spent the last 100 days of their lives in lockdown. Online, people used various hashtags and posted clips of ‘Do you Hear the People Sing’ from Les Misérables.

But while news of the protests made global headlines, the terms “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in Chinese social media discussions. Boosted by nationalistic bloggers, the idea that foreign forces were meddling in China’s affairs became more prevalent as a way to explain the sudden wave of protests . Read more in this newsletter’s pick from our archive below.

Read more

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Subject Three” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “Subject Three” (kē mù sān 科目三).

Recently, ‘Subject Three’ has become a buzzword on Chinese social media in connection with a viral dance, the Subject Three Dance (科目三舞蹈). From Douyin to Bilibili, the dance is super popular online and is performed by various people, from online influencers to virtual vloggers. The dance has become especially big since the renowned Chinese hotpot chain, Haidilao, allowed its staff to perform this viral dance for diners upon request, leading to amusing and occasionally awkward situations. On November 28, one customer even turned violent when he found the Subject Three performance at a local Huai’an restaurant too noisy and annoying.

The term ‘Subject Three’ allegedly first gained traction in 2022 or early 2023 following a video showcasing the jubilant atmosphere of a Guangxi wedding. Subsequently, ‘Guangxi Subject Three’ (广西科目三) became a popular reference, originating from a humorous joke. Although traditionally associated with the third part of a driver’s license exam, people playfully suggested that Guangxi locals undergo three significant “exams” in their lifetime: one for singing folk songs, one for mastering the art of slurping rice noodles, and the third for dancing (“广西人一生中会经历三场考试,科目一唱山歌,科目二嗦米粉,科目三跳舞”).

By now, the dance has transcended its original context of Guangxi weddings and Haidilao staff dances, as it’s turned into a true social media hype where people create and share videos of themselves and others performing the Subject Three Dance, which is characterized by playful and exaggerated movements accompanied by the background music of “江湖一笑” (Jianghu Smile), making it entertaining, humorous, and, most of all, meme-worthy.

 
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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Featured

Weibo Watch: The Last ‘T’ Standing

The last ‘T’ standing, Gaokao week, and why Chinese publishers are boycotting JD’s 618 festival.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #30

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – The Last T-Word
◼︎ 2. What’s New and Noteworthy – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What’s Trending – Hot highlights
◼︎ 4. What’s On Screen – Top TV Shows to watch
◼︎ 5. What’s Remarkable – Taiwan students lack knowledge on Chinese history
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Will China save Lululemon?
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Divorce peek after Gaokao
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Sunscreen Warriors”

 

Dear Reader,

 

This week marked the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, a time when censorship and online control in China intensify.

Ten years ago, around the 25th Tiananmen anniversary, I was browsing a bookstore in Beijing when I came across a book titled My Homeland in the 1980s (我的故乡在八十年代), its cover showing students reading and sitting at Tiananmen Square. The book, featuring dozens of interviews, was supposed to discuss the events of the 1980s in China, reassessing the era’s impact on the country today.

I immediately bought the book, as I was curious to see how this work, published in 2013, would narrate the events of the summer of 1989. Perhaps I was naive, but after carefully hopping from chapter to chapter, from page to page, I was stunned to discover that while the Tiananmen Square was referred to several times throughout the book, which thoroughly discussed happenings from 1980-1990, there was no reference to the student protests or June 4th at all. Not one single sentence—it was as if it had never happened.

Of course, the surprise wasn’t that big. I was well aware of the so-called ‘Forbidden Ts,’ highly sensitive and often censored topics which are closely tied to the end of Twitter in China and the rise of Weibo in 2009.

These ‘Three Ts’—which even have their own Wikipedia page—refer to Chinese taboo topics: Tiananmen, Tibet, and Taiwan. You might even call it the ‘Four Ts’ if you include Xinjiang (for T’s sake, borrowing the T from its old reference as East Turkestan).

 
“The Last ‘T’ Standing”
 

Many things were happening in the summer of 2009, following a period of a relatively free Chinese internet since 2006 that saw a flourishing of new BBS sites and social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter. The year 2009 was a year of change and key events: the Jasmine revolution was taking place, there was growing unrest in Xinjiang including the Urumqi riots, and it was the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

That year, online censorship was particularly strict, and various websites and discussion boards became inaccessible around June 4th. Some sites displayed a message stating they were “closed for maintenance,” leading to the day sarcastically being nicknamed “Chinese Internet Maintenance Day” (中国网站维护日).

For some sites, their temporary ‘maintenance’ became permanent. While American Twitter disappeared from China, the domestic Sina Weibo emerged—a new social media platform designed to keep information flows under control by censoring sensitive topics and hiding posts containing blocked keywords.

The ‘Four Ts’ remained highly sensitive, and often there would be no results at all when searching for a term like ‘Xinjiang.’

Throughout the years, however, in line with China’s rising importance on the world stage and its growing assertiveness under Xi Jinping, wolf warrior diplomacy, new strategies in digital propaganda, and other factors, most of the forbidden Ts have become not so taboo nor forbidden at all anymore.

There have been various extensive online discussions about Tibet or about Xinjiang – and what Western media are getting wrong about these topics. Nowadays, even the words for ‘Taiwan independence’ – once a censored term – are ubiquitous in China’s online environment as part of the intensified Taiwan reunification social media campaign.

The primary change in these topics is how official accounts now control the narrative, framing them in ways that are not politically sensitive but rather vehicles of Chinese pride and nationalism. This shift enables these subjects to be addressed because there is now an official online discourse providing a context for the conversation.

Tiananmen, however, is the last ‘T’ standing.

If anything, censorship surrounding this ‘T’ has seemingly only grown stricter. During the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen student protests in 2019, there was a complete shutdown of searches for this term on Weibo. As in previous years, Weibo quietly removed the candle icon from its collection of “frequently used emoticons” just before June 4, and also started removing other emojis deemed remotely sensitive, such as the leaf, the cake, the ribbon, and the present.

 
“Internet Maintenance Day”
 

During the Tiananmen anniversary in 2022, Weibo saw an uptick in posts using the English phrase “It’s my duty,” relating to a video of a young student in 1989 Beijing answering a foreign reporter on why he was off to march at Tiananmen Square (“Why? I think it’s my duty” – see video). Following this, any mention of the “It’s my duty” slogan was meticulously scrubbed from Chinese social media.

The term ‘May 35’, which became a code word for ‘June 4,’ is also censored, like so many other plays on words. No matter if it’s numbers, different characters, English phrases, or emojis – once a creative way to commemorate Tiananmen’s June 4 becomes popular on Weibo or other platforms, it’s swiftly removed.

This year is no different. As described by Alexander Boyd, the breadth of censorship in China during this 35th Tiananmen anniversary was “breathtaking.”

And so it was somewhat noteworthy when New Zealand national Andy Boreham, a Chinese state media (Shanghai Daily) worker, posted a long thread on X [Twitter] this week about the “Tankman” and Tiananmen, in which he attempted ‘to set the record straight’ by claiming that the idea of the “Tiananmen Square Massacre” is “a U.S.-led myth based on a very real set of events over a few weeks in 1989.”

The first part of Boreham’s now-deleted X thread, screenshot via Fergus Ryan @fryan.

The ‘T-word’ is obviously not censored on X, where Boreham tweets for a foreign audience, not a domestic one. But considering Boreham’s position within the Chinese state media apparatus and the guidance that comes with it,[1] his lengthy discussion of Tiananmen was still unusual. Boreham wrote about the protests and did not deny that there were many casualties, while mainly focusing on the alleged “Tiananmen Square massacre,” which he claimed did not occur. (DW News reporter Monir Ghaedi explains more about Boreham’s post here).

A day later, after Boreham’s post was shared over 5000 times, the entire thread was suddenly deleted.

Although he posted another tweet about Americans dying from gun violence on June 4th, Boreham did not address the deletion of his detailed Tiananmen thread.

Instead, he wrote: “It seems the world isn’t ready for the truth, or even just to face the idea that what they believe is only one version.”

Not a single mention of the deleted post—it was as if it had never happened. Perhaps Boreham’s response had a double meaning when he wrote “it seems the world isn’t ready for the truth”, including how China isn’t ready for this T, even if it’s happening on X. Maybe he had his own private “Internet maintenance day” this June 4th.

Best,
Manya

 

[1]Ryan, Fergus, Matt Knight, and Daria Impiombato. 2023. “Singing from the CCP’s Songsheet: The Role of Foreign Influencers in China’s Propaganda System.” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 35-36. https://ad-aspi.s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/2023-11/Singing%20from%20the%20song%20sheet.pdf?VersionId=mdVBVPrFokz_xlEyhQdz0H3ZPmRs76el.

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: Students vs. Chatbots | It’s Gaokao time! Over 13.4 million Chinese students are taking the national college entrance exams this week. For the first time, China’s Gaokao essay topic is about the latest AI developments, sparking discussions on social media platforms about whether AI is actually making life easier or not.

Read more
 

2: The Cost of Cheap Books | Interesting discussions are emerging ahead of JD.com’s major 618 shopping festival this year, following a joint statement from Chinese publishers declaring that the price war on books is no longer sustainable. Of course, bookworms always love getting a good deal on books, but when the deals are just too good, it could harm the publishing industry.

Read more
 

3: Uncle Wang Goes Phnom Penh | Various tribute videos are circulating on Chinese social media this week following the announcement that MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin is starting his new post as China’s new ambassador to Cambodia. Wang served as the 32nd MFA spokesperson from 2020 to 2024. While some perceive his new role as a “downgrade,” it is more likely a reflection of his importance given the strengthening of Sino-Cambodian relations and Cambodia’s role as a key strategic partner to China in the region.

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

  • THURSDAY 30 MAY
    • 270 million views for the hashtag “Gou Zhongwen Suspected of Serious Disciplinary Violations and Illegal Activities” #苟仲文涉嫌严重违纪违法#.
    • Gou Zhongwen is a Chinese politician who served as director of the State General Administration of Sports from 2016 to 2022. He is under investigation for suspected severe violations of Party discipline and the law.
    • The probe involving the retired Gou, who is currently being held in custody, is part of a wider government crackdown on corruption in sports. Read more on Caixin here.
  •  

  • FRIDAY 31 MAY
    • After a New York jury found Trump guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records in his hush-money criminal trial, his historic conviction – making Trump the first former U.S. president to be found guilty of felony crimes – went top trending on Weibo.
    • On Chinese social media, the Trump trial is seen as a spectacle to enjoy, a “historical performance” featuring “Comrade Trump” as the leading figure.
    • Political commentator Hu Xijin also commented on the issue, stating that the case triggers the curiosity of Chinese people because they mostly wonder about two things:
      1. Will Trump actually go to jail?
      2. Can he still run for president?
  •  

  • MONDAY JUNE 3
    • The topic “China has stopped giving away pandas for free for over 40 years” went trending on Weibo, garnering over 440 million views.
    • This refers to the policy shift in the 1980s when China stopped gifting pandas to friendly nations for free and switched to “lending” them for shorter periods, with all pandas and their offspring remaining Chinese property.
    • The policy, widely supported among Chinese commenters, sparked discussions because of Fu Bao, a panda born in 2020 as South Korea’s first naturally-bred panda.
    • •As part of China’s “panda diplomacy” program, Fu Bao was returned to China in early April, but South Korean netizens have now set up a petition to ‘bring back’ their beloved panda.
  •  

  • WEDNESDAY JUNE 5
    • Chinese streaming platform iQIYI faced an online storm this week after asking its paying members to pay an additional fee to watch a livestream of an event related to its hit show, “Become a Farmer.”
    • Adding to the frustration, the event itself was free for offline participants, leading to the hashtag “iQIYI – offline free, online paid” (爱奇艺 线下免费线上收费), which garnered 200 million views on Weibo.
    • The criticism comes at a time when members are already dissatisfied with price hikes and additional charges for higher streaming quality and early access to content.
    • To read more on the hit show “Become a Farmer,” check out our article here.
  •  

  • FRIDAY, SATURDAY 7&8 JUNE
    • Over 13.4 million students sat down for their Gaokao, the national college entrance exams, which started this week and dominated trending topics on Chinese social media.
    • Platforms like Weibo and Douyin saw a flood of videos featuring relieved students emerging from the exam room. For many, it’s finally time to relax after weeks of intense studying.
    • Some provinces and regions, including Henan and Jiangsu, are offering freebies for those who took the exam, such as free entrance to scenic areas.
  •  

    What’s the Drama

    Top TV to Watch

    The latest TV drama to create a lot of buzz and discussion this week is The Double (墨雨云间 Mò Yǔ Yún Jiān), a superdramatic romance/costume series starring, among others, Chinese actress Wu Jinyan (吴谨言), and Chinese actors Wang Xingyue (王星越) and Chen Xinhai (陈鑫海). Wu stars as the female lead, Xue Fangfei, the daughter of a county magistrate who leads a happy and privileged life until everything changes and she gets buried alive by her husband. Don’t worry, she’ll assume another identity to go on a quest for revenge.

    To know:

    ▶️ The series is adapted from the Chinese web novel “Marriage of the Di Daughter” (嫡嫁千金) by Qian Shan Cha Ke (千山茶客).
    ▶️ The Double immediately became top ranking on Youku’s drama list for 2024, becoming the fastest drama this year to hit 10,000 on Youku’s “heat index.” The series is also scoring well outside of China, scoring 8.5/10 on MyDramaList.
    ▶️ The drama is a true social media hit: its hashtag has received a staggering 1.59 billion views on Weibo.

    The Double is available with English subtitles on Viki here.

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

    Chinese state media have recently taken a new approach in the discourse surrounding cross-straits relations, highlighting how students in Taiwan lack knowledge about Chinese history and are victims of a “de-Chinafication” education policy. This policy is supposedly embedded in the Chinese history education in Taiwan.

    On May 30, state broadcaster CCTV News released a street interview video with Taiwanese students after their college entrance exams, asking them about Chinese history. Some students mentioned that Chinese history was only covered in one or two questions, while others responded with “What is Chinese history?” This topic quickly became the number one trending topic on Weibo (#台湾高中生问中国史是什么#).

    In online discussions, many netizens argued that Taiwan’s “pro-independence” education curriculum is purposely distorting views on Chinese history, allegedly leading to a lack of identification with being ‘Chinese,’ raising concerns about the long-term impact of such ‘educational policies.’

     

    The latest buzz in arts, marketing & pop culture

    American athletic apparel brand Lululemon has recently been trending on Chinese social media for two reasons. First, reports highlighted significant growth in the Chinese market. In the first quarter of 2024, Lululemon’s sales increased by 10%, with a notable 45% surge in revenue from China. Second, the company’s stock price recently dropped due to concerns over its outlook, exacerbated by the departure of a key executive, Sun Choe, and the significant slowdown in revenue growth in the Americas market in the final quarter of 2023.

    These developments have led to speculation in China about whether the Chinese market might be the one to ‘rescue’ the American brand, sparking conversations about the willingness of Chinese consumers to purchase the relatively pricey activewear brand.

    However, on social media, many believe Lululemon’s success in China might not be everlasting. Searching for ‘Lululemon alternatives’ on China’s online shopping platforms, some argue that a 50-yuan sweater ($7) is just as comfortable as the original, which costs over 1,000 yuan ($138). Chinese sellers claim that the Lululemon alternatives produced by Chinese OEM factories are indistinguishable from the real product at a much better price. This sentiment is echoed by many Chinese consumers, who find the cheaper made-in-China alternatives to Lululemon just as satisfactory. A related hashtag received over 140 million views on Weibo this week.

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

    For this pick from the archive, we revisit an article from 2018 about the post-Gaokao divorce trend. For millions of Chinese students and their parents, the national college entrance exams – taking place this week – are incredibly stressful. To support their child’s performance, some unhappy couples decide to postpone their plans to divorce, leading to a spike in divorce rates shortly after the exams end. Read more here.👇

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

    “Sun Protection Warriors” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is fángshài zhànshì (防晒战士), translated as “sun protection warriors” or “sunscreen warriors.”

    In recent years, China has seen a rise in anti-tan, sun-protection garments. More than just preventing sunburn, these garments aim to prevent any tanning at all, helping Chinese women—and some men—maintain as pale a complexion as possible, as fair skin is deemed aesthetically ideal.

    As temperatures are soaring across China, online fashion stores on Taobao and other platforms are offering all kinds of fashion solutions to prevent the skin, mainly the face, from being exposed to the sun.

    On the social lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, women share all kinds of strategies to avoid sun exposure, from enormous sunhats to reverse hoodies. This extreme anti-sun fashion has led some users to label themselves or others as “sun protection warriors.”

    Some people think the trend is going too far, saying that fashionable women nowadays are more like “sunscreen terrorists” (防晒恐怖分子, fángshài kǒngbùfènzǐ).

    Image shared on Weibo by @TA们叫我董小姐, comparing pretty girls before (left) and nowadays (right), also labeled “sunscreen terrorists.”

    To see more examples of extreme anti-tan fashion and read more about this phenomenon, click here 👇

    Read more
     

     
    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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Newsletter

Weibo Watch: Telling China’s Stories Wrong

“Quick, give me a ‘like’ so I can get my credit score up.”

Manya Koetse

Published

on

PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #29

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Telling China’s Stories Wrong
◼︎ 2. What’s New and Noteworthy – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What’s Trending – Hot highlights
◼︎ 4. What’s On Screen – Top TV Shows to watch
◼︎ 5. What’s Remarkable – Wang Wenbin said “farewell”
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Versace’s new brand ambassador
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – The social media spectacle of the military drills
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Back to the root”

 

Dear Reader,

 

This week, various English-language newspapers featured noteworthy headlines about a new Chinese chatbot launched on Monday.

The South China Morning Post appears to have been the first English-language newspaper to report on Tuesday that “China rolls out a large language model AI based on Xi Jinping Thought.”

Barely a day later, others started popping up like mushrooms. “China’s latest answer to OpenAI is Chat Xi PT,” headlined the Financial Times, writing: “Beijing’s latest attempt to control how artificial intelligence informs Chinese internet users has been rolled out as a chatbot trained on the thoughts of President Xi Jinping.”

These articles suggested that China had developed a new chatbot to counter free speech and create a Chinese rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

“China chat bot trained to think like Xi Jinping,” the headline by Asia Financial reads. Other news sites featured similar ones: “Meet Chat Xi PT, the new AI chatbot that gives answers based on the Chinese president’s thinking,” and “What next? Kim-Jong-AI?”

The actual story is far less sensational. In reality, there is no Xi Jinping chatbot, no Chinese ‘Chat-GPT’ trained on his thoughts, and it’s untrue that the only Chinese version of a ChatGPT-like application would be run by the Party.

In our latest article here, we explain the true story behind the application, which is essentially an AI tool for people working or doing research in the field of Chinese cybersecurity and online information.

The name of the application is not ‘Chat Xi PT’ but the ‘Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application,’ which is based on domestically available pre-trained language models and sources from seven major specialty knowledge bases, including one on ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism’, the corpus of political and economic ideas/theory developed by Xi Jinping which was incorporated into the Party Constitution in 2017.

 
Chinese Whispers
 

Over the years, I’ve observed how stories like these seep into the English-language media landscape and take on a life of their own, spreading like wildfire until it’s nearly impossible to correct misconceptions. It’s almost like the game “Chinese Whispers,” where a message is passed around in whispers, often resulting in a completely distorted version of the original.

The English-language news discourse on China’s Social Credit System is a prime example of this game. The Social Credit System became a prominent news topic in the West since 2017, and reports like this one by abc.net.au made sure that Orwellian stories about “personal scorecards” and dystopian nightmares popped up in every newspaper until people outside of China actually started believing they were true.

Unfounded reports about the Social Credit System became so rampant that even sources usually known for sticking to the facts got it wrong. Another time, one American news outlet reported that China’s Social Credit System was now tracking people eating dinner at Haidilao in Canada, creating a bizarre mix of credit scores and Chinese hotpot.

To this day, scholars like Jeremy Daum and Vincent Brussee are busy refuting the claims made in numerous articles and telling the actual realities of the Social Credit System, which, spoiler alert, is far less dramatic than the gloomy sci-fi headlines suggest. (Read more on social credit here).

How do journalists get it so wrong? It’s likely a combination of factors. In Dutch, we say, “to hear the bell toll but not know where the clapper hangs,” meaning someone has heard of something but doesn’t know the specifics. They report on something they’ve read but misunderstand and conflate things, leading to grossly inaccurate articles. For example, some reporters apparently believed ‘Chat Xi PT’ was the actual recent application’s name and that ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ referred to Xi’s private thoughts rather than a body of theories. Similarly, the Social Credit stories perpetuated the false claim that China has a centralized database where every citizen gets a ‘score’ based on their behavior.

But there’s more to it. The news media industry is tough, and some publications need clickbaity articles to attract readership. While stories about dystopian camera systems and Xi Jinping chatbots are popular, few would care about the launch of China’s “Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application” (which is why this story is attracting zero attention in China).

Moreover, these China stories resonate with fears people in the US and Europe have about extensive digital surveillance and omnipresent technology in their own societies, as noted by Jeremy Daum in various interviews. These fears are intensified by the ongoing discourse about a ‘US vs China AI war,’ leading to exaggerated perceptions of China’s capabilities.

 
Telling China’s stories well
 

Under Xi Jinping, the idea of “telling China’s stories well” became a key task in foreign policy and news reporting to enhance China’s international image and strengthen its global influence through external propaganda.

This initiative includes creating (news) stories and narratives that align with Party goals; highlighting Chinese accomplishments, promoting the “Chinese dream,” showcasing traditional Chinese culture, presenting China’s rise as beneficial for global cooperation, and countering Western negative coverage of China.

The inaccurate and often sensationalized stories we see about China are problematic in many ways. They not only reflect biases and laziness among reporters and demonstrate tendencies to project worries onto China’s emergence as an AI powerhouse, they also increase misconceptions about the factual stories that need to be told. In doing so, they inadvertently strengthen China’s efforts to control its narrative and tell China’s stories “well” by making it so easy to discredit those who are telling China’s stories “wrong.”

At the same time, these stories fuel anti-Western sentiment on Chinese social media. Bloggers use these exaggerated accounts as evidence of foreign hostility toward China.

Sometimes, however, it also leads to some online banter about ‘silly foreigners’ buying into bogus stories. One popular Weibo post that received thousands of likes said:

There’s this online rumor which some foreigners believe, that China operates this system of “credit points” similar to Sesame Credit and that everyone’s closely monitored. If you behave badly, points will be deducted, and if your score’s too low, you’ll be locked up, and that and these “credit points” can be transferred to each other.

One top commenter responded:

Oh my god, this is just too funny hahaha! Quick, give me a ‘like’ so I can get my credit score up.”

Even ‘Chat Xi PT’ couldn’t dream this stuff up.

Best,
Manya

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: About that story | This is the write-up I did this week about the ‘Xi Jinping chatbot’ following the many English-language media reports. It includes a full translation of the Chinese text the reports were based on and some key takeaways.

Read more
 

2: ‘One China’ Campaign 2.0 | Following the inauguration of Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te and China’s military exercises, Taiwan has been a trending topic on Chinese social media all week. Within a single day, the hashtag ‘Taiwan must return’ received a staggering 2.4 billion views on Weibo. Read all about China’s intensified social media propaganda campaign here.

Read more
 

3: “Retaliate against Society” | Earlier this week, a tragic stabbing incident at Mingde Primary School in Wenfang Town, Guixi City, Jiangxi, went viral on Weibo. The suspect, a 45-year-old local woman, was detained by police after attacking innocent people, including children, with a fruit knife, resulting in two fatalities.

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

  • MONDAY 20 MAY
    • The tragic story behind the recent suicide of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ went viral earlier this month, touching upon broader societal issues from unfair gender dynamics to businesses taking advantage of grieving internet users.
    • The story went viral once again this week after local authorities issued a lengthy report to clarify the timeline of events and details surrounding the death of “Fat Cat,” which, among other conclusions, stated that there was no illegal fraud involved in the relationship that supposedly drove “Fat Cat” to his suicide. Read more here.
  •  

  • TUESDAY 21 MAY
    • Just a day after a woman attacked various people, including children, at a primary school in Guixi, another knife attack went trending on Tuesday.
    • The incident happened In Zigong, Sichuan, when a 52-year-old man assaulted a bus driver and a passenger with a knife after supposedly “suffering a seizure” on the bus. The man has been detained and the case is currently under investigation by local authorities. The two victims have been hospitalized and are not in critical condition.
  •  

  • WEDNESDAY 22 MAY
    • The social media accounts of three prominent Chinese influencers known for flaunting their wealth were blocked and banned from Douyin, Weibo, and Xiaohongshu this week.
    • Wang Hongquanxin (王红权星), Baoyu Jiajie (鲍鱼家姐), and Bo Gongzi (柏公子) were known for putting their luxury lifestyles on display on the internet. Together, they had millions of followers.
    • Chinese news outlet The Paper called the crackdown a “mini earthquake” for China’s luxury influencers. Read more on WWD here.
  •  

  • THURSDAY 23 MAY
    • A female student majoring in pharmacy at Peking University went viral on Thursday for using academic literature from CNKI to drastically improve her 800-meter track run time within a one-week timeframe. She found out that energy sources stored in muscles was crucial, and focused on improving her anaerobic endurance.
    • She improved her 800-meter running time from over four minutes to 3 minutes and 29 seconds. If you have access to Chinese academic literature and would like to see where she got her information from, the title of the journal article is “论中跑和长跑训练的生理机制和生化特点” authored by Liu Baoguo 刘保国.
  •  

  • FRIDAY 24 MAY
    • The death of the 14-year-old Japanese shiba inu dog Kabosu, known for inspiring the “doge” meme, went top trending on Weibo on Friday. The dog became a internet sensation in 2013 after a photo shared by its Japanese owner went viral. Kabosu’s popularity led to the creation of the Dogecoin cryptocurrency, and she became an internet icon globally.
    • In China, doge became a special emoji on major social media platforms like Weibo, WeChat and Douyin, mostly used as a symbol of sarcasm.
  •  

  • SATURDAY 25 MAY
    • Hunan TV’s singing competition “Singer 2024” remains a hot topic! The show has captured viewers’ attention by incorporating international talent and pitting them against renowned Chinese performers.
    • On Friday, American singer-songwriter Adam Lambert joined the competition, not only competing against Chinese stars but also against Chante Moore and Faouzia, who joined earlier and are still in the running. Read more about the show in our article here.
  •  

    What’s the Drama

    Top TV to Watch

    The highly anticipated second season of Joy of Life (庆余年) has been a hot topic in Chinese entertainment circles this week, especially as it topped the rankings among Chinese TV channel evening drama programs. This drama, touching upon themes of time travel, politics, power struggles, and romance, follows the journey of a contemporary man who wakes up as a baby in Southern Qing.

    To know:

    ▶️ The series is adapted from a Chinese web novel originally published from 2007 to 2009 by the successful author Mao Ni (猫腻).
    ▶️ The first season, which premiered in 2019, gained immense popularity and received praise from both audiences and critics.
    ▶️ Describing the anticipation for this show as “much anticipated” would be an understatement. The first season ended with a cliffhanger, leaving fans eagerly awaiting a second season for the past five years. The announcement of the second season was made in May 2023.

    Joy of Life 2 is available with English subtitles on Viki here.

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

    You might not expect it, but China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) has a large fanbase on Chinese social media, where netizens are creative in editing images of Wang, adding quotes or drawings, and making special fan videos. Wang is often praised for his looks and expressions, with fans saying his facial features are “handsome,” “cute,” “adorable,” and saying that ‘Uncle Wang’ is just too “cool.” The widespread admiration for China’s MFA spokespersons like Wang has various social, cultural, and historical reasons, and nationalism also plays a big role in this.

    Wang Wenbin took on his role as spokesperson in 2020, but his online fan clubs report that he is now saying goodbye to take on another role. During his May 24th regular press conference, Wang ended with a serious ‘farewell,’ stepping down and shaking hands with the reporters in the room (see video here). Hundreds of netizens are sad to see their favorite diplomat go, and are wishing him well: ‘Goodbye, Uncle Wang. Wish you all the best in your new position. Thank you for speaking out over the past four years.'”

    A while back, I wrote an extensive report about the online fan culture surrounding Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin and the overall popularity of Chinese diplomats. You can check it out here.

     

    The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

    Chinese singer-songwriter and dancer Cai Xukun was a big topic of conversation on Weibo this week after news came out that he had become the global brand ambassador for Versace. In a joint post with Versace, Cai posted a photo of his Versace campaign with the phrase: “Be a Versace Man.” That post received a staggering 1.8 million likes in one single day.

    The post was noteworthy for multiple reasons. Just a year ago, Cai found himself embroiled in scandal following allegations that he had engaged in a one-night stand with a young woman who then turned out to be pregnant—and that he had demanded an abortion. The entire event led to a wave of comments from fans who expressed their disappointment with their idol.

    The news was not just a comeback for Cai; it also marks a definite pivot in Versace’s brand strategies away from Hollywood-focused faces. In 2023, the Italian fashion house announced South Korean rapper and singer-songwriter Hyunjin as a new Versace face: their first-ever Korean global brand ambassador. Other brand ambassadors, such as Chinese celebrities Zhao Lusi (Rosy Chao) and Ningning, also make it clear that Versace is focusing on speaking to new generations all across the world.

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

    For this pick from the archive, we revisit an article from 2022, during the previous round of China’s major military exercises around Taiwan. Much like the current military drills, the online communications about it are arguably just as important as the exercises themselves. The social media spectacle surrounding the Taiwan military exercises is not a one-dimensional media effort but a dynamic interplay where state-led propaganda and grassroots nationalism meet. Read more here.👇

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

    “Back to the Root” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is Dāngguī (当归), freely translated as “back to the root” in this week’s context of the propaganda campaign surrounding reunification with Taiwan.

    Since earlier in 2024, this term is used by Chinese state media in the slogan “Táiwān dāngguī” (#台湾当归#), which means “Taiwan must return [to the motherland].

    Separately, the two characters in dāngguī 当归 literally mean “should return.”

    However, the slogan is a play on words, as the term dāngguī (当归) as a noun actually means Angelica Sinensis, the Chinese Angelica root or ‘female ginseng,’ a medicinal herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, native to China and cultivated in various East Asian countries.

    This play on words is also evident in the poster disseminated by People’s Daily, where Taiwan is depicted on the left and resembles a piece of the yellowish ‘female ginseng’ root.

    New poster by People’s Daily. ‘Taiwan’ on the left side resembles a piece of Chinese Angelica root (looks like ginseng). It is part of the character “归” (guī, to return, go back to). The remainder of the character consists of various slogans commonly used by Chinese official media to emphasize that Taiwan is part of China.

    Because of this context, where dāngguī 当归 both refers to the discourse of Taiwan returning to China and to the female ginseng root, a creative translation would be “back to the root.” If you want to be less creative, you could also say it’s the Taiwan “should return” campaign.

     
    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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