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Weibo Watch: Explosive Material

From nationalist influencers to the Handan murder case, Chinese social media was ablaze with more explosive topics this week than the Yanjiao blast alone.

Manya Koetse

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #25

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Explosive material
◼︎ 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 Lies Behind – Justice & social neglect in the Handan murder case
◼︎ 6. What’s Noteworthy – A 61-year-old twin toddler mom
◼︎ 7. What’s Popular – AI brings celebrities back from the dead
◼︎ 8. What’s Memorable – TikTok CEO hailed as “Asian hero”
◼︎ 9. Weibo Word of the Week – “Mellow People”

 

Dear Reader,

 

A devastating explosion in North China’s Yanjiao, claiming the lives of seven and injuring 27 others, has dominated Chinese social media discussions over the past few days. The incident not only raised questions about the cause of the blast but also sparked concerns about press freedom, as Chinese reporters were reportedly obstructed from their work at the scene. This fueled suspicions that local authorities might be withholding information from the public.

Despite its significant impact, the Yanjiao blast was not the most combustible topic on Chinese social media. Various other incidents and issues gained traction, largely driven by online nationalists.

The most eye-catching issue has been the so-called “battle of the two water bottles” (两瓶水之争), which emerged after the recent death of the much-beloved Chinese entrepreneur Zong Qinghou (宗庆后), founder of the Wahaha company known for its bottled water and beverages.

As detailed in our latest article here, a support campaign for the Wahaha brand morphed into a witch hunt against its major domestic competitor, Nongfu Spring. While Zong Qinghou was lauded as a patriotic entrepreneur, Nongfu Spring’s founder, billionaire Zhong Shanshan (钟睒睒), faced criticism for supposedly prioritizing profit over national interests.

From Weibo to Douyin and beyond, online influencers came up with all kinds of reasons why Nongfu Spring should be seen as an unpatriotic Chinese brand, from its product packaging containing Japanese elements to its water containing bugs.

One point of ongoing contention is the fact that Zhong’s son (his heir, Zhong Shuzi 钟墅子) holds American citizenship. This sparked anger among netizens who questioned Zhong’s allegiance to China. Numerous Douyin videos showed livestreamers pouring bottles of Nongfu Spring water down the drain, small shop owners recorded themselves removing Nongfu Spring products from store shelves, and overall sales plummeted. Because the issue was about affordable bottled water, participating in these kinds of ‘patriotic’ activities was relatively easy; consumer nationalism has never been cheaper.

When Chinese entrepreneur Li Guoqing (李国庆), co-founder of the e-commerce company Dangdang, defended Nongfu Spring and called for rationality, he too came under fire. Wasn’t his own son, Li Chengqing (李成青), an American citizen as well? Rumors about other Chinese entrepreneurs also started gaining traction.

While grassroots nationalist activities on Douyin and nationalist trends on Weibo aren’t new, the recent campaign against Nongfu Spring stands out as it targets a domestic company. Typically, Chinese online nationalism focuses on foreign brands, encouraging consumers to boycott foreign products and support domestic ones (buycott).

For instance, in 2021, Nike faced backlash and boycotts in China for its stance on Xinjiang cotton and a viral incident involving discrimination against a rural migrant worker by a Nike employee. The Chinese sportswear brand Erke indirectly profited from existing consumer sentiments over Nike, positioning itself as a patriotic alternative (read more here).

The current boycott of Nongfu Spring in favor of another ‘more patriotic’ Chinese brand represents a shift in online nationalism. It’s not top-down, it’s not state-led, and it’s not necessarily driven by political ideology. On the one hand, this is a sign of Chinese economic growth as domestic brands and companies are no longer considered the ‘underdog’ in a market dominated by bigger foreign brands. It reflects Chinese consumers’ confidence in made-in-China brands and a desire for them to embody their national identity.

On the other hand, this movement sheds light on the dynamics of contemporary Chinese social media and “the business of nationalism” (also described by Zhang & Ma, 2023, 899). Various actors in the Chinese digital ecosystem profit from the commodification of nationalist content on platforms like Weibo and Douyin, where patriotism and aggressive nationalism are amplified for commercial gain (Liao & Xia 2023, 1536).

Influencers, too, capitalize on patriotic narratives to garner attention, often at the expense of balanced discourse, as the algorithm pushes aggressively nationalist discourses to the forefront (Schneider 2022, 277).

Regular users of these platforms find themselves navigating an environment where extreme views dominate, perpetuating a cycle of nationalism. With a click, post, or video, they can be part of an online nationalist movement that’s driven by hype, not necessarily representative of nationalism on the ground, and sometimes more fleeting than a fast food trend — you could call it nationalist clicktivism.

All of this forms a toxic cocktail that can flare up and become explosive from time to time. But, this too shall pass. Some smart Chinese restaurant owners know that as well. They have started buying Nongfu Spring water in bulk. The price has never been lower, and the water will still be sellable by the time the storm has calmed. For them, too, nationalism has never been cheaper.

Best,
Manya (@manyapan)

References:

Liao, Sara and Grace Xia. 2023. “Consumer Nationalism in Digital Space: A Case-Study of the 2017 Anti-Lotte Boycott in China”. Convergence, 29(6), 1535-1554.

Schneider, Florian. 2022. “Emergent Nationalism in China’s Sociotechnical Networks: How Technological Affordance and Complexity Amplify Digital Nationalism.” Nations & Nationalism 28(1): 267-285.

Zhang, Chi and Yiben Ma. 2023. “Invented Borders: The Tension Between Grassroots Patriotism and State-Led Campaigns in China.” Journal of Contemporary China, 32(144), 897-913.

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: Wahaha vs Nongfu Spring | It’s the big topic that’s been fermenting online for some time now: Nongfu and the online nationalists. The praise for one Chinese domestic water bottle brand, Wahaha, sparked online animosity toward the other, Nongfu Spring, after the death of Wahaha founder Zong Qinghou. While Wahaha is seen as a patriotic, proudly made-in-China brand, big competitor Nongfu Spring and its founder Zhong Shanshan are under attack for allegedly being profit-driven and disloyal to China. The online anti-Nongfu campaign has even led to people pouring out their Nongfu Spring water bottles. Read all about it here👇🏼

Read more
 

2: Party Slogan, Weibo Hashtag | A hashtag promoted by Party newspaper People’s Daily recently became top trending: “Wang Yi Says the Next China Will Still Be China” (#王毅说下一个中国还是中国#). The hashtag refers to statements made by China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi (王毅), during a press conference held alongside the Second Session of the 14th National People’s Congress. After Wang Yi’s remarks, the sentence ‘the next China will still be China’ has now solidified its place as a new catchphrase in the Communist Party jargon. But what does it actually mean?

Read more
 

3: Online Tributes to Toriyama | Chinese fans have been mourning the death of Japanese manga artist and character creator Akira Toriyama. On March 8, his production company confirmed that the 68-year-old artist passed away due to acute subdural hematoma. On Weibo, a hashtag related to his passing became trending as netizens shared their memories and appreciation for Toriyama’s work, as well as creating fan art in his honor (also see this tweet). Chinese readers form the largest fan community for Japanese comics and anime, and for many Chinese, the influential creations of Akira Toriyama, like “Dr. Slump” and particularly “Dragon Ball,” are cherished as part of their childhood or teenage memories.

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Five Bite-Sized Trends

◼︎ 🏛️ Boy Murdered by Classmates | A case in which a young boy from Feixiang county in Handan, Hebei, was murdered by three classmates has recently shocked the nation. The young boy, Wang Ziyao (王子耀), had suffered years of bullying before his three classmates, all 13 years old, brutally killed him. Wang had been missing for one day before his body was discovered buried in a greenhouse in a field nearby the home of one of the suspects. While the three suspects have now been detained, netizens and legal scholars are discussing whether the case could be handled by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate (SPP). Since an amendment to China’s Criminal Law in 2021, children between the ages of 12-14 can be held criminally responsible for extreme and cruel cases resulting in death or severe disability, if approved for prosecution by the SPP. A chilling video showing the palpable shock in Handan after Wang’s body was recovered by authorities also made its rounds online, see here. (Various related Weibo hashtags, including “#13-Year-Old Middle School Student Killed By Classmate, Three Arrested” #13岁初中生被同学杀害三人被刑拘#, 150 million views; “#CNR Discusses Case in Which Junior High School Student Was Killed and Buried by 3 Classmates #央广网评初中生被3名同学杀害掩埋#, 200 million views).

◼︎ ♪ U.S. TikTok Ban | Besides the battle over water, the battle over TikTok has also generated hashtags and discussions on Chinese social media after the US House of Representatives passed a bill that could lead to an American TikTok ban if parent company Bytedance does not sell the app. Security concerns surrounding TikTok’s ownership by a Chinese company and its access to American data have existed ever since the app became popular in the US, where it now has over 170 million users. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin denounced the bill, suggesting it was unfair for US to cite security reasons to “arbitrarily” suppress TikTok. Many social media commenters agree with this stance, suggesting the app is solely targeted because of its Chinese parent company, unrelated to actual security risks. The Singaporean TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew (周受资) is expected to pay US legislators a visit in the coming days to fight against the ban, which is something many netizens are looking forward to (Shou Zi Chew is very popular on Weibo). (Hashtag: “American House of Representatives Passes Tiktok Bill” #美众议院通过tiktok法案#, 160 million views; “#TikTok Strikes Back” #TikTok开始反击#, 140 million views).

◼︎ 🛒 Livestreaming Chaos | Many different topics popped up during this year’s 3.15 Consumer Day and the two-hour annual Chinese Consumer Day Gala television show, which is all about raising awareness of consumer rights. One hot topic within this context is China’s “chaos of live-streaming e-commerce” (直播带货乱象). People’s Daily reported that in 2023 alone, more than half (56.1%) of the complaints received at the “12315” consumer hotline were related to online shopping, primarily through livestreaming. Over the span of five years, complaints regarding live e-commerce have surged by 47 times. The primary concerns revolve around after-sales service problems, such as the difficulty in returning items, and quality issues, wherein products showcased in livestreams differ from what customers actually receive. (Hashtag “#Most After-Sales Complaints About Livestreaming Ecommerce” #售后服务直播带货投诉排名第一#, 34.8 million views).

◼︎ 🇬🇧 Where’s Kate? | Speculation and controversy surrounding the whereabouts of the Princess of Wales, Kate Middleton, have also surfaced on Weibo, where discussions about the UK royals have been trending in recent days. Worldwide, rumors about her condition emerged following her absence from any official public appearances since January 16, when she underwent abdominal surgery. The situation intensified when a photo of the Princess and her children, shared on Mother’s Day, raised suspicions of editing and photoshopping. Although Kate took responsibility for altering the image herself, the internet erupted with various theories about her situation, ranging from serious illness to marital issues or even another pregnancy. Some commenters suggest the Chinese interest in the issue is because “we love to watch palace drama.” (Hashtag “Where is Princess Kate?” #凯特王妃去哪了#, 40 million views; “Rumors of Princess Kate Missing Stirs Up UK” #凯特王妃失踪传闻搅动英国#, 43 million views).

◼︎ 🖋️ Chinese Author Mo Yan Under Attack | Another story that has been circulating online for some time involves Chinese blogger Wu Wanzheng (@说真话的毛星火) initiating a lawsuit against the renowned Chinese author and Nobel Prize winner Mo Yan (莫言). Wu accuses Mo Yan of distorting history and tarnishing the legacy of the Communist Party in his 1986 novel Red Sorghum (红高粱). The well-known Chinese internet commentator Hu Xijin recently came to Mo Yan’s defense, which actually increased media attention for the case. Although the initial attempt to sue Mo Yan was rejected by a Beijing court, Wu allegedly intends to persist with his mission. Opinions on the matter are divided: while some believe Wu is within his rights to pursue legal action against Mo Yan, others view the entire affair as a sensationalist grab for attention. Meanwhile, various articles and hashtags about the case have been taken offline (Weibo hashtag “Mo Yan Sued” #莫言被起诉#, 1.8 million views; “Hu Xijin: Person Suing Mo Yan Is Taking Words Out of Context” #胡锡进称起诉莫言者是在扣帽子断章取义#, 29 million clicks).

 

What’s the Drama

Top TV to Watch

The Chinese historical drama “In Blossom” (花间令) currently ranks number one on Weibo. It premiered on the streaming platform Youku on March 15. The costume drama revolves around the story of the handsome Pan Yue (Liu Xueyi 刘学义), who marries Yang Caiwei (played by Ju Jingyi 鞠婧祎). She is murdered on the night of their wedding, and he is the prime suspect. But Yang Caiwei miraculously returns from the dead to uncover the truth.

▶️ This drama was directed by Zhong Qing (钟青), who is best known for directing suspenseful and romantic dramas.
▶️ The Weibo hashtag about “In Blossom” has received over two billion views already (#花间令#).
▶️ The first day after “In Blossom” was released, it already broke some viewing records; on March 16, 13.6% of Youku audiences had watched the drama, making it the first drama this year to become so popular within such a short timeframe.

You can watch In Blossom with English subtitles via YouTube here.

 

What Lies Behind

Observations beyond the headlines, by Miranda Barnes

With emotions running high on social media, many are eager to learn about the fate awaiting the three young perpetrators in the trending case of the bullied boy from Handan, Hebei, who was killed and buried by his classmates. Online discussions mostly revolve around the legal and social aspects of this case.

There’s widespread frustration over the possibility of lenient punishment for the 13-year-old suspects due to their age. As China still has capital punishment, some people are even calling for execution once they turn 18.

These sentiments do not come out of the blue. In recent years, China has seen a rise in crimes, including murders, committed by minors. Many people are worried that without properly addressing the bullying problems that are prevalent among young people, the country will only see an increase in minors committing serious crimes like assault, rape and murder.

Online discussions show that people are reluctant to accept the “Law on the Protection of Minors” which recognizes the limited understanding young offenders may have of their own actions’ gravity and consequences. Chinese criminal psychologist and youth education expert Mei Jinli (李玫瑾) suggests that families or legal guardians should bear part of the responsibility exempted from the child due to their age.

Another issue that has caught people’s attention in this case is that all suspects and the victim are so-called “left-behind children” (留守儿童). With over 295 million Chinese rural migrant workers leaving their hometowns to find jobs in the city, many find themselves unable to bring their children due to the household registration system in China. Instead, they leave their children behind with grandparents or family.

Chinese experts and charities have been raising awareness of psychological trauma among these children – there are some 67 million of them – and are calling for changes in the household registration system so that migrant workers can bring their children with them instead of leaving them to fend for themselves.

The comments surrounding this case highlight how deeply it resonates with many. One commenter said he was a left-behind child himself, and when he saw the words “left-behind children” and “raised by grandparents” in the news, he couldn’t help but burst into tears.

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

During the Two Sessions, China’s annual parliamentary meetings, numerous proposals and “suggestions” (建议) put forth by National People’s Congress delegates became trending topics on Chinese social media. While a proposal in 2020 aimed to prohibit single women from freezing their eggs to encourage them to “marry and reproduce at the appropriate age,” a recent proposal suggests the opposite approach to address China’s declining birth rates: improving fertility treatment options for older Chinese women to facilitate childbearing for older parents.

Uncoincidentally, during the same week, a Chinese media outlet shared the story of a 61-year-old twin mom recounting her experience of ‘late parenthood.’ Having lost her 26-year-old son in a car accident in 2014, Zhang Yumei attempted to conceive for seven years and eventually welcomed healthy twin daughters in 2021, at the age of 58. In an interview with Chinese media, the senior citizen expressed that her two children have given her “the courage to continue living.” The story garnered significant attention on Chinese social media, with many sympathizing with Zhang Yumei. However, some netizens speculated whether authorities would now begin encouraging elderly women to use donated eggs for childbirth.

Read more about other proposals made during the Two Session in our article here.

Read more
 

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

This video shows Chinese singer & actor Qiao Renliang (乔任梁) in 2024. He actually died in 2016.

Using AI tools, Chinese social media users are reviving deceased celebrities like Qiao, Coco Lee, or Godfrey Gao. By using old videos and images, artificial intelligence digitally recreates them, bringing them back to life in online videos. A recent example sparking controversy is the video featuring Chinese singer and actor Kimi Qiao Renliang (乔任梁), who took his own life in 2016 at the age of 28. In the AI-generated video, Qiao states, “Actually, I never really left…”

His parents are unsettled by the video. Qiao’s father is now urging netizens to delete these videos of his son. He says they were created without permission and violate his son’s portrait rights. It has sparked some much-needed discussion on the legal and ethical issues surrounding so-called ‘AI resurrection’ (AI复活).

In an online poll conducted by Sina Hotspot (新浪热点) among 80,000 netizens on Weibo, a significant majority of respondents, over 66,000, expressed that recreating deceased celebrities is unacceptable. Only 2,100 people said they see practice as a nice way to remember celebrities who’ve passed.

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

This pick from our archive takes us back to when Shou Zi Chew (周受资, Zhou Shouzi), the Singaporean CEO of TikTok, appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the United States, facing a four-and-a-half-hour hearing over data security and harmful content on the TikTok app. Some bloggers and commenters noted how Chew fits the supposed idea of a ‘perfect Asian’ by staying calm despite unreasonable allegations and emphasizing business interests over culture. The so-called “Mr. Perfect In the Eye of the Storm” is going back to defend TikTok this week, so we can expect him to receive a lot of support from Chinese netizens again. Read more about it here 👇

Read more

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Mellow People” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “Mellow People” or “Mellow Person” (dàn rén 淡人), a term that’s popped up recently to self-describe the mental state of young people in China today.

The word dàn 淡, which I’ve translated as ‘mellow’ in this context, can mean numerous things in China: it’s light, calm, indifferent, pale, or even trivial. Being a dàn individual, a dànrén 淡人, has recently come to be used by young people to describe themselves and how they experience life. They might want to quit their crappy job, but it generates money so it’s okay. They have to commute for hours every day, but the rent is cheaper so it’s okay. They are being forced to go on blind dates by their parents and actually don’t want to, but they don’t have the energy to refuse so it’s okay.

Being this ‘mellow’ or ‘unperturbed’ means being indifferent in a calm and light way. Not unlike previous Chinese popular expressions such as “lying flat” (躺平) and being “Buddha-like” (佛系) (read here), it’s a way to cope with the challenges and pressures faced by Chinese young people today, but it’s a bit more positive than being completely passive (lying flat): it’s a passive acceptance of life as it is, embracing dull daily routines or competitive work environments without resistance. The art of being or becoming a dàn rén is also referred to as 淡人学 dànrén xué, which could be translated as ‘Mellowism’ or, perhaps even better, ‘Unperturbabilism.’

 
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.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Memes & Viral

Chengdu Disney: The Quirkiest Hotspot in China

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

Manya Koetse

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

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

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

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

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

 
Once Upon a Rap Talent Show
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuomi and his diss track, from the music video.

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

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

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

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

 
Chengdu: China’s Most Relaxed Hip Hop Hotspot
 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Mocking sagging pants at ‘Chengdu Disney.’

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

 
Being Part of the Meme
 

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

Scenes from Chengdu Disney, images via Weibo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Manya Koetse, co-authored by Ruixin Zhang

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China Food & Drinks

Where to Eat and Drink in Beijing: Yellen’s Picks

From Yunnan classics to fusion cuisine, these are Janet Yellen’s picks for dining and drinking in Beijing.

Manya Koetse

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Janet Yellen, the United States Secretary of the Treasury, seems to have some excellent advisors, at least when it comes to choosing spots for food and drinks in Beijing.

Yellen just 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.

Her initial visit to Beijing was in July 2023, during which she held meetings with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and other officials.

This time, from April 4th to 9th, Yellen’s agenda included engagements with top Chinese officials in both Guangzhou and Beijing. The primary focus was on addressing ongoing bilateral tensions and managing trade relations between the US and China. In addition to official meetings, Yellen also met up with students and business leaders.

Yellen’s selection of bars and restaurants drew interest online. Yellen is known to be a food enthusiast, and likes to visit local restaurants wherever she goes.

In Guangzhou, Yellen dined at Taotaoju (陶陶居), a renowned Cantonese restaurant where she had roast goose and shrimp dumplings.

If you’re curious about the places she visited in Beijing during her first and second trip, check out our short ‘Yellen’s Beijing’ list below.

 

‘In & Out’ Yunnan Restaurant


Yellen at Yizuo Yiwang, photos via Weibo.

● Name: ‘In and Out’ in English, Chinese name: Yī Zuò Yī Wàng 一坐一忘

● Specialty: Yunnan cuisine

● Notable: Yellen visited this local favorite near Beijing’s embassy area in the summer of 2023. Among other things, Yellen was served spicy potatoes with mint and stir-fried mushrooms, leading to online jokes about how the food would affect her. The mushroom dish that she had is called jiànshǒuqīng (见手青), which literally means “see hand blue”, in reference to turning blue when handled. It is the lanmaoa asiatica mushroom species that grows in China’s Yunnan region known for its hallucinogenic properties (when treated and cooked properly, they don’t cause hallucinations read more here). After Yellen’s visit, ‘In & Out’ used it as part of their marketing strategy and the restaurant released a special ‘Treasury Menu’ (or ‘God of Wealth’ Menu 财神菜单), promoting themselves as the first place where Yellen had dinner during her Beijing visit.

● Price: Dishes range from 38 yuan ($5) to 298 yuan ($41)

● Address: Chaoyang, Sanlitun Beixiaojie 1 / 朝阳区三里屯北小街1号

 

Grand Hyatt’s ‘Made in China’


Yellen’s lunch at the Grand Hatt, image via Weibo.

● Name: ‘Made in China’ in English, Chinese name: Cháng’ān Yī Hào 长安壹号餐厅

● Specialty: Northern Chinese cuisine, including Peking duck / Fusion

● Notable: This is the venue where Yellen had lunch with a group of female economists and entrepreneurs in July of 2023 (you can see the speech she gave during lunch here). She apparently likes this restaurant a lot, since she visited it again for dinner on April 8 of this year. For her 2023 lunch, we know that Yellen ordered steamed fish head with chopped pepper (剁椒鱼头). The famous Hunan dish was among the most expensive dishes on a special menu (850 yuan/$117) for Yellen’s visit at the time. This time around, she also had Peking Duck. The award-winning Made in China restaurant, which is simply called “Chang’an no 1” in Chinese (after its address, 长安壹号餐厅), has been around for two decades, and the Beijing head chef Jin Qiang has been there from the start – he has since welcomed numerous heads of state and government leaders from around the world.

● Price: Appetizers start from 58 yuan ($8), seafood dishes around 500 yuan (69 yuan), Peking Duck 388 yuan ($53)

● Address: Grand Hyatt, Dongcheng, 1 East Chang’An Avenue / 东长安街1号东方广场

 

Lao Chuan Ban


Yellen at Chuan Ban, image via Dianping.

● Name: Chuan Ban, Chinese name: 川办餐厅 aka ‘Lao Chuan Ban’ (Old Chuan Ban 老川办)

● Specialty: Sichuan food

● Notable: Chuan Ban, established as part of the Sichuan provincial government office and open to the public since 1995, is renowned for its authentic Sichuan cuisine. During her visit to Beijing, Yellen and her group dined at this famous restaurant on April 6 this year. They enjoyed a variety of dishes including Mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐), Sichuan-style cold noodles (四川凉面), clear noodles in chili sauce (川北凉粉), smashed cucumber salad (拍黃瓜), and Zhong dumpings in spicy sauce (钟水饺).

● Price:Dumplings for 18 yuan ($2.5), beef noodles for 16 yuan ($2.2), salt and pepper shrimp for 46 yuan ($6.3), fried lamb chops for 188 yuan ($26) – there’s something for everyone in different price ranges.

● Address: Dongcheng, 5 Gongyuan Toutiao, Jianguomennei Dajie / 东城区建国门内贡院头条5号

 

Jing-A Brewery


Yellen having a beer, image via Weibo.

● Name: Jing-A Brewery, Chinese name: 京A

● Specialty: Craft beer

● Notable: After five days of meetings during her 2024 China visit, Janet Yellen enjoyed a beer together with US ambassador Nicholas Burns at Jing-A, a brewery founded by wo Beijing-based American friends in 2012. In one of her tweets, Yellen explained that the microbrewery imports American hops for their beers — “a small representation of how the U.S.-China bilateral economic relationship can benefit both sides” (link).

● Price:Beers starting at 35 yuan ($4.8), snack dishes starting at 58 yuan ($8)

● Address: Jing-A Brewpub Xingfucun, Chaoyang, 57 Xingfucun Zhong Lu, Chaoyang, Beijing / 朝阳区幸福村中路57号

By Manya Koetse

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