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Weibo Watch: Ghost Scales

From national pride to social distrust, these are the most noteworthy trends and topics dominating Chinese social media recently.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #18

This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Ghost Scales
◼︎ 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 – Lu Xun turning in his grave?
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – China’s very own ‘pride walk’
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – The school in Changzhou that made students ill
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Toxic Fangirling”, by Ruixin Zhang

 

Dear Reader,

 

‘Ghost scales’ have been all the talk on Weibo lately. The term, guǐ chèng (鬼秤), refers to inaccurate scales used to cheat customers by providing less than the actual quantity for the price paid.

The topic of ghost scales came up when a well-known Chinese blogger recently exposed how many sellers in Dalian markets were actually using deceptive weighing scales, duping ordinary customers buying their vegetables, fruit, or seafood. On Weibo alone, one related hashtag page garnered nearly 250 million views.

Despite local authorities stepping up to investigate and punish fraudulent sellers tampering with scales, the incident ignited anger beyond Dalian. People questioned why it took an internet influencer to advocate for consumer rights and why there aren’t better regulations in place to combat fraud. Rather than blaming the fraudulent sellers, online anger was mostly directed at the systems allowing them to operate.

The ghost scale story does not stand by itself. Much smaller stories have gone viral before, such as the customer who discovered that the 200g of tripe he ordered for 72rmb ($11) at a local Haidilao restaurant was actually only 138g. A related hashtag received over 260 million views on Weibo in 2021. “Next time I’m bringing my own scale,” some commenters replied.

The vlogger, superB太, exposing the fraudulent scales in Dalian.

Is it much ado about nothing? Not really. Although the stories differ, the common theme behind many of these online discussions is distrust. Recently, various topics highlighting low societal trust have trended.

One revolved around the Heilongjiang gym collapse. Three Chinese middle school students died in November when their gymnasium roof collapsed after heavy snowfall. It was the second gym collapse incident in the province this year. Netizens argued that better inspections, quality checks, and stricter public safety regulations could have prevented the tragedy.

Another example is the recent controversy about fake birthing certificates being sold by a hospital in Xiangyang for use by human trafficking brokers. The head of the hospital and five others were soon detained after the story, exposed by a Chinese investigative vlogger, went viral. Many questioned how such a thing could still happen in 2023.

The recurring idea in these online discussions is that existing constructions at various levels in Chinese society allow such practices to happen, with people supposedly covering for each other and turning a blind eye during inspections. While a market might have actual ‘ghost scales,’ similar deceptive operations could occur at a hospital management level, at a construction site, or within a coal mine company.

A few years ago, the development of China’s Social Credit System was often portrayed as a gloomy sci-fi storyline by many Western media outlets. Even today, there are many people who think that China has a system in place as depicted in the American Black Mirror series, which shows a dystopian society where people are judged by a numeric rating given to them by their interactions with other people.

Many people and media outlets not only misunderstood the Chinese ‘Social Credit System’; they also overlooked the historical, social, and culturally rooted factors that play a crucial role in understanding how such a system, designed to enhance societal trust, could actually be embraced. (For accurate and nuanced perspectives on the social credit system, Vincent Brussee has just published a new book that delves into these complexities.)

In the Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’, people’s position on the social ladder is determined by other people ranking them.

In making a distinction between ‘high-trust societies’ and ‘low-trust societies,’ Francis Fukuyama (1995) classified China as a ‘low trust society,’ where people have very little trust in people outside their family or close groups. Though not everyone agrees with Fukuyama, the idea of being cheated or becoming a victim of fraudulent practices regularly trends on China’s internet. Small incidents represent more significant issues.

After the Dalian ghost scale incident went viral, multiple people took the initiative to test scales in their own neighborhoods. A student from Henan University, a livestreamer from Shenyang, a reporter from Nanchang—each contributed to exposing local street vendors or restaurant owners using ghost scales to cheat customers.

The domino effect of ghost scales being exposed demonstrates the powerful dynamic of Chinese social media. Untrustworthy individuals lacking integrity can be swiftly exposed, and their fraudulent businesses crumble within hours. Chinese influencers, vloggers, and commentators play a major role in addressing various social issues, from scamming sellers to corrupt doctors, and actually make a change.

Some netizens recently commented that their local market sellers would not dare to use ghost scales anymore. In the meantime, however, while the fight for consumer rights and social injustice continues, it could never hurt to bring your own trustworthy scale.

Miranda Barnes and Ruixin Zhang have contributed to this week’s newsletter.

Best,
Manya (@manyapan)

* Francis Fukuyama. 1995. Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. New York: Free Press

 

A closer look at the top stories

1: National Pride and Shifting Dynamics in Sino-American Relations | The Xi-Biden meeting was one of the biggest topics of the week. After the much anticipated face-to-face talk in California, one noteworthy detail quickly hit Weibo’s top trending topics, namely Biden’s apparent admiration for Xi Jinping’s Hongqi car. The recognition of the decades-old Chinese Hongqi brand by a U.S. president was a promotion-worthy moment for Chinese official channels, resonating with netizens.

Read more
 

2: ‘Sleepy Joe’ and ‘Revive the Country’ Biden | From positive portrayals by official channels to online banter and critical voices discussing Biden’s global policies and his health, there are various sentiments on Chinese social media surrounding US President Joe Biden. At a time when anti-American sentiments are on the rise, some netizens view Biden as embodying the negative stereotypes prevalent on social media about the United States or the Western world in general. But in the days leading up the Xi-Biden meeting Chinese official channels are promoting more positive portrayals of the U.S. leader.

Read more
 

3: The Sun-Yat Sen Hospital Controversy | Several medical workers who all worked at the same renowned oncology lab in Guangzhou recently were diagnosed with cancer. Although there are many concerns about whether or not their cancer is related to their working environment, the primary source of public outrage revolves around the handling of the controversy by the affiliated hospital.

Read more
 

4: Douyin Introduces Paywalls | The introduction of a Douyin novel feature, that would enable content creators to impose a fee for accessing their short video content, has sparked discussions across Chinese social media. Although the feature would benefit creators, many Douyin users are skeptical. Would this be a new beginning for the Chinese TikTok, or would it be the end?

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Highlighting 8 hot topics

◼︎ 1. TAOBAO CRASHES DURING SINGLE’S DAY SALES | China’s largest online shopping event of the year, Single’s Day, took place on November 11 for the 15th time. Despite concerns over China’s economy, Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com once again saw record sales, although, similar to last year, they did not release their full results. One topic that generated enormous attention on the day itself was Taobao, Alibaba’s e-commerce platform, becoming unreachable before the end of the day, leaving millions of online shoppers clicking and refreshing as the platform kept crashing due to the surge in traffic. (Weibo hashtag “Taobao Down” #淘宝崩了#, 2.6 billion views).

◼︎ 2. SIMBA DOUYIN ACCOUNT BLOCKED | Earlier this month, Chinese famous Kuaishou livestreamer Simba (辛巴, real name Xin Youzhi) became a top trending topic after his Douyin account, where he had over four million followers, was banned. Although the official reason for his suspension was not explicitly stated, it reportedly related to the fact that Simba, among others, had scolded the Douyin platform. Simba, the king of Kuaishou, is known for getting into controversies and arguing with other livestreamers and companies. Now, he can add ‘arguing with platforms’ on his list as well. (Weibo hastag “Simba Douyin Account Banned” #辛巴抖音账号被封禁#, 390 million views).

◼︎ 3. MURDER IN MATSUDO | In the morning of November 9, Japanese police Matsudo discovered a woman covered in blood on the streets of the city’s Kogasaki district. She was later pronounced dead at the hospital. The woman was a 33-year-old Chinese national who reportedly resided in the Japanese city. She was fatally attacked and beaten by two men in the early hours of the morning and was left to die in the streets in a pool of blood. (Weibo hashtag “Chinese Woman Murdered on Streets in Japan” #一中国女子在日本街头被杀害#, 350 million views, read more here)

◼︎ 4. CHINESE CROWDS CHEERING IN SAN FRANCISCO | Apart from the Xi-Biden talks and APEC in general, what caught significant attention on Chinese social media this week was the enthusiastic reception of Xi Jinping by Chinese crowds in San Francisco. On November 14, the day of his arrival in the US, flag-waving crowds gathered along Xi Jinping’s route from the airport to the hotel. Chinese official media actively shared news about their presence, while protests critical of Xi and addressing human rights issues in China went unreported. In contrast, the pro-Palestine protests during APEC did receive media attention, highlighting a media bias in determining which public voices and flag-waving actions were deemed hashtag-worthy and which were silenced. (Weibo hashtag “Crowds of Chinese/Overseas Chinese Form Welcome Crowd in San Francisco,” #华人华侨在旧金山组成欢迎人群#, 170 million views.)

◼︎ 5. CHINESE INTERNET CELEBRITY DROWNS | News about a Chinese national drowning in Bali became top trending on Weibo on November 9 when it was revealed that the 34-year-old man was the popular Chinese influencer Jhony Huang (仲尼), also known as XFJ or Huang Xiaofeng (黄小沣). The tragic incident reportedly occurred when Huang was swept away by waves and struck by a large wooden object while swimming with his wife at Batu Belig Beach during their vacation. His wife, the Ukrainian Karina Melynychuk, was also hospitalized but did not sustain serious injuries. According to local reports, Huang’s lifeless body was discovered floating approximately 100 meters from the Petitenget Beach shoreline. (Weibo hashtag “34-Year-Old Chinese Male Drowns in Bali” #一名34岁中国男性在巴厘岛遇难#, 910 million views; “Jhony Drowns After Hit by a Large Log” #仲尼系遭大木头撞击溺亡#, 140 million views).

◼︎ 6. BIRTH CERTIFICATE SCANDAL | A hospital director and seven staff members are currently being investigated for reportedly selling counterfeit birth certificates for trafficked babies. The controversy emerged when a Chinese anti-human trafficking campaigner posted a video on Douyin, accusing Jianqiao Hospital in Xiangyang (襄阳健桥医院) of fabricating birth certificates and charging approximately 96,000 yuan ($13,165) for them. On social media, netizens expressed shock that such practices are still occurring in 2023, and there was surprise that the case was brought to light by a volunteer rather than being uncovered by authorities (Weibo hashtag “Xiangyang Announcement on Jianqiao Hospital Selling Birth Certificates Problems” #襄阳通报健桥医院贩卖出生证问题#, 27,8 million views).

◼︎ 7. FIRE IN SHANXI | A fire that broke out on the morning of November 16 in a coal firm office building in Lüliang, Shanxi province, claimed the lives of at least 26 people and resulted in 38 injuries. The blaze ignited in the four-story building containing offices and dormitories. The incident adds to a series of safety concerns in China’s coal industry – the building in question is affiliated with the Yongju Coal Group (永聚煤矿), a mayor player in the region’s coal mining sector. By now, 13 people related to the company, including executives, are facing criminal measures for their responsibility in the incident. (Weibo hashtag “Shanxi Yongju Coal Company Fire Claims 26 Lives” #山西永聚煤业火灾已致26人遇难#, 65 million views).

◼︎ 8. WOMAN SPENDS FORTUNE ON HOTPOT | A 32-year-old woman from Nanjing, China, grabbed attention on Weibo this weekend by revealing that she had spent nearly 270,000 yuan (over $37,400) at China’s renowned hotpot chain, Haidilao, in the past nine years. The hotpot enthusiast, named Kong, joined Haidilao as a member in 2014, and in that time, she indulged in over 627 hotpot dinners. Occasionally, her cravings led her to visit the restaurant more than 12 times a week, even enjoying hotpot for breakfast. (Weibo hashtag “32-Year-Old Woman Spent 270k at Haidilao in 9 Years” #32岁女子9年花费近27万吃海底捞#, 150 million views).

 

What Lies Behind

Observations beyond the headlines, by Miranda

The Story of Li Jun and Liang Liang

In recent days, the challenges faced by an ordinary young Chinese couple who purchased an unfinished property have sparked extensive discussions on Chinese social media, shedding light on broader trends that lead some young people to seek an escape from the urban struggle and striving for a better everything (better housing, better jobs, better education) – they just want to “lie flat” (躺平) instead.

Last year, the couple, Li Jun (丽君) and Liang Liang (亮亮), first became popular on Chinese social media as they shared their journey of buying a property and building a life in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. They put a deposit on an off-planned apartment, eagerly anticipating its delivery in three years. Excited about their new home, they regularly updated their progress on Douyin, showcasing their savings efforts and monthly visits to the construction site.

However, after eight months, the developer faced financial issues, causing a halt in construction. In later videos, the couple appeared frustrated and disillusioned. Their daughter was born during this time, adding to the financial strain of rent and mortgage payments without a clear timeline for moving into their future home. Many others faced similar challenges. Authorities intervened, promising a delayed delivery. The initial contract included a 20,000 RMB ($2775) rebate for buyers, but the couple faced rejection and insults when demanding payment. In a recent altercation, the husband was beaten by developer personnel, and the wife’s phone was snatched as she tried to record the situation.

Their Douyin videos reflected the emotional rollercoaster of an ordinary Chinese couple facing setbacks despite following the traditional path of education, hard work, marriage, saving, property ownership, and starting a family. They are one of thousands of millions of ordinary Chinese people, who give their best effort despite all the struggles. Many were asking, would their life have been different if they had decided to ‘lie flat’ instead? And who is to blame for the fact that, despite all of their hard work and commitment, their ‘Chinese dream’ is taken away from them?

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

Lu Xun Turning in His Grave? | Lu Xun (魯迅, 1881-1936) stands out as one of China’s most notable and influential authors of the twentieth century. This esteemed Chinese writer, essayist, and literary critic unexpectedly found himself at the center of China’s social media discussions this week following an interview with his grandson, Zhou Lingfei (周令飞), during the Mao Dun Literature Award ceremony (茅盾文学奖) on November 17 in Wuzhen.

During the interview, Lu Xun’s grandson was asked about his online and reading habits. In a light-hearted response, Zhou humorously shared that he spends approximately 90% of his time watching short videos and 10% of his time reading books. A related hashtag (#鲁迅孙子自称90%刷视频10%看书#) went viral on Weibo, amassing over 190 million clicks.

The topic received so much interest due to various reasons. For one, as Lu Xun is widely regarded as the greatest Chinese writer of this century, people would expect his grandson to also be a man of literary knowledge and wisdom – they simply did not expect him to say he scrolls apps like Douyin and Kuaishou on a daily basis. Another reason is that it underscores a broader trend where people spend more and more hours on their phone mindlessly scrolling videos instead of engaging in study and learning. While some criticized Zhou for his comments, others also praised him for being authentic, straightforward and honest, just like his grandpa.

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture, by Ruixin

Halloween Outfits Reflecting Social Trends | Since our last newsletter was all about What’s on Weibo’s 10-Year Anniversary, we’d still like to take a moment to reflect on the celebration of Halloween in Shanghai this year as it caused a frenzy on the Internet.

Rather than traditional Halloween themes, young people on Shanghai’s Julu Road brought pop culture memes and social phenomena to life with their creative costumes. You could spot some dressed as the Lipstick King Li Jiaqi, who recently got caught up in controversy, or as “Dabai,” the anti-COVID workers in protective suits. This playful and unconventional celebration received praise from netizens across China.

The debate about whether or not people should be celebrating Western festivals often surfaces on Chinese social media during Halloween. However, the massive street party in Shanghai seemed to silence the critical voices this year. It appears that they reached a consensus; this Halloween celebration isn’t just about a Western festival, it’s an opportunity to let loose and express bottled-up emotions in a spooky and festive atmosphere. Whether dressed as writer Lu Xun making a statement or portraying a mobile surveillance camera, everyone found a haven for unrestrained self-expression. A comment under a photo recreating a scene from “Farewell My Concubine” captured the spirit: “Shanghai’s Halloween party has turned into China’s very own pride walk.”

With recent administrative rules turning Chinese New Year’s Eve into a regular workday, many young people express that they no longer care about a festival’s tradition and simply want to have some fun. One noteworthy viral video from Julu Road featured two guys dressing as legendary singers Feya Wong and Na Ying, performing a classic duet from the 1998 Spring Festival Gala. Netizens dubbed it the young generation’s Spring Festival Gala – a celebration of fun and creativity where happiness is the main focus.

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

Changzhou Chemical Factory School Scandal | This week’s archival pick revisits a significant incident from eight years ago that fueled public distrust. In 2016, a major controversy unfolded around a middle school in Changzhou, where almost 500 students fell seriously ill, some diagnosed with leukemia. The health issues emerged after the school relocated to a new area near a chemical factory in September 2015.

Upon investigation, it was revealed that air and water pollution from nearby chemical plants was the cause. The news triggered widespread anger and discussions on social media, with netizens questioning the contrasting facts that emerged. The incident brought to light not only broader concerns about environmental safety and public health in China but also underscored a deep-seated distrust between parents and schools, citizens and local authorities, and netizens and official media.

Read more
 

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know, by Ruixin

“Toxic Fangirling” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “辱骂式追星” (rǔmà shì zhuīxīng), which translates to “toxic fangirling” or “toxically rooting for someone.”

In China’s ever-evolving fan culture, the phenomenon of ‘rǔmà shì zhuīxīng‘ (辱骂式追星, lit: ‘abusive-style celebrity admiration’) or toxically fangirling has recently become a trend. This term refers to a rather extreme way for fans to engage with their their idols. When pleased, they express intense love and support for their idols, but they can turn into abusive trolls targeting their idols when dissatisfied. This shift from love to aggression can be triggered by small things, like an unflattering photo or an unsatisfactory performance. Initially viewed as a departure from blind loyalty, this fan behavior has now turned somewhat toxic.

Recently, this term has sparked discussions likening this kind of online behavior to toxic parent-child relationships in Chinese society. The hashtag “Asian parents toxically rooting [for their children]” (#东亚父母辱追#) gained traction on Weibo. A top viral quote joked, ‘My parents toxically root for me every day; as long as they’re paying, they feel they can insult me all they want.’ These discussions touched upon the issue of how many Chinese parents seem to follow a strict and demanding parenting approach, where children need to adhere to high standards and are only praised or acknowledged when high standards are met. If this is not the case, parents will scold or discipline their children in the name of ‘love.’

Netizens interpret this ‘toxic fangirling’ phenomenon half ironically, half seriously, suggesting its origin may be rooted in the collective childhood trauma of Chinese fangirls. Similar to how a dragon-slaying warrior can become an evil dragon, traumatized children may choose to whip their loved ones into what they desire.

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

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

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China Memes & Viral

Weibo Watch: Get Up, Stand Up

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

Manya Koetse

Published

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #32

This week’s newsletter:

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

 

Dear Reader,

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Standing By
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Hu Youping
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,
Manya Koetse
(@manyapan)

 

A closer look at featured stories

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

Read more
 

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

Read more
 

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

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

     
    JUNE 26

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

     
    JUNE 29

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

     
    JUNE 30

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

     
    JULY 1

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

     
    JULY 2

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

     
    JULY 6

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

     
    JULY 7

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

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

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

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

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

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

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

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

     

    The latest buzz in arts, marketing & pop culture

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

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

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

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

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

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Weibo Watch: Bad Manners

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

Manya Koetse

Published

on

PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #31

This week’s newsletter:

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

 

Dear Reader,

 

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

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

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

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

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

 
A Coffee Company “Filled with Emotion”
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Coffee Involution
 

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

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

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

As I’ve previously described in my article here, the term ‘involution’ and how it is used today comes from a work by American anthropologist Clifford Geertz titled Agricultural Involution – The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia (1963). In this work, Geertz explores the agricultural dynamics in Indonesia during the colonial period’s Cultivation System, where a radical economic dualism existed within the country: a foreign, Dutch economy and a native, Indonesian economy (p. 61-62).

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

Geertz describes how the Javanese faced a deepening demographic dilemma as they saw a rapidly growing population but a static economy, while the Dutch, who organized Javanese land and labor, were only growing in wealth (69-70). Agricultural involution is the “ultimately self-defeating process” that emerged in Indonesia when the ever-growing population was absorbed in high labor-intensive wet-rice cultivation without any changing patterns and without any progress (80-81).

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

The term ‘involution’ often comes up together with criticism of China’s ‘996’ work system (working from 9am-9pm, 6 days a week). Although Alibaba founder Jack Ma once called the 12-hour working day a “blessing,” the system is controversial, with many condemning how Chinese (tech) companies are exploiting their employees, who are caught in a conundrum; they might lose their sanity working such long hours, and might lose their job and future career prospects if they refuse to do so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best,
Manya Koetse
(@manyapan)

Miranda Barnes & Ruixin Zhang contributed to this newsletter

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

 

A closer look at featured stories

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

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

    JUNE 13-14

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

     
    JUNE 15-17

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

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

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

     
    JUNE 18

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

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

     
    JUNE 19-20

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

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

     
    JUNE 23-24

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

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

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

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

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

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

     

    The latest buzz in arts, marketing & pop culture

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

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

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

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

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

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

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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