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Weibo Watch: Shared Roots

The ‘shared roots’ stressed by Wang Yi during the China-Japan-ROK forum are not the kind of roots that matter; it’s the shared memories that connect people.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #9

This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Shared roots
◼︎ 2. What’s Trending – A closer look at the top stories
◼︎ 3. What to Know – Highlighting 8 hot topics
◼︎ 4. What Lies Behind – Collective shock over Coco Lee’s death
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – Taiwanese man decapitates mother
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Jackie Chan’s Weibo page
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – One year since Abe’s assassination
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Chunyuan of China’s Entertainment Industry”

 

Dear Reader,

 

“No matter how blonde you dye your hair, how sharp you shape your nose, you can never become a European or American, you can never become a Westerner. We must know where our roots lie.”

These words, spoken by Chinese top official Wang Yi during the first China-Japan-ROK forum since the outbreak of COVID-19, were intended to emphasize the power of trilateral relations and the shared Chinese, Japanese, and Korean roots. The remark attracted significant attention this week, both on Chinese social media and in English-language social media spheres, albeit for different reasons.

While many on Twitter criticized Wang’s remarks for emphasizing ethnoracial ideas of the nation, Chinese social media users actually supported his comments, stating that he had “hit the nail on the head.”

However, despite agreeing with him, they interpreted his remarks not as a call for unity among China, Japan, and South Korea to “revitalize Asia,” but rather as a critique. Some suggested that Wang’s words were a form of “high diplomacy,” where it appeared that he was praising the relations between the three countries while subtly criticizing the other two for becoming too Westernized and for deviating from their cultural roots.

The online response to Wang Yi’s remarks demonstrates that stressing these kinds of “shared roots” may not hold much significance in a time where “shared memories” are what truly matters. It is not perceived shared race that counts, but rather perceived shared history.

Two other prominent trends this week revealed that netizens were most united when collectively remembering a shared past. The first trend centered around popular culture, as millions mourned the loss of pop icon Coco Lee, who tragically passed away after an attempted suicide. Netizens shared their personal and collective memories of Coco Lee and what she meant to them, bonding through nostalgia and the vibrant pop culture era that brought them together.

The second trend centered around the memory of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, which occurred on July 7th, 1937, and led to the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Although today’s netizens did not personally experience this incident, patriotic education campaigns in China during the 1990s and 2000s have stressed the importance of these historical events to such an extent that many feel emotionally connected to this history. This echoes official calls to never forget this incident and how it has shaped the Chinese people. The intensity of the state media campaign surrounding the 86th anniversary of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident highlights the significance of social media platforms as “patriotic education bases.”

In the end, feelings of connection, unity, and belonging are not about the shape of one’s nose or the color of one’s hair. It is about the stories that we grow up with, passed down by our families and reinforced through education, museums, and media. Particularly in the social media age, where a sense of rootedness may not be immediately apparent, it is these kinds of ‘shared roots’ that become most visible through online discourse.

This week’s newsletter includes valuable insights from What’s on Weibo news editor Miranda Barnes and Zilan Qian, who is interning with us this summer.

On a more personal note..,

I’ll be out traveling through China in the coming few weeks. For me, it will be the first occasion to get back to traveling around the country since the outbreak of Covid-19. Since I want to spend as much time as possible exploring new places and seeing the changes around me, you might temporarily see a bit less content on the site. I will share more about my travels on social media (you can follow me on Twitter or on Instagram). We will get back to our usual work flow and newsletters in August.

Having said that, I would also like to take a moment to express my gratitude to you as a subscriber. It has been eight months since we introduced the ‘soft paywall’ and two months since the inception of the Weibo Watch newsletter. As many of you may know, I have been managing What’s on Weibo single-handedly for the past decade, and these changes were necessary to ensure the sustainability of my work. While we still need more subscribers to ensure the long-term viability of our platform, I am immensely grateful to all of you who have reached out with words of encouragement and support over the past few months. Whether it’s a quick heads-up about a typo, sharing ideas, engaging in discussions, spreading the word, or even generously supporting the site through donations, please know that all of your gestures are very much appreciated.

We are dedicated to staying in tune with everyday China, keeping our finger on the pulse of the latest trends, and uncovering the stories behind the hashtags. By doing so, we aim to build a bridge between Western and Chinese online media spheres, fostering a deeper understanding of China’s ever-evolving digital media landscape. I am excited to continue on this journey and further build this community in the times ahead – and I’m happy you’re part of it.

Keep cool in the summer heat!

Best,
Manya

 

A closer look at the top stories

1: July 7, 1937 | This week, Chinese social media platforms saw active commemoration of the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. On significant historical occasions like this, Chinese state media accounts proactively share patriotic and nationalistic content, emphasizing the importance of remembering the history of the Second Sino-Japanese War and China’s ‘century of humiliation.’ These efforts highlight the role of Chinese social media as a prominent platform for patriotic education, reinforcing national consciousness and collective memory among the population.

Read more
 

2: Stressing Shared Roots | During the inaugural China-Japan-ROK forum since the outbreak of COVID-19, Chinese top official Wang Yi emphasized the deep cultural ties between the countries by highlighting their race-based similarities. While there was criticism in English-language social media circles for Wang Yi’s remarks being seen as “playing the race card,” many Chinese social media users supported his comments, stating that he “hit the nail on the head.” Despite agreeing with him, they interpreted his remarks not as a call for unity among Japan, South Korea, and China but rather as a critique of these countries for deviating from their cultural origins.

Read more
 

3: Cai Xukun Responds | The 24-year-old Chinese celebrity Cai Xukun recently became entangled in a scandal when allegations surfaced that he had been involved in a one-night encounter with a young woman who later revealed she was pregnant. It was claimed that Cai had encouraged her to undergo an abortion, which she ultimately did. This week, Cai finally came out and responded, asserting that there was no coercion involved in the decision and that no illegal activities took place. Nevertheless, this revelation has left many of his fans feeling disheartened and disappointed with their idol.

Read more
 

4: Worries over Mpox | This week, reports of several monkeypox (mpox) cases in China have gained significant attention. While the number of reported cases remains limited, and mpox is very different from Covid, netizens have expressed concerns about the possibility of another outbreak and have taken precautions by readying their disinfectant supplies.

Read more

 

What to Know

Highlighting 8 hot topics

Showing batch to avoid a drunk driving check? This incident sparked anger on social media this week. Image via China Digital Times.

◼︎ 1. Coco Lee Death. The passing of Coco Lee (李玟, b. 1975), the Hong Kong pop diva and Chinese-American singer, has deeply saddened Chinese social media this week. Coco Lee was an iconic figure in the Asian pop music scene during the 1990s and 2000s. She made history as the first Chinese artist to perform at the Oscars and lent her voice to Disney’s Mulan, as well as singing the movie’s theme song. Her performances at the CCTV Spring Festival Gala were highly anticipated, and she also sang the theme song “Light Up the Dream” (点亮梦) for the Beijing Winter Olympics. Coco Lee battled with depression for many years and tragically took her own life at the age of 48 (Hashtag: “Coco Lee Passed Away” #李玟去世#, 4.37 billion views on Weibo).

◼︎ 2. Yellen in China. US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen visited Beijing this week for two days of meetings with Chinese Premier Li Qiang and other officials, resuming talks with China amid tensions not long after Blinken’s initial visit. While Yellen expressed concerns over China’s recently announced export control on two strategic raw materials, social media users seemed more interested in the Yunnan restaurant in Beijing where she had dinner on her first night. The restaurant, somewhat comically called ‘In and Out’ in English (Chinese name: Yi Zuo Yi Wang 一坐一忘), is a local favorite in Sanlitun. Among other things, Yellen was served spicy potatoes with mint and stir-fried mushrooms, leading to jokes about how the food would affect her and about American budgets being so low that they had to pick such an economical local restaurant. Yellen repeatedly bowing when meeting with China’s He Lifeng also triggered some discussions about American weakness. (Hashtags: “U.S. treasury Secretary First Meal in Beijing” #美财政部长抵京第一餐#; “Yellen Arrives in Beijing” #耶伦抵达北京#)

◼︎ 3. Avoiding DUI with Police Batch. A video went viral on Chinese social media this week showing a driver being let off the hook for a drunk driving check in Pingdingshan, Henan, after a passenger in the back seat presented his police officer’s identification card, demanding special treatment. The man was later identified as Xu, the former head of the Communication Department of the Jia County Public Security Bureau. Xu has reportedly since been dismissed from his position. The traffic police who led him off the hook received “disciplinary punishment.” The incident ignited public outcry, highlighting concerns about privilege and corruption. (Hashtag: “Strict Investigation Into the Privilege Corruption Behind Incident of Policeman Showing Batch to Avoid DUI Police Stop #严查民警亮证逃查酒驾事件中的特权腐败#)

◼︎ 4. Alibaba’s Ant Group Gets 7.1 Billion Yuan Fine. On Friday, Chinese authorities announced a fine of 7.12 billion yuan ($984 million) for Chinese fintech giant Ant Group and its subsidiaries, concluding a 2 year probe into the company. The fine is a result of past violations in areas such as corporate governance, financial consumer protection, and involvement in banking and insurance activities. The penalty marks one of the largest fines ever imposed on an internet company in China. (Hashtag: “Ant Group and Subsidiaries Fined 7.123 Billion Yuan” #蚂蚁集团及旗下机构被罚款71.23亿元#)

◼︎ 5. Cheating Official’s ‘Holding Hand Gate’. You might remember the Chinese official and PetroChina subsidiary executive Hu Jiyong (胡继勇) who was caught walking hand in hand with his mistress and co-worker Ms. Dong during a recent business trip in Chengdu (read here in our previous newsletter). This week, the results of the investigation into the incident were announced by the company’s disciplinary committee. It was found that Hu Jiyong violated Rules of Personal Conduct as well as the Code of Conduct on Integrity by having an extramarital affair with a co-worker and using official travel arrangements for personal purposes. Hu Jiyong has been expelled from the Party, dismissed from public office, and Ms. Dong’s employment contract has also been terminated. (Hashtag “Official Announcement on Results of ‘Holding Hands Gate'” #官方公布牵手门处理结果)

◼︎ 6. Zhihu No Longer Allows Anonymous Function. China’s largest Q&A discussion site, Zhihu, made an announcement this week regarding the removal of the anonymous function from its latest app version. The decision aims to promote “constructive discussions” by disallowing users from posting anonymously, whether it be asking or answering questions. However, for existing content, users still have the option to use their nicknames instead of their real names. Real name authentication (实名制) was already implemented by Zhihu as part of Chinese internet governance back in 2017, but users were still able to post under pseudonyms. While some people support this change, appreciating the transparency it brings and its potential to prevent online bullying, others feel that anonymity is an integral part of the platform’s essence. (Hashtag “Zhihu Announces It Will Take Anonymous Function Offline” #知乎宣布将下线匿名功能#).

◼︎ 7. HK Police Offer Rewards for Arrests of Exiled Dissidents. This week, Hong Kong authorities made an announcement stating that they have offered cash rewards for eight overseas pro-independence activists who have been accused of violating the national security law in the Chinese territory. A bounty of HK$1 million ($127,650) has been offered for information that could lead to the arrests of these individuals. Among the targeted activists are three former lawmakers living in exile and five individuals who have been accused of promoting separatism. (Hashtag: “Hong Kong Police Issue Reward of HKD 1 million Arrest of Ted Hui Chi-Fung and Seven Others” #香港警方悬红100万港元通缉许智峰等8人#).

◼︎ 8. Red Alert Heat Wave. On July 6, Beijing issued a red alert for extremely high temperatures as temperatures in most areas of the city were expected to rise above 40 degrees (104 degrees Fahrenheit). It was the second “red level” warning for heat issued this summer. The city government advised outdoor work to be suspended when temperatures run high, and ordered authorities to take emergency measures to prevent heatstroke. Northern China has seen exceptionally high temperatures this summer. Hebei also issued a red warning for most areas in the province, as some parts saw temperatures between 41 and 43 degrees (105.8 and 109.4 degrees Fahrenheit). (Hashtag: Highest Temperature In Some Hebei Area to Reach 43℃. #河北局地最高气温可达43℃#)

 

What’s Behind the Headlines

Note from the news editor, by Miranda

Image of Coco Lee by Neonqeelin / Wikicommons.

The Collective Shock over Coco Lee’s Death

The sudden tragedy of pop star Coco Lee’s death in the past week has left fans shocked and deeply saddened. The Hong Kong-born singer’s passing occurred after she was discovered in an attempt to take her own life. Many fans found it difficult to believe, as Coco Lee had always exuded energetic inspiration. This news particularly resonated with Chinese millennials, who felt a strong emotional impact. A blogger named LaoChai (老柴) attempted to capture this sentiment and express what Coco represented to them:

The younger generation may struggle to comprehend how special it was for us millennials to experience the turn of the millennium. Regardless of the circumstances within our own small families, everything seemed to be heading towards a bright, open, and prosperous future. People were filled with hope, and it felt as though the joyous ride would never cease. Information was limited, and we relied on DVDs for films and cassette tapes for music. It was a golden era for Chinese music, featuring the best singers from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan. We were soft, young, and impressionable, eager to explore the world. The melodies and film clips from that era effortlessly evoke our collective memories.”.

Many individuals resonated with this interpretation, especially considering the challenges faced during the COVID-19 era and China’s current economic environment.

Coco’s tragic death also sparked a broad discussion about mental health, as she had previously revealed her own battle with depression. State media and experts joined forces to raise awareness about mental health — an issue that the country had long overlooked and stigmatized.

However, some people suddenly found their Weibo pages flooded with promoted ads appearing as “quizzes to determine if you have depression.” One person remarked, “While it is good to raise awareness, it is important to seek proper help and diagnosis instead of relying on random online quizzes. It seems like everyone is suddenly depressed when sometimes you just have a bad day like the rest of us!”

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

Image on right side via Up Media.

84-Year-Old Mother Decapitated in Taiwan | A 59-year-old man by the name of Lian from Taiwan was arrested on suspicion of murder in New Taipei’s Xindian District on Tuesday. Local police discovered a horrific scene inside the man’s elderly mother’s apartment. They were alerted by a friend of the victim who discovered Lian covered in blood next to his mother’s lifeless body.

According to media reports, the man is believed to have attacked his mother from behind with a knife while she was eating. After realizing that she was still alive, he grabbed another knife and continued his assault until his mother’s neck was completely severed. The two kitchen knives were found at the scene along with the severed body and head.

The police are currently investigating the case and looking into the motives behind the crime. It is reported that the mother and son had a “good relationship” and often spent time together. The incident has gained significant attention on social media, with a related hashtag (#台湾一男子持刀砍下84岁母亲头颅#) receiving over 160 million clicks.

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

Jackie Chan’s ‘Memoriam’ Weibo Page | “Somebody once said that aging doesn’t happen all at once; it consists of many small farewells.” While the recent passing of Coco Lee has been a prominent topic on Chinese social media, the loss of such an influential figure has evoked sadness and nostalgia among many.

Amidst these discussions, a Weibo blogger (@马达的加斯加) pointed out an observation about the Weibo activity of Jackie Chan, the renowned Hong Kong actor and martial artist (b. 1954). The blogger noted that Jackie Chan’s recent posts on Weibo have primarily been farewells to friends who have passed away over the past year. He paid tribute to Coco Lee, honored Chinese artist Huang Yongyu, Hong Kong film director Alex Law, actor Kenneth Tsang, and bid farewell to Taiwanese martial artist Jimmy Wang Yu.

“One by one, old friends fade away like leaves in the wind. On Jackie Chan’s Weibo page, I witnessed an autumn scene,” wrote the blogger. The post quickly gained traction, resonating with many users who shared similar sentiments and expressed their mourning for Coco Lee and other iconic figures lost in recent years.

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

Abe’s portrait via Wikicommons.

Chinese Responses to Abe’s Death | It has been a whole year since the assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Nara on July 8, 2022. In this week’s pick from the archive, we reflect on an incident that unfolded in the aftermath of this event. A Chinese reporter based in Japan appeared on air to discuss the attack on Abe but faced severe backlash when she visibly struggled to hold back tears. Her emotional display led to accusations of being unpatriotic, and she even received threats for “crying over a Japanese right-winger who has no respect for the history of the invasion of China.”

Disturbingly, the situation took a further distressing turn when the reporter later attempted to take her own life. Presently, she continues to work in Japan, but even after the passage of one year, she continues to be subjected to cyber-bullying and harassment, due to that tearful moment captured during the live broadcast.

Read more
 

 

Weibo Word of the Week, by Zilan

The catchword to know

Background image source via Sohu.com.

Staying Pure in Times of Scandal | Our Weibo Word of the Week is 内娱纯元 (nèiyú chúnyuán), “Chunyuan of the Mainland entertainment industry.”

“Chunyuan of the Mainland entertainment industry” refers to idols in Mainland China who are regarded as flawless and worthy of admiration. The term “内娱” (nèiyú) is a shortened form of “内地娱乐圈” (nèidì yúlèquān), which means the Mainland entertainment industry. It encompasses the diverse group of celebrities actively involved in China’s showbiz (sometimes also including Hong Kong or Taiwan artists who are popular in the Mainland). Meanwhile, “纯元” (chúnyuán), meaning ‘pure essence,’ symbolizes individuals seen as unblemished by reality.

In the popular TV drama “Empresses in the Palace” (甄嬛传), Chunyuan refers to the deceased first wife of the emperor, who is frequently mentioned as a paragon of perfection, surpassing all other women in the palace, although she never appears on screen.

In light of the numerous scandals involving idols in mainland China in recent years, including prominent stars like Fan Bingbing (范冰冰), Kris Wu (吴亦凡), and more recently, Cai Xukun (蔡徐坤), discussions have emerged around identifying figures who remain untainted by controversy and are deserving of being cherished as flawless role models.

Some netizens have suggested former EXO members Lu Han (鹿晗) and Zhang Yixing (张艺兴), who were part of the same group as Kris Wu but have managed to maintain a clean reputation. Others nostalgically mention influential celebrities who have passed away and are fondly remembered, like Leslie Cheung (张国荣) or Anita Mui (梅艳芳).

 

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

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

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Featured

Weibo Watch: Burning BMWs

About Qingming, nitpicking, Oppenheimer in Japan, other trends, and how we’re all burning BMWs in our own different ways.

Manya Koetse

Published

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #26

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Burning BMWs
◼︎ 2. What’s Been Trending – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What More to Know – Five bit-sized trends
◼︎ 4. What’s the Drama – Top TV to watch
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – For Yiwu, the Olympic Games have begun
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – A Chinese song goes viral on TikTok
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Which language does Ma Ying-jeou speak?
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – Nitpicking

 

Dear Reader,

 

Expensive watches, cigarettes, jewelry, and liquor – there’s a wide array of offerings for ancestors beyond ‘ghost money’ and food. This week marks China’s Qingming Festival (清明节), also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day, a special time to honor family ancestors by visiting graves, making offerings, and burning spirit money and other paper tributes.

In this age of e-commerce, the ancient ritual of paper offerings has undergone some changes, becoming more diverse and extravagant. Thanks to platforms like Taobao, people now have instant access to a variety of ritual paper gifts. By burning them, it’s believed these offerings are sent to the afterlife, hopefully pleasing the ancestors.

As symbols of power and status evolve, gold and silver paper alone are no longer enough in the 21st century. Nowadays, one can purchase paper replicas of golden credit cards, iPhones, smartwatches, massage chairs, designer bags, rice cookers, furniture, air conditioners, refrigerators, bodyguard ‘puppets,’ and even BMW cars.

Examples of the various paper offerings available on Taobao: red BMW car, tablets & smartphones, air conditioner, luxury watches, creditcard, massage chair.

Some take it a step further and create entire paper replicas of two-story villas or palaces to honor their ancestors (see video). As many cities already grapple with air quality issues and smog, these customs have sparked discussions for years, with some places prohibiting burning incense and paper during Qingming.

People set up entire paper replicas of two-story villas to honor their ancestors (image circulating on Weibo).

This year, there’s been increased debate surrounding the burning of paper offerings during Qingming. Authorities in Jiangsu’s Nantong, one of China’s fastest-aging cities, recently announced a city-wide ban on the production and sales of paper effigies due to concerns over air pollution and fire safety risks.

The ban has sparked discussions across Chinese social media, particularly because Nantong authorities referred to the custom of burning paper as “feudal superstition” (“封建迷信”).

In China, the practice of making paper replicas of worldly items and ‘sending’ them to deceased family members through fire and smoke is at least a thousand years old. It’s a spiritual aspect of daily life that has become more than tradition alone – it’s deeply ingrained in many families’ lives.1

Image by The Paper, 2015: link.

The numerous comments on Weibo this week underscore how significant this topic is for many people. Some threads received over 179,000 likes and over 11,000 replies.

Although opinions vary, it’s evident that most people feel Nantong’s ban was too stringent and that they should be more cautious about banning centuries-old traditions. Some sarcastic comments suggest if they care so much about safety, they should focus more on food regulations instead.

Others note that the city has many Christian churches where people can honor their religion as they please, and that Chinese traditional folk beliefs should not be diminished or looked down upon compared to these Western-based religions.

The popular Weibo account “Xu Ji Observation” (@徐记观察), known for promoting positive online content and the “mass line,” suggested that while the practice of burning entire paper houses reaching two stories high should be abandoned, there should still be room for people to burn smaller paper offerings. There shouldn’t be a “one-size-fits-all approach,” they wrote.

Every year, hundreds of tons of paper are burned in Chinese cities. Besides the billions of yuan spent on paper itself, there are also considerable costs in terms of time and labor to clean up the ash piles.

Ultimately, the question revolves around what is considered ‘extravagant,’ ‘silly,’ or ‘superstitious,’ and where the line is drawn between tradition and absurdity. Some draw the line at anything taller than one story. Others believe anything beyond paper money alone is unnecessarily harmful to the environment, and everyone burning paper items should consider the negative impact.

What’s striking about these discussions is that while they focus on things literally going up in smoke, they also reflect on the world around us. After all, when people are driving around in huge SUVs, consuming plastics, wasting water, constantly buying new gadgets and laptops, and indulging in fast fashion, it seems odd to fuss over sacrificing a paper car for a beloved grandparent. In the end, we’re all burning BMWs in our own different ways. These discussions about where we draw the line, whether in our current world or in our rituals for the afterlife, will only become more prominent over time.

Despite all the discussions and controversy surrounding this Qingming festival, Nantong’s ban has been upheld. Officials argue that instead of elaborate paper items like puppets, purses, and palaces, ancestors would be just as pleased with flowers on their graves. Though less flashy, it’s much better for the environment.

Best,
Manya (@manyapan)


  1. Blake, C. Fred. Burning Money : The Material Spirit of the Chinese Lifeworld. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2011.

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: China’s New City Marketing | Since the early post-pandemic days, Chinese cities have stepped up their game to attract more tourists. The dynamics of Chinese social media make it possible for smaller, lesser-known destinations to gain overnight fame as a ‘celebrity city.’ Now, it’s Tianshui’s turn to shine with its special take on malatang. City marketing in China will never be the same again. Read all about it here👇🏼

Read more
 

2: Micro Drama, Major Profit | Closely intertwined with the Chinese social media landscape and the fast-paced online entertainment scene, micro dramas have emerged as an immensely popular way to enjoy dramas in bite-sized portions. With their short-format style, these dramas have become big business, leading Chinese production studios to compete and rush to create the next ‘mini’ hit.

Read more
 

3: Bolt from the Blue | Two years after the tragic crash of MU5735, a new report on the ongoing investigation into the cause of the plane crash has been released. According to China’s Civil Aviation Administration, the report has found “no abnormalities” in the circumstances surrounding the MU5735 incident. Even after two years since the plane nosedived mid-air, people are still awaiting clear answers on what caused the devastating crash in Guangxi, which claimed the lives of all 132 people on board.

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Five Bite-Sized Trends

◼︎ ⛑️ Taiwan Earthquake | After the 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Taiwan on April 3, expressions of solidarity and support for “our Taiwan compatriots” flooded Chinese social media. However, amidst these sentiments, there were also instances of people mocking the disaster, which claimed the lives of at least 9 people and left over 1000 injured. Weibo management cautioned users against posting content that “lacked empathy” in the wake of the devastating earthquake. Following the quake, Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council promptly offered disaster assistance, but Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council declined, stating that assistance was unnecessary. However, the decision by the Taipei government to accept Japan’s aid, specifically for using hi-tech equipment to detect signs of life, was criticized by netizens. Some nationalistic bloggers even commented that this would be an opportune time to “reunify with the motherland.”

◼︎ 😢 Ma Ying-Jeou’s ‘Voyage of Trust’ | At the invitation of Beijing, former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou is currently visiting the Chinese mainland. His 11-day trip to China began last Monday. It is anticipated that he will also hold a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping next week. Accompanying Ma on this visit is a group of Taiwanese students, and the focus is on cultural exchange, labeled as ‘a voyage of trust.’ Last year, Ma made history as the first former Taiwanese leader to visit China. Given the escalating tensions over Taiwan’s status, his current visit holds particular significance. Serving as president from 2008 to 2016, Ma emphasizes peace and connectivity, according to his own statements. On Chinese social media, there’s much discussion about Ma’s tendency to become emotional quickly. He shed tears last year while visiting his family’s grave in Hunan, and this year, he displayed his emotional side on multiple occasions once again. Some people believe it’s inappropriate for a (former) leader to be so emotionally expressive. As one Weibo blogger questioned, “Ma Ying-jeou cries from dawn till night, from night till dawn. Can crying bring about the reunification with Taiwan?”

◼︎ 🥀 Chongqing Mother Kills Toddler Son | A video circulating on Chinese social media this week has shocked viewers, depicting a 37-year-old mother throwing her 3-year-old son out of a window from a 22nd-floor apartment in Chongqing’s Banan District. The tragic incident occurred on the morning of April 1st. Police reports indicate that prior to this, the woman also attacked her mother-in-law with a knife. While investigations are ongoing, there is speculation online regarding the mother’s mental state. Commentator Hu Xijin emphasized in a recent column the urgent need for increased awareness and support for mental health issues, stressing that it could be a matter of life or death. This case also evokes memories of the “Chongqing Siblings’ Falling Case” (重庆姐弟坠亡案) in 2020, where two siblings (a girl, 2, and a boy, 1) from Chongqing were killed after being thrown from a high-rise apartment window on the 15th floor. Their father and his girlfriend, who allegedly couldn’t accept the children from his previous marriage, were both sentenced to death for their crime and executed on January 31st of this year by lethal injection.

◼︎ 🎬 Oppenheimer in Japan | Japanese filmgoers’ mixed and emotional reactions to the American Oscar-winning movie “Oppenheimer” sparked discussions on Chinese social media this week. The movie finally hit Japanese cinemas on March 29, eight months after its initial premiere, which drew controversy in Japan due to the humorous marketing of the film alongside the release of Barbie (which led to the creation of the ‘Barbenheimer’ meme). The movie centers around the American ‘father of the atom bomb,’ Oppenheimer, and the events leading to the devastating bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It has faced criticism in Japan for being America-centric and failing to fully depict the horror of nuclear weapons. Chinese netizens showed little understanding for the mixed feelings about the movie in Japan. With the history of the Sino-Japanese War still very much alive in China today, some people wonder why many Japanese people do not have “mixed feelings” about paying respect to the war dead at the Tokyo Yasukuni Shrine. “They’re playing the victim again,” various commenters wrote. (For Dutch-speaking readers, I discussed this topic on Dutch Radio 1; listen to the interview here.)

◼︎ 🇺🇸 Yellen Again | U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is visiting China for the second time since summer this week, from April 4th to 9th. Yellen’s itinerary includes meetings with top Chinese officials in both Guangzhou and Beijing, aiming to address ongoing bilateral tensions and manage trade relations between the two countries. Apart from engagements with officials, Yellen will also meet with students and business leaders during her visit. This trip follows a recent phone call between President Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. While many social media discussions focus on the key topics of Yellen’s visit, there is also curiosity among netizens about whether or not she will eat ‘magic mushrooms’ again during this trip. At the time of Yellen’s last visit in 2023, she went viral for dining at a Yunnan restaurant in Beijing, where she was served mushrooms that had hallucinogenic properties (read here).

 

What’s the Drama

Top TV to Watch

Given the current surge in popularity of Chinese short dramas, let’s introduce you to one of the hottest mini series of the moment: “Fortune Writer” (执笔, zhíbǐ) [“Writing”]. It’s a fantasy costume drama centered around Su Yunqi (苏云绮), who discovers she’s the villainous female lead in a novel—no happy endings for her. Unwilling to accept her fate, Su embarks on a mission to rewrite her life. Released on March 20, this short drama has a total of 24 episodes lasting about 15 minutes each—slightly longer than other popular ‘micro-dramas,’ some of which are only 2-3 minutes per episode nowadays.

Noteworthy:

▶️ This drama’s script is adapted from a series of stories shared on Zhihu’s short story platform, Yanyan Gushi (知乎盐言故事), by the author Lin Yannian (林言年), who also directed the drama.
▶️ In addition to the micro-drama and short story, there is also a podcast available, so fans of this series can enjoy reading, watching, and listening.
▶️ The widespread acclaim for “Fortune Writer” is seen as a sign that the Yanyan Gushi short story app might just be the next goldmine for the Chinese drama and film industry, as short story dramatization is becoming increasingly popular. To date, nearly a hundred stories or series published on Yanyan Gushi have been authorized for film and television adaptations.

You can watch Fortune Writer online here (no English subtitles), or on WeTV here with English subtitles.

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

The countdown to the Summer Olympic Games in Paris has begun. Even though we still have some 112 days to go before July 26, there is one city in China that is already fully immersed in the Olympic atmosphere. That city is Yiwu in Zhejiang province, where local companies have already exported $76 million worth of Olympic-related products to France within an eight-week timeframe. From shirts, scarves, and caps for sports fans to trophies and medals for athletes, Yiwu is manufacturing a diverse array of clothing, fan accessories, and other Olympic merchandise. Local businesses are currently operating at full capacity, with many working overtime to fulfill orders.

Yiwu, Zhejiang, is renowned as China’s largest “small commodities city” and, with its expansive International Trade City, serves as the global hub for Christmas merchandise. Following a report by CCTV on Yiwu’s soaring Olympic-related export sales, netizens have expressed pride in Yiwu’s entrepreneurial spirit: “I really admire the people of Yiwu for how fast they are in seizing business opportunities. Time and time again, they make accurate predictions and receive massive orders. Regardless of where the Olympics are held, it’s always Yiwu laughing all the way to the bank!” Others remarked, “We’re an export country, after all.”

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

If you’re an avid TikTok user, you’ve likely come across numerous videos of users lip-syncing to a Chinese song. The song, titled “This Life’s Fate” (今生缘), has evolved into a social media challenge where TikTokers strive to deliver a flawless performance without necessarily understanding its meaning (watch video here). If you’re curious to learn more about the song behind this trend and what it actually means, continue reading here 👇.

Read more
 

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

This pick from our archive takes us back to last year’s trip to the mainland by former Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou. One aspect of his trip received relatively little attention in the media, even though it generated some buzz among Chinese netizens: Ma’s way of speaking Chinese. What language did he use during his 10-minute speech at Hunan University and while he was paying repects at the graves of his ancestors? Jin Luo explains.👇

Read more

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Flashlight Evaluation” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “Flashlight Damage Assessment” or “Portable Lamp Property” (tídēng dìngsǔn 提灯定损), shortened to “Flashlight Evaluation”, a term recently coined by Chinese netizens in response to a story where a landlord conducted a post-lease property inspection by carrying around a large lamp, meticulously shining it into every corner and inspecting every inch of the apartment.

In this context, “Flashlight Evaluation” actually means ‘nitpicking’.

The incident that gave rise to this term went viral on March 28, 2024, after a woman from Shangrao’s Yushan County posted a 10-minute video depicting her landlord inspecting the apartment for damage using a large portable lamp as she prepared to move out. After scrutinizing the property, which the landlord himself constructed, he reportedly compiled a list of all the (minor) damages he found and demanded over 10,000 yuan ($1380) in compensation from the tenant – a substantial sum, particularly considering the monthly rent was only 1200 yuan ($165) and the tenant resided there for just 22 days.

Following the incident’s online explosion, local authorities in Yushan County established an investigation team to probe the matter. According to the latest reports, the landlord has now refunded the tenant’s money. On top of that, he has been detained for throwing bricks at people. I bet he’s fun at parties.

 
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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

Published

on

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.

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