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Weibo Watch: A Decade of What’s on Weibo

The impactful, the humorous, the surprising, the iconic – these are stories to remember as we reflect on a decade of What’s on Weibo.

Manya Koetse



This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note
◼︎ 2. What Made an Impact
◼︎ 3. What Went Viral
◼︎ 4. What’s Iconic
◼︎ 5. What’s Controversial
◼︎ 6. What’s Shocking
◼︎ 7. What’s Funny
◼︎ 8. What Words to Know


Dear Reader,


On the night of October 16, 2010, the 22-year-old Li Qiming (李启铭) was drunk driving when he ran down two female college students roller-skating around the campus of Hebei University, killing one of them and severely injuring the other.

When he was arrested after fleeing the scene of the accident, Li Qiming showed neither concern nor remorse, and yelled: “Sue me if you dare! My Dad is Li Gang!” Li Gang was the deputy director of the local public security bureau.

“My Dad is Li Gang” (“我爸是李刚”) instantly became a popular Internet meme in China. The Hebei University incident garnered widespread attention as it touched upon several societal concerns, one of which was the mounting frustration regarding “guān èr dài” (官二代) – children of (former) government officials granted special privileges.

The phrase quickly spread far and wide, and people’s outrage started transforming into humor. The Chinese online community even organized a contest encouraging netizens to incorporate the phrase ‘my dad is Li Gang’ into classical Chinese poems, which drew thousands of entries.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Transport in Liuzhou, a city in Guangxi, used the phrase humorously on road signs that read, “Dear friends, please drive slowly. Your father is not Li Gang.” In contrast, a Chinese company produced car stickers stating: “Don’t touch me, my dad is Li Gang” (“别碰我,我爸是李刚”).

The slogan ‘My dad is Li Gang’ popped up everywhere, both online and offline.

That year, I often felt out of the loop when my Chinese friends in Beijing would use the ‘my dad is Li Gang’ sentence – referencing both the avoidance of responsibility and abuse of power – or other online memes in their jokes and discussions, often leading to the whole table bursting out laughing. I wanted to understand this aspect of China I knew so little about.

I realized that viral stories like the Li Qiming campus crash – and how they become embedded in collective memory in the digital age – were about much more than that tragic accident alone. It was not just about guān èr dài; it also reflected the disparities in wealth, other unequal social dynamics, on-campus traffic safety concerns, the issue of drunk driving, the way the story was suppressed and shaped by official channels, and the legal system (Li received a six-year prison sentence, which many people thought was too light).

As the role played by domestic social media continued to grow in China, particularly in the early years following the launch of Sina Weibo in 2009, I began to recognize the increasing significance of digital culture and online trends as a valuable lens through which to observe China’s rapid development and changing society.

So, in 2012, I registered the domain and started writing the first articles for What’s on Weibo in 2013. My goal was to establish a platform to report on important social trends in China. I wanted to cover not only what’s happening on Weibo but also in the broader Chinese online media world. This would help me gain a better grasp of the popular topics and the narratives that revolve around them. At the same time, I aimed to share these insights with a wider audience and create a connection between the Chinese-language and English-language online media scenes.

Ten years later, What’s on Weibo has grown into a website that has been visited by millions, garnered frequent mentions in international media, and been cited as a source in dozens of academic publications.

Chinese social media environment has seen several shifts through the past decade. The role played by Chinese social platforms, from Weibo to Wechat, from Douyin to Xiaohongshu, has become increasingly multifaceted. Enough reason to keep going and report on all the China trends that matter for the years to come.

In this special 10th anniversary newsletter, I’ve curated a selection of our most widely-read articles across various categories. I want to extend a special thank you to Miranda Barnes, who has served as a trend and news spotter for What’s on Weibo for the past six years. Throughout this time, we’ve engaged in countless discussions about trending topics, why they matter, and the diverse perspectives surrounding them. I’d also like to express my gratitude to Yiying Fan, Diandian Guo, Gabi Verberg, Cat Hanson, Boyu Xiao, Jialing Xie, Yue Xin, Chauncey Jung, Wendy Huang, and Zilan Qian, whose contributions have been so valuable to the site. Additionally, there are many others who have contributed occasionally, shared ideas, feedback, and suggestions – you know who you are – please understand that all of your input is highly appreciated.

Thanks to the support of a dedicated group of loyal readers and subscribers – you – it is possible for us to keep the site going. If you are currently not a paying subscriber, please do subscribe here to get access to all of our content and keep on receiving our Weibo Watch newsletter. I really do need your support to keep this site going for the coming years. After all, my dad is not Li Gang.

We will soon continue on our regular publishing schedule, please also follow me on X or Instagram (personal, What’s on Weibo) for the latest.



Some of our Biggest Stories

1 ◼︎ Dr. Li Wenliang |During China’s COVID years, there were a few pivotal moments when social media served as a platform for venting anger, frustration, and even despair, such as the moment the ‘Voices of April’ video flooded the internet (read). The first major social media storm revolved around Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the doctors who initially attempted to raise the alarm about the coronavirus outbreak in late December 2019. The convoluted information surrounding his tragic death in February 2020 exemplified the underlying problems in the handling of the Wuhan pneumonia outbreak in China. We first covered the story when it happened here, and then made a podcast about Dr. Li’s legacy a year later here (by the way, would you like us to do more podcasts? Let us know!)

Read more

2 ◼︎ “We Are All Fan Yusu” | Beijing migrant worker Fan Yusu became an overnight sensation when her autobiographical essay “I Am Fan Yusu” went viral on Chinese social media in late April 2017. The topics she so openly discussed in her essay, from domestic violence to social inequality, resonated with millions. After she became famous overnight, the author went into hiding and her essay was taken offline. What’s behind the sudden rise and silent disappearance of China’s biggest literary sensation of 2017? What’s on Weibo was among the first to cover her story in English and translate her full essay.

Read more

3 ◼︎ The Chained Mother | A TikTok video showing a mother of eight young children living in a small hut with an iron chain around her neck sent shockwaves across Chinese social media in January of 2022. Despite local authorities claiming that the woman was suffering from mental illness and was receiving care, online sleuths began unraveling the mystery surrounding her. This story had a significant impact in China, both online and offline, raising public awareness about the issue of human trafficking in China’s countryside and ultimately resulting in six convictions. What’s on Weibo was among the first English-language websites to report on the case, and we published multiple articles on the topic as the case unfolded in real-time. Click here for an overview of all related articles.

Read more

4 ◼︎ Justice for Lamu | The popular Tibetan Douyin vlogger Lamu died after her husband attacked her and set her on fire inside her own home. After her tragic death, Chinese netizens collectively raised their voices against domestic violence and called on authorities to do more to protect and legally empower victims of domestic abuse. Besides our article on this topic, we also did a podcast about Lamu and the aftermath.

Read more

5 ◼︎ Battle Glorified | Over the years, there have been several noteworthy Chinese films that became social media phenomena, including Wolf Warrior II and The Wandering Earth. The most significant Chinese movie of 2021 was The Battle at Lake Changjin (长津湖). This war epic not only dominated all top trending lists on Chinese social media but also became an unprecedented box office hit during a period of heightened anti-American sentiments and official narratives emphasizing China’s victory in the Korean War.

Read more


What Went Viral

Those who went viral overnight

Ding Zhen and the Vagrant Professor

Every now and then, ordinary yet remarkable people achieve overnight fame because vloggers capture their story, smile, or charm, resulting in viral videos. Ding Zhen and the Vagrant Professor serve as prime examples of the profound impact of sudden fame, where life is forever altered. Ding Zhen, a 20-year-old farmer from Litang in the Kham region of Tibet, unwittingly rose to online stardom after being featured in a blogger’s photography session (read more or listen to our podcast). The Vagrant Professor, a homeless man who eloquently discussed literature and philosophy on the streets of Shanghai, also experienced a dramatic change in his life after going viral on Chinese social media (learn more).

Fu Yuanhui and the Question-Asking Bitch

One moment can make someone famous and unleash a flood of memes. Chinese Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui became a sensation on Chinese social media after she finished third in the women’s 100m backstroke in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. More than for her swimming skills, the 20-year-old athlete was praised for her funny expressions and down-to-earth attitude (read).In 2018, a Chinese female journalist attracted the attention of netizens when she disapprovingly glanced at the woman next to her posing a question during the Two Session, and then rolled her eyes (link). Both Fu and the so-called ‘question-asking bitch’ became a source of online banter and dozens of memes.

Uncle Carpenter and the Yunnan Ice Boy

China has so many faces, and people across the country are not always aware of other people’s everyday realities. Think about the mountainous villages where society is not yet very much digitalized, where parents often leave for work in the city, leaving the elderly and the young behind. In such places, a single photo or video can turn someone into a sensation and represent a much broader reality. Think of Uncle Carpenter’s story or the Yunnan ice boy’s picture as illustrations of this trend.

Tran Tyrant and Tyrant Train Woman

Sometimes people go insta-viral due to their nasty or rude behavior. This was the case for the Shandong man who refused to give up the seat he took from another passenger. He became known as the “High-Speed Train Tyrant” (高铁霸座男 gāotiě bà zuò nán) on Chinese social media (read). Later, a female passenger’s rude behavior also went trending on Chinese social media. Some netizens figured these two ‘high-speed train tyrants’ (高铁霸座) deserve each other, creating memes putting them together (link).


What Is Iconic

The iconic ones

You might know the chili sauce Lao Gan Ma, a household name in China. But maybe you’re less familiar with the story behind the sauce and its founder, which has inspired millions of people and has made ‘Old Godmother’ Tao Huabi a notable figure in Chinese contemporary culture today. For many, the successful businesswoman and ‘chili sauce queen’ is an embodiment of the ‘Chinese dream.’

Read more

From innocent children’s cartoon via subculture icon to banned topic; Peppa Pig has had a rollercoaster ride in China. In 2018, Peppa Pig became a subversive symbol to a Chinese online youth subculture dubbed ‘shehuiren‘ (社会人), literally ‘society people’, which is a group of young adults that is anti-establishment and somewhat ‘punk’ in their own way; going against mainstream values and, as state media outlet Global Times put it, are “the antithesis of the young generation the Party tries to cultivate.”

Read more

Perhaps you’ve seen the famous fighting scenes of Tarantino’s Kill Bill, know who Bruce Lee is, and have watched a kung fu movie at least once in your life – but do you know the Shaw Brothers enterprise? It’s the production company that gave martial art its worldly success on the big screen. Shaw Brothers made everybody go ‘kung fu fighting’, creating a unique Chinese cinema. Run Shaw, the last of the Shaw Brothers, passed away on Jan 7th 2014 at the age of 107, after which we published this short history of the Shaw Brothers & Chinese cinema.

Read more


Stories that triggered controversy

◼︎ “Seriously China?!” | In 2016, a Chinese ad campaign for washing detergent brand Qiaobi (俏比) that aired on TV and in cinemas started making its rounds on the internet, drawing much controversy for being “completely racist”. Read more.

◼︎ “Too Loud, Too Rude” | “They’re loud and rude, and spit on the floor.” An article in Swiss newspaper Heute reported about locals being digruntled with Chinese tourists, leading to Rigi Rails introducing special coaches for Asian tourists. The news triggered mixed reactions amongst Weibo’s netizens. Read more.

◼︎ Math Schoolbook Gate | It’s the textbook illustration controversy that dominated Chinese social media in Spring of 2022. After parents notes that the drawings in their children’s school math textbooks were “displeasing,” the entire Chinese internet weighed in and concluded that the overall design was just strange and “tragically ugly.” The controversy had some serious consequences for the publisher. Read here.

◼︎ Controversial Death | Some netizens called it one of the biggest controversies of the year. The death of the 29-year-old environmentalist Lei Yang while in police custody sparked online outrage in 2016, with many connecting this fatality to police brutality. Lei’s wife stepped forward, demanding answers from Beijing authorities on the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death. Read here.

◼︎ Marketing Controversy | There’ve been many China marketing disasters throughout the years, often relating to foreign brands in politically tense times (think of all the brands getting into trouble for listing Hong Kong separately from China during the Hong Kong protests). The 2018 D&G controversy is a classic one that completely struck a wrong chord. It started with a promotional video that was deemed racist, got really messy when screenshots went viral of a China-bashing online conversation with the alleged Stefano Gabbana, started snowballing when D&G claimed the account was hacked, and ended with the cancellation of Dolce & Gabbana’s big Shanghai show. Read here.


What’s Shocking

Stories That Gave Us Chills

▶︎ An incident in which a Shanghai man, who was thought to be dead, was taken to a funeral home before he was found to be alive became a big topic on Chinese social media. Link.

▶︎ Chinese underworld kingpin Zhao Fuqiang turned his Shanghai “Little Red Mansion” into a hell on earth for dozens of women who were forced into a life of sex work within his organized crime network. Link.

▶︎ An outburst of violence against female customers at a restaurant in Tangshan sent shockwaves across Chinese social media in 2022. Link.

▶︎ A man killed his wife in Shanxi in the middle of the street, yet nobody intervened. Link.

▶︎ Following the announcement of a positive Covid test result within a building in Shanghai’s Yangpu District, a collective exodus ensued as people wanted to avoid getting locked inside. Link.


What’s Funny

Some of our funniest

▶︎ Lego for Adults | A man who spent three days and three nights working on a Nick the Fox Lego sculpture was left aghast when his masterwork was pushed over by a little kid – just within an hour after it was first displayed.

Read more

▶︎ Avenging the Grannies | Over the years, there have been numerous stories related to China’s notorious dancing grannies, including incidents where stressed-out students were disrupted by their loud music. Thanks to this device that went viral in 2021, neighbors have a way to respond to the local square dancing group by secretly shutting down their music.

Read more

▶︎ Rabbit gets Roasted | A zodiac stamp issued by China Post on the occasion of the Year of the Rabbit became an unexpected viral hit in January of 2023. Not because of its pretty design, but because the red-eyed blue rabbit triggered controversy for being “monster-like” and “nightmare fuel.” It was not the only rabbit getting roasted!

Read more

▶︎ Cute Couple | While everybody was watching whether or not Nancy Pelosi would visit Taiwan in August of 2022, there was still time for some online banter amid growing tensions: Chinese netizens created a fantasy love affair between U.S. House speaker Pelosi and Chinese Global Times commentator Hu Xijin.

Read more

▶︎ Catch of the Day | It does not matter if you’re old or young, shrimp or fish – you couldn’t escape China’s zero-covid policy. These fish in Xiamen had to have their daily Covid tests, too.

Read more


Weibo Words to Remember

Some Noteworthy Catchwords That Went Viral

Green Tea Bitch | In the spring of 2013, a new term was launched over the Chinese Internet: ‘Green Tea Bitch’ (绿茶婊). According to Chinese netizens, the term is used to describe ambitious women who “pretend to be very innocent.”

Read more

Russia, the ‘Weak Goose’ | In 2022, multiple Chinese (military) bloggers started using the ‘weak goose’ (菜鹅) term in light of Russia’s fading victory, signaling a shift in online sentiments regarding Russia’s position and its military competence.

Read more

Little Sheep People | As many people faced Covid-related discrimination in China after testing positive in early 2022, social media users started speaking out against popular (online) language that refers to Covid patients as ‘sheep,’ saying the way people talk about the virus is worsening existing stigmatization.

Read more

Hard Isolation | The word popped up on Chinese social media in April of 2022 after some Shanghai netizens posted photos of fences being set up around their community building to keep residents from walking out.

Read more

Involution | Since recent years, this word has come to be used to represent the competitive circumstances in academic or professional settings in China where individuals are compelled to overwork because of the standard raised by their peers who appear to be even more hardworking.

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

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

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Weibo Watch: Doing Homework at the Hospital

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





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


Dear Reader,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A closer look at the top stories

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more

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

Read more


What More to Know

Highlighting 8 hot topics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


What Lies Behind

Observations beyond the headlines, by Miranda

Discussions over ‘True Feminism’

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

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

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

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

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

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


What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

Much Ado About Fried Eggs

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

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

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

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

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The latest buzz in arts & pop culture, by Ruixin

Why Shaoxing Opera is Popular Among Chinese Youth

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

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

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


What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

One Year Since White Paper Protests

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

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

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

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Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

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

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

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

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

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

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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.





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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.

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