SubscribeLog in
Connect with us

Newsletter

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

Published

on

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 mop.com 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 whatsonweibo.com 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.

Best,
Manya

 

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

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

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

on

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.

 
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.

Continue Reading

Featured

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.

Continue Reading

Popular Reads