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Weibo Watch: The Anti-Buzz

As we wrap up week 18 of 2023, let’s take a look at the top trends on Chinese social media. These are the main takeaways you need to know.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #2 | READING TIME: 8 MIN

 

Dear Reader,

Welcome to Weibo Watch, the exclusive premium newsletter by What’s on Weibo that keeps you up-to-date on the latest stories and trends in Chinese social media and digital culture.

A small business owner in the Shandong city of Zibo had no idea what hit him when he saw thousands of visitors flocking to his shop. The industrial city of Zibo has been an online hit for weeks now, so he was used to seeing a large influx of travelers in the area. But now he himself had become the main attraction after a video in which a female tourist touched his muscles went viral overnight. What do you do when you suddenly see 180,000 visitors a day passing by your small duck’s head [鸭头, a Chinese snack] shop?

As described in one recent Chinese blog, the duck’s head seller is one of the latest “victims” of the ‘Zibo BBQ’ craze. By now, the incredible popularity of the barbecue city is also referred to as the “Zibo Phenomenon” (淄博现象). The city has been all over China’s social media top trending lists over the past week, and there are many discussions on how the city succeeded in becoming such a success, what it all means, and the downsides that come with it.

When a trend becomes excessively popular in a short span of time, it is almost inevitable for an anti-buzz to emerge. With high expectations, people tend to get disappointed easily. The larger the hype, the more significant the impact of even the slightest negative news.

What is striking about the recent Zibo discussions, is how it is triggering introspective debates on the dynamics of Chinese social media and the role played by online influencers and local authorities. However, there are divergent opinions among Chinese scholars, journalists, and bloggers who have written about this ‘Zibo Phenomenon.’ While some argue that it is all about free market governance and public participation, others suggest that the city’s success is actually the result of strict government control and influence.

The duck’s head shop owner probably won’t care a lot about all of these discussions. Although his hit status initially boosted sales, the crowds of people coming to his shop soon became so overwhelming that he could no longer run his business as usual (see video). As some even started harassing and physically assaulting him, he could no longer do his work and has now closed his shop. In a recent live stream, he tearfully talked about how his business, ironically, was ruined due to his viral success.

For all this and more, see our list of featured articles in this newsletter to dive deeper into the major trends that have recently attracted attention on Chinese social media. Also make sure to get the quick takes on social media, foreign affairs, and popular Chinese catchwords by Miranda Barnes, Thomas des Garets Geddes, and Andrew Methven in this week’s newsletter.

Got questions or suggestions? I always like to hear more about the China topics you’d like to know more about. Contact me via email or DM, or follow me on Twitter for the latest news and trends.

Best,

Manya

 

What to Know

Quick takes: Weibo & the world

 
Major trends to know:

  • ▶︎ May Day holiday craze. The May Day “Golden week” holiday has come to an end. Travelers made 274 million trips within mainland China during the holiday, which exceeds pre-pandemic levels.
  • ▶︎ King Charles III coronation. The coronation ceremony of King Charles III was also a big topic on Weibo and Douyin this weekend. noteworthy is that many of the top videos on the event were about the ‘not my king’ protests. China’s vice president Han Zheng arrived in London on Thursday for the coronation.
  • ▶︎ Hotel guest finds dead body underneath bed. One Chinese man’s stay at a hotel in Lhasa turned into a nightmare when he discovered a corpse under the bed in which he had been sleeping. The man found the body after noticing a strong smell in his room. The incident led to a murder investigation and the arrest of a suspect.
  • ▶︎ Chinese evacuated from Sudan. China successfully evacuated over 1,300 of its nationals from Sudan this week. The safe evacuation was met with praise online, where the mission was also called a “real life version” of Chinese blockbuster Homecoming.
  • ▶︎ Chinese couple murdered in Bali? Two Chinese nationals, a 22-year-old female and a 25-year-old male, were found dead in their hotel room at the InterContinental hotel in Jimbaran, Bali. The male’s body was found on the balcony and the female’s body was found in the bathtub with wounds on her neck. While the cause of their deaths is still under investigation, the case has become a big topic on Chinese socials.

 
Note from the News Editor – by Miranda:

  • ▶︎ Over the past week, the topic “How Can Ordinary People Have 10 Million in Assets” (普通人如何拥有千万资产) trended on Chinese social media. Some argued that owning a property in tier 1 cities like Beijing or Shanghai could already make you worth over 10 million yuan (just under $1.5 million). Many found the amount of money discussed to be out of touch with reality, as they struggle to cover their daily living costs and have no hope of ever amassing such wealth. The conversation eventually evolved into a broader discussion of achieving financial success.
  • ▶︎ In the past 50 years, China has made significant economic strides, leading to an improved quality of life for its citizens. This progress is still remembered by the majority of Chinese citizens who have experienced huge improvements in their standard of living during their lifetime.
  • ▶︎ In the late 90s, wàn yuán hù (万元户), meaning “household with over 10k assets” (under $1.5k), was a label of wealth status. However, the number 10 million yuan now seems much harder to attain. This raises concerns about social mobility, as most people interested in the topic are “ordinary” or have not yet amassed that much wealth. It seems that hard work and opportunities may no longer be enough to achieve financial success, but that shouldn’t stop people from dreaming.

 
Sinification’s foreign affairs views from China – by Thomas:

  • ▶︎ One of China’s most eminent international relations experts, Yan Xuetong (阎学通), recently warned Chinese businesses to brace themselves for a rough ride over the coming couple of decades. He bemoaned the current dire state of US-China relations and the fractures this is creating across the world.
  • ▶︎ In Yan’s words: “I am now in my 70s and when we were children in the 50s and 60s we grew up cursing US leaders. Since Nixon’s visit to China in ’72, China stopped naming and shaming the American leadership. [However,] after Trump came to power, we resumed naming and shaming them, calling Pompeo an enemy of mankind. How far [down] do you want bilateral relations to go? During my most recent visit to the US, I felt that the perception of China in America had also seriously deteriorated. I met some of our overseas students who told me that American students would not say it out loud, but that everyone knows that they harbour a lot of hostility towards Chinese students.”
  • ▶︎ For more in-depth takes on foreign affairs as viewed from China, subscribe to the Sinification newsletter by Thomas des Garets Geddes here.

 

What’s Trending

A closer look at the top stories

1: “College Student Special Forces” (大学生特种兵) | This Labor Day holiday, ‘special forces travelers’ were flooding popular tourist spots across China. Their mission is clear: covering as many places as possible at the lowest cost and within a limited time. While the travel trend has become a social media hype, there are also those criticizing the trend for being superficial and troublesome.

Read more
 

2: Consumerism and Empty Social Spectacle | Fast, fun, BBQ travel is a major topic on Chinese social media these days. Chinese journalist & academic Liu Yadong reposted a noteworthy short essay by the WeChat account Jiuwenpinglun in which the author argued that the hype surrounding Zibo barbecue is a symptom of a “sick society” in which people are disconnected from meaningful topics. While serious social issues are muted and superficial marketing tricks are blasted all over the internet, China’s “hypocritical youth” actively participate in the societal emptiness they say they reject. We translated the controversial for you:

Read more
 

3: Why Zibo’s Strength Is Also Its Weakness | It’s like a Shandong ‘Disneyland,’ but with more people and longer lines. The city of Zibo has become a major tourist attraction, filled with lively atmosphere, cheap BBQ, and friendly people. But local business owners also face the downsides of operating in a city that has become so extremely popular. In this feature article, we wrap up some of the latest controversies and discussions surrounding the Zibo trend.

Read more
 

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

 

China’s Most Famous Kindergarten Teacher | Teacher Huang (黄老师在) from Wuhan suddenly became China’s most beloved kindergarten teacher this week after she uploaded a video of herself singing the “Digging in the Garden” (挖呀挖). The video soon went viral, receiving millions of views. Huang became a social media sensation, not only because of her enthusiasm and warmth, but also because of the catchy song itself. The video also spawned a trend in which netizens uploaded their own versions of the song. There were some rumors that Huang actually was an online influencer, but they were later refuted. Nevertheless Huang received a lot of online hate: she is allegedly not qualified to teach, and there are legal questions over the copyright of the song she sang. With her latest livestream, Huang earned more than enough money to take some time off – which she did.

See video
 

What’s Popular

The latest buzz in brands & pop culture

The First Slam Dunk | The Japanese animated film The First Slam Dunk (灌篮高手) premiered in mainland China two weeks ago, earning $13.8m on its opening day. The movie is still top trending in the movie category now on Baidu top trends now. The First Slam Dunk is an adaptation from the 1990s Japanese basketball manga/anime series about high school and youth romance. The manga was a major hit in Japan, but also in China, where the new, award-winning movie is now bringing back a lot of ’90s nostalgy for many moviegoers. Watch the official trailer here:

See video
 

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

Vagrant Shanghai Professor (上海流浪大师) | For this week’s pick from the archives, and especially in light of the buzz/anti-buzz theme, we’ve selected an article from 2019, when the popular short-video app Douyin flooded with videos of the so-called “Vagrant Shanghai Professor” (上海流浪大师). The homeless man, who eloquently discussed literature and philosophy, went viral on Chinese social media after someone posted a video of him. Within a few days after the first video of him went viral, hundreds of people began searching for him in the streets, disturbing his peace and quiet. When the crowds became too big, the Shanghai police had to intervene for his own safety. We could not find any updates about his current whereabouts but hope that the man – who never wished to go viral – has since found the peaceful life he longed for. Read more here:

Read more
 

 

Weibo Word of the Week – by Andrew

The catchword to know

Our Weibo Word of the Week is nóngguǎn (农管), which translates as “agricultural-management officers.” Nóngguǎn 农管 has been a trending topic on Weibo over the last week. It’s a nickname given to a new rural police force recently announced by China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs. According to the ministry, its officers will bring much-needed law enforcement to China’s countryside: catching sellers of counterfeit or substandard seeds, pesticides and veterinary medicines, and inspecting animals and plants for disease.

But the reception online so far has been very negative. Many netizens fear they will be like the much disliked urban equivalent, known as “urban-management officers”, or chéngguǎn 城管, who are among China’s most despised law enforcers. The chéngguǎn are generally disliked for their abuse of street vendors and record of violence. Due to this, there is a fear that the newly introduced village officials may not be any better in their conduct towards the residents they are meant to serve. You can read more about how these discussions are unfolding online in this week’s Slow Chinese.

Want to learn more Chinese? Subscribe to Andrew Methven’s super insightful Slow Chinese free newsletter here.

 

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

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

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Weibo Watch: “Bloglator in the Era of Social Media”

By examining the influence of the “tragically ugly” schoolbook case, Bai demonstrates that WoW reporting had considerable impact on overall international media coverage.

Manya Koetse

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #28

Dear Reader,

 

It’s been a little while since the last Weibo Watch newsletter. Those of you who follow me on X might already know that some personal circumstances have made it difficult for me to get a lot of work done this month following the unfortunate loss of two close family members and all the arrangements surrounding it. When it rains, it sometimes really does pour. However, life goes on, and I’m now ready to return to doing what I love most at What’s on Weibo. Thank you for your understanding as we dive back into the swing of things.

On that note, I am very happy to share some exciting news: my work at What’s on Weibo is the focus of a new study by Prof. Bai Liping (白立平) from the Department of Translation at Lingnan University (Hong Kong). The study, titled “Bloglator in the Era of Social Media: A Case Study of the Reports about the ‘Tragically Ugly’ Math Textbooks on What’s on Weibo,” has been published in Perspectives journal (2024, 1–16). You can find a link to the study here (limited free online copies available).

The study examines the role played by bloggers in the present-day news ecosystem, where social media has become increasingly important in various ways, making both news consumption and news production more multi-dimensional. In doing so, Bai zooms in on What’s on Weibo (WoW) as a prominent example of what he calls a ‘bloglator’: a blend of ‘blog’ and ‘translator’ to refer to someone who “translates, adapts, and recreates content from articles or posts on blogs, or does any translation on blogs” (3).

The research suggests that WoW’s work, reporting on trending topics on Chinese social media since 2013, constitutes a special form of news-related blog translation as well as blog-related news translation, carving out a special niche within journalistic translation and the broader news ecosystem.

Serving as a case study is an article published on the site in May 2022 about illustrations in a Chinese schoolbook series for children that triggered controversy on Weibo for their peculiar design and for being perceived as ‘aesthetically displeasing.’

The controversy began when concerned parents noted that the quality of the design in their kids’ math textbooks was ugly, unrefined, and overall weird.

The controversial schoolbook.

Children depicted in the math book illustrations had small, droopy eyes and big foreheads. Besides the poor design quality, many people found some illustrations inappropriate: a girl sticking out her tongue, recurring depictions of American flag colors, an incorrect depiction of the Chinese flag, a bulge in the pants of depicted boys, and boys grabbing girls. These elements led many to believe the books had “evil intentions,” with parents expressing concern that these “tragically ugly” books could negatively impact children’s aesthetic appreciation.

The explosive online discussions about the textbooks sparked a chain of events, covered in various articles here. Ultimately, it led to an official investigation by China’s Ministry of Education, holding 27 staff members accountable for their poor performance.

Among them were the Party Committee Secretary of the People’s Education Press, President Huang Qiang, who received a “serious warning” from the Party. Chief Editor Guo Ge was removed from office, along with others, including the head of the editorial office for elementary school mathematics textbooks. Illustrator Wu Yong and two other designers involved in the mathbooks reportedly will never work on national school textbooks or related projects again. The entire event was significant in various ways, also drawing increased attention to the quality of illustrations in teaching materials and shedding light on the dynamics behind Chinese schoolbook publications.

Bai’s study notes that WoW was among the first English websites to report on this topic, subsequently picked up by numerous other media outlets. While some sources, such as Australian news site news.com.au and The Guardian, included links or references to WoW, other news sites did not explicitly mention WoW but still used my translations, most notably the “tragically ugly” comment.

This non-literal translation of a Chinese phrase (most probably derived from 惨不忍睹 cǎn bù rěn dǔ “so horrible that one cannot bear to look at it”) exemplifies “translingual quoting,” a process where the original discourse is translated during quoting (6). You could consider it a ‘creative translation’ to convey meaning rather than exact words. As other reports also reproduced these exact words, it was evident what their source was. These two words ultimately became pivotal in the English coverage of the event; even today, a Google search directs you to this textbook controversy.

By examining the influence of the “tragically ugly” schoolbook case, Bai demonstrates that WoW reporting had considerable impact on the overall international media coverage of the event. It was cited by various English media outlets from Australia to the UK, from India to Hong Kong, including in traditional newspapers like The Independent, Sunday Times, and South China Morning Post.

He concludes:

“In the era of social media, just as Weibo has supplemented traditional media in the Chinese news ecosystem, WoW has filled a niche left by traditional media in the English news media ecosystem. Through WoW, readers can stay informed about the trending topics on Weibo, learn the views of the netizens and foster a deeper understanding of Chinese social and cultural life. The case study demonstrates that WoW’s reports about the tragically ugly math textbooks are consistent with its founder’s objectives of explaining the stories behind the hashtag and facilitating a better understanding of contemporary China, and that a ‘bloglator’ may play an important role in the evolving news ecosystem in this era of social media.”

Of course, I’m thrilled to see this finalized study on WoW’s impact in the news ecosystem. Beyond that, I value the term ‘bloglator,’ which aptly describes my role, and is different from the work done by journalists who translate news. It involves various strategies such as translingual quoting, providing explanations and background contexts, omitting irrelevant information, summarizing source texts, and most importantly, complete independence in choosing what to write about & the best way to cover it.

This independence enables WoW to spotlight interesting, noteworthy topics that help you stay connected to the Chinese social media sphere and its dynamics. As a subscriber, your support makes What’s on Weibo’s continuity possible. I look forward to working on many more topics in the future. Even the “tragically ugly” ones can sometimes turn out beautifully.

Best,

– Your ‘bloglator,’
Manya Koetse
(@manyapan)

 
References:

Bai, Liping. “Bloglator in the Era of Social Media: A Case Study of the Reports about the ‘Tragically Ugly’ Math Textbooks on What’s on Weibo.” Perspectives, (2024), 1–16. doi:10.1080/0907676X.2024.2343047.

 

A closer look at some featured stories

1: “Fat Cat Jumping Into the River Incident” (胖猫跳江事件) | The tragic story behind the recent suicide of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ has become a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media, touching upon broader societal issues from unfair gender dynamics to businesses taking advantage of grieving internet users. We explain the trend here👇🏼

Read more
 

2: TV show Triggers Nationalistic Sentiments | Forget about previous song competitions. Hunan TV’s ‘Singer 2024’ is all the talk these days. Besides memes and jokes, the show – which now invited notable foreign talent to compete against Chinese established performers – has set off a new wave of national pride in China’s music and performers on Chinese social media.

Read more
 

3: Storm over a Smoky Cup of Tea | Chinese tea brand LELECHA faced backlash for using the iconic literary figure Lu Xun to promote their “Smoky Oolong” milk tea, sparking controversy over the exploitation of his legacy. “Such blatant commercialization of Lu Xun, is there no bottom limit anymore?”, one Weibo user wrote. Another person commented: “If Lu Xun were still alive and knew he had become a tool for capitalists to make money, he’d probably scold you.”

Read more
 

 
This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed the last edition of our 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: The Battle for the Bottom Bed

“The battle for the lower bunk beds” (“下铺之争”) is a reflection of society and generational difference in China, touching upon expectations regarding the respect younger individuals should show the elderly.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #27

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Battle for the Bottom Bed
◼︎ 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 – Zara x Haidilao
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Martin Garrix x Huang Zitao
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Social media in times of flood
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – Coffin rooms

 

Dear Reader,

 

Sometime around last summer, a significant debate about train etiquette began trending on Chinese social media. Central to the discussion was a question that attracted over 190 million views on Weibo: Can passengers bring their own “bed curtains”?

The curtains in question (床帘 chuánglián, also 火车遮挡帘 huǒchē zhēdǎnglián) are often used in the cheapest class of sleeper cabins on Chinese trains, known as hard sleepers (硬卧 yìngwò). In these cabins, each compartment features six bunk beds, with three beds on each side separated by a small table. Only the bottom bunk offers sufficient space for seating and is also the most expensive among the three.

Example of Chinese hard sleeper train compartment, image via Sohu.

Train carriages usually comprise 11 semi-open compartments, each featuring a corridor and two foldable seats per cubicle. With so many people in one carriage, noise can become an issue, and privacy can be hard to come by.

“Bed curtains” have emerged as a popular strategy to combat these nuisances, creating a somewhat private and quiet space on trains without disturbance from fellow travelers. Essentially, they are pieces of fabric that can be easily secured above or on the sides of the bunk bed using clips or ropes. These days, Taobao sells them in various colors and patterns.

Bunk bed curtains, sold on e-commerce sites likes Taobao, turn lower bunk beds in a more private space.

Recently, the debate over these curtains reignited on Chinese social media, particularly focusing on how their use creates an additional barrier for other passengers, especially the elderly, to sit on the lower beds. This sparked discussions about whether younger passengers should consider swapping their lower bunk beds with senior passengers, who may find it difficult to access the middle and upper berths, where it’s often impossible for them to sit up straight.

The catalyst for these discussions was a viral video featuring an elderly lady confronting two young people who had hung covers on their bottom bunk beds. She accused them of selfishness for not allowing older passengers with upper bunk tickets to sit on their beds.

Many commenters expressed support for the young passengers in the video, emphasizing that they are not obliged to let other passengers sit on their bed. The topic unleashed a flood of stories of train annoyances about strangers sitting on people’s bottom beds, depriving them of privacy.

The topic further popularized the use of bed curtains, with commenters writing: “I dislike others sitting on my bed but find it difficult to confront them; this is such a clever solution!”

There are currently no explicit regulations prohibiting or allowing these bed curtains, as long as they do not cause inconvenience or block access to other bunks, but many people view them as “uncivilized” and “impolite.”

The online critics of bed curtains often fondly recall their experiences traveling on China’s sleeper trains in past decades. They reminisce about meeting strangers, sharing snacks, playing cards, and forming friendships—experiences characterized by less privacy, but more camaraderie.

As this discussion has been dubbed “the battle for the lower bunk beds” (“下铺之争”), it’s evident that it encompasses more than just seating arrangements. Some say it is a reflection of the current society. It touches upon societal shifts, traditional/cultural expectations regarding the respect younger individuals should show the elderly, and mostly, generational differences.

Unlike the older generations preceding them, Chinese younger generations, products of the one-child policy and growing up amid increasing prosperity, have undergone a significant transformation in their familial roles over the past decades. Not only were they both pampered and pressured to succeed, they also often enjoyed having their own rooms from a young age. Their upbringing has fostered a more individualistic perspective, a heightened emphasis on personal happiness, and a greater value placed on privacy.

Additionally, while previous generations typically ‘served’ their parents, you see that parents often prioritize ‘serving’ their children of younger generations, treating them as equals within the household. This has also led to different views on the interaction between younger and older members of society. Many younger people won’t accept Chinese seniors acting rude or entitled simply because of their age.

The “battle for the bottom bed” essentially symbolizes clashes between different generations. While older generations value communal experiences and respect for elders, younger generations assert their individual rights and prioritize personal space. Given the insufficient seating for all six passengers in current hard sleepers, they argue that it’s China Railways’ responsibility to adapt the layout to better cater to passengers’ needs.

Meanwhile, some Chinese ‘experts’ are cited by media, encouraging young people who have bought lower berths to be understanding and swap with the elderly for their convenience. A related hashtag on the matter was viewed more than 400 million times on Weibo, and the most popular replies basically told the experts to shove their suggestion up theirs. “I have the right to what I pay for,” some said: “If they need a lower bed, let them pay for a lower bed.”

Some bloggers comment that the very fact that this seemingly trivial topic has become such a major topic of debate on Chinese social media is a sign of a “regression in morality.” Some propaganda accounts raise the example of the humble PLA soldier Lei Feng, who would help out other passengers and train staff while traveling, instead of occupying a seat. While most do not expect the same of modern-day travelers, they do think that people, young and old, should show a little more understanding for each other.

In this light, another video garnered attention. It showed an elderly woman on a train politely requesting to swap a top bunk with a young passenger occupying a bottom bunk. The request was made on behalf of her 83-year-old travel companion, and they were happy to compensate for the price difference. That video received praise from netizens, who expressed that it’s the attitude that matters. The young passenger swapped beds with the older lady and did not accept payment for it.

In the end, it’s clear that kindness and empathy are cross-generational, and that communication always helps bridging differences.

In case you don’t feel like bridging differences on your next hard sleeper train, however, here’s the link to the bed curtains.

Warm regards,

– Manya Koetse & Miranda Barnes

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: Chengdu Disneyland | Chengdu Disney is the latest viral hotspot on Chinese social media, and it’s probably unlike anything you’d imagine. How did an ordinary outdoor senior gym in a local Chengdu neighborhood become nationally known as ‘Chengdu Disney’? By mixing online trends with real-life fun, blending foreign styles with local charm, and adding a dash of humor and absurdity, Chengdu now boasts its very own ‘Chengdu Disney.’ We explain the trend here👇🏼

Read more
 

2: Unleashing Flood of Stories | The recent marriage announcement of the renowned Chinese calligrapher/painter Fan Zeng and Xu Meng, a Beijing TV presenter 50 years his junior, has sparked online discussions about the life and work of the esteemed Chinese artist. Some netizens think Fan lacks the integrity expected of a Chinese scholar-artist.

Read more
 

3: Yellen’s Favorites | Earlier in April, Yellen concluded her second trip to Beijing within a year, and once again, it’s not her official talks but rather her choices in food and drink venues that are sparking discussion on social media. From Yunnan classics to fusion cuisine, these are Janet Yellen’s picks for dining and drinking in Beijing.

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Five Bite-Sized Trends

◼︎ 🌧️ Guangdong Floods | Flooding, landslides, power outages. It’s been a rough few days in Guangdong. From the provincial capital Guangzhou to smaller cities like Shaoguan, Zhaoqing, and Qingyuan, exceptionally heavy rainfall since April 18 has brought significant problems to various areas. At least 4 deaths have been reported, with 10 people still missing. More than 100,000 people have been evacuated. The regions hardest hit are along the Beijiang River, which flooded on April 21. This marks the second flood of the river this year, with the first occurring on April 7, marking the earliest date in the season since floods in major Chinese rivers began being numbered in 1998. As with previous floods, social media is used as a channel to warn people about the ongoing situation, with further rainfall expected. Meanwhile, state media are honoring rescue workers as local heroes, or ‘those going against the tide’ (nìxíngzhě 逆行者).

◼︎ 🌋 Ijen Crater Death | A 31-year-old Chinese tourist tragically lost her life after falling from the edge of Indonesia’s Ijen volcano while attempting to take a photo. She tripped over her own long skirt, plummeting from a height of 75 meters early on the morning of April 20, while the tourists were there to witness the sunrise. With the May 1st holiday approaching, Chinese authorities, through social media, are using this incident as a cautionary tale to warn tourists of the hazards of prioritizing that ‘perfect social media photo’ over personal safety.

◼︎ 💀 Another University Poisoning Case | One recurring case that surfaces on Weibo is that of Zhu Ling, the female victim in the notorious 1995 thallium poisoning incident at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Although Zhu Ling survived, she was left paralyzed and reliant on her parents for care for the rest of her life. The case remains unsolved, with many pointing to her roommate as the primary suspect. Now, a new suspected poisoning incident at a university has gained attention, following the death of a 25-year-old male student at Xiangtan University due to organ failure after seeking medical treatment. His 27-year-old roommate is currently under suspicion and has been detained. This is a case that is likely to draw further scrutiny in the time to come.

◼︎ 🏃‍♂️ Marathon Controversy | There was something fishy about the conclusion of the Beijing Half Marathon and the four runners at the finish line. In a video clip that went viral on Chinese social media (see here), viewers observed that three African runners seemed to intentionally slow down to allow Chinese competitor He Jie (何杰) to win the gold medal. Now, the Beijing Half Marathon Organizing Committee has announced the disqualification of all four runners for “breaching the rules of the competition,” nullifying their results, and reclaiming their trophies and medals. The Chinese Athletics Association has also introduced new regulations for discipline management in national events. It appears that the three African runners were “pace setters” who were not intended to be competing athletes, and sponsor/partner Xtep (特步), a sports equipment company, was responsible for not properly identifying them. Consequently, the company has been terminated as a partner. Marathon fraud and the importance of properly regulating major sports events has become a recurring topic on Chinese social media. Last October, the Chinese Athletics Association issued an emergency notice to standardize and regulate China’s national marathon and running events more effectively after Chinese marathon runner Yin Shunjin appeared to be intentionally obstructed by a support vehicle, forcing him to navigate around it and costing him valuable time in the crucial final two minutes of the marathon.

◼︎ 🎲 Little Tuan Tuan Goes to Jail | Popular Chinese influencer “Little Tuan Tuan” (一条小团团), who has millions of followers on the Douyu livestreaming app, became a top trending topic on Chinese social media on April 23 after news came out that she had been arrested. The famous game livestreamer had already stopped airing since last month, but it only now became known that she is suspected of engaging in large-scale illegal gambling activities. In late 2023, Douyu’s chairman and CEO Chen Shaojie was also arrested for allegedly hosting online gambling, which is illegal in mainland China. At the time, state media already reported that the arrest of Chen may lead to a group of top game anchors being implicated due to their involvement in gambling and money laundering. After the earlier arrest of four other anchors, Tuan Tuan is the latest livestream host to be arrested, signaling a zero tolerance approach towards gambling activities in China’s game-focused livestreaming world. Little Tuan Tuan could face up to five years in prison.

 

What’s the Drama

Top TV to Watch

Best Choice Ever (Chéng Huān Jì 承欢记) is the latest Chinese TV drama hit. Produced by CCTV and simultaneously broadcasted on CCTV-8 and Tencent, it premiered on April 9, and some are already calling it the best romcom drama of the year. This urban family/romance drama centers around the story of Mai Chenghuan (麦承欢), a post-95 young woman living in Shanghai, who is preparing to marry her boyfriend Xin Jialiang (辛家亮), who comes from a wealthy family. However, when Chenghuan’s mum is doing all she can to meddle in their relationship, Mai Chenghuan must break free from her mother’s overbearing influence and focus on her own personal growth.

Noteworthy:

▶️ This drama is based on a book by the same name by Hong Kong writer Yi Shu or Isabel Nee Yeh-su, who is known for the strong, intelligent female characters in her stories.
▶️ The main protagonist is played by the super popular Chinese actress Yang Zi (杨紫), who previously starred in hit series such as Ode to Joy (欢乐颂) and The Oath of Love (余生).
▶️ This series is also airing in Thailand starting from April 29, but you won’t hear Yang Zi speaking Chinese there; the entire show will be dubbed in Thai.
▶️ The Shanghai Culture and Tourism office has also been involved in this production, that features some pretty scenes from around Shanghai, which is drawing in young visitors wanting to visit film locations like the Zhapu Road Bridge and Huaihuai Mansion.

You can watch Best Choice Ever online here (with English subtitles) via YouTube.

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

A short dress sold by Zara has gone viral in China for looking like the aprons used by the popular Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao. “I really thought it was a Zara x Haidialo collab,” some customers commented. Others also agree that the first thing they thought about when seeing the Zara dress was the Haidilao apron.

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The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

Dutch DJ Martin Garrix found himself embroiled in controversy following the first F1 China Grand Prix Music Festival in Shanghai, which took place from Friday to Sunday. Garrix was allegedly supposed to perform together with Chinese singer Huang Zitao (黄子韬), who initially complained via livestream that the DJ did not show up to their joint rehearsal, and then claimed the DJ showed disrespect by performing his song without him being present on stage. On Weibo, one hashtag about the incident attracted over 160 million views.

Both Huang and Garrix are popular on Weibo, where the Chinese singer has over 66 million fans while the Dutch DJ has more than 360,000 followers.

In response, Garrix promptly posted a video on Weibo refuting what he called “misinformation and lies,” asserting that he and Huang Zitao were never scheduled to perform together. Hearing about Huang’s complaints, he still invited him up on stage, but he never showed up (Garrix claimed he was hiding in the bathroom). Following this, the event organizers issued an apology for the confusion.

Online, opinions remain divided, with some defending Garrix and labeling Huang a “crybaby,” while others support Huang, arguing that Garrix was rude for not wanting to share the stage with the Chinese singer. Either way, it seems the two performers won’t be sharing a beer, nor a stage, anytime soon.

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

This pick from our archive – in light of the current floods – revisits the flood of three years ago. The social media trends during China’s heavy rainfall and floods in Henan in July of 2021 show the multidimensionality of online communication in times of disaster. Facing the devastating downpours, Weibo became a site for participation, propaganda, and some controversial profiting.👇

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Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Coffin Room” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “Coffin Room” (guāncái fáng 棺材房), or even “Mini Coffin Room” (mínǐ guāncái fáng 迷你棺材房), referring to extremely tiny spaces being rented out at rooms.

The term “coffin room” isn’t new; it previously appeared in mainstream media to describe small cubicles rented out in Hong Kong to people who couldn’t afford larger spaces in the exorbitantly expensive housing market. However, it has recently resurfaced on Chinese social media to describe similarly cramped spaces in Shanghai.

One viral video showcased a rental room of about 5m² (approximately 53.82 square feet) with a makeshift sleeping space right behind a toilet, measuring about two meters long and one meter wide (approximately 6.56 feet long and 3.28 feet wide), all for a monthly rent of 300 yuan ($41). This so-called “coffin room” sparked controversy, with many deeming it absurd and a testament to Shanghai’s overheated housing market. However, the landlord mentioned that the room was already rented out to a Didi driver the day it was posted. See video here.

 
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