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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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Chinese New Year

Weibo Watch: Stealing the Show

About the biggest controversy surrounding the 2024 Spring Festival Gala, ‘Chunshan Studies’, Jia Ling’s peak in popularity, and other must-know Weibo topics.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #24

This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Stealing the show
◼︎ 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 – Celebrations and frustrations
◼︎ 6. What’s Noteworthy – Fu Yuanhui’s plea for help
◼︎ 7. What’s Popular – Multi-talented Jia Ling’s peak in popularity
◼︎ 8. What’s Memorable – The micro-film of the Spring Festival
◼︎ 9. Weibo Word of the Week – “Chunshan Studies”

 

Dear Reader,

 

It has been several years since I officially paused my PhD studies to dedicate my full attention to What’s on Weibo. My research focus during my studies was centered on the representation of the Second Sino-Japanese War in Chinese and Japanese popular culture, a topic I still find fascinating and relevant. However, one problem I encountered while doing my PhD was the constant allure of equally fascinating trends or topics to explore. The Spring Festival Gala is one such topic that always ranked high on my ‘PhD research wishlist.’

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Gala by now, but just to recap: the CMG Spring Festival Gala, formerly known as the CCTV Spring Festival Gala, is the state media’s annual live television event broadcasted on the evening of Chinese New Year since 1983. It’s one of the most-watched variety shows globally, attracting an average of 700 million viewers. Over 679 million people tuned in to the live broadcast this year (by comparison, the latest Super Bowl had a viewership of 123 million). The Gala features various acts, including singing, dancing, and comedy, spanning approximately 4 hours.

The Gala holds immense significance for all involved parties, from production teams to performers and sponsors. It’s a convergence of culture and commerce, where the Party meets pop culture. CMG (China Media Group), under the direct control of the Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party, utilizes the show to communicate official ideology, promote traditional culture, and showcase top national performers. Despite its commercial aspect, the Gala always remains highly political, blending official propaganda with entertainment. Over the years, it has also become a platform to showcase China’s innovative digital technologies.

Given its importance, it’s not surprising that every second of the show is closely examined, analyzed, scrutinized by an audience of millions. This also results in a new controversy surrounding the show virtually every year, whether it’s about a performance that is deemed racist or about jokes that are believed to be sexist, about who appeared and who did not come up, about magic tricks going wrong or an audience member caught on camera while picking their nose.

The controversy you need to know about this year concerns Chinese actor Bai Jingting (白敬亭). Together with Wei Chen (魏晨) and Wei Daxun (魏大勋), he performed the song “Going Up Spring Mountain” (上春山). Although the song itself initially wasn’t particularly noteworthy, the performance attracted major attention due to the positioning of the three singers on a tiered platform, representing a mountain, with Bai standing on the highest pedestal. After Bai sang his part of the song, it seemed like he was supposed to step down but he didn’t, so Wei Daxun sang from a lower step afterward. It was rumored that Bai Jingting may have intentionally vied for a more prominent position to attract more attention on stage, resulting in choreographic asymmetry and some apparent confusion among the performers.

Adding fuel to these rumors is the fact that Bai was the only performer wearing all black, while the other two wore white. After rehearsal videos of the performance were posted online, netizens noticed that in one video Bai initially stepped down after singing his part, and that he also wore white in another. This led to claims that Bai purposely changed his outfit last-minute to black, so that he could ‘steal the show’ while occupying the center position. It would also make it impossible for producers to switch to a rehearsed version of the song. (Although it’s a live show, every year’s Gala has a taped version of the full dress rehearsal that runs together with the live broadcast, so that in the event of a problem or disruption, the producers can seamlessly switch to the taped version without TV audiences noticing anything. A change in position or attire would make this impossible.)

While these are all mere rumors, they triggered widespread criticism of Bai, trending throughout the week. People accused him of having a bad character and wanting to steal the limelight, it even sparked the new term ‘Chunshan Studies’ (see our Weibo Word of the Week) and the video of “Going Up Spring Mountain” (上春山) became the Gala most replayed performance. The title ““Going Up Spring Mountain” took on an entirely different meaning and was even trademarked by a company in Shenzhen. It sparked memes, jokes, and led to people mimicking the song or editing images of the performance.

CCTV made it clear in a popular Weibo hashtag that “Every move in the Spring Festival Gala is carefully designed and precisely presented” (#春晚每一个走位都精心设计并被准确呈现#), suggesting Bai followed directorial instructions and never sought the limelight. It’s quite ironic that while the Gala usually wants to pretend that there is still some spontaneity involved, it now had to stress how there actually is none whatsoever to protect Bai’s reputation.

Also ironic is that while the entire discussion revolved around whether or not Bai was stealing the show, the song “Going Up Spring Mountain” actually did steal the spotlight and became the most-discussed act of the night. This year’s controversy adds to the Gala’s long list of noteworthy moments, each shedding light on the changing dynamics of China’s evolving media landscape, propaganda efforts, nationalism, gender issues, fan culture, and more. Perhaps it’s time for someone to undertake a PhD on that…

Miranda Barnes and Ruixin Zhang contributed to this Weibo Watch newsletter.

Best,
Manya (@manyapan)

PS Is there a China Studies topic that’s on your ‘wishlist’ too? Or have you come across any new trends or online phenomena that piqued your interest? I’m always eager to learn more about what fascinates you. Don’t hesitate to shoot me a message!

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: The CMG Gala | The CMG Spring Festival Gala is not just an essential part of Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, it is also the biggest televised media spectacle of the year. Over the entire last week, this four-hour extravaganza featuring forty-six performances has dominated social media conversations. In this article, we reflect on the highs and lows of this year’s edition of the world’s most-watched television program. Read all about it here 👇🏼

Read more
 

2: What a Mess | In the summer of 2023, it seemed like Messi’s popularity in China had reached its peak during a friendly match between Argentina and Australia held at Beijing’s Workers’ Stadium when a Chinese fan stormed onto the pitch and embraced Messi. The incident went viral and only garnered more appreciation for the soccer superstar, who extended his arms and reciprocated the hug. Fast forward eight months, and Messi’s reputation in China has plummeted to its lowest point. His highly anticipated appearance in a match in Hong Kong failed to materialize, leaving fans and organizers disappointed. Many suspect political motivations behind his absence, leading to widespread disillusionment among Chinese fans. (Updated with Messi’s response on 2/19).

Read more
 

3: Box Office Peak Season | During the Chinese Spring Festival, along with the National Day Holiday, movies tend to earn around 32.3% more on average. Sci-fi and action films are usually the most successful, followed by comedies. Last year, the Spring Festival box office revenues accounted for about 12.3 percent of the yearly total. This year, it was actually all about comedy and animation. Jia Ling’s latest movie was the most anticipated one. Check the big nine Spring Festival movies in our article below.

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Five Bite-Sized Trends

◼︎ 🚙 Long Way Home | Sold-out tickets, overcrowded trains, traffic jams, and aggravated travelers – the Chinese New Year travel season has been a hot topic on Chinese social media recently, sparking various discussions. Over the weekend of February 17-18, terms such as ‘way home’ (返程) and ‘traffic jam’ (堵车) dominated Weibo as the eight-day Spring Festival holiday ended, with millions returning home after leisure travel and family visits. The situation was particularly severe in Hainan, where some endured waits of up to fourteen hours for a ferry, despite local authorities predicting a seven-hour clearance for traffic jams. China Daily reported that the provincial government increased the number of flights and ferries in hopes of avoiding mass congestion, but to no avail. As people nationwide faced difficulties returning home by train, boat, or car, more voices on social media called for amendments to the annual leave and public holiday system, advocating for a more staggered return to work to alleviate nationwide travel congestion (related Weibo hashtag: #海南离岛严重拥堵有人排14小时上船#, 130 million views).

◼︎ 👫 Holding Hand Gate Continued | Remember the 2023 so-called ‘Holding Hand Gate’? Chinese social media exploded after a local SOE official was snapped by a street photographer while taking a stroll with his mistress, a co-worker who had joined him on a Chengdu business trip. The viral video showed the woman elegantly dressed in a fitted pink ensemble, adorned with a $5000 Dior purse, walking hand in hand with the official, who sported a coordinated t-shirt and carried shopping bags. The man, PetroChina executive Hu Jiyong, was fired after his extramarital affair was exposed online. The woman, PetroChina employee Ms. Dong, was also dismissed. Now, the affair has again gone trending after Ms. Dong talked about the aftermath in a February 18 Douyin livestream, calling the commotion surrounding the exposed affair a particularly dark moment in her life, which she got through thanks to the help of her loved ones. However, the livestream was cut off halfway and the account was suspended for “violating the platform’s relevant regulations” (related Weibo hashtag #太古里牵手门女当事人直播间被封#, 270 million views).

◼︎ 🤖 OpenAI’s Sora | Since the American AI research company OpenAI introduced its new video generation model ‘Sora’ on February 16, it has become a big topic of discussion in Chinese media and on Weibo. Though not officially launched yet, demo videos released by Sora show what the new text-to-video model is capable of, allowing users to create very realistic, high-quality and detailed videos. In a recent column, Chinese political commenter Hu Xijin called Sora a “groundbreaking development” while also expressing worries over how these new technologies will impact the future of realistic film and the film industry at large. At the same time, Hu also wondered what the rapid progress of American AI companies means for China and its AI ambitions, calling the introduction of Sora a “warning” that China may be lagging behind when it comes to AI. If you’re interested to read more on this, I recently wrote an op-ed for The Guardian about the US-China race for AI supremacy: link. (Related Weibo hashtag #OpenAI首个视频生成模型Sora有多强大#, 28 million views).

◼︎ 🇷🇺 Navalny’s Death | The death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny shocked the world this week. The 47-year-old anti-corruption activist died in a maximum-security prison in Russia’s far north. A day before his death was announced, Navalny appeared in a court hearing, where he cracked jokes about needing money from the judge. In the years leading up to his death, Navalny endured chemical burns and survived poisoning attempts. In a video message, Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, held Putin accountable for her husband’s death. Chinese state media outlets reported Navalny’s death on Weibo, citing Russian statements that he suddenly fell ill after a walk in the prison on Friday, leading to shock and eventual passing. On Weibo, some commenters cynically dubbed his death as “Russia-style modernization,” while others criticized it as “Putin’s way,” labeling Putin as a ‘Czar’ or ‘Emperor.’ There were also remarks suggesting that Navalny’s demise was the foreseeable consequence of Russia’s intolerance toward opposition, and wrote that Navalny himself had opted to return to Russia after being treated in Germany in 2021 (related Weibo hashtag #俄反对派人士纳瓦利内狱中死亡#, 27 million views).

◼︎ 🦒 Giraffes on Weibo| Since I missed one newsletter edition (following the late little rabbit news), I haven’t had the chance to cover the giraffe incident on Weibo yet. Here’s a brief overview: In early February, around the 3rd, Weibo users flooded the US embassy’s account page with complaints about their economic struggles and plummeting stock market worries. The post they were responding to wasn’t related to China’s economy at all; it was about tracking giraffes in Namibia using GPS technology. This seemingly innocent post became a platform for discussing China’s post-pandemic economic issues and also included direct criticism of Chinese leadership. It’s not uncommon for Chinese netizens to use seemingly unrelated hashtags or posts to discuss sensitive topics, hoping to evade censorship. However, the giraffe thread was eventually censored anyway. Despite this, the post still garnered over 20,000 shares and nearly a million likes. Who would’ve thought wildlife conservation could be so popular? 🤡

 

What’s the Drama

Top TV to Watch

The TV drama “Amidst a Snowstorm of Love” (在暴雪时分) currently ranks number one on Weibo and Baidu’s Top TV drama rankings. The romantic drama tells the love story of snooker player Lin Yiyang (林亦扬, played by Wu Lei 吴磊) and nine-ball player Yin Guo (殷果, played by Zhao Jinmai 赵今麦). It is a genuine love story that showcases the chemistry between the two main stars, and the high ratings for the drama show that audiences were craving a straightforward drama that warms hearts on cold days. The drama premiered on February 2 and has since skyrocketed in popularity. The main hashtag on Weibo has received over 4 billion clicks, with 150 million views on February 19 alone.

▶️ This drama is an adaptation of the novel “Amidst a Snowstorm of Love” (在暴雪时分) by Chinese web novelist and screenwriter Mobao Feibao (墨宝非宝).
▶️ Singer Deng Dian (邓典D.D, b. 1999) performed the theme song for this drama, which has also become an online hit.
▶️ To realistically portray his characters, actor Wu Lei underwent snooker and billiards training before filming the drama. He also learned horse riding, archery, badminton, and tennis for other roles, leading some commentators to joke that he’s getting ready to compete in the “Olympics” of China’s entertainment industry.

You can watch Amidst a Snowstorm of Love with English subtitles via Viki here.

 

What Lies Behind

Observations beyond the headlines, by Miranda Barnes

Only a few days into the Chinese New Year, China had already registered over 3.5 billion passenger trips. The Spring Festival travel rush is known as the world’s largest annual migration, predominantly journeys back to hometowns and family reunions. And so, over the past ten days or so, social media was flooded with videos showing family members’ emotional reactions when they are surprised by the homecoming of loved ones. Videos showed tears, laughter, hugs, and gentle scoldings for not giving advance notice of arrivals. Many viewers admitted to being moved to tears by these heartfelt moments while scrolling on their phones. But during the Spring Festival, we gradually saw a shift in people’s posts as they reported from their hometowns, where happy family reunions often turned into dinner dramas.

Returning home after prolonged separation from parents often evokes mixed feelings among Chinese younger people. While they look forward to family gatherings and homemade comfort food, they also worry that their family might find out that the idealized portrayal of their lives over the phone doesnt exactly match the reality. The joy of reunion fades with each passing day.

“It’s my fourth day home and I’ve been offering to do all the dishes to nurture our family bond,” some said, “but now, on day five, an argument has finally broke out.” While the immediate triggers for family disputes may vary, underlying reasons are often similar, as shared by Weibo users. Comments like “All you do is stay glued to your phone,” “You can’t even support yourself with your income; do you know how much money your cousin is making?” and “When are you getting married? You’re embarrassing us,” are commonplace. One commenter lamented, “I’m currently locked up in my room after a disagreement with my family. They all say home is a safe haven, but we all know that returning home during Chinese New Year means stepping into the eye of a storm.”

Amid these challenging times, psychologists offer online tips to foster better understanding of the generation gap and improve communication. Nevertheless, many express the difficulty of engaging in equal and respectful conversations with their parents and elders. As one blogger reflected, “It’s always the same emotional cycle during the Spring Festival: a honeymoon phase to start with, followed by numerous arguments, and sadness upon leaving home in the end.”

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

“We hired a car and now we’re being extorted. Halfway through, they wanted us to pay more to buy tickets; we disagreed, so now the driver won’t continue driving. What should I do? Should I call the police?” This was the urgent plea for help that Olympic swimmer Fu Yuanhui (傅园慧) posted on Weibo on Saturday morning, February 17th. Following her post, Fu Yuanhui and the scamming incident quickly went trending on Weibo, and her situation was soon resolved. This also led to criticism, as people argued she only got help so quickly because she is famous. Read more via link below.

Read more
 

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

So far, the Year of the Dragon is an especially fruitful one for Chinese actress and director Jia Ling (贾玲). Although the famous comedian had previous major successes with her directorial debut Hi, Mom in 2021, her current popularity is unprecedented: everyone is talking about Jia Ling.

We recently covered Jia Ling’s return to the spotlight after a year-long break from the public eye. Not only did she announce her new film YOLO (热辣滚烫), the actress also lost a staggering 110 lbs (50 kg) for her role.

Her movie turned out to be the biggest box office hit of the season. Of all the different box office premieres during the eight-day Spring Festival holiday, Jia Ling’s YOLO took the lead with 2.7 billion yuan.

YOLO (热辣滚烫) is an inspirational story about an overweight woman who finds new purpose and becomes fit through boxing. But it’s about more than the movie alone: Jia Ling herself has become a great source of inspiration to others. Besides acting and directing, she is now also singing and composing. This week, the music video for Jia’s song “Everything Is Still Possible” or “Everything Comes in Time” (一切都来得及) was released. In the video, the ‘new’ Jia Ling can be seen singing a duet with her former self, singing about the importance of loving yourself.

Jia Ling singing a duet with her old self.

After her box office success, hit song, and new appearance, it seems that Jia Ling is at the peak of her popularity. She’s become a role model for her talent, dedication, and style – she’s the hottest woman on Weibo.

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

In light of the Spring Festival, we’ve picked this article from our archive from one year ago which explores a new genre that was introduced during the CMG Gala in 2023, namely the ‘micro film.’ While this year’s show also featured another short film by director Zhang Dapeng at the very beginning, the 2023 short film titled “Me and My Spring Festival Night” (“我和我的春晚”) truly captivated audiences. This 7-minute mini-film was a remarkable piece of storytelling with a surprising twist at the end. Many viewers hailed it as the highlight of the Gala, with some even going so far as to call it the best segment of the Gala they’d seen in a decade. Read more about the short film here 👇

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Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Chunshan Studies” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “Spring Mountain Studies” or “Chunshan Studies” (Chūn Shān Xué 春山学), a phrase which has taken the Chinese internet by storm recently.

“Chunshan Studies” emerged as a result of the controversy surrounding the song “Going Up Spring Mountain” performed at the annual CMG Spring Festival by Bai Jingting (白敬亭), Wei Chen (魏晨), and Wei Daxun (魏大勋). Bai, the only singer of the three dressed in black and standing at the highest pedestal during the live performance, became the subject of online scrutiny when netizens accused him of purposely choosing his position and attire to steal the spotlight.

The incident became a hot topic, almost evolving into a full-fledged study with various related theories, hence netizens humorously started referring to it as “Spring Mountain Studies” or “Chunshan Studies”. Netizens meticulously scrutinized everything from wardrobe details to body language, searching for hidden meanings and subtle clues that may reveal the intentions of those involved and the truth of what happened on stage. On social media platforms Douyin and Bilibili, numerous “Chunshan Studies” videos emerged, providing frame-to-frame analyses of how Bai Jingting may have tried to seize the main position and supposed abnormal stage movements.

Chunshan Studies has become a distinct field of study focusing on the “Going Up Spring Mountain” controversy, but it also intersects with critical analysis, popular media discourse, and social studies. Some commenters believe that the discussions about Bai Jingting’s position on stage are actually about equity and ethical behavior.

Guess we all learned something new this Spring Festival!

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

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Chinese New Year

Weibo Watch: Late Little Rabbit

Experts anticipate a small peak in “dragon babies” (龙宝宝) births this year. But many young people don’t care much for lunar birth timing.

Manya Koetse

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #23

 

Dear Reader,

 

With a record 9 billion passenger trips expected in the upcoming weeks, China’s Spring Festival travel rush is in full swing. Preparations for festivities and family reunions are underway, and the most auspicious year for baby-making is about to begin.

The Year of the Dragon, specifically the Wood Dragon, will commence on February 10th. While in some years, mothers are trying to deliver their babies earlier to make sure it is not born in what is considered a less lucky year (such as the Year of the Sheep), the dragon year is known for seeing an increase in (delayed) births. Many expectant couples and aspiring parents across China hope to deliver their babies in what is traditionally seen as the most auspicious year for a child to be born.

As a symbol of power once associated with the emperor, children born in the dragon year are believed to be destined for good fortune and are more likely to become leaders. “Wàng zǐ chéng long” (望子成龙) is a Chinese idiom that literally translates to “hoping one’s son becomes a dragon” and means to have great hopes for one’s offspring to succeed in life.

This year, experts anticipate a small peak in “dragon babies” (lóng bǎobǎo 龙宝宝) births. The last Year of the Dragon, 2012, also witnessed a temporary increase in births in mainland China. Some maternity wards even had to add beds, and expectant mothers were reminded to reserve their spot months in advance (Huang et al 2021; Hvistendahl 2013).

While a baby boom won’t solve China’s demographic problems, it would be welcomed this year. Earlier this month, the National Bureau of Statistics reported just 9.02 million births for mainland China in 2023, another record low after 2022 when only 9.56 million babies were born. It was the first time deaths outnumbered births in China since the Great Leap Forward in the 1960s.

Despite triggering discussions and concerns on Chinese social media, many young people suggest that the ‘experts’ worrying about China’s dropping birth rates should go ahead and have more babies themselves. Even a lucky dragon year won’t convince them to have children amidst youth unemployment and rising living costs.

Some feel that the Year of the Dragon only adds to the pressures they already face. In social media discussions, they come up with various reasons to disagree with parents and family members urging them to have a baby this year. After all, having a baby in the dragon year may make it harder for the child, facing increased competition in education and the workplace from fellow dragon babies.

On Weibo, Sina Finance recently conducted a poll, asking netizens if they deliberately choose a specific time, such as the dragon year, for having children. Despite strong traditional beliefs in lunar birth timing, nearly 80% of respondents said they would not pick a particular timing for their child’s birth, as any timing is considered the best timing.

I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment, and I’m thrilled to share some personal news with you: my baby boy Kai entered the world early last week, at the tail end of the Year of the Rabbit. Though not as mighty and bold as the Dragon, the Rabbit is cherished for symbolizing longevity, peace, and prosperity. Kai is not only healthy and strong but also irresistibly cute and cuddly, so I can definitely accept that he just couldn’t wait for the dragon year to make his debut. We’ll make do with the rabbit charm instead.

The arrival of my own late little rabbit this month is also why it has been quiet at What’s on Weibo over the past two weeks. Meanwhile, on Weibo, various topics trended; the Chunyun travel season started (Jan 26-March 6), a devastating landslide hit Yunnan, two deadly fires raised discussions, the Brendan Kavanagh incident unfolded and made international headlines, and Olympic champion Eileen Gu once again became a hot topic. We’ll get back to writing about these trends and much more in the coming weeks. Our next regular newsletter will be sent to you in the first week of the Year of the Dragon.

Until then,

Best,
Manya

References:

Huang, Cheng, Shiying Zhang, Qingguo Zhao, and Yan Lin. 2021. “Dragon Year Superstition, Birth Timing, and Neonatal Health Outcomes.” China Economic Review 66: 101594. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chieco.2021.101594.

Hvistendahl, Mara. 2013. “Enter the Dragons.” The Atlantic (Jan/Feb): 21-22.

 

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

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