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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.

Read more
 

 

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.👇

Read more

 

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.

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

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

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Featured

Weibo Watch: Telling China’s Stories Wrong

“Quick, give me a ‘like’ so I can get my credit score up.”

Manya Koetse

Published

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #29

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Telling China’s Stories Wrong
◼︎ 2. What’s New and Noteworthy – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What’s Trending – Hot highlights
◼︎ 4. What’s On Screen – Top TV Shows to watch
◼︎ 5. What’s Remarkable – Wang Wenbin said “farewell”
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Versace’s new brand ambassador
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – The social media spectacle of the military drills
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Back to the root”

 

Dear Reader,

 

This week, various English-language newspapers featured noteworthy headlines about a new Chinese chatbot launched on Monday.

The South China Morning Post appears to have been the first English-language newspaper to report on Tuesday that “China rolls out a large language model AI based on Xi Jinping Thought.”

Barely a day later, others started popping up like mushrooms. “China’s latest answer to OpenAI is Chat Xi PT,” headlined the Financial Times, writing: “Beijing’s latest attempt to control how artificial intelligence informs Chinese internet users has been rolled out as a chatbot trained on the thoughts of President Xi Jinping.”

These articles suggested that China had developed a new chatbot to counter free speech and create a Chinese rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

“China chat bot trained to think like Xi Jinping,” the headline by Asia Financial reads. Other news sites featured similar ones: “Meet Chat Xi PT, the new AI chatbot that gives answers based on the Chinese president’s thinking,” and “What next? Kim-Jong-AI?”

The actual story is far less sensational. In reality, there is no Xi Jinping chatbot, no Chinese ‘Chat-GPT’ trained on his thoughts, and it’s untrue that the only Chinese version of a ChatGPT-like application would be run by the Party.

In our latest article here, we explain the true story behind the application, which is essentially an AI tool for people working or doing research in the field of Chinese cybersecurity and online information.

The name of the application is not ‘Chat Xi PT’ but the ‘Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application,’ which is based on domestically available pre-trained language models and sources from seven major specialty knowledge bases, including one on ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism’, the corpus of political and economic ideas/theory developed by Xi Jinping which was incorporated into the Party Constitution in 2017.

 
Chinese Whispers
 

Over the years, I’ve observed how stories like these seep into the English-language media landscape and take on a life of their own, spreading like wildfire until it’s nearly impossible to correct misconceptions. It’s almost like the game “Chinese Whispers,” where a message is passed around in whispers, often resulting in a completely distorted version of the original.

The English-language news discourse on China’s Social Credit System is a prime example of this game. The Social Credit System became a prominent news topic in the West since 2017, and reports like this one by abc.net.au made sure that Orwellian stories about “personal scorecards” and dystopian nightmares popped up in every newspaper until people outside of China actually started believing they were true.

Unfounded reports about the Social Credit System became so rampant that even sources usually known for sticking to the facts got it wrong. Another time, one American news outlet reported that China’s Social Credit System was now tracking people eating dinner at Haidilao in Canada, creating a bizarre mix of credit scores and Chinese hotpot.

To this day, scholars like Jeremy Daum and Vincent Brussee are busy refuting the claims made in numerous articles and telling the actual realities of the Social Credit System, which, spoiler alert, is far less dramatic than the gloomy sci-fi headlines suggest. (Read more on social credit here).

How do journalists get it so wrong? It’s likely a combination of factors. In Dutch, we say, “to hear the bell toll but not know where the clapper hangs,” meaning someone has heard of something but doesn’t know the specifics. They report on something they’ve read but misunderstand and conflate things, leading to grossly inaccurate articles. For example, some reporters apparently believed ‘Chat Xi PT’ was the actual recent application’s name and that ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ referred to Xi’s private thoughts rather than a body of theories. Similarly, the Social Credit stories perpetuated the false claim that China has a centralized database where every citizen gets a ‘score’ based on their behavior.

But there’s more to it. The news media industry is tough, and some publications need clickbaity articles to attract readership. While stories about dystopian camera systems and Xi Jinping chatbots are popular, few would care about the launch of China’s “Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application” (which is why this story is attracting zero attention in China).

Moreover, these China stories resonate with fears people in the US and Europe have about extensive digital surveillance and omnipresent technology in their own societies, as noted by Jeremy Daum in various interviews. These fears are intensified by the ongoing discourse about a ‘US vs China AI war,’ leading to exaggerated perceptions of China’s capabilities.

 
Telling China’s stories well
 

Under Xi Jinping, the idea of “telling China’s stories well” became a key task in foreign policy and news reporting to enhance China’s international image and strengthen its global influence through external propaganda.

This initiative includes creating (news) stories and narratives that align with Party goals; highlighting Chinese accomplishments, promoting the “Chinese dream,” showcasing traditional Chinese culture, presenting China’s rise as beneficial for global cooperation, and countering Western negative coverage of China.

The inaccurate and often sensationalized stories we see about China are problematic in many ways. They not only reflect biases and laziness among reporters and demonstrate tendencies to project worries onto China’s emergence as an AI powerhouse, they also increase misconceptions about the factual stories that need to be told. In doing so, they inadvertently strengthen China’s efforts to control its narrative and tell China’s stories “well” by making it so easy to discredit those who are telling China’s stories “wrong.”

At the same time, these stories fuel anti-Western sentiment on Chinese social media. Bloggers use these exaggerated accounts as evidence of foreign hostility toward China.

Sometimes, however, it also leads to some online banter about ‘silly foreigners’ buying into bogus stories. One popular Weibo post that received thousands of likes said:

There’s this online rumor which some foreigners believe, that China operates this system of “credit points” similar to Sesame Credit and that everyone’s closely monitored. If you behave badly, points will be deducted, and if your score’s too low, you’ll be locked up, and that and these “credit points” can be transferred to each other.

One top commenter responded:

Oh my god, this is just too funny hahaha! Quick, give me a ‘like’ so I can get my credit score up.”

Even ‘Chat Xi PT’ couldn’t dream this stuff up.

Best,
Manya

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: About that story | This is the write-up I did this week about the ‘Xi Jinping chatbot’ following the many English-language media reports. It includes a full translation of the Chinese text the reports were based on and some key takeaways.

Read more
 

2: ‘One China’ Campaign 2.0 | Following the inauguration of Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te and China’s military exercises, Taiwan has been a trending topic on Chinese social media all week. Within a single day, the hashtag ‘Taiwan must return’ received a staggering 2.4 billion views on Weibo. Read all about China’s intensified social media propaganda campaign here.

Read more
 

3: “Retaliate against Society” | Earlier this week, a tragic stabbing incident at Mingde Primary School in Wenfang Town, Guixi City, Jiangxi, went viral on Weibo. The suspect, a 45-year-old local woman, was detained by police after attacking innocent people, including children, with a fruit knife, resulting in two fatalities.

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

  • MONDAY 20 MAY
    • The tragic story behind the recent suicide of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ went viral earlier this month, touching upon broader societal issues from unfair gender dynamics to businesses taking advantage of grieving internet users.
    • The story went viral once again this week after local authorities issued a lengthy report to clarify the timeline of events and details surrounding the death of “Fat Cat,” which, among other conclusions, stated that there was no illegal fraud involved in the relationship that supposedly drove “Fat Cat” to his suicide. Read more here.
  •  

  • TUESDAY 21 MAY
    • Just a day after a woman attacked various people, including children, at a primary school in Guixi, another knife attack went trending on Tuesday.
    • The incident happened In Zigong, Sichuan, when a 52-year-old man assaulted a bus driver and a passenger with a knife after supposedly “suffering a seizure” on the bus. The man has been detained and the case is currently under investigation by local authorities. The two victims have been hospitalized and are not in critical condition.
  •  

  • WEDNESDAY 22 MAY
    • The social media accounts of three prominent Chinese influencers known for flaunting their wealth were blocked and banned from Douyin, Weibo, and Xiaohongshu this week.
    • Wang Hongquanxin (王红权星), Baoyu Jiajie (鲍鱼家姐), and Bo Gongzi (柏公子) were known for putting their luxury lifestyles on display on the internet. Together, they had millions of followers.
    • Chinese news outlet The Paper called the crackdown a “mini earthquake” for China’s luxury influencers. Read more on WWD here.
  •  

  • THURSDAY 23 MAY
    • A female student majoring in pharmacy at Peking University went viral on Thursday for using academic literature from CNKI to drastically improve her 800-meter track run time within a one-week timeframe. She found out that energy sources stored in muscles was crucial, and focused on improving her anaerobic endurance.
    • She improved her 800-meter running time from over four minutes to 3 minutes and 29 seconds. If you have access to Chinese academic literature and would like to see where she got her information from, the title of the journal article is “论中跑和长跑训练的生理机制和生化特点” authored by Liu Baoguo 刘保国.
  •  

  • FRIDAY 24 MAY
    • The death of the 14-year-old Japanese shiba inu dog Kabosu, known for inspiring the “doge” meme, went top trending on Weibo on Friday. The dog became a internet sensation in 2013 after a photo shared by its Japanese owner went viral. Kabosu’s popularity led to the creation of the Dogecoin cryptocurrency, and she became an internet icon globally.
    • In China, doge became a special emoji on major social media platforms like Weibo, WeChat and Douyin, mostly used as a symbol of sarcasm.
  •  

  • SATURDAY 25 MAY
    • Hunan TV’s singing competition “Singer 2024” remains a hot topic! The show has captured viewers’ attention by incorporating international talent and pitting them against renowned Chinese performers.
    • On Friday, American singer-songwriter Adam Lambert joined the competition, not only competing against Chinese stars but also against Chante Moore and Faouzia, who joined earlier and are still in the running. Read more about the show in our article here.
  •  

    What’s the Drama

    Top TV to Watch

    The highly anticipated second season of Joy of Life (庆余年) has been a hot topic in Chinese entertainment circles this week, especially as it topped the rankings among Chinese TV channel evening drama programs. This drama, touching upon themes of time travel, politics, power struggles, and romance, follows the journey of a contemporary man who wakes up as a baby in Southern Qing.

    To know:

    ▶️ The series is adapted from a Chinese web novel originally published from 2007 to 2009 by the successful author Mao Ni (猫腻).
    ▶️ The first season, which premiered in 2019, gained immense popularity and received praise from both audiences and critics.
    ▶️ Describing the anticipation for this show as “much anticipated” would be an understatement. The first season ended with a cliffhanger, leaving fans eagerly awaiting a second season for the past five years. The announcement of the second season was made in May 2023.

    Joy of Life 2 is available with English subtitles on Viki here.

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

    You might not expect it, but China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) has a large fanbase on Chinese social media, where netizens are creative in editing images of Wang, adding quotes or drawings, and making special fan videos. Wang is often praised for his looks and expressions, with fans saying his facial features are “handsome,” “cute,” “adorable,” and saying that ‘Uncle Wang’ is just too “cool.” The widespread admiration for China’s MFA spokespersons like Wang has various social, cultural, and historical reasons, and nationalism also plays a big role in this.

    Wang Wenbin took on his role as spokesperson in 2020, but his online fan clubs report that he is now saying goodbye to take on another role. During his May 24th regular press conference, Wang ended with a serious ‘farewell,’ stepping down and shaking hands with the reporters in the room (see video here). Hundreds of netizens are sad to see their favorite diplomat go, and are wishing him well: ‘Goodbye, Uncle Wang. Wish you all the best in your new position. Thank you for speaking out over the past four years.'”

    A while back, I wrote an extensive report about the online fan culture surrounding Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin and the overall popularity of Chinese diplomats. You can check it out here.

     

    The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

    Chinese singer-songwriter and dancer Cai Xukun was a big topic of conversation on Weibo this week after news came out that he had become the global brand ambassador for Versace. In a joint post with Versace, Cai posted a photo of his Versace campaign with the phrase: “Be a Versace Man.” That post received a staggering 1.8 million likes in one single day.

    The post was noteworthy for multiple reasons. Just a year ago, Cai found himself embroiled in scandal following allegations that he had engaged in a one-night stand with a young woman who then turned out to be pregnant—and that he had demanded an abortion. The entire event led to a wave of comments from fans who expressed their disappointment with their idol.

    The news was not just a comeback for Cai; it also marks a definite pivot in Versace’s brand strategies away from Hollywood-focused faces. In 2023, the Italian fashion house announced South Korean rapper and singer-songwriter Hyunjin as a new Versace face: their first-ever Korean global brand ambassador. Other brand ambassadors, such as Chinese celebrities Zhao Lusi (Rosy Chao) and Ningning, also make it clear that Versace is focusing on speaking to new generations all across the world.

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

    For this pick from the archive, we revisit an article from 2022, during the previous round of China’s major military exercises around Taiwan. Much like the current military drills, the online communications about it are arguably just as important as the exercises themselves. The social media spectacle surrounding the Taiwan military exercises is not a one-dimensional media effort but a dynamic interplay where state-led propaganda and grassroots nationalism meet. Read more here.👇

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

    “Back to the Root” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is Dāngguī (当归), freely translated as “back to the root” in this week’s context of the propaganda campaign surrounding reunification with Taiwan.

    Since earlier in 2024, this term is used by Chinese state media in the slogan “Táiwān dāngguī” (#台湾当归#), which means “Taiwan must return [to the motherland].

    Separately, the two characters in dāngguī 当归 literally mean “should return.”

    However, the slogan is a play on words, as the term dāngguī (当归) as a noun actually means Angelica Sinensis, the Chinese Angelica root or ‘female ginseng,’ a medicinal herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, native to China and cultivated in various East Asian countries.

    This play on words is also evident in the poster disseminated by People’s Daily, where Taiwan is depicted on the left and resembles a piece of the yellowish ‘female ginseng’ root.

    New poster by People’s Daily. ‘Taiwan’ on the left side resembles a piece of Chinese Angelica root (looks like ginseng). It is part of the character “归” (guī, to return, go back to). The remainder of the character consists of various slogans commonly used by Chinese official media to emphasize that Taiwan is part of China.

    Because of this context, where dāngguī 当归 both refers to the discourse of Taiwan returning to China and to the female ginseng root, a creative translation would be “back to the root.” If you want to be less creative, you could also say it’s the Taiwan “should return” campaign.

     
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China Media

China’s Intensified Social Media Propaganda: “Taiwan Must Return to Motherland”

As ‘Taiwan’ is all over Chinese social media, the discourse is controlled and heavily influenced by Chinese official media accounts.

Manya Koetse

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PREMIUM CONTENT

Following the inauguration of Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te on Monday, Taiwan has been a trending topic on Chinese social media all week.

Chinese state media have launched an intensive social media propaganda campaign featuring strong language and clear visuals, reinforcing the message: Taiwan is not a country, Taiwan is part of China, and reunification with the motherland is inevitable.

On Friday, May 24, almost half of the trending topics on Chinese social media platform Weibo were related to Taiwan, its status, and China’s large-scale military drills around Taiwan that began on Thursday.

 

“Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country”

 

On Monday, Lai Ching-te, also known as William Lai, took office after winning the Taiwan elections in January of this year. He was handed over the leadership by Tsai Ing-wen, who served as Taiwan’s president for two four-year terms.

Before leaving office, Tsai spoke to the media and reiterated her stance that Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country. In his inaugural speech, Lai also echoed that sentiment, referring to Taiwan as a nation and urging its people not to “harbor any delusions” about China and cross-strait peace.

Although Chinese official sources did not say much about Lai’s inauguration on the day itself, Chinese state media outlet CCTV issued a strong statement on Wednesday that went viral on social media. They posted an online “propaganda poster” showing the word “unification” (统一) in red, accompanied by the sentence: “‘Taiwan Independence’ is a dead-end road, unification is unstoppable.

The hashtag posted with this image said, “Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country,” reiterating a statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi when Lai won the elections in early 2024.

The propaganda poster posted by CCTV on May 22 was all about “reunification.”

Within merely eight hours, that hashtag (“Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country” #台湾从来不是一个国家也永远不会成为一个国家#) received over 640 million views on Weibo, where it was top trending on Wednesday, accompanied by another hashtag saying “China will ultimately achieve complete reunification” (#中国终将实现完全统一#).

 

“With each provocation our countermeasures advance one step further, until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved”

 

Starting on Thursday, China’s military exercises in the Taiwan Strait became a major topic on the Chinese internet.

“Joint Sword-2024A” (联合利剑—2024A) is the overarching name for the land, sea, and air military exercises conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), designed to test the armed forces’ ability to “seize power” and control key areas of the island.

The political message behind these exercises, asserting China’s claim over Taiwan and showcasing its military power, is as visible online as it is offline.

On Weibo, People’s Daily live-blogged the latest details of the military exercises around Taiwan, including strong statements by the Ministry of Defense and experts asserting that the PLA has the capability to hit various crucial targets in Taiwan, including its southeastern air defense zone.

The Eastern Theater Command (东部战区) of the PLA also released a 3D animation to simulate the destruction of “Taiwan independence headquarters,” severing the “lifeline of Taiwan independence.”

CCTV Military (央视军事) posted that the ongoing PLA operation is aimed to break Taiwan’s “excessive arrogance.”

They quoted the spokesperson of the Ministry of Defense in saying: “With each provocation from [supporters of] ‘Taiwan independence,’ our countermeasures advance one step further until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved.”

 

“The motherland must unify, and it will inevitably unify”

 

One relatively new slogan used in the online propaganda campaign regarding Taiwan this week is “Táiwān dāngguī” (#台湾当归#), which means “Taiwan must return [to the motherland].

However, the slogan is also a play on words, as the term dāngguī (当归) refers to Angelica Sinensis, the Chinese Angelica root (“female ginseng”), a medicinal herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, native to China and cultivated in various East Asian countries.

In one poster disseminated by People’s Daily, Taiwan is depicted on the left – resembling a piece of the yellowish root – as a part of the character “归” (guī, to return, go back to). The remainder of the character consists of various slogans commonly used by Chinese official media to emphasize that Taiwan is part of China.

New poster by People’s Daily. ‘Taiwan’ on the left side resembles a piece of Chinese Angelica root (looks like ginseng).

These sentences include slogans like, “China can’t be one bit less” (“中国一点都不能少”) that has been used by state media to emphasize China’s one-China principle since the 2016 South China Sea dispute.

Accompanying the “Taiwan Must Return” hashtag, People’s Daily writes: “‘Taiwanese independence’ goes against history, it’s a dead end. The motherland must unify, and it will inevitably unify. #TaiwanMustReturn#.”

Within a single day, the hashtag received a staggering 2.4 billion views on Weibo.

Although ‘Taiwan’ is all over Chinese social media, the discourse is controlled and heavily influenced by Chinese official media accounts. The majority of comments from netizens echo official slogans on the issue, expressing sentiments such as “Taiwan will never be a country,” “I support the ‘One China’ principle,” and “Taiwan is part of China.”

A post by CCTV regarding reunification with Taiwan garnered over 100,000 comments, yet only a fraction of these discussions were visible at the time of writing.

Amidst all the slogans and official discourse, there are also some bloggers expressing a broader view on the issue.

One of them wrote: “In the current official media lineup regarding ‘Taiwan is a province of China’, there are no longer any “warnings” or “demands” to be found. The rhetoric has shifted towards reprimands, and towards an emphasis on the legal principles behind the reclamation of Taiwan. I am convinced that a reunification through military force is no longer a ‘Plan B’ – it is the definite direction we are moving towards.”

By Manya Koetse

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