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Weibo Watch: The “Subway Judge”

From Subway Judge to Diving Grandpas, these were the main topics that mattered on Chinese social media recently.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #13

This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – The Subway Judge
◼︎ 2. What’s Trending – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What More to Know – Highlighting 8 hot topics
◼︎ 4. What Lies Behind – Beyond Huawei’s latest release
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – Digging through the Great Wall
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Oppenheimer, censored
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Kimono problems
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Anti-Radiation”

Featured header contains a meme that has spread online, posted by account @肉肉杀手zz

 

Dear Reader,

 

A new character was added to China’s memeverse this week. He is called the ‘Subway Judge’ (Dìtiě Pànguān, 地铁判官), a young man who gained notoriety for an incident that occurred on a Qingdao subway this week.

In a video of the incident that went completely viral on Chinese social media, an elderly man and a woman got into an argument with another female passenger over seating arrangements. The woman was accused of taking up two seats, which infuriated the man, prompting him to shout, “So I can take ten seats if I want!”

In this moment, the young man, wearing a Vans t-shirt, approached the scene upon hearing the commotion and he seemingly intervened in the name of justice: he looked at the elderly man in disbelief upon hearing him yell about taking ten seats. Without hesitation, he slapped the elderly man on the cheek and then walked away, leaving everyone bewildered.

The Subway Judge meme: within that brief moment, he transitioned from confusion, assessing the situation, to decisively making up his mind, and taking action when seeing ‘injustice.’

It is this moment, just a mere few seconds, that made the young man instantly famous, and he was hailed as a hero for daring to step up when witnessing injustice, for confronting an elderly, for daring to handing out a slap when people are behaving uncivilized in public spaces -especially on public transport. The incident sparked a series of memes, and the T-shirt worn by the young man soon sold out on Taobao.

In some memes, the ‘Subway Judge’ was depicted with a crescent moon on his forehead, like Bao Zheng (包拯), a Chinese historical figure who is known as one of China’s most celebrated upright and just officials who even dared to contradict the emperor.

The praise for the “Subway Judge” mirrors the exasperation and powerlessness many feel in the face of uncivilized conduct in public places. It’s precisely because his actions are so unusual – who among the younger generation would dare to deliver a slap to an elderly individual’s face?! – that they resonate with younger people, who find it refreshing to witness such a bold and unconventional response.

One account pretending to be the “Subway Judge” wrote down the basics of his character: “First! Never act on impulse. Second! Never let any wrongdoing slip through. Third! Ensure the absolute fairness of judgment. The Subway Righteous Judge (地铁正义判官) is here to make a righteous appearance!” Some vloggers have even gone out in public pretending to be the ‘Subway Judge.’

Various Subway Judge memes.

As usually happens when small incidents go viral so fast, the real circumstances behind the meme are overlooked. The elderly man had not meant his words to be taken so literally; the younger man had misunderstood the situation; and physical violence should not be praised. The incident’s aftermath involved the elderly man filing a police report. Local authorities have stated that the man who slapped him has mental health issues, and that both parties have now reached an agreement, resolving the issue.

Meanwhile, the legacy of the Subway Judge lives on in China’s online meme culture.

Isn’t it ironic that in this time when people are desperately searching for common sense, boldness, and a fresh perspective, the individual hailed as a hero turns out to be struggling with ‘mental illness’? Perhaps it’s indicative of the times we live in, prompting us to question who the ‘sick’ ones actually are. Maybe we all need a slap of reality.

Miranda Barnes and Ruixin Zhang have contributed to this week’s newsletter.

Best,
Manya (@manyapan)

PS In case you missed it, some of the viral videos I tweeted about this week:

➡️ The viral moment in the Qingdao subway.

➡️ It seems that Jay Chou’s concerts in Tianjin were quite spectacular. The Tianjin Olympic Center, with a capacity of 54,696 seats, provided an impressive venue. According to a previous report by GT, a whopping 5.2 million people had expressed their interest in attending one of Jay’s four Tianjin concerts, with the final one happening today. Remarkably, around 130,000 tickets were sold within just 30 seconds after becoming available for purchase.

➡️ Amid discussions over draft law banning clothes harmful to the “spirit, feelings of the Chinese nation,” this incident sparked discussions: Chinese wearing Tang clothes were denied entry at Panlongcheng Park, Wuhan, after local guard mistook their clothes for Japanese attire. Watch video here.

➡️ Shinjuku restaurant puts up a sign saying all their food comes from Fukushima. This Chinese vlogger feels wronged and calls the police. Video with subtitles.

➡️ And some viral pictures showed that not everyone is appreciating the latest collaboration hype between Luckin coffee and Maotai liquor.

 

A closer look at the top stories

1: From Baijiu Latte to DIY Liquor Coffee | Would you like a shot with that? China’s coffee culture is brewing up something new as it embraces the fusion of coffee and alcohol. This blossoming trend, such a hot topic online this week thanks to the hyped Luckin x Maotai collaboration, is sparking curiosity and discussions about its lasting impact on coffee culture in China.

Read more
 

2: A Different Eco-anxiety Discourse | This year, as China faced extreme heat and severe floods, various English-language media outlets noticed a lack of public discourse on climate change in China. Unlike the West, where discussions on extreme weather link to human-caused climate change, China doesn’t often connect global warming to its carbon emissions or manufacturing practices. Instead, concerns about ecological challenges and the future are directed toward different topics. In our recent article, we explore how climate change, global warming, and environmental activism may not be as prominent in daily life and online media in China as in the West, but certain ecological topics, often promoted by state media and amplified by the public, gain all the more attention.

3: Cultural Sensitivities vs. Personal Freedom: | China’s recent proposal to ban clothing that “hurts national feelings” has triggered social media debates about freedom of dress and cultural sensitivities. The controversial amendment has raised questions about who decides what’s offensive for which reason. While some argue for the significance of protecting national pride, others emphasize the value of personal expression. Amid these discussions, an incident sparked discussions: Chinese wearing Tang clothes were denied entry at Panlongcheng Park, Wuhan, after local guard mistook their clothes for Japanese attire (see video).

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Highlighting 8 hot topics

Tianjin’s diving grandpas had to stop their diving activities after rising to internet fame, causing too many people to dive into the river.

◼︎ 1. G20 without Xi. While the BRICS Summit was one of the hot topics mentioned in our previous Weibo Watch newsletter, the G20 (二十国集团) in India is the big international event that is receiving the most attention this week. The most noteworthy issue about it is that Xi Jinping is not attending the summit, held between 9–10 September, even though he has never missed a G20 summit before. Instead, Premier of the State Council Li Qiang (李强) is attending the meetings, and he called for solidarity and cooperation, and a strengthened coordination of macroeconomic policies on Saturday. (Hashtag “G20 summit” #g20峰会#, 310 million views).

◼︎ 2. Morocco Earthquake. The major earthquake in Morocco has been dominating headlines all over the world, and is also a big topic on Weibo. At least 2,012 people have been killed and 2,059 injured in Friday’s devastating earthquake. Xi Jinping extended China’s condolences to the King of Morocco. After the devastating earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria in February of this year, various rescue groups from all over China came to assist in the quake-hit areas. (Weibo hashtag: “Morocco 6.9-Magnitude Earthquake” #摩洛哥6.9级地震#, 120 million views.)

◼︎ 3. Extreme Rain & Floods. Over the past week, Hong Kong and Shenzhen experienced the most severe rainfall on record, causing traffic problems, school and office closures, and ongoing flood concerns. This heavy rain was a result of the lingering impact of Typhoon Haikui, which had struck Taiwan, Fujian, and Guangdong earlier in the week. With a red alert (the highest warning level) in place on Friday, local authorities urged residents to stay home and reach out to official channels for assistance if needed. (Weibo hashtags “Shenzhen Rainstorms” #深圳暴雨#, 2 billion views; “Hong Kong Torrential Rains” #香港暴雨#, 280 million views).

◼︎ 4. Girl Hospitalized with Skull Fracture Following Teacher’s Attack. A disturbing incident has captured the attention of Chinese social media this week as a 9-year-old girl in Changsha city was admitted to the hospital after being assaulted by her teacher. The incident transpired during an after-school activity when the 40-year-old teacher reportedly used a glass ruler to strike the student in an attempt to ‘maintain order.’ The girl, who sustained a fractured skull, has regained consciousness following surgery. The teacher has been detained pending an investigation into the incident. (Hashtag “Teacher under Public Security Investigation for Fracturing Student’s Skull #公安介入调查老师打碎学生头骨#, 130 million views; Female Student Whose Skull was Fractured by Teacher has Awaken #被老师打破头骨女生已清醒#, 180 million views).

◼︎ 5. Tianjin’s Diving Grandpas Tell People To Stop Diving. Recently, Tianjin’s “diving grandpas” have gained significant attention for their daring dives into the river from the Stone Lion Forest Bridge (狮子林桥), becoming an internet sensation. The elderly men, who have ample experience, have now called on the public to stop coming to Tianjin to imitate their actions, as it is leading to social media influencers flocking to the bridge to dive, causing dangerous situations. While the city authorities are now investigating the safety of the site, the grandpas also have stopped their diving activities after thirty years. It’s the downside of internet fame! (Hashtag: “Tianjin ‘Uncles’ Announce Withdrawal from Lion Forest Bridge Diving” #天津大爷们宣布退出狮子林桥跳水#, 180 million views)

◼︎ 6. CNKI Fined. China’s Cyberspace Administration has taken legal action against the private-owned publishing company CNKI (China National Knowledge Infrastructure) for unlawfully collecting personal data. CNKI allegedly collected personal information without obtaining consent, failed to provide clear disclosure of its data collection policies, and neglected to delete user personal data upon account cancellation. As a result, CNKI has been instructed to halt its illegal handling of personal information and has been fined 50 million RMB (approximately $6 million USD). (Weibo hasthag #知网被罚款5000万元#, 160 million views)

◼︎ 7. Weibo Bans Crypto Influencers. This week, China’s tightening grip on cryptocurrency activities became more evident as Weibo removed the accounts of 80 cryptocurrency influencers, each with over 8 million followers, as reported by the South China Morning Post (SCMP). This move follows a broader crackdown initiated in August 2022 when the Cyberspace Administration of China removed thousands of crypto-related accounts and posts promoting virtual assets. Weibo had previously banned prominent figures like Binance co-founder Yi He and cryptocurrency entrepreneur Justin Sun as part of the government’s efforts to regulate the virtual asset industry, which began in 2019. In September 2021, ten Chinese government agencies collectively declared numerous cryptocurrency-related activities as illegal financial practices. (Read the SCMP report here).

◼︎ 8. Controversial “Drink Milk” Plan for Students. A school in Suiping County, Henan, sparked controversy recently when a teacher required parents to provide medical documentation proving their child’s inability to consume milk if they chose not to subscribe to the school’s milk program. China introduced the National School Milk Programme (学生饮用奶计划) in 2000 to encourage dairy consumption for students’ healthy growth, but participation is meant to be voluntary. This incident brought attention to the issue of “hidden costs” within China’s education system and the pressure placed on parents to cover various expenses, some of which may involve commissions for the school. The school later clarified that the requirement regarding the milk was an individual initiative by one of their teachers, and that appropriate action had been taken, including reprimanding the teacher for their actions. (Weibo hashtag “Students Who Don’t Subscribe to Milk Need Proof of Hospital Diagnosis” #学生不订奶要开县级医院以上诊断证明#, 160 million views).

 

What’s Behind the Headlines

Observations by Miranda

Beyond Huawei’s Mate60 Release

The early release of the latest Huawei smartphone Mate60 Pro on August 28th sparked a wide range of online discussions this week. As the phone is believed to be armed with homegrown cutting-edge technology, Chinese tech bloggers rushed to get their hands on the Mate60 Pro to present their followers with their detailed analysis of the piece. Some videos on this topic garnered over 100 million views within a single day.

While many Chinese consumers are excited about the technological aspects, Huawei’s actions are also scrutinized in the context of China-US geopolitical tensions. The surprising release without a traditional press conference coincided with the visit of US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo to China. The Mate60 Pro, equipped with the Kirin 9000s chip, a domestic 7 nanometer (nm) innovation, is seen by some as a response to US tech sanctions. People analyzed details to ascertain if the timing was intentional. Some noted that Chinese Premier Li Qiang had visited several tech firms in Shenzhen, including Huawei, just a week before Raimondo’s scheduled visit. Others observed that a Weibo post from an account widely believed to represent China’s state media (央视新闻) featured a watermark of the Huawei Mate60 Pro on the same day as Raimondo’s press conference in Shanghai, which was the day after the new phone’s launch. Many view this as a display of China’s confidence in its tech capabilities despite US sanctions, and they humorously portrayed Raimondo as the best ambassador for the Huawei Mate60 Pro through memes.

Simultaneously, some expressed frustration that the West appeared relatively quiet as China is making strides in chip development. They were eager to see how the West would react. However, after the initial week, some Western reactions did come to the forefront. During the same week, news emerged that China was prohibiting certain civil service and government officials from using iPhones. The hashtag “Will you switch from iPhone to Huawei this year?” (“今年你会从iPhone转华为吗”) ranked second on the hot search lists and received nearly 180 million views. People appear to be rooting for more than just the latest Huawei smartphone; it’s become a symbol of technological independence.

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

Digging through Historical Heritage | Two construction workers from Inner Mongolia were working at a construction site near the Great Wall when they decided to use their excavator to dig through the Ming Wall in order to create a 5-meter wide shortcut and save some time on their construction work. In doing so, they caused irreversible damage to the cultural heritage site. Commenters on Weibo suggest the two construction workers deserve an “ancient punishment” for ruining such ancient heritage.

Read more
 

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

My Censorship is Better than Yours | Christopher Nolan’s summer blockbuster has finally hit the screens in China, five weeks after it was first released in the United States and several other countries. While the movie was a hot topic online, Chinese cinemagoers noticed that a nude Florence Pugh, who plays Jean Tatlock, is wearing a computer-generated black dress in China’s version of Oppenheimer. Instead of criticizing the censorship, many people praised the little black dress, suggesting China’s editing is better than India’s.

Read more
 

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

Fashion Police This week, there has been significant discussion surrounding a proposed amendment to China’s Public Security Law, which includes provisions for banning clothing deemed “harmful” to “the spirit and sentiments of the Chinese nation.” This controversial topic (read) has ignited debates about the implications of having actual ‘fashion police’ in China, raising questions about what attire would be permissible and what would not.

This situation harks back to a noteworthy incident from last summer when a young Chinese female cosplayer, dressed in a Japanese summer kimono while taking photos in Suzhou’s ‘Little Tokyo’ area, was detained by local police for allegedly ‘provoking trouble.’ While some argued that wearing Japanese clothing near a sensitive date like August 15 (Victory over Japan) might not be appropriate, many voices defended the woman’s right to wear whatever she chose, including a Japanese summer yukata.

Read more
 

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Anti Radiation” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “防辐射” (fáng fúshè), which translates to “protect against radiation” or “anti-radiation.”

Since Japan began releasing treated radioactive water from the damaged Fukushima power plant into the ocean, various related discussions have surged across Chinese social media platforms. Concerned netizens are actively seeking ways to safeguard themselves against potential radiation risks. Some are sharing advice on foods believed to offer protection against radiation exposure.

The term “anti-radiation” has gained significant popularity on the Baidu search engine, experiencing a 3083% surge in searches compared to the previous month.

Simultaneously, certain businesses have attempted to profit from these radiation concerns. One Japanese-style restaurant in Shanghai’s Hongqiao area recently stirred controversy by offering an “anti-radiation” set meal (“防辐射”套餐). This meal, initially introduced on the online platform Dianping, featured ingredients like tomatoes, edamame, tofu, and spinach. Read more about this in our article here.

Read more
 

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

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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 👇

Read more

 

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

Published

on

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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