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Why Is Want Want So Popular in China? The Remarkable Revival of an Iconic Brand

We explain why the 60-year-old Want Want brand became the ‘hot kid’ on the block on Chinese social media this year.

Tucker Jiang



Want Want – you probably know their rice crackers with the cute kid icon – is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. How did this decades-old brand become all the rage recently in China? From Pelosi to pickles, there is more to it than nostalgia and its cute ‘Hot Kid’ alone.

Wang Wang (旺旺), better known as ‘Want Want’ in English, has become all the rage in China in recent months. In its September issue, the Chinese magazine China Marketing (销售与市场) listed Want Want as the number one brand on its marketing noticeboard hot brand list, referring to it as “‘Lonely Warrior’ Want Want” (‘孤勇者’旺旺). 

The Want Want Group (旺旺集团) is the most well-known rice cracker maker in China and one of the largest food and beverage makers in the region.

Want Want is a brand that many Chinese millennials grew up with. The Taiwanese company behind Want Want has a history that dates back to 1962. After becoming the dominant rice cracker maker in Taiwan with a market share as high as 95%, founder Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) looked across the Strait and officially ventured into the mainland market in 1992. 

Why is the Want Want brand still so popular in mainland China today? The brand’s success directly goes back to Tsai Eng-meng, who undeniably is a marketing genius with a peculiar style. The Want Want company icon, officially named Wang Zai (旺仔) in Chinese and ‘Hot Kid’ in English, was created in 1979 and depicts a kid with wide open arms and legs, rolling his eyes (fun fact: Hot Kid never looks straight at you).

Want Want Group CEO Tsai with the Want Want icon ‘Hot Kid.’ Image via

With its catchy name and distinctive icon, Want Want soon became a household brand in China. Adding to the brand’s popularity are the many commercials throughout the years that show the brand’s style, standing out due to their simplicity and fun energy.

Some of these advertising campaigns have become part of the collective popular memory of Chinese millennials. On the Chinese video site Bilibili, old Want Want commercials bring up nostaligc feelings and still receive millions of views today (see this famous one, or see a collection of classic Want Want commercials on Bilibili here). 

From one of Want Want’s iconic commercials.

Ingenious strategies brought great success to the company from the start and subsequently ushered in “the golden decade” for Want Want from 2004 to 2013, making Tsai the richest man in Taiwan for three consecutive years.

Apart from Want Want’s signature rice cracker products, products such as Hot Kid Milk (旺仔牛奶), Lonely God Potato Chips (浪味仙), and QQ Gummies (旺仔QQ糖) also became household names in the mainland. 

However, facing more competition and failing to keep up with Chinese customers’ evolving consumption habits and preferences, Want Want was stuck in a bottleneck period and its sales slowed down after 2014. Its recent comeback and sudden social media success have everything to do with Nancy Pelosi’s controversial Taiwan visit in August of 2021.




On July 28, Tsai Wang-Chia (蔡旺家), Tsai Eng-meng’s second son and Want Want’s Chief Operating Officer and executive director, posted three single words on his Weibo account (@Matt旺家): “YOU GO AWAY.” 

The text was accompanied by a photo of an old witch, which just so happens to be the nickname Chinese netizens gave to Pelosi, and the timing of the post was right when reports about the U.S. House Speaker’s potential Taiwan visit were coming out. Want Want soon became a hot topic afterward.

People had already been paying more attention to Tsai Wang-chia’s Weibo account in light of the then-ongoing calls to boycott Taiwanese companies on Chinese social media following rumors regarding Pelosi’s controversial visit.

Someone claiming to be an employee at Want Want then posted on the popular Red (Xiaohongshu) app, defending Want Want for being a “good Taiwanese company,” asking people to “please don’t hurt us by mistake.” This triggered a public campaign of digging into Tsai’s previous posts, and netizens soon discovered that the Want Want executive director had published similar posts before. 

In March of 2022, when a U.S. delegation visited Taiwan, Tsai bluntly posted: “The American pigs have arrived in Taiwan” (“美国猪到台湾了“).

Because of his consistent patriotic and pro-unification stance, coupled with a down-to-earth personality and plain-spoken style despite being an heir of a multibillion dollar family, Tsai Wang-chia soon won the hearts of millions of Chinese netizens.

Tsai Wang-Chia (蔡旺家) and ‘Hot Kid’ (旺仔)

The hype got so so big that people started claiming that the figure of Want Want, the iconic Hot Kid, was actually based on Tsai Wang-chia as a child – despite the fact that ‘Hot Kid’ was created in 1979 while Tsai Wang-Chia was born in 1984. 




Tsai’s pro-unification sentiments seem to run in the family. Want Want founder Tsai Eng-meng, who is also commonly referred to as ‘President Want’ (旺董), has long been a unification supporter. This is also reflected in his business empire, which includes the Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中时媒体集团) that owns dominant pan-Blue (pro-China) media outlets in Taiwan.

Various videos, which soon widely circulated online, also showed ‘President Want’ expressing gratitude for the “great market of the mainland” (“因为有大陆这个伟大的市场,才造就了我旺旺的今天”) and proudly declaring that all Want Want employees are “impressive and dignified Chinese people” (堂堂正正的中国人).

To the delight of many Chinese netizens, more events and incidents showing Want Want’s patriotic stance were brought to light one after another.

The company filed for IPO on the HK Stock Exchange in 2008 with the name “Want Want China Holdings Limited” (中国旺旺控股有限公司); its Want Want Hospital in Hunan (湖南旺旺医院) was among the first private institutions to send a medical aid team to Wuhan during the initial COVID outbreak in the city; in 2019, when a Taiwanese celebrity mockingly said on a local program that “mainlanders cannot afford to eat pickles”, its newspaper Want Daily (旺报) published a conspicuous headline on its August 18 frontpage saying “MAINLANDERS CAN AFFORD TO EAT PICKLES!” (“大陆人吃得起榨菜!”), noting on the side: “Taiwanese are Chinese. We are from the same country and therefore should support each other.” (“台湾人就是中国人. 我们都是同一国的,所以当然要相挺.”)

In early August of this year, Want Want soared to the top of Weibo’s trending list, and netizens swarmed its live stream channel on Taobao, vowing to “consume wildly” (“野性消费”) and “empty their stock” (“清空库存”) in support of the brand.

According to the Time Weekly (时代周报), a government-owned newspaper from Guangzhou, the number of viewers on the channel that day reached almost 100,000 – up to ten times more than what the channel usually received in viewers, – and sales of its online shop spiked as many new customers came in after following the trending hashtag.




In contrast to Want Want’s fervent popularity in mainland China, the brand has become more controversial on the other side of the Taiwan Strait, especially in light of its ownership of multiple leading media outlets, with many expressing worries that its dominant position might impact press freedom.

In June of 2019, a predominantly young mass rallied against so-called “red media” (Taiwanese media in favor of Beijing), with Want Want-owned newspapers (China Times 中国时报 and Want Daily 旺报) and TV channels (China Television 中国电视公司 and CTiTV 中天电视台) being among the main targets.

Protesting against Want Want and other ‘pro-China’ companies in Taiwan, image via

The following month, the Financial Times published an article, quoting anonymous journalists working for these outlets, saying that their editorial managers took direct instructions from Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, a claim that the Want Want China Times Group later responded to as “malicious slander.”

In late 2020, the Tsai Ing-wen administration stripped CTiTV of its broadcast license upon renewal out of concerns about editorial interference by President Want Tsai Eng-meng. Such a ruling was a first since the founding of Taiwan’s National Communications Commission in 2006, a government body that regulates the industry, and evoked opposition from the ‘Blue Camp’ and controversy among the public.




Despite receiving criticism in Taiwan, Want Want has continued its success in mainland China. This year, Want Want is celebrating the company’s 60th anniversary, as well as the 30th year anniversary of the opening of its first factory in mainland China.

China Marketing wrote about Want Want’s 2022 success that “consistency is key” in marketing. Not only did the brand stick with its original logo and traditional products such as rice crackers and its dairy drink, it has also focused on nostalgic or playful ad campaigns throughout the years (think of its successful slogan “You Want, I Want, Everyone Wants” “你旺、我旺、大家旺.”)

Want Want products for sale on Taobao.

At the same time, the company is not afraid to launch new products and stay active in the world of Chinese social media and e-commerce.

But what has really become an essential point in its regained success this year is the brand’s consistency in delivering a patriotic message through multiple channels that resonated with Chinese consumers at a time of deteriorating US-China relations and more focus on cross-strait relations.

Erke, the Chinese sportswear brand by Hongxing Erke Group (鸿星尔克), was also brought back into the limelight in 2021 after they donated 50 million yuan ($7.7 million) to the Henan flood efforts. When people found out that the relatively low-profile brand donated such a high amount of money to help the people in Henan despite its own losses, its online sales went through the roof – everyone wanted to support this generous ‘patriotic brand.’

While nationalistic consumer sentiments matter, being a ‘patriotic brand’ alone is not enough; it eventually is the combination of being consistent and authentic, delivering popular products, and having a strong marketing campaign. When it comes to the mainland market, Want Want tackled all fronts this year.

In October of 2022, Want Want celebrated China’s National Day by using drones to project netizens’ hopes and wishes for the future all over the Great Wall, including a projection of a giant Want Want drink (#旺旺把爱国刻进了DNA#).

For now, Want Want has practically made ‘loving China’ a part of its brand. Mixing rice crackers with some nationalism is turning out to be a recipe for success – at least in the mainland.

By Tucker Jiang, with contributions by Manya Koetse


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    November 1, 2022 at 11:06 pm

    insightful. i am an old man born and raised in the you.ess.ayy but i have fond memories of want want. i appreciate teh article. (y)

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Bad Apples? Chinese Actor Liu Jin Smashes iPhone 13 Pro Max, Anger over ‘Chinese’ Employee Photo on Apple Website

Who’s the bad Apple? There’s much ado about Apple on Chinese social media this week, but things turn out differently than expected.

Manya Koetse



There is a lot of Apple anger on Chinese social media this week. Two separate trending topics have ignited discussions. One revolves around Chinese actor Liu Jin, who smashed his iPhone 13 Pro Max in front of the Apple flagship store, while another one centers on an image of an Apple employee deemed inappropriate by Chinese netizens. But both viral trends have unfolded with surprisingly ‘juicy’ twists.

The Chinese actor Liu Jin (刘金) has become a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media this week for a remarkable statement he made in a 2-minute video that has gone viral.

The ‘statement video’ shows the actor angrily throwing his iPhone 13 Pro Max on the ground until it breaks, right in front of the Wangfujing Apple flagship store in Beijing, pledging he will never buy another Apple product again and accusing the company of being arrogant and overbearing after running into some repair issues.

Liu Jin is an actor who played in various productions, but he made his major breakthrough in 2015 when he played in the Chinese CCTV series Don’t Let me See (别让我看见) and in the successful comedy movie Goodbye Mr Loser (夏洛特烦恼).

In the video, recorded on September 17, Liu explains he just visited the Apple store to get his iPhone back after bringing it in for repair. Liu claimed that he bought his iPhone 13 Pro Max in August of 2022 through the official store and that, after a year, it had a hardware problem that needed to be fixed.

From the video by Liu.

According to Liu, the Apple store has now returned the iPhone to him without repairing it, saying that the phone was “modified without authoritization” by a third party, and that Liu should pay a 6,960 yuan ($950) fee to get it fixed.

Refusing to pay such an amount of money, and denying he got the phone through a third party, Liu then smashes the iPhone on the ground until it is broken, promising never to buy Apple again.

A hashtag related to the video was viewed a staggering 270 million times on Weibo, where it became a top trending topic (#演员刘金苹果店前怒摔iphone#).

Apple vs Huawei Rivalry

The actor’s recent actions have garnered considerable attention, primarily because they coincide with the escalating rivalry between Huawei and Apple. This rivalry has become a prominent topic of discussion in China recently, due to various things coming together at the same time.

Notably, Apple unveiled its iPhone 15 shortly after Huawei introduced its latest flagship, the Mate 60 Pro 5G. Noteworthy enough (and unlikely coincidentally),it was launched on the same date as the return of Huawei executive daughter Meng Wanzhou from Canada in 2021 (read here).

The official launch ceremony for Huawei’s new products is coming up on September 25, and people are hoping to find out more about the powerful Kirin 90000s chip that is being used by Huawei despite facing heavy US sanctions regarding Chinese access to crucial chip technology.

Simultaneously, reports emerged about alleged Chinese restrictions on iPhones within government and state agencies, resulting in a significant decline in Apple’s stock value. The Foreign Ministry later stated that that China has actually not issued any law, regulation, or policy document to ban the use of Apple phones.

All of these developments have reignited the ongoing tech giant competition in China, that is now about much more than smartphones alone and has come to symbolize geopolitical rivalry, encompassing themes of nationalism, anti-Western sentiments, and a growing sense of pride in products made in China.

Much Ado about Apple Employee Photo

As Liu’s phone-smashing video went viral, so did another controversy concerning an Apple customer service employee’s photo depicted on the official website of Apple.

A Chinese netizen pointed out that a photo of an Apple Watch Specialist representative on the Apple site may have been purposely “insulting China” (辱华) due to the appearance of the person in the photo.

Initially, many people thought the image was specifically used on the Chinese-language Apple site, and that it concerned a Chinese individual with a hairstyle that resembles a queue: a single long braid of hair that was traditionally worn by male subjects of China during the Qing.

Some people also thought the individual had a pockmark near the mouth and that their looks reinforces stereotypes surrounding Chinese appearances regarding eyes and forehead. The image therefore sparked wide-spread resistance among netizens who thought Apple deliberately and inappropriately used such an image to show Chinese individuals as being backward and unattractive.

online poll with nearly 198,000 likes on Weibo, asking if this photo is appropriate or not (the majority voted that the photo was not appropriate).

On the same day as Liu’s video first came out, September 17, the topic of the “braid-wearing customer service representative” went trending, and the hashtag of “how do you feel about the Apple China website image of the braided customer service representative” (#如何看苹果中国官网辫子客服形象#) has since received over 200 million views on Weibo.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also responded to the issue, explaining how the Chinese people are particularly sensitive to issues related to “perceived insults to China by Westerners,” due to historical and cultural factors which are further amplified by current tensions in US-China and broader China-Western relations.

Hu therefore argues that “American and Western companies should be more careful and cautious when promoting their products and try to avoid using images and texts that could be misinterpreted by Chinese people.”1

Who’s the Bad Apple?

But to what extent is criticism of Apple reasonable in both incidents?

In the case of the “braid-wearing customer service representative”, it soon triggered a response from Apple’s customer service (#苹果客服回应辫子客服形象#, hashtag with 180 million views) and led to more information.

It has since become evident that many assumptions about the image were unfounded. Contrary to the initial belief that the photo was exclusive to the Chinese page, it was also featured on Apple’s official websites in the United States, Japan, South Korea, and other countries.

Furthermore, it was revealed that the Apple employee in question is not of Chinese descent at all; she is a Native American female employee (also see Wen Hao’s post on this). Additionally, the perceived pockmark near her mouth was, in fact, a piercing.

In response to this, some people mocked Hu Xijin for how he responded to the controversy.

Photoshop meme mocking Hu Xijin.

But Liu’s video also turns out to be a bit different than the version of the story he presented.

The actor seemed to voice a popular public sentiment by taking a stand against Apple’s dominant position, that rivals that of China’s tech darling Huawei, by smashing an Apple smartphone in public.

But where is the proof that Liu actually bought his iPhone at an Apple store in 2022? Where is the receipt showing that his phone was indeed not coming from a third party that might have modified it?

To the dismay of many netizens, the actor refused to show the official store receipt of his Apple phone, and many people started to doubt if the actor might have just put on a show to gain attention at a critical moment in the market competition between Apple and Huawei.

Moreover, the actor’s story seemed even less credible when he tried to further explain it in a recent social media post.


As many netizens noted: the post he sent was actually sent from an iPhone.

By Manya Koetse

1 “(..)一些国人在西方人“辱华”的问题上很敏感,有其真实的历史和文化原因。目前中美关系很紧张,中西关系也不如过去,美国和西方公司在做产品宣传时,多一些细心、谨慎,尽量不要选用有可能引发中国人误解的图文,这是他们开展跨文化交流时一份应有的素养和水平。”

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China Brands, Marketing & Consumers

Eyebrow Pencil Gate: “Lipstick King” Li Jiaqi Loses 630,000 Fans In One Night

China’s famous beauty livestreamer Li Jiaqi is in hot water after his annoyed response about an $11 eyebrow pencil.

Manya Koetse



Li Jiaqi is facing controversy for remarks he made during his recent e-commerce livestream. When viewers made comments about an eyebrow pencil being expensive, he lashed out and asked them if they worked hard enough. Due to his cold attitude and arrogant comments, the ‘lipstick king’ seems to have lost his crown.

Li Jiaqi is losing fans. That is according to a Weibo hashtag that went trending today (#李佳琦掉粉#), which highlights a significant drop of 630,000 Weibo followers in just 24 hours.

For those unfamiliar with Li Jiaqi (1992, English name Austin Li), he is one of China’s most renowned make-up influencers, also known as the “Lipstick King.” Previously a cosmetics salesman, Li has since risen to become one of China’s most celebrated livestreamers, setting numerous records along the way.

In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But now Li is in hot water because of an e-commerce livestream he did on Sunday, September 10th. When some viewers complained that the eyebrow pencil by Huaxi Zi (花西子), Florasis, seems to be getting more expensive (79 RMB, $10.9), Li vehemently defended the cosmetic brand. Seemingly annoyed with his viewers, he insisted that the product was reasonably priced, highlighting the brand’s use of high-quality ingredients and claiming it had not increased its prices for years.

In addition to this, Li began to lecture his audience, questioning whether they had made significant efforts to have received salary raises over the years (Literally: “Sometimes it’s because of yourself, if you haven’t seen a raise in so many years, did you work hard enough?” [“有的时候自己原因好吧。怎么多年了工资张没涨有没有认真工作”]). Even his assistant, next to him, seemed visibly uncomfortable when Li lashed out. We added some subtitled to this short fragment here.

Later on, Li appeared to recognize his mistake and suggested that people weren’t obligated to purchase the Florasis brand; instead, they could opt for a more affordable eyebrow pencil that he would be promoting later on.

This incident sparked major backlash from fans who voices their anger and disappointment, accusing Li of losing sight of his humble origins and owing everything to his viewers. Starting out by selling Maybelline makeup behind a shop counter, Li rose to prominence alongside the live e-commerce trend, amassing immense wealth thanks to his dedicated fans and viewers.

Why would he now alienate his viewers in such a way? Furthermore, many argued that the Florasis eyebrow pencil is undeniably expensive, with some even making comparisons to the cost of gold when measured by weight.

In the early morning of September 11, Li apologized on his Weibo account. He wrote that he felt disappointed in himself for responding the way he did. “As a livestream host I should send out positive energy, and learn to control my emotions,” he wrote.

Li Jiaqi apology on Weibo.

Later on, he issued an on-camera apology during a livestream. With tears in his eyes, he expressed heartfelt remorse for letting down so many people and acknowledged his mistakes. A related hashtag on Weibo soon got over 430 million clicks (#李佳琦哭着道歉#).

But many people do not appreciate his apologies. The top comment under his written apology post says: “You are making money out of ordinary people and now you turned around saying ordinary people are too poor,” while the most popular comment under the livestream apology said: “If I would earn 5 million yuan a day ($685k), my tears would be much more sincere than yours.”

This meme shows that many viewers do not feel moved by Li’s apologetic tears.

There are more angles to this story. Besides alienating his audience, others also feel he is not being completely transparant. As Li Jiaqi hinted during the livestream, he seems to have a very close relationship with the Florasis brand. Some reports even suggest that the commission rate for his endorsement of the Florasis brand, which was established in Hangzhou six years ago, may have been as high as 80%.

It is not the first time Li gets caught up in controversy. Last year, Li disappeared from China’s e-commerce channels for three months after one of his livestreams made references to shooting tanks. The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations.

However, a notable distinction between that controversy and the current one lies in how his fans reacted. Despite the prior controversy, the majority of his supporters remained loyal to the beauty influencer, extending a warm welcome when he returned in September of 2022.

This time, many followers feel personally attacked by him. While Li Jiaqi defended the brow pencil price by suggesting that “domestic brands are struggling,” some commenters ask: “If domestic brands are struggling, don’t you think the people are also struggling?” (“国货难,国民难道就不难了吗?”)

Earlier this year, a casual remark made by Chinese actress Zhang Yuqi during a livestream also ignited discussions surrounding the stark disparity between the perspectives of celebrities and the financial realities experienced by ordinary individuals. During that promotional livestream, Zhang suggested that 699 yuan ($100) for a cashmere blanket was so cheap, saying: “I don’t even think I can buy a pair of socks with that amount.”

In response to this incident, some commenters mentioned that they could cover their food expenses for an entire month with that money. Many netizens remarked that some Chinese celebrities seem to not only live in a world where everything costs more, but they also seem to reside in a place where “poverty” is defined differently.

By Monday night, Li Jiaqi still had 29,8 million followers on Weibo, although some wondered how many of them were active and authentic Weibo users. Will Li be able to win back the favor of his fans? The numbers will tell.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes

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