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Zhang Xifeng’s “Countryside Pig” Speech Still Lingers on Social Media

“I was born to be a rural pig, but I’m determined to snatch cabbages in the city.”

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Ever since Zhang Xifeng delivered his emotional speech on a Chinese TV show, he has remained a hot and controversial topic on Chinese social media.

“I was born to be a rural pig, but I’m determined to snatch cabbages in the city” (“我就是一只来自乡下的土猪,也要立志去拱大城市里的白菜”).

This is the sentence that took Chinese social media by storm after the 17-year-old student Zhang Xifeng (张锡峰) first said it during his ten-minute speech for the Super Orators (超级演说家) TV show in late May of this year (see video here).

In Zhang’s passionate and emotional speech, titled “Small World, Big You” (小小的世界大大的你), the high school student talks about his childhood in the countryside, the wide gap between China’s urban and rural areas, and educational inequality.

He also mentions his experiences as a student at the prestigious Hengshui High School (衡水中学) in Hebei province, and how he and his fellow classmates were feverishly preparing for the gaokao, the National College Entrance Exam, in order to “change their fate.”

One point made by Zhang is how he believes that rural people like himself are destined to lead an average life and how they are behind children from middle-income and rich families with access to better educational resources.

This summer, Zhang’s speech generated a series of popular hashtags on Chinese social media, and the student even became a so-called ‘super topic‘ on Weibo – an online community where fans post daily updates about Zhang and why they admire him.

 
Inspirational or Selfish?
 

Zhang’s speech left netizens divided. There were those who found his speech to be truthful and inspirational. One fan (@是冰羽啊) wrote: “I want to become someone like you who dares to chase one’s dream. You are a beam of light that shines through the darkness for me.” Another fan wrote: “I will work hard and try to become just like him!”

But there were also many who criticized Zhang, blaming him for having “distorted values” and actually looking down on people from the countryside. Others said Zhang was wrong for measuring one’s success in life solely based on whether or not they attended a well-known school.

Some comments point out that Zhang is essentially selfish, as his main aspiration is to climb the social ladder. Hengshui High School is also being blamed: “This school’s education is really a failure. Maybe students achieve high grades, but they fail at making valuable contributions to society.”

Zhang studies at Hengshui High School, a high school notorious for its regimented and even militaristic style of preparing students to get high scores in the gaokao – the school is even called “a gaokao factory.” In his speech, Zhang refuted the stereotype of Hengshui High School students: “We are not gaokao machines, we’re just kids from poor households who want to make their parents proud!”

Another point of criticism is that the really poor families in China would not be able to send their children to a famous school such as Hengshui High School, making people doubt the veracity of Zhang’s story.

These doubts became stronger when Zhang was spotted getting into an expensive car at the school entrance on the last day of his exams.

After his speech went viral and Zhang went famous overnight, he reportedly succeeded in obtaining a relatively high score for the National College Entrance Exam and was accepted into Zhejiang University. He did not make it into the more prestigious Tsinghua or Peking University.

 
The Countryside Pig Controversy
 

By now, Zhang’s speech and his “countryside pig” comment have become one of those trends that seem to stick around on Chinese social media.

The “countryside pig” comment especially managed to become a recurring sentence in the online media spheres because of how Zhang used it.

As explained by Alice Yan in SCMP, the saying “good cabbages snatched by pigs” (好白菜被猪拱了) can refer to resources being destroyed, but more often refers to good girls being ruined by bad boys – this was one of the reasons why that part of his speech was particularly controversial.

In the context of Zhang’s speech, however, the student used the sentence to convey the meaning of rural people trying to find a way to the (educational) resources and capital offered in China’s cities.

One Weibo blogger (@历史冷幽默) recently also wrote about how Zhang’s comments triggered controversy, but perhaps should be viewed in another light.

By mockingly comparing himself to a “pig from the countryside,” going into the city to “snatch the cabbage,” Zhang had actually wanted to express that even a poor and common student can achieve the results he wants through his own efforts.

He meant to encourage students not to give up on their dreams, and to take their fate into their own hands. But because his “countryside pig” metaphor was considered inappropriate, he was subjected to a wave of criticism.

“It’s not fair to describe poor people as ‘pigs’,” one Weibo commenter said: “This is just full of disdain for ordinary people.”

Other netizens however seem to take Zhang’s comment more lightly, and jokingly refer to themselves as “countryside pigs.”

“He only used symbolism to express how desperate he hopes for success,” another Weibo user wrote: “If you misinterpreted his words, it’s just because you don’t understand what that feels like.”

By Susanna Sun & Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

The Voices of April – The Online Rise of a Shanghai Protest Video

‘Voices of April’ is the biggest topic in China’s Covid social media era since the death of Dr. Li Wenliang.

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Voices of April is a video containing edited audio snippets that show the reality of a Covid-stricken Shanghai where residents struggle with feelings of powerlessness. The video seeped into every corner of WeChat, but not long after, it was gone.

On Friday, April 22, a video was shared on Chinese social media and when the evening fell, it suddenly was on everybody’s smartphone screen.

Voices of April (四月之声) is a compilation of real audio snippets from conversations recorded in Shanghai throughout April, providing an emotional and heart-wrenching account of what residents in Shanghai have gone through since the Covid crisis started in their city.

By early Saturday morning, Beijing time, the Voices of April (四月之声) video had seeped into every corner of WeChat. Not long after, it was gone.

The video, made by a person named ‘Cary’, first seemed to have appeared online on Friday with the following message:

One month after the outbreak of the epidemic in Shanghai, I’ve seen too many online voices coming by which then soon disappeared. Over time, I’ve become somewhat desensitized, but some things shouldn’t have happened. Since they did, they shouldn’t be forgotten. Too many of our compatriots have suffered in ways that could have been avoided. I made a video, as objective and realistic as possible, as a record to remember the voices of April, and hope that all of them will pull through.”

The video in question, embedded below, is almost six minutes long. (Update: Here is a link to a version including English subtitles.)

It starts its narrative on March 15, just a day before Shanghai introduced its so-called “grid screening” strategy – meaning that every resident in a city Covid key area would do two nucleic acid tests within 48 hours. That day, the total amount of Covid cases since the onset of the outbreak in early March was 1156. The audio is real – as all snippets are – and was recorded during an official Shanghai Epidemic Prevention and Control news conference.

“Right now, Shanghai has no lockdown, and there is no need for a lockdown,” the spokesperson can be heard saying, while the video shows aerial footage of Shanghai city.

The video then jumps to March 26, when the total number of cases since the beginning of the outbreak had risen to 12,527 (asymptomatic and symptomatic combined), the daily new added cases being 2676.

Still, Shanghai officials can be heard saying that there will ‘never be a lockdown’ in the city, suggesting that Shanghai is not just important for Shanghai, it is important for the economy of the entire country.

The video then shows its title page: Voices of April.

The video, showing aerial footage of Shanghai for the entire six minutes, then continues with snippets of audio fragments starting at the beginning of April, with worried residents calling local authorities to voice their concerns about their personal situation after the sudden announcement of a phased lockdown in Shanghai on March 27.

Through dozens of audio snippets, we hear the voices of residents, delivery drivers, community workers, parents, children, Covid patients, pet owners, volunteers, and more.

In doing so, through the words of those who witnessed it, Voices of April raises the issues that so many have been concerned about over the past 25 days or more. Shanghai residents going hungry; food supplies going to waste due to mismanagement and failing logistics; parents and children being separated in quarantine facilities; people unsuccessfully trying to get urgent care for a medical emergency in their family; cancer patients being unable to return to their homes after getting chemotherapy at the hospital; Covid patients arriving at centralized quarantine locations that have no supplies nor beds; a desperate mother who finds herself calling out to neighbors to get medicine for her sick child in the middle of the night; pet owners in tears over their dog being killed by anti-epidemic workers.

“The virus is not killing people, the hunger is,” one voice can be heard saying.

“Distribute supplies! Distribute supplies! Distribute supplies!” a group of people can be heard shouting.

Through the audio snippets, it becomes clear that it’s not just residents who have been suffering throughout this whole ordeal – it’s the entire city, including its volunteers and community workers who are also helpless in helping others due to the policies in place.

The video ends with a black and white screen showing the characters “上海, 早日康复” (Shànghǎi, zǎorì kāngfù): “Shanghai, get well soon.”

Not long after the video went viral, Wechat and Weibo users discovered they were no longer able to forward the file, and soon all links to the video ended up leading to a ‘404’ deleted message.

The censorship seemingly only added fuel to fire. “[You want] war? War it is!”, some said, with others posting images protesting the censorship: “You can’t censor the unity of the people of Shanghai!”

Straight away, netizens started coming up with various alternative ways to refer to the title of the video to circumvent censorship, suggesting that there can never be a ‘zero policy’ when it comes to silencing people’s voices.

Nevertheless, alternative hashtags and phrases were also soon taken offline, such as the hashtag “The Voices of Shanghai” (#上海之声#).

“You can’t treat everything that’s being deleted as something that never happened,” one Weibo user wrote. Another commenter said: “What are you deleting? For what? What is so terrible for us to know that you’ve come so quickly to censor it?”

“It’s just a record of actual events, what good does it do to censor it? Originally, we were just sad, not angry. Now it’s a revolt of the people. A cover-up only makes matters worse.”

The only time during China’s Covid era when there was an online outpouring of anger comparable to this instance is probably when Li Wenliang passed away – the doctor who was initially silenced when he tried to warn others about the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (read more here). His death, and the censorship surrounding it, also led millions of people to vent their frustrations online. The censorship, as in this case, only added fuel to the fire.

One word that many people commenting on the Voices of April video use after seeing it is ‘powerlessness’: “I watched the Voices of April. Putting all of the powerlessness together, this world seems even more helpless.”

“Tonight is the night of the deleted voices [404之声],” one Weibo user wrote.

For context:
Growing frustrations during early outbreak of the city’s Covid crisis
Children and parents being separated for isolation
Pet dog killed by anti-epidemic worker
Deplorable conditions at quarantine locations

Update, also read: Voices of April, The Day After.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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