December 20th, 2018

‘Men Are All Pig’s Feet’ — And Other Chinese Memes Of 2018 That Reflect Our Times

By: Frankie Huang  Source: SUP China.  Date: 19/12/2018

A year in which online users saw through the BS and women said “Enough.”

 

Memes have become a way to appreciate and participate in popular culture, a way to find solidarity, construct identity, and communicate with precision.

Memes like Distracted Boyfriend and BBQ Becky are products of their times, and when people look back on them, they’ll be seen as more than just clever tools of satire: they are snapshots of what captured the public consciousness at the moment of their inception.

Distracted Boyfriend

BBQ Becky

This is no different in China. Here are five popular memes from 2018 that offer a snapshot of this year’s collective Chinese digital consciousness.

 

1. #米兔 (mǐ tù) — Rice Bunny

MeToo Rice Bunny

The #MeToo movement was meme-ified in China out of necessity, a way to evade censors who use algorithms to filter out “sensitive words.” In April, Chinese feminist activist Qiqi gave #Metoo its Chinese form: #米兔, which literally translates to “rice bunny.”

By taking advantage of the bountiful availability of homophones — words that sound the same but look different — in the Chinese language, #MeToo could have been rendered 3,928 different ways in Chinese, with unique combinations of characters for “mi” and “tu.”

#MeToo’s “rice bunny” incarnation is particularly fitting for the movement because of the meanings embedded in the characters. Rice is sustenance, while the rabbit is a symbol linked to femininity. Put together, one possible interpretation for “rice bunny” is “a basic entity required by all female individuals to survive” — a powerful sentiment that Chinese women could rally around.

 

2. 陶渊明 (Táo Yuānmíng)

Tao Yuanming with chrysanthemums

Tao Yuanming 陶渊明 was a Chinese poet born in AD 365, well known to this day for his great love for the chrysanthemum flower, a symbol of defiance and the anti-establishment spirit.

His name was co-opted in 2018 by fans of Wang Ju 王菊, a defiant popstar-in-training who flouted mainstream beauty standards of “pale, thin, and sweet” as she battled for a spot in a new K-pop-style girls supergroup.

Wang Ju

Wang’s name, Ju 菊 (jú), means “chrysanthemum,” so naturally, her fans began calling themselves “Tao Yuanming.”

Chinese memes access wordplay and nuances that reach back thousands of years along an unbroken linguistic and cultural line. In generating memes, the Chinese often draw on older cultural assets. In the West, fans of popular culture give themselves names like “Cumberbitches” and “Potterheads,” but this sort of wordplay seems comparatively shallow when put up against a fourth-century landscape poet.

The fact that Wang Ju fans are able to select a name for themselves that also speaks of what they love most about their idol is a fine example of Chinese memes as an extension of high culture.

 

3. 转锦鲤 (zhuǎn jǐnlǐ) — Sharing the koi

Sharing the koi

The koi is an auspicious symbol of good fortune to come, for each fish has the potential to become a dragon if it leaps through the Dragon Gate. As an internet meme, it plays on the word 转 (zhuǎn), which means to “share online,” but also to “reverse,” as in “reversing bad luck to good.” Images of koi spread across the Chinese internet in a fashion similar to chain emails, promising good luck to those who share. Others share koi images in social media as a way to pray for good outcomes.

In the same fashion, images of reality show winner Yang Chaoyue 杨超越 and second-generation rich (fu’erdai) Wang Sicong 王思聪 are also shared in place of koi, a sarcastic commentary on the futility of hard work in ultra-competitive China when there are those who are born rich or imbued with sheer dumb luck. (Yang Chaoyue is a talentless crybaby who beat out far more talented contestants to become the second runner-up on the reality show Produce 101, which assembled a K-pop all-girls supergroup; Wang Sicong is the only son of Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin 王健林 and is known for his over-the-top rich-boy antics.)

Wang Sicong

Yang Chaoyue

 

4. 确认过眼神 (quèrènguò yǎnshén) — I saw it in your eyes

I saw it in your eyes

This was originally a line in a 2008 song by Singaporean pop star JJ Lin 林俊杰 (Lín Jùnjié). Ten years after the song — Tale of the Red Cliff (醉赤壁 zuì chìbì) — was released, it has been made popular again by internet users who have come up with a creative second rhyme that describes a very specific kind of person who is everything from a “chronic insomniac” to “not even human”:

“确认过眼神,你就是那个天天失眠的人” (quèrènguò yǎnshén, nǐ jiùshì nàgè tiāntiān shīmián de rén) — “I saw it in your eyes, you really are that chronic insomniac.”

“确认过眼神, 根本不是人” (quèrènguò yǎnshén, gēnběn bùshì rén) — “I saw it in your eyes, you’re not even human.”

In these uncertain times, when Chinese people frequently cite their disgust for society’s moral decay and people’s untrustworthiness, this meme is a way for people to show their wit and cynicism, but more importantly, their ability to see the truth of things — not unlike the “Condescending Wonka” meme in the West, in which the same bemused face of Gene Wilder remains forever unimpressed.

Condescending Wonka Gene Wilder

 

5. 男人都是大猪蹄子 (nánrén dōu shì dà zhū tízi) — Men are all pig’s feet

This meme emerged from The Story of Yanxi Palace, the hottest show of the year and most Googled show in the world in 2018. The Chinese word for male protagonist is 男主角 (nán zhǔjiǎo), which is a homophone for 男猪脚 (nán zhūjiǎo), meaning “male pig’s feet.” 大猪蹄子 (dà zhū tízi) is an even more vulgar way to say “pig’s feet,” emphasizing its oafish and disgusting quality.

At first, this phrase appeared in the form of “bullet screen” (弹幕 dànmù), which is a feature that allows streaming viewers to send comments that travel across the screen in real-time. These “bullets” — “men are all pig’s feet” — were hurled by viewers thoroughly disgusted at the male characters’ self-centered and duplicitous behavior.

Naturally, it wasn’t long before this went beyond commentary on the show and was applied to men at large, joining the ranks of 直男癌 (zhínán ái) — straight-man cancer — as the latest phrase used to call out male chauvinist behavior. The popularity of this meme is no accident, as the patriarchal order in China is increasingly challenged by women who will no longer put up with boorish men.

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November 14th, 2018

China’s Grand Internet Vision Is Starting to Ring Hollow

Source: Bloomberg   Date: 8/11/2018

Ever since Chinese President Xi Jinping marked the opening of the first World Internet Conference in 2014, it was meant to usher in a new era of digital openness and project China as a champion of global cyber-governance.

The forum’s mastermind — then-cyberspace czar Lu Wei — began aggressively courting U.S. technology giants, leading delegations of the Chinese industry’s brightest around Silicon Valley. In 2017, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google CEO Sundar Pichai headlined the event in the town of Wuzhen.

Those promises are now starting to lie fallow. China’s internet is more censored than ever, Silicon Valley’s attempts to break into the Chinese market remain stymied, and Lu languishes in prison, awaiting trial over allegations of corruption. Continue reading

January 15th, 2017

Chinese Artist: Censorship Stems From ‘Bizarre And Ridiculous Sort Of Fear’

By: Jiang Zhi         Source: SUPChina         Date: 9/1/2017

Translator’s note: The Shenzhen-Hong Kong Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture — a prominent international exhibition of visual art, sculpture, murals, installations, architectural proposals, urban thought experiments, and events — opened on December 15, 2017, and was struck by controversy the following day, when organizers removed a piece of artwork by the well-known young artist Jiang Zhi 蒋志. The piece reappeared two weeks later in the main exhibition hall, only to be removed again a few days afterward in advance of a tour by local Shenzhen officials.

More than 200 exhibits under the main theme “Cities, Grow in Difference” are still offered around the city, with the primary exhibition site located in Nantou Old Town, a historic “urban village” of the kind that has been systematically demolished over the last two decades. Although an introduction to Jiang’s work can still be found on the website (in both the English and Chinese versions), his physical artwork remains unavailable to viewers. Below is a statement that Jiang wrote in response to the situation. The remaining exhibitions will be on display until March 15. Eleanor Goodman

All text in brackets [] signal editor’s notes.

How has something that was “safe” become unsafe?

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Getting round the Great Firewall of China

I’ve just written a short piece for Apollo on the potential impact of a recent series of online restrictions for the country’s thriving new media scene. The piece can be found online here and I’ve included a copy of the text below.

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A recent series of directives has sought to curtail the already fragile spaces for free expression in China. In June, a new cybersecurity law decreed that companies report the virtual activities of their employees. A month later came the news that Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) – a form of software that enables users to circumvent the restrictions of China’s ‘Great Firewall’ – will be outlawed by February 2018.

Currently only about one per cent of China’s estimated 731 million internet users employ a VPN, but many members of China’s creative community fear that these increased restrictions will have a profound impact on their work. Like their counterparts around the world, artists in China use social media to disseminate their work and connect with international audiences. China has a thriving net art and new media scene, supported by galleries and art centres, innovative online initiatives capitalising on the popularity of social media platforms, a major prize for net art, and a growing body of young artists graduating from the new media departments of China’s major art academies. These developments reflect China’s hyper-networked and mediatised art world and the increasingly mobile culture that has arisen alongside the country’s technological advances.

While many artists eschew overtly political themes, others have chosen to confront the complex and contradictory facets of China’s restricted web, producing provocative and challenging works which not only satirise the government’s cybersecurity initiatives, but also comment on the psychological effects of censorship. The artist Miao Ying, for example, refers to this as her ‘Stockholm syndrome’ approach to the internet in China. Other artists such as Xu Wenkai (Aaajiao) strive to make the mechanisms of the Great Firewall visible, exposing the fault lines between censorship and self-expression. One of the regime’s fiercest critics is obviously Ai Weiwei, who, earlier this year wrote a polemic about the perils of self-censorship, calling for others to reject the ‘China model’ of development, which has promoted economic ascendancy at the cost of political freedom.

Recent developments illustrate that we would do well to heed these criticisms. Cambridge University Press briefly decided to block access in China to over 300 articles from the China Quarterly, one of the world’s leading China Studies journals, at the behest of Chinese censors, before eventually reversing the decision. As China expands its global engagement, seeking to reinvent itself as a 21st-century superpower, the long arm of censorship doesn’t just affect artists and writers within the country itself, but also has serious ramifications beyond China’s borders.

August 9th, 2017

Michael Xufu Huang: Rising Art World Curator From Beijing

By: Alex Hawgood     Source: New York Times   Date: 9/8/2017

 

Michael Xufu Huang

Age 23

Hometown Beijing

Now Lives A recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Mr. Huang is relocating to a one-bedroom apartment in Gramercy Park in September.

Claim to Fame He is a founder of M Woods, a contemporary art museum in Beijing that focuses on internet-minded works from artists like He Xiangyu and Olafur Eliasson. With his penchant for bright suits and a flair for publicity, he could be considered something of a next-generation Jeffrey Deitch of China. “Everyone in Beijing is really hungry for culture,” he said. “We really see a lot of young people who are very engaged with us and learning about art and making it a part of their life.”

Big Break Last year, M Woods’s debut exhibition, “Andy Warhol: Contact,” received immediate international recognition. The wide-ranging retrospective of Warhol’s lesser-known film, photography and interactive installations shed new light on the pop icon’s reputation outside the United States. “A lot of people in China know him as a brand,” Mr. Huang said. “The show explains how he became who he is.” Four months after the show opened, Mr. Huang became a member of the board of trustees for the New Museum. Continue reading

June 22nd, 2017

In China, universities teach how to go viral online

By:  Albee Zhang      Source:   Taipei Times     Date: 21/6/2017

 

P13-170621-301

 

A 21-year-old student walked around her campus in China using invaluable skills she learned in class: Holding a selfie stick aloft, she livestreamed her random thoughts and blew kisses at her phone.
Jiang Mengna is majoring in “modelling and etiquette” at Yiwu Industrial & Commercial College near Shanghai, aspiring to join the growing ranks of young Chinese cashing in on internet stardom.
Hordes of Chinese millennials are speaking directly to the country’s 700 million smartphone users, streaming their lives to lucrative effect, fronting brands and launching businesses.
They are known as wanghong (網紅) — literally hot on the web — and they now represent an industry worth billions and so big it even has its own university curriculum. Continue reading

#SocialHumanities Datahack: Self-(Re)presentations on Social Media

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As one of the convenors of the TORCH network on the #SocialHumanities, I’m pleased to announce that tomorrow on the 14th January we will be holding our second major event: a Datahack on Self-(Re)presentations on Social Media. The event will be held at the Oxford Launchpad in the Saïd Business School and is being organised by Yin Yin Lu and Kathryn Eccles of the Oxford Internet Institute.

Details of the event including tomorrow’s programme are as follows:

How do people represent themselves on social media, and how are they represented by others? Which qualities and virtues are emphasized (or ignored)? How polarised are these (re)presentations?

The TORCH #SocialHumanities network will explore answers to these questions at our day-long datahack on 14 January, by examining content from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Wikipedia, Reddit, and other social media platforms. We welcome participants from all disciplines, including the humanities and both social and computational sciences.

In the morning we will have four expert-led workshops, where specific approaches to social media data analysis will be taught, followed by lunch and the datahack proper. During lunch, participants will split into interdisciplinary teams (of two to four people) and decide upon which dataset to explore and which research question to answer. Datasets and questions will be provided, but you are more than welcome to bring your own (we’re both BYOD and BYOQ)!

At the end of the day each group will present their findings; the team with the most interesting and creative analysis will be awarded a prize. Afterwards, we’ll celebrate our achievements and continue the discussion over drinks.

We welcome participants from any and all backgrounds. If you have no programming skills and/or have not analysed social media data before, don’t worry—there will be plenty of opportunities for you to contribute, and data experts will be on hand to help.

If you have any questions please email us at socialhumanities@torch.ox.ac.uk. There is limited space so we recommend that you RSVP as early as possible!

PROGRAMME

09.30-10.00: Registration

10.00-10.30: Introduction and overview of the day

10.30-12.30: Workshops led by Mike Thelwall (SentiStrength), Taha Yasseri (topic modelling), Jason Nurse (identity manifestation), Peter Fairfax (Brandwatch)

12.30-13.30: Team formation and working lunch

13.30-17.00: Data analysis (tea and coffee provided at 15.00)

17.00-18.00: Presentation of findings and group discussion

18.00-19.00: Prizes and drinks reception

November 3rd, 2016

Report: China Censorship Machine Not the Monolith It Appears to Be

By: Josh Chin      Source: The Wall Street Journal      Date: 2/11/2016

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On China’s popular streaming video app YY, you can chat about the Dalai Lama or the party drug ecstasy, but if you want to talk about people from Henan province stealing manhole covers, you’ll have to switch to a different app.

A group of internet researchers based in North America spent more than a year tracking how some of China’s better known social video apps censor their users. Their latest findings, released in a report this week after they culled through a huge trove of banned keywords, suggest China’s censorship regime is not the well-coordinated machine it’s often assumed to be.

(The full report, entitled ‘Harmonised Histories’ can be found here at Net Alert)

Continue reading

October 31st, 2016

Fan Yang on fakes, pirates and shanzhai culture

By: Fan Yang, Jeremy Goldkorn and Kaiser Kuo    Source: Sinica Podcast      Date: 22/9/2016

 

Fakes, knockoffs, pirate goods, counterfeits: China is notorious as the global manufacturing center of all things ersatz. But in the first decade after the People’s Republic joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, a particular kind of knockoff began to capture the public imagination: products that imitate but do not completely replicate the designs, functions, technology, logos and names of existing branded products. An old Chinese word meaning “mountain fortress” — shanzhai — was repurposed to describe this type of knockoff.

Chinese internet users began to use the word shanzhai with a degree of approval. This was partly because shanzhai products, though aping the designs and names of established brands, often add innovations that the originals lack. This is particularly notable with mobile phones, the shanzhai versions of which were among the first to feature more than one camera lens and the capacity to use two SIM cards from different networks. Starting around 2008, the creativity and speed of release of such knockoff products began to be discussed as a type of innovation with Chinese characteristics and a creative approach suited to a poor country developing at breakneck speed.

This episode of Sinica is a conversation about shanzhai and the whole universe of Chinese knockoff culture with Fan Yang, an assistant professor in the Department of Media and Communication Studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of the book Faked in China: Nation Branding, Counterfeit Culture, and Globalization. You can read the SupChina backgrounder here.

Oxford Seminar on Visual Culture in Modern and Contemporary China

This year the University of Oxford China Centre will be hosting a seminar series that focuses on visual culture in modern and contemporary China. Convened by Prof. Margaret Hillenbrand, the seminars will bring together a diverse range of scholars to discuss topics including visual culture in Maoist China, the films of Jia Zhangke, Photography and Privacy in China and Contemporary Chinese Performance (to name but a few). The full list of speakers and topics is listed below and the seminars are open to the public. I will be presenting some new research next May in a talk entitled ‘Modelling Marx: Technologies of Engagement and Automation in Contemporary Art’.

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