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China Memeing

Memes, China-style, vary from avoiding the censors to inventing new species


While many Western Internet sites are blocked in China, the Internet culture is much more complex and interesting than one might imagine. Blogger Michael Anti shed some light on this in his TEDGlobal talk in 2012. The Chinese have their own versions of Western social media sites: Renren (人人网, Rénrénwǎng) is the equivalent of Facebook, Baidu=Google, Sina Weibo=Twitter, and Youku is the equivalent of Youtube (though if you ask me I think it’s better than Youtube as you can download content for free).

In his talk, Anti looked at the way Chinese Internet culture is shaping life in China and shifting the balance of power.  Chinese social media has exposed, in recent years, numerous scandals in the government. For example, an official investigation into the train crash in Wenzhou in 2011 was only launched after more than 10 million messages on social media were complaining about the attempted cover up.

Chinese Memes vary from political in tone to the Chinese equivalent of Nyan Cat; some memes have even saved lives.

  1. Free CGC

    Free CGC

    Free CGC– one of the more political Chinese memes. Chen Guangcheng is a Chinese human rights activist and self-taught lawyer. He organized a class action lawsuit that exposed extreme measures that local officials were taking to comply with the one-child policy. Chen jumped onto the Western pop cultural radar when Christian Bale attempted to visit Chen’s home, but was roughened up by guards patrolling his house. Chen was put under house arrest sometime in 2005, but managed to escape last April. This sent the Chinese social media into frenzy, and the meme – a caricature of the Kentucky Fried Chicken Logo – was one of the only things to avoid censorship.

  1. Dress the Nude

    Dress the Nude

    1341983960_11164 Latest-Chinese-Internet-meme-after-CCTV’s-‘David-Gate’–Dressing-the-nude-in-artwork-10

    Dress the Nude– China Central Television. The state run national broadcaster, CCTV, became a laughing stock after they blurred out the genitals of Michelangelo’s David, in a newscast about an exhibition in the National Museum of China. This has become fodder to the Chinese netizen’s creativity, and a new wave of photoshopping- superimposing various items of clothing onto classic artwork to meet the censor’s standards.

  1. Grass Mud Horse

    Grass Mud Horse

    Grass Mud Horse– This innocent looking fictional creature is very popular on Chinese social media and is the main iconic figure of protest against internet censorship. Its name Cǎo Ní Mǎ is derived from cào nǐ mā (f*** your mother). According to the hoax article, the Grass Mud Horse is a species of alpaca that lives in the Mahler Gobi. Its enemy, the River Crab, or héxiè, a homophone of héxié (meaning harmony), is a slogan frequently used by the Government. Grass Mud Horses are said to be fighting River Crabs frequently. This meme has become so popular that it has spawned music videos and plush dolls.

  1. Air Craft Carrier Style

    Aircraft Carrier Style

    Aircraft Carrier Style

    Aircraft Carrier Style (航母style)- this is a Chinese photo fad, similar to ‘Planking’ or ‘Owling’. It involves extending one’s right hand while kneeling on the left knee with the right leg bent. On the English speaking web it is generally known as ‘Shootering’, a military gesture used by navy personnel to signal the release of fighter jets. The trend initially started in late November 2012 on Chinese social media, after the Chinese historic fighter jet landing on its first aircraft carrier Liaoning. It seems that everyone got in on this, even the tiger from The Life of Pi.

  1. Rural Migrant Worker With "Bad Hearing"

    Rural Migrant Worker With “Bad Hearing”

    Are You Happy? (你幸福吗?)the Are You Happy Meme is taken from a National Day holiday feature aired on CCTV in which various reporters traveled the country interviewing people and asking whether they were happy or not. This was already a premise for meme-worthy material, but the execution of it really took the cake. Reporters did not only visit the well-off layers of Chinese society, as one may have expected, but also visited the have-nots. Among these have-nots: a 73 year-old scrap collector, who has since been dubbed a hero by social media users, who mocked the question by pretending to be unable to hear the reporter. Another migrant worker responded to the question “Ni xingfu ma?” (Are you happy? – though it sounds like “Is your last name Fu?”)  “My surname is Zeng!” Although the migrant worker looked a little naive, netizens believed that instead of answering the question with yes or no, his answer avoids any bias and leads to the propaganda machine biting the dust, thus answering it best.

Pictures courtesy of www.chinadaily.com, whatsonxiamen.com, pakistanaffairs.pk, scmp.com

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