The World of Chinese Culture, Language, Travel, and more Tue, 25 Apr 2017 03:38:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Prepare To Be Entertained Tue, 25 Apr 2017 03:38:34 +0000 The Spring Festival is an occasion to indulge your silly side. Apart from watching the CCTV Spring Festival Gala in its famous red-and-green color scheme or buying tickets to New Year blockbusters starring Jackie Chan and Wang Baoqiang, you can choose to go see Kaixin Mahua (开心麻花).

Unlike any other theater groups, Kaixin Mahua made their fame by producing plays made for the Lunar New Year. Though they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, their sheer commercial success means they can’t be overlooked when discussing the state of Chinese theater. Mahua has not only achieved impressive audience reach in individual performances, but have also been a huge success with producers of internet plays and play-adapted films. In 2015, the film adaptation of their play,Goodbye, Mr. Loser, gave them box office returns of over 1.4 billion RMB—to date, the most profitable Chinese film adapted from a play.

In rememberance of 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 2016, Mahua’s play,Don’t Be Mad, Shakespeare! attempts to celebrate both the playwright and the Year of the Rooster.

The plot sounds enticing enough: A famous director is about to stage his play,Romeo and Juliet, when he receives a phone call that his granddaughter has been kidnapped. The “ransom” that the kidnappers demand is that the director adapt the play the way they want; he concedes.

The highlights of the play, according to Mahua’s synopsis, are “an alternative homage to Shakespeare,” an intervention from the “Hand of God” that disrupts the original plot, and a play within the play. “This is a play about theatrical rehearsals,” the homepage ofDon’t Be Mad’s official website reads. “Mahua invites you to deconstruct the play from the perspective of the director.”

Such descriptions would certainly raise the expectations of an average theater-goer—the deconstruction of the 418-year-old script, the double-layered narration, and the characters’ possible rebellion against their tragic fate. It sounds like a subversive adaption that would be graciously forgiven by Shakespeare if he knew about it.

However, a true Mahua fan is usually not your average theater-goer. Mahua has a very young audience, mostly students and young white-collar workers, and its scripts are especially popular for university theaters to adapt. Mahua fans know exactly what to look for: An evening during which they can sit back and be entertained, without probing inquiries into art or human nature. They expect to laugh for two hours, and Mahua never fails them.

WithDon’t Be Mad, as with all Mahua productions, taking the attitude of a true fan is the only way to enjoy it. The doubly-delineated narration quickly decomposes halfway through the play, leaving the plot to be driven by the characters of the troupe. The Shakespearian plot, sabotaged by the kidnapper, is left in an anarchic state, being rewritten by each member according to their own private motives. The play succeeds in that, as the story unfolds, the troupe members become real, flawed characters, whose personalities directly speak to the audience. With each of them bent on their own agenda, they easily create a tension that tirelessly fuels the story with fresh comic moments.

However, one has to admit that the play consists almost wholly of jokes and panders to the audience. The comedy, while funny enough, does not offer the kind of depth that a good farce ought to display.

That is why most of Mahua plays are outcasts in the realm of theater critique. Some viewers, lured to the theater by the advertisement of “an homage to Shakespeare’s 400th anniversary,” posted angry comments on rating and review-aggregator websites, and the play’s score out of 10 on is only 6.9. However, Mahua fans are hardly perturbed. “Shut up and stay away,” one of them wrote. “I laughed until I had an eight-pack and that’s all I want. It’s a good play.”

Suffice to say, there is a hierarchy of audience-derision for Chinese theater genres. Crosstalk and Mahua are at the bottom of the pile; a little higher up are the controversial avant-garde and “experimental” works of commercially successful director Meng Jinghui, who is based at Beehive Theater on Beijing’s Second Ring Road. Looking down from the top of the pyramid is black box theater, even though most of the troupes and venues that specialize in this category, like the famous Penghao Theater hidden away in Nan Luoguxiang, have been financially struggling for years.

Mahua have no pretensions. In their synopses, they seem to always carefully avoid calling their theater productions “plays” (话剧, “dialogue performance”), and instead list them as “stage dramas” and “commercial theater.” At times, Mahua’s productions resemble a prolongedxiaopin, comic skit that usually appears on TV galas and with which Mahua have a profound association. In 2011, Mahua came to prominence nationwide by winning axiaopin competition hosted by CCTV, and have collaborated with the Spring Festival Gala for four successive years from 2012 to 2015, producing eightxiaopin—a feat that has made them known to the mainstream as well as their loyal fans.

However, it would be unfair to reduce Mahua’s plays toxiaopin. While their plays have become synonymous with farce, the star performers that represent Mahua, such as Shen Teng and Ma Li, are respected comedians with great theatrical ambitions. When Shen was interviewed by CCTV about how he ranked the importance of films, plays, andxiaopin, he answered, “Play, film. And that’s it.”

In any case, there is no getting away from Mahua in Chinese contemporary theater. It is lamented by the public that comedy in China has been on a downward trajectory ever since the 1980s, and the great comedians of that era are still seen as unsurpassed. However, with Mahua’s vigor, their constant infusion of young blood, their deep pockets, and the artistic potential, it’s possible they could be the group that brings Chinese comedy back.

In a nation where modern theater has had but a relatively very short existence, Mahua have caused tens of thousands of young Chinese adults to opt for the stage over blockbuster films on their Friday nights. That’s serious progress.

“Prepare To Be Entertained” is a story from our issue, “Fantasy”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store

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The Viral Week That Was: Ep 108 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 11:54:08 +0000 *The Viral Week That Was is our weekly round-up of the previous week’s trending memes, humor, rumor, gossip, and everything else Chinese netizens are chatting about. Think of this as a nicotine patch to help ease yourself into the working week after suckling on the smokey teat of the weekend.

Welcome back one and all to the wonderful world of the Viral Week, your favorite source of the weird and overlooked. Coming up on today’s issue, we bring you sporting athletes in China causing headaches, learning Chinese from IELTS, and the results of a recent film festival. But first…


Amazing China conducted an annual survey which ran from November of last year to this January in which foreign experts in China (you decide for yourself what an “expert” is) voted for their favorite Chinese city.

And for an unprecedented fifth time in a row, Shanghai emerged as the champion, beating out locations such as Beijing, Hangzhou, and Qingdao. Rounding out the top ten are Tianjin, Shenzhen, Suzhou, Guangzhou, Nanjing, and Changchun.


Your number 1 (

In a separate category, cities in the west of China were given their own rankings. Chengdu, Chongqing, and Kunming were the top choices here.


The Spring City of Kunming (Tencent)

According to ECNS, participants in this survey were made up of 30 top expert panels, 1,701 foreign experts (seriously, what makes them “experts”?), and 22,780 internet users. Factors influencing each person surveyed were analyzed and presented in graphic form (from China Daily).


Reasons for working in China


Environmental factors that affect choice of city


Improvements China should make


Salary satisfaction




Lets talk sports.

Beijing’s favorite son and green card recipient, Stephon Marbury, will be leaving the city and his team after negotiations stalled.

After a somewhat maligned career in the National Basketball Association (NBA), Marbury—who henceforth shall be referred to as “Starbury”—was reinvigorated by Chinese basketball and vice versa.


Starbury for the Beijing Shougang Ducks (

In the last six years, he has led the Beijing Shougang Ducks to three championship titles. This led to Starbury signing a three-year contract in 2015 which gave the Ducks the option of hiring him as an assistant coach for the 2017-18 season.


Victorious (

Unfortunately, the Ducks failed to make the playoffs this season, which led to a dispute over what to do. Starbury repeatedly voiced his intention of playing out his last year (which would see him reach 41 years of age), while the team wished to rebuild and look to younger pastures. The assistant coach job was offered, but because the head coach has still yet to be decided, Starbury did not want to commit.

An icon for Beijing basketball (there is a bronze statue of him outside the Wukesong Arena), Starbury has decided to test the free agent market and see where it takes him.


Highlights of Starbury’s Chinese career (

Over on the other side (both in location and sport), Shanghai Shenhua’s Argentinian forward, Carlos Tevez, was spotted playing hooky from his team’s own game.

Tevez was sidelined due to a calf injury and decided the best remedy was to visit the land where dreams come true—Disneyland—while his team was playing.

Shenhua fans were visibly upset with this lack of loyalty is possible in part due to the fact that Tevez is the highest-earning soccer player in the world at a reported 615,000 British Pounds a week (roughly 790,000 USD or 5,400,000 RMB).

And what does the club have to say on this issue?

They’re cool with it.



Recently, IELTS China released a series of images on Weibo that they suggest are vital to remember if you wish to score a 6.5. However, what they didn’t realize is that this in turn provides a brilliant resource for Chinese language learners.

So here they are and remember to thank TWOC when you obtain HSK Level 6.


viral108-12 viral108-13 viral108-14 viral108-15 viral108-16 viral108-17 viral108-18 viral108-19 viral108-20



This weekend saw the closing ceremony of the 7th Beijing International Film Festival (BJIFF).

With the likes of Ian Somerhalder (Lost, The Vampire Diaries) and Jean Reno (Leon: The Professional, The Pink Panther 2) gracing carpet and stage, the BJIFF few strangely under the radar among the Chinese public.


Jean Reno with actress/model Lin Chi-Ling (

But for cinema diehards, this is a good opportunity to scout out those hidden gems that would otherwise be outshone by the superheroes and drivers of the world.

Best Feature Film: Luka

Best Director: Russian Glurjidze, House of Others

Best Actor: Fan Wei, Mr. No Problem

Best Actress: Golab Adineh, The Sis

Best Supporting Actor: Gabriel Arcand, A Kid

Best Supporting Actress: Lia Kapanadze, Luka

Best Screenplay: Mr No Problem

Best Cinematography: House of Others

Best Music: The Poisoning Angel

Best Visual Effects: The Death and Life of Otto Bloom



Cover image from Baidu

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The Half-Fox Girl Sun, 23 Apr 2017 01:39:24 +0000 Jack Hsing, chief editor of The World of English, retells the story “Miss Yingning, or the Laughing Girl” (《婴宁》) from Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, a collection of Chinese folk tales by Qing dynasty scholar Pu Songling (蒲松龄). Many of the stories collected have to do with ghosts and fox spirits. Read our review of the Penguin Classics (2006) edition of the book here.


Once upon a time, there was a young man called Wang Zifu. Wang lived an affluent life with his widowed mother. Now at the age of 17, he still had not gotten a wife, which was a headache for his mother—at that time people usually married at very early age.

On the day of the Lantern Festival, Wang took a tour around the countryside. On his trip, he came across a girl and fell in love with her immediately. Not knowing the strange girl, he just ogled her silently. The girl was young and elegant, holding flower twig in one hand. She giggled loudly as she talked, not noticing that someone was watching her. “Oh, see that stealthy pair of eyes watching you!” the girl’s maid informed her. The young girl turned around and saw Wang looking in her direction. Instead of getting angry, she gave him a friendly smile. Then she dropped the flower twig to the ground and walked away with her maid. When the girls walked too far away to see, Wang picked up the flower twig and took it home.

From that day on, Wang could not stop thinking about the girl and hoped to meet her again. Lovesick, he became very depressed, and gradually his health became worse and worse. However, he would not reveal his secret to his mother. Since she could do nothing to bring relief to her son, the mother had her nephew, a Mr. Wu, come over to comfort her son. Wang spilled his guts to his cousin and pleaded with him to find that girl. His cousin promised to help.

Several days later, Wang was delighted to receive a letter from his cousin. The girl was none other than a cousin of theirs living in a hilly village a few miles away. Wang was anxious to meet her and set out for the hills in the early morning of the next day. At noon he reached his destination and spotted a large house surrounded by trees. As he hesitated to knock on the door, he saw an old lady, who stepped out and invited him to come in. There were all kinds of flowering trees in the garden of the house, and all were in full bloom. Amid the flowers he heard a girl giggling. To his pleasure, it is the same girl that he had met several days ago. The old lady invited him to dinner. During the dinner, he told the old lady his surname and said that he was the son of his dear sister. The old lady was not sure whether she was really his “dear aunt.” She indeed had a sister who had married a Mr. Wang, said the old lady, but had not had any news from her for many years. Wang then asked to see his cousin, the young girl he was missing so much. His aunt said that the young girl was her stepdaughter and born of the concubine of her late husband. Both the poor girl’s parents died when she was still a baby, and she was brought up by the old lady herself. Her name was Yingning, and she was 16 years old.

After dinner, Wang found an opportunity to be alone with Yingning in the garden. He presented her the withered flower twig that he had treasured from their first meeting.

“You like the flowers on this twig, cousin?” Yingning giggled.

“Yes, I do.”

“Good, I like flowers too. See this garden; you can take as many flowers as you like when you leave.”

“I do not love these flowers. I love the lady who was holding this very flower twig that day when we first met. It’s you.”

“Ridiculous! We are dear cousins, and we should certainly love each other.”

“I do not mean that kind of love between relatives. I mean a man’s love for a woman.”

“Is there any difference?” the girl asked seriously, still missing the point.

“If a man and a woman love each other, they can sleep together.” Wang said bluntly, hoping to win her affections.

“Sleeping with a stranger makes me uneasy.” the girl answered.

The maid suddenly appeared at that moment, and said that the old lady wanted to see them.

“You two stayed in the garden for such long a while. What were you talking about?” the old lady inquired.

“My cousin wanted to sleep with me, Mother.” Yingning replied bluntly, which embarrassed Wang awfully. Fortunately, he found that his aunt was hard of hearing. He quickly gave Yingning a glance, hinting at her to say no more.

Later, Yingning asked her cousin why he had interrupted her.

“Those words can only be said between couples, not in front of others,” Wang said.

“Not even in front of my dear mother?”

“Yes, not to anybody else.”

Although she nodded in agreement, the naïve girl still seemed to not have the faintest idea about his cousin’s intentions.

Several days later, Wang confessed to his aunt that he loved Yingning and wanted marry her. He humbly asked for consent from his aunt.

“Since I am not her birth mother, you can take her as your wife. But you know, she is too innocent to be seduced by scoundrels; therefore, I am glad that my own nephew will marry my dear stepdaughter.”

Wang then took Yingning to his own home. The mother welcomed her son with joyful tears, for he had been absent from home for many days. It gave her a great shock to see a beautiful young girl come in with him. She wanted to know what had happened. Wang told his mother that her nephew Wu had told him to find his aunt in a hilly village, and he had met the aunt there, and gotten her consent to marry her stepdaughter, the beautiful girl.

“Oh!” cried his mother, “Wu had lied to you. The hilly village and the aunt were completely his invention. This is very strange. ”

Wang then described his aunt’s appearance in detail to his mother. The mother pondered for a minute.

“I did have an elder sister who married a Mr. Qin, but she died 20 years ago. How can a dead person come back to life? Although the old lady’s appearance is the same as my sister, I still feel it’s unnatural,” said the mother, “My elder sister died before her husband. Your uncle Qin lived as a widower for some time, and then he fell in love with a fox spirit. They lived together as husband and wife. The fox then gave birth to a baby girl. Shortly after that, Mr. Qin died too, leaving the girl and her fox mother alone. And later, the fox took her daughter away and we never saw them again. If the girl is still alive today, she would be 16. ”

The mother then turned her face at the girl standing beside her son, and cried out, ”Oh! Isn’t this the daughter of your uncle Qin? What is her name? ”

“She is called Yingning.”

“Oh yes, the baby girl’s name was Yingning too.”

The mother took great pity on the girl, and agreed to let her stay with the family. Yingning was a good girl, elegant and cheerful. She soon won the favor of everybody. She was always giggling, and there seemed nothing can could upset her. She loved planting flowers, thus all kinds of flowers were soon flourishing the yard.

But just as her stepmother warned, she was too guileless to be seduced by scoundrels. The neighbor’s son was a womanizer and wanted to take advantage of the pretty girl. One day he sent a message to the girl for a date at the foot of the bordering wall. Yingning placed a thick log there in advance, and put a scorpion as large as a small crab in the hole of the log. When night came, in the pitch darkness the bad guy took the log for the girl, and wanted to have sex with her. His penis was stung by the large scorpion, and he yelled in agony. In this way, the clever girl saved herself and gave the scoundrel a good lesson.

One day Yingning told the mother and son about her life. When her father died, her fox mother took her away. But soon after, her mother became very sick. The dying mother asked the ghost of Mr. Qin’s wife to come to take care of her child. As Yingning was also the child of her husband, Mrs. Qin was obligated to do so. She agreed to bring Yingning up as her own child. Ever since then, they had lived together in the isolated hills. Wang sent some people to visit the hills to try and find the house and his aunt. But when they reached the place where the old lady lived, there was neither house nor old lady, and what they saw were flowers surrounding a lonely tomb.

Wang and Yingning were soon married. A year later, Yingning gave birth to a baby boy, who always giggled as his mother did. One year after the birth of the child, Wang passed the Imperial Examination and became a government official. The family lived happily together ever after.


Cover Image from duitang


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Strange Tales Indeed Sat, 22 Apr 2017 12:44:11 +0000 For centuries the imperial examination was the de facto method for members of any strata of Chinese society to join the ranks of the scholar-bureaucrat class. Success in the exams, in many ways, was central to success in society. Many, many men failed.

However, Chinese bureaucracy’s loss was Chinese literature’s gain. It turns out that years of literary education, coupled with a harsh spoonful of bitter failure and ample free time, are a recipe for authorial success. Chinese literature is so littered with failed mandarins that it sometimes feels like flunking the imperial exam is a pre-requisite. And Pu Songling (1640 – 1715) is a chief among these frustrated scribes.

Pu’s early Qing dynasty (1616 – 1911) anthology Liaozhai Zhiyi, in English usually titled Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, are preeminent in China’s zhiguai xiaoshuo, a genre of very short classical Chinese stories loosely translated as “miraculous tales”—and miraculous they are.


Pu creates a universe where, as the title suggests, strange things happen. Men are reincarnated as animals, but with enough human memory to avoid eating their own excrement; canine blood is flicked upon invisible phantoms to reveal their whereabouts; lonely women fornicate with lusty dogs when their husbands are away; hallucinating mandarins couple with tree trunks only for their penises to be stung by angry scorpions; the hungry chew on snake heads while the tails wriggle from their mouths like reptilian spaghetti; fox spirits disguised as beautiful women enchant men, making constant love to them until they are dead husks devoid of life force; insect-sized humans hold mournful funerals in empty courtyards; the lovesick jump through temple murals to ravish Buddhist apsaras; people repeatedly die, come back to life, and die again; and lies become truth, and truth becomes lies.

If Pu’s stories sound like the stuff of breathless wild abandon, they are not. The brilliance of Strange Tales is not so much in flights of imagination, though there are plenty of those, but in the controlled and measured style in which they are told. Rather than the flowery baroque style you might imagine from what are essentially ghost stories, each tale is presented more in the manner of an accountant carefully recording figures in a ledger, almost emotionlessly. Gregor Samsa’s utter coolness at being transformed into a cockroach come to mind. And Kafka is a good reference point as he reportedly described Pu’s stories as “exquisite,” and it is clear to see how a literary thread, though a thin one, links the two failed bureaucrats. It is not a surprise that masters of the short story praise of Pu’s work. Jorge Luis Borges was a fan, and both writers wrote short, crystalline tales about myths, legends, and strange beasts, while blurring the real and the imagined. Like Borges, Pu’s laconic, matter-of-fact storytelling is precisely what makes his stories so strange.

The measured tones of the tales can discombobulate. We are often presented a complex story, involving all manner of shocking supernatural events, only for a tale to finish abruptly without fanfare in a brusque sentence absent of comment or grandiosity: “Song wrote a short account of his experience, but alas…it was lost. I have given the gist of it.”

Or, “The magistrate provided him with a written certificate of the facts, and an allowance for his journey home.”

Or, “After six months he made a recovery.”

Initially such endings are unsatisfying; it can feel that Pu has not concluded his stories adequately, that there must be something more to them, that the absurdity of his tales has not been given full space for consideration. But these are Strange Tales and this is how Pu tells them. The brisk endings to the tales soon become addictive, their terse finality leaving the reader slightly confused, yet wanting more.

Few modern readers would take Pu’s stories as anything other than fiction, but at the time it was written, things were often different. Historical figures and events, often battles that took place in the previous  dynasty, are dropped into the stories. Many of Pu’s contemporaries, educated or otherwise, would fully have believed in ghosts and spirits, and seen the tales as retellings of events partly, if not completely, true. Perhaps, a few superstitious readers will feel the same today.

The Penguin Classics (2006) edition translated by John Minford is a particularly fine one. We are given 104 of Pu’s stories (out of 500 in the original). Though they usually only run between a paragraph and two pages long, the book also contains an excellent introduction, a short glossary of uncommon terms, and explanatory footnotes to almost every story. For those that want context to Pu’s work, this edition is an excellent starting point.

One of the joys of Minford’s translations is that they attempt to stay true to the original text and avoids some of what he calls “bowdlerizations” to the text. Victorian-era editions of the work bowed to the moral constraints of their times, and some of Pu’s more shocking passages, of which there are quite a few, were either neglected or completely re-written. A man that originally ravished a beautiful female ghost instead sits down to have a cup of tea and a charming chat. This is not to say Minford’s tales are particularly graphic but, as with most good literature, there are more than a few passages not for the faint-hearted. Pu likes to get into the nitty-gritty quickly, though always in his hallmark matter-of-fact style. One story begins:

“There was a merchant of Qingzhou who was much away on business, often for as long as an entire year. He has a white dog at home, and during her husband’s absences his wife encouraged the dog to have sexual relations with her. The dog became quite accustomed to this.”

It is an engaging opener, as is the story’s final line, “This woman is certainly not the only creature with a human visage to have coupled with an animal.”

Understandably, this tale is missing from many of the earlier editions, and some more modern ones, because, as it turns out, some people are not hugely enthused by Qing dynasty bestiality with a bit of torture thrown into the mix, however expertly written.

In the first paragraph of the excellent story “Silkworm,” we are told:

“When our story commences he was 17 years old, but his member was still tiny and shrivelled, no larger than a silkworm. This defect of his was common knowledge, and his marriage prospects were worse than poor.”

Pu was not exaggerating, of course, and later things do not go well for lonely Silkworm: “She lifted the quilt and climbed in beside him, shaking him but eliciting no response. She slipped her hand further down to feel for his member. So crestfallen was she to discover the diminutive dimensions of what he had down there that she promptly withdrew her hand and crept disconsolately out from under the quilt. He heard the sounds of her muffled sobbing and felt pangs of remorse.”

This is certainly not the only couple to have been so frustrated, but it is easy to see why so many earlier editions were bowdlerized, and that some people preferred to avoid Pu’s direct, often humorous, style.

The meaning and morality behind Pu’s tales are not entirely clear, and most are quite a distance from the ethical paint-by-numbers you get from a fabulist such as, say, Aesop. Fox spirits, for example, are by far and away the most common apparitions in the tales, more so than ghosts, and in Asian mythology they are often portrayed as merciless fox demons able to disguise themselves as women who using great cunning to seduce men. These men in turn become addicted to making love to the fox women, lose all their vital energy, and die, leaving the fox-spirit greatly strengthened. Indeed, ancient Chinese Daoists would go to great lengths to avoid such a fate. Pu has plenty of stories like this, but his fox-spirits are often considerably more wise and kind than the demonic succubi of myth, at times going to great lengths to save humans from their own foolishness, even dying for them.

On many occasions a fox spirit will make considerable efforts to befriend and care for the human wife of one of her lovers. Pu’s treatment of the fox spirit is rarely one-sided, and it is the same for ghosts and even monsters. Instead, many of the tales are clearly aimed to take on the folly of men, not demons, but it is never overdone or preachy. It is clear Pu has with a number of the problems with many of the issued faced in his day, be they trivial or large: the unfairness of the feudal system, corruption in the imperial examinations, difficulty with dealing with complex women. But the message is never obvious, his attacks veiled and worn lightly. The strange stories resist any attempt to lecture the reader, instead gently hinting, and poking and getting inside his head in the strangest of ways.

Strange Tales has made its mark on the literary canon: precise Chinese tales of perfect poise and polish, not a single word wasted. Pu’s universe is both repetitive and diverse,  imaginative and humdrum, erotic yet unadorned, each story a sip of a very special vintage, which, as before, will no doubt be deservingly enjoyed for the next 300 years or more.

“Starnge Tales Indeed” is a story from our issue, “Fantasy”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store

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Show of the Week: In the Name of the People Fri, 21 Apr 2017 14:36:43 +0000 If you live in China but haven’t been watching In the Name of the People (《人民的名义》), you aren’t only missing out on a cultural phenomenon, you’re pretty much cut out of most water-cooler conversations. People of all ages and genders have been getting in on the anti-corruption drama, which has also been generating headlines.

Sponsored by the TV and Film Production Center under the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, and screened by Hunan TV, the series takes the central government’s recent crackdown on corruption as its backdrop, featuring a hero named Hou Liangping who investigates cases involving corrupt officials in the fictional province of Handong.

The best American analogy is probably House of Cards. The first episode aired on March 28,  and it attracted 2.41 percent of the total views, easily winning the ratings contest for that evening. The rating kept increasing as the story progressed, reaching as high as 3.91 percent in a single evening, more than twice the viewership numbers earned by the live broadcast of the World Cup qualifiers between the Chinese national team and Iran.

The show has also been performing well online. As of the time of writing this post, 38 out of 55 total episodes had been released and have received more than three billion views on iQiyi, one of the websites licensed to broadcast it. The episodes are coming out pretty fast, with two released every weekday.

It holds a rating of 8.5 out of 10 on Chinese media reviewing website Douban.

Since 2004, there haven’t been any shows based on corruption broadcast in prime time. But In the Name of the People has made a difference. It not only focuses on the corruption issue but also reveals many unsavory details of the Chinese political system. For example, in the opening of this show, a corrupt official was caught in his secret villa, with huge stacks of cash stuffed in fridges, closets and beds. Such a scene of visual impact is actually based on a real case. The prototype of the corrupt official in the show is Wei Pengyuan, former deputy head of the coal department at the National Energy Administration, who was sentenced to death with a two-year reprieve in 2016 for corruption.

Other plot elements have also drawn inspiration from real cases. For example, one episode features a service window at the local Bureau for Letters and Visits from the Masses, which was so low that visitors had to bend over to talk to the officials, since there was no seat there. This seemingly small detail triggered plenty of feedback online. Netizens revealed that similar scenarios have taken place at the Social Security Office in Zhengzhou, Henan, and the police department in Zhuzhou Railway Station in Hunan province.

The service window in the show, from

The service window from the show, from

Service window in Zhengzhou

Service window at the Social Security Office of Zhengzhou, from

Service window in Zhuzhou railway station, from

Service window at the Zhuzhou Railway Station, from

Over the last decade, many topics have been discouraged on TV, but In the Name of the People has made a breakthrough. You can find many straightforward, candid lines in the show, which have rarely been seen on screen before. Here are some examples:

In the past, the public didn’t believe that the government could do bad; now they don’t believe the government could do good.



In the eyes of ordinary people, there is no uncorrupt official.



Frankly speaking, the quality of our officials is far lower than that of the average citizen.



The important issue these days is not to educate the masses, but to educate the officials.



You think people are toasting to how much they like him? They are toasting the power he holds in his hands.



—Retired official: To serve the party, serve the people, that’s why we become officials.

—Official’s wife: Please. If others hear you say this, they will laugh to death. Who will believe you?




What’s wrong with our times? The ones who are upright and uncorrupt are the outcasts.



My family have been farmers for generations. I am the son of a farmer, and I am terrified by poverty.



The acting has also drawn praise, as the show brought together many veteran actors and actresses. In Chinese, they are called “老戏骨,” literally “old drama bones.” In today’s entertainment field dominated by “little fresh meat” (小鲜肉, cute young male actors, chosen more for their looks than acting skills) and “little flowers” (小花, young pretty actresses), it’s rare to find an ensemble cast as experienced as that of In the Name of the People, good acting skills no longer primarily brings fame or win ratings for the show. But to everyone’s surprise, these veteran “drama bones” won great popularity online and have even become favorites of young people. Netizens have even made many characters into memes found on social media and instant messaging platforms.

“Simmer down!”

The line is "What else can I say?"

“What else can I say?”

For those able to read Chinese, there’s also an online quiz that tells you (as it told the TWOC staff earlier today) which character from the show you are.

Of course, there are still many shortcomings in these show. Critics say it is slow-paced, much of the plot is driven by long, esoteric discussions, and the leading character’s presence isn’t commanding enough. But for Chinese audiences, who have been numbed by both schlock programming and safe subjects for so long, the bar has been vaulted over.


Cover Image from

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Not-So-Hermit Kingdom Thu, 20 Apr 2017 06:54:42 +0000 Hermit Kingdom. Closed off. Secretive. Unpredictable.

The phrases commonly used in media to describe North Korea don’t exactly lend themselves to a tourism campaign, and it’s hardly surprising. It’s a strange place—at least, to outsiders—that can often seem trapped in a bygone era.

You could be forgiven for thinking that the country is entirely closed off to foreign tourists, but you’d be wrong.

A trickle of Westerners visit North Korea each year, generally under the auspices of two major travel groups – Koryo Tours or the Young Pioneers, though these are not the only two options.

TWOC spoke with Jeremiah Jenne, a Beijing-based historian who has led tours in North Korea with Koryo Tours. “Access has varied depending on what’s going on in the world, but right now most nationalities can visit,” he said, pointing out that visas generally take a few weeks to organize, so it’s not the kind of trip one can take on the spur of the moment. It’s also not for those who desire convenience or luxury in their travels. “It’s a bit like going back in time, so you have to be ready for that,” Jenne said.

There is also a degree of risk. “If you think you’re going to be able to escape your guide to go off and have a more authentic experience, you’re mistaken. Keep in mind, part of your guide’s job is to make sure you don’t go to jail.”

Ending up in jail, while an unlikely prospect, is not totally out of the realm of possibility. Last year, 21-year-old American student Otto Warmbier was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor after attempting to steal a political banner from a hotel. He had finished his trip and had already boarded the plane to take his flight home when North Korean police came aboard the plane and arrested him. Cases like Warmbier’s, which end with a jail sentence, are rare and not representative of the experiences of approximately 10,000 tourists visiting North Korea each year, but they do illustrate the importance of being careful.

Jenne points out (and not necessarily in reference to the Warmbier case) that some tourists who travel to North Korea are used to being very independent travelers. “They may have already been to 52 countries as an independent traveler and are not necessarily keen on getting on a bus and going on very organized tours,” he said. However, if traveling in North Korea, organized tours are the only way to go.

All tours to North Korea are run though the North Korea’s travel company/department, the North Korea International Travel Company (KITC) and the agencies, like Koryo, act as intermediaries who are familiar with KITCs processes.

It’s also interesting to note that while much of the English-language coverage of tourism in North Korea focuses on Western tourists, Chinese tourists are more common, as China has a land border with North Korea and has a relationship that, while not exactly friendly, is at least friendlier than North Korea’s relationship with other countries.

There have been reports indicating that Chinese tourists are now even able to drive into North Korea and visit certain areas. There are also casinos catering primarily to Chinese tourists—gambling is illegal in China except for in Macau, so North Korea provides an accessible gambling option close to the North of the country. For North Korea, it provides much needed revenue.

One measure of openness in North Korea is the increasing accessibility of cell phones and sim cards. If you had visited North Korea a decade ago, you would have had to hand over your cell phone before entering. Since 2013, cell phones have become permissible, though a local sim card is required.

So in summary—it is probably possible for you to organize a trip to North Korea, and thousands of Chinese tourists certainly do each year, but if you do, don’t mess around. Behave.


Cover image from


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Who Translates It Best? Wed, 19 Apr 2017 10:00:18 +0000 It’s not easy to translate from Chinese to English: there’s not an equivalent for every term, there are differences in sentence structure, and let’s not even go into the connotations of the words. Above all else, slang poses a headache for would-be translators. So how do computers fare? We’ve collected a list of slang terms and tested them on popular language translation platforms—Google, Baidu, and Sogou—to see which will emerge as the most accurate.


1. 背锅(bēiguō)


Google: Wrong. A literal translation of the two characters, but 背 has two meanings, “back” and “to carry [a thing] on one’s back”; in this case, Google chose wrong. Still, the pinyin reading is a great feature of Google Translate, though that’s not always accurate either—while 背 is pronounced bèi in the first meaning, it’s bēi in the second.


Baidu: Wrong. Reversing the order of the words in English gets you warmer.


Sogou: Spot on! Where you say scapegoat, the Chinese say “scape-wok,” since “wok” and “fault” share a similar pronunciation in Chinese.


2. 吃瓜群众 (chī guā qúnzhòng)


Google: Wrong; there’s no cannibalism here.



Baidu: Close, but not quite. Literally, “melon-eating masses,” this term originally came from a bystander who was interviewed for a road accident and claimed to have seen nothing as he was eating melon at the time, thereby causing great hilarity and giving birth to this new term. This term is used for the apathetic masses who don’t really understand or care about an event happening around them.



Sogou: The closes translation in this case.


3. 不明觉厉 (bù míng jué lì)


Google: Wrong. It’s like Google tried to translate the first two words, then just gave up.



Baidu: Correct. The term is short for the sentence “Though I don’t understand what you are saying, it seems to be awesome.” Often found in online comments, when ordinary people respond to an expert on a specific topic.



Sogou: Also correct. Bonus points for the explanation mark.



4. 然并卵(Rán bìng luǎn)



Google: Wrong. Google dismissed the first word (for reasons unclear—maybe it sounds like an interjection?) and gave literal translations to the other two.




Baidu: Correct, although toned down. Literally, the term is short for “However, it’s of no fucking use.”


Sogou: Also correct.


5. 你咋不上天? (nǐ zǎ bú shàngtiān)


Google: Wrong (though kind of old-timey); not even the correct word order.



Baidu: Kind of, if you stretch it. Literally, the phrase is, “Why don’t you just fly to the sky?” Originally from the Dongbei dialect, netizens brought this sarcastic term into the mainstream.



Sogou: Also correct. Again with the exclamation mark!


In conclusion, out of five slang terms,  zero points for Google, three (and a half? Not sure about “rubberneck”) for Baidu and five for Sogou. Looks like Sogou is the best translating service when it comes to popular slang terms, being not only the most accurate but the most up-to-date. For added fun, try  种草, 欧气, 胡建人 and 你瞅啥 on these sites.


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Ginger Coke Hits China Tue, 18 Apr 2017 06:51:08 +0000 Ginger coke is a thing, now.

Coca Cola has been selling ginger coke in a few countries including New Zealand and Japan since last year, and very recently started sales in China, though it’s been a popular combination in China for quite some time.

What’s On Weibo recently covered the details of how ginger is a popular “yang” drink (referring to the traditional Chinese medicine concept of inner heat), and how adding ginger to coke has been a popular cold remedy in China. Coke’s roll-out of the new combo has no doubt been helped by the addition of popular singer Luhan (鹿晗) to advertising materials.

So, without further ado, TWOC decided to try this new twist on the old standby to see whether it balanced out our inner heat.

Lacking an objective measuring system for yang, we concluded that it basically just tastes the same as coke with a faint gingery aftertaste.

So in other words, not bad.



No discernible difference in taste (


Cover image from Weibo


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The Viral Week That Was: Ep 107 Mon, 17 Apr 2017 07:58:34 +0000 *The Viral Week That Was is our weekly round-up of the previous week’s trending memes, humor, rumor, gossip, and everything else Chinese netizens are chatting about. Think of this as a nicotine patch to help ease yourself into the working week after suckling on the smokey teat of the weekend.

Happy World Hemophilia Day and welcome back to the Viral Week. Coming up on today’s broadcast, we bring you the woes of being a thief in an unfamiliar city, the hottest infidelity scandal to hit China so far this year, a student-teacher kerfuffle, and one firefighter teaching you to “never give up”. But first…



Wearing his school uniform and standing in an office, thirteen year-old Liu Jiazhuo (刘嘉卓) was videoed displaying his finger-licking guitar chops.

Soon after, his video caught the attention of online audiences and garnered all sorts of praise. Chinese celebrities also shared and re-Weiboed the video, with famous musician Gao Xiaosong (高晓松) saying that after watching it, he smashed his own guitar and his decided to only whistle from now on.

One other celebrity fan took his admiration to another level. Dong Lu (董路), a soccer commentator, flew out Liu and his parents to Beijing. And so followed a whirlwind tour of the capital’s music scene which included meeting other musicians as well as solo performances.

Now this unlikely story of fame has reached the point where Liu’s parents have gone home to Baiyin, Gansu province, in order to pack and move to Beijing where Liu can, hopefully, continue perfecting his craft and maybe have the chance to meet his hero, Aussie guitarist Tommy Emmanuel.

Here’s Liu’s “audition” tape.



A video recently surfaced that documents a street thief stealing a woman’s bag in Shenzhen.

Caught on CCTV (the security kind rather than the government broadcaster type), the event charts a comedy of errors during this incident.

First, after the bag is taken, the pursuing woman stumbles in the middle of street in true slapstick fashion. Meanwhile, the thief runs into a nearby courtyard, turns around, and proceeds to taunt his victim. Unperturbed by the attempt at verbal jousting, the woman promises the thief that his arrest is imminent.

Smugness turns into confusion turns into shock when the thief realizes that the courtyard that he ran into just happened to be under the ownership of the local police force.

The police later released a statement saying that the arrested man did not know the area very well.



If there is one thing the internet loves, it’s a juicy scandal to sinks its canines into.

Step forward actress (she was in I Belonged To You, which we reviewed here) and (alleged) former adultress, Bai Baihe (白百何).


Lemme guess—good news? (Mtime)

Last week, Bai was recorded on a clandestine holiday in Thailand with Chinese model Zhang Aipeng (张爱朋).


Credentials check out (Weibo)

As far as anyone knew, Bai had been married to singer Tony Chen (陈羽凡) for ten years at this point with one child between them and when footage of her and Zhang was released (in two parts with whimsical commentary, no less) the online community was quick to pounce.

Soon after, Chen posted a short video in response to the online criticism. It was here that he addressed the issues at hand and confessed that he and Bai had, in fact, divorced in 2015 and thus everyone should just respect their privacy and not pursue this any further.

So it turns out, the incident that many were outraged over was actually much ado about nothing. Except that there was still a noticeable outcome.

Bai has been very predominantly featured in commercials for Mixi (full name 江中猴姑米稀), a health drink for mornings. However, ever since this extra publicity, she has suspiciously disappeared from both the televised ads and the packaging.


Before (Baidu)


After (



Confucius says that you should respect your teachers.

But what if your teacher slaps you in front of your class? What if your bad attitude, rebellious nature, and provocative insults were the initial cause?

This scenario played out recently in a video released onto the interwebs.

The teacher was dressing down a badly behaved student while the student refused to back down. Just before the physical violence, the teacher warned the student that any further talking back would result in a slap. The student then proceeded to call the teacher a “qipa (奇葩)”, which isn’t a swear word but is a derogatory term to mean “special”.

The teacher slaps the student. The student responds with a palm of her own. Madness ensues. And finally, classmates break up the fight.

Regardless of right and wrong, this type of behavior is not the first example of teacher-student fisticuffs. Previously, a refusal to hand in homework forced a teacher to choke his student, which prompted multiple classmates to attack—at one point with a chair.

One interesting thing to note from the video above is that whoever uploaded this video decided that it was necessary to blur the teacher’s face but not the student’s. Wonder what that means?



Yan Mengdi (严梦迪) was just a simple firefighter saving cats and putting out fires in Shanghai when he took part in the Shanghai Fire Departments Spring Sports Day.

Now he has inadvertently become an inspiration to people around the country (sort of).

During a four hundred meter race while carrying water bottles, Yan slipped and fell near the beginning. However, despite the massive lead held by the other runners, Yan managed to slowly whittle away at the gap and somehow overtook them all to win in the last ten meters.

While many have praised this example of sheer perseverance, other online commentors have noted that Yan’s competitors are simply terrible and implore others to stop trying to inspirational messages out of it.

What do you think?


Cover image from Mtime

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I Belonged To You Sun, 16 Apr 2017 02:25:44 +0000 I Belonged to You was released two days before October 1, China’s National Day—a day that seeks to unify the nation—and one can only hope that the film in question is not in any way representative of the country or its film industry. The picture is such a saccharine mess that it is hard to decide what is more depressing: that it was made in the first place or that it did so well at the box office. You should be careful what you wish for, but this is a film that makes you wish that the Chinese censors were so much tougher than they actually are, and that instead of concerning themselves with the relatively mundane issues of political sensitivity and vulgarity, they could up their game and work towards a bit of quality control.


The plot, though this unfairly suggests the film has a clear sense of direction, centers around an egotistical talk show DJ, Chen Mo, played by Chinese pretty boy Deng Chao. Early in the film, in the first of its poorly executed slapstick scenes, Chen is jilted by his lover and co-host Xiaorong (Du Juan) live on air, causing Chen to be morose for the entire film…well, at least until Xiaorong’s replacement turns up: a cute intern named “Birdie,” who Chen inexpertly flirts with throughout the film. So inexpertly, in fact, that at one point he accidently hits her in the face, cue more dodgy slapstick. This under-heated love triangle is sufficiently weak and ineffectualDeng has an annoying charm, but it is wasted herethat a further two love stories are thrown into the mix. Both involve Chen’s best buddies, and both are doomed to failure.

Chen’s best friend, Chubby, performs the well-known archetype, the funny fat guy, though he is largely more pathetic than humorous. He is jilted days before he is set to get married and, oddly, spends the rest of the film in a war zone selling street food. Not just any street food either, but his former fiancée’s favorite snacks. One supposes this is a comic look at redemption, penance, and atonement, but it leaves you wondering exactly what the writer, best-selling novelist Zhang Jiajia, and director Zhang Yibai were smoking when they decided to bring this outré number to the screen.

The final piece of the romantic triptych involves an impossibly cute Chinese policewoman and her geeky bowtie-wearing boyfriend. Geeky boyfriend wins over the more practical and streetwise policewoman by his sheer desire to know everything about the world. As he tells her early on, when she asks if she can trust him: “I’m too busy exploring the truth about the universe. I don’t have time for lying.” So, it is a sad moment when he, inexplicably, gets stabbed to death by a gang of street thugs about two-thirds of the way through the film in a scene utterly out of keeping with the gentle rom-com the picture constantly tries (and fails) to be. Still, it shows that we can lose love even when we are least expecting it. All is not lost, however, for before he dies, geeky boyfriend programs his voice into the sat-nav on his girlfriend’s motorbike, so at least she can listen to him whenever she is out for a spin.


Mao Shisan (Yang Yang), Chen Mo (Deng Chao) and Zhutou (Yue Yunpeng) chat about their relationship issues over street snacks

There is a genre of films much loved because they are “so bad they are good” and often become highly recommended as such. But even by this metric the film fails, for while it is without doubt very poor, it is not made completely without skill. The director of photography has a more than competent understanding of light and color. Chinese cities are prettified to good effect, particularly at night, and there are elegant, panoramic mountain shots that wouldn’t look out of place in an alpine travel advert. If you are into syrupy love ballads, the soundtrack contains a couple of good ones, too.

Most films have a message of some sort, but through accident or design, it can sometimes be difficult to ascertain exactly what they are trying to say. I Belonged to You seems to be trying to say something about love. As the film tells us in one of its many pseudo-poetic moments: “Some love happens naturally. Some disappears without a cause. Though you can see it happening, there’s nothing you can do.” And it is this fleeting though actually quite meaningful point that the film tries to hit home, albeit in a somewhat disordered, ramshackle fashion. It is not for this reviewer to tell anyone if they should watch this absurd film. So instead he will suggest watching it with a few stiff drinks beforehand, in the slight hope that it might make just a little more sense.

“I Belonged To You” is a story from our issue, “Fantasy”. To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the iTunes Store

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