Wang Yibo
Photo Credit: Bilibili/非常规柚子
STREET TALK

Desperate Illiterates: How Chinese Netizens Rip Celebrities for Their Ignorance

Chinese netizens are ripping a new generation of young celebrities to shreds for their less-than-stellar performances in various interviews

A bunch of newly released films and crowded during the Chinese Lunar New Year brought about intense box office races, as well as heated discussion online around movies and the people starring in them. The World War II spy thriller Hidden Blade, directed by Cheng Er and starring Tony Leung, Wang Yibo, and Zhou Xun, came only third in terms of ticket sales, but managed to go viral in a unique way.

Among its stellar cast, the aura of returning Hong Kong icon Tong Leung was partly overshadowed by Wang Yibo, a rising star with a huge fan base (顶流明星 dǐngliú míngxīng). But rather than anything to do with his performance, the 25-year-old Chinese singer, actor, rapper, and dancer, has been fiercely criticized for his ignorance in various interviews.

When asked about the most challenging part of playing his character, Wang went silent, then said he ”frankly didn’t know how to answer (这个确实我不知道该怎么回答 zhège quèshí wǒ bù zhīdào gāi zěnme huídá).” When asked what he gained from acting, he replied: “I learned what a film is…oh, I suddenly forgot what I was going to say (学到了什么是电影......哎,还想说什么突然忘了 Xuédàole shénme shì diànyǐng......āi, hái xiǎng shuō shénme tūrán wàng le).”

Wang Yibo forgetting what he was going to say in an interview

Wang Yibo forgetting what he was going to say in an interview (Bilibili/非常规柚子)

People finally began to suspect that Wang’s public persona (人设 rénshè)—which his feverish fans have long adored—as a “cool guy (酷盖 kùgài)” of few words was actually a result of him being empty-headed with nothing to say (脑袋空空,肚子里没货 nǎodài kōngkōng, dùzi li méi huò).

These interviews immediately spawned netizens’ enthusiasm to dig out more and more “dark histories (黑历史, hēi lìshǐ)” of the star. They unearthed an interview where Wang was asked to write certain phrases in Chinese, and could only write “一 (yī)” in the common phrase “到此一游 (dào cǐ yī yóu, I was here).” He also wrote “一” from the phrase “一直以来 (yìzhí yǐlái, has always been)” as “已 (yǐ).”

Netizens then declared Wang a “desperate illiterate (绝望的文盲 juéwàng de wénmáng).” The “title” was said to derive from a line in the Ukrainian comedy series Sugar Daddy: “It’s obvious at a glance that it was written by a desperate illiterate (一眼就能看出来,是一个绝望的文盲写的 Yì yǎn jiùnéng kàn chūlái, shì yí gè juéwàng de wénmáng xiě de).”

Unfortunately, Wang was not the only apparent “illiterate” to venture into the mainland entertainment industry. Chinese actress Liu Haocun, one of the many female film stars discovered and popularized by renowned director Zhang Yimou, also gave an interview widely publicized for all the wrong reasons. When asked how to understand the role of an actress, she just hemmed and hawed, wanting to quote someone’s words, but forgetting the person’s name as well as the saying. She then awkwardly asked if the interview would be publicly released.

Wang Yibo’s Chinese writing mistakes

Wang Yibo’s Chinese writing mistakes (Bilibili/非常规柚子)

Furthermore, netizens have found interviews where actor Dylan Wang read “河堤 (river embankment, hédī)” as “河提 (hé tí)”; famous actress Yang Mi misread the phrase “莘莘学子 (shēnshēn xuézǐ)” as “辛辛学子 (xīnxīn xuézǐ)”; and actress Bao Wenjing couldn’t calculate 24 plus 3…

Faced with these gaffes, netizens began to quip: “Illiterates are seen everywhere in the mainland entertainment industry, whose interviews are supremely embarrassing (内娱文盲遍地,采访尬出天际 Nèiyú wénmáng biàndì, cǎifǎng gàchū tiānjì).” They’ve also begun calling celebrities “Nine Escaping Fish (九漏鱼 Jiǔ Lòu Yú),” short for “Fish escaping from the net of nine-year compulsory education (九年义务教育的漏网之鱼 jiǔnián yìwù jiàoyù de lòu wǎng zhī yú),” mocking those celebrities for being seemingly less educated than junior high school graduates.

As good-looking people can easily gain popularity with the help of the internet and kaleidoscopic marketing techniques by talent agencies, the entertainment industry has always had less stringent educational requirements than others. Still, the growing disparity between entertainers who earn millions per movie and sometimes evade taxes, and young people struggling with rising cost of living and debts, have led many to resent the privileged lifestyles of celebrities. Not helping matters are recent scandals revealing that some celebrities, such as actor Zhai Tianlin, have cheated or bought their way into advanced university degrees.

“There is a long way to go to eradicate illiteracy in the mainland entertainment industry (内娱扫盲事业任重道远 Nèiyú sǎománg shìyè rènzhòng dàoyuǎn),” netizens sigh, adding that sometimes, “the speed of the eradication of illiteracy lags behind that of fans cleaning up their idol’s mess (扫盲的速度还比不上粉丝洗地的速度 sǎománg de sùdù hái bǐbushàng fěnsī xǐdì de sùdù).”

And despite their best efforts to defend their idol, some of Wang’s fans have mistakenly referred to their beloved rapper as a “raper” in their comments on Weibo, suggesting perhaps that the increasingly young and less educated fan community is part of the explanation.

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author Zhang Wenjie (张文捷)

Zhang Wenjie is a contributing writer at The World of Chinese. She loves to share the lifestyles, voices, and concerns of China’s Gen Z. She is also fond of collecting and displaying the flourishing slang expressions in the Chinese language.