In the afternoon of Sunday, 8th of October, Weibo, China’s most used social media platform, crushed.
By crushed we meant utterly in breakdown for an entire two hours – posts cannot be sent, pages remained blanked, and the whole system froze in completely, madly chaos. The reason? China’s hottest, juiciest male idol, (or “little fresh meat 小鲜肉”, as we like to call them today) Lu Han, announced he’s dating Guan Xiaotong, a popular female actress (or “little flower 小花”) who just turned 20 this year.
Lu Han is famous for his delicate, pretty little face.
For the next 24 hours, Lu Han’s relationship announcement was the biggest headline in entire China. Even my mom, someone who never cared or knew a thing about the entertainment industry, asked curiously: “what’s going on with this Lu Han guy? Everyone is talking about him on my WeChat!” That says something, ladies and gentlemen.
What is truly astonishing - so astonishing that we decided to dedicate a post about it - is how public opinions evolved around this news. Within a few hours of Weibo’s restoration, The Chinese Internet was quickly divided into two groups: on one side, we have the melon-eating outsiders (吃瓜群众) like us, who were shocked and talked about it for a minute or two with friends on dinner tables. On the opposite side there were the fans (“鹿饭”), over 40 million (estimated based on Lu's Weibo follower number) of largely young female Chinese who were utterly crushed. Unable to bear the news alone, they went on Weibo to console each other, and, to our surprise, started a massive, aggressive attack on Lu himself.
Before getting into details about their attacks (which contain a super fascinating logic/way of thinking, as you'd see later), let's briefly recap a few Chinese Internet concepts that are crucial to this story -
爱豆: Idols/loved-beans, in today's Chinese entertainment industry, it specifically refers to a bunch of young male and female stars who lack good works, but own insanely crazy and powerful fanbases (TFboys! Yes!) .
人设: "commercial personality", basically, an intentionally constructed image that a certain person sells.
流量: traffics, or THE ALMIGHTY GOD OF THE CHINESE INTERNET. Traffic is everything, everything is traffic.
脱粉: De-fan a certain idol (or getting "undressed", which actually makes sense not just in a sarcastic way...)
To date, Lu Han's original relationship announcement Weibo ("Hello everybody, let me introduce you my girlfriend, @Guan Xiaotong") has received over 2 million comments, 1 million reposts and liked more than 5 million times. After spending some time browsing and clicking through Weibo (our fav activity!) we managed to track down some of the most up-voted comments, and to piece together a rather fascinating narrative that reflects the general publics' view over this news.
Ready? Let's unfold the narrative (like we did in this previous post, we tried to translate the meanings as accurate as possible but not everything is word-by-word).
To start, there were a lot of initial reactions like these - mournings, outrages and desperations (there were rumors that some fans even committed suicide after hearing the news):
And then it escalated to things like these:
As more and more fans declared their "脱饭(de-fan)" loudly to the public , some folks began to feel disturbed:
And then the fans fought back with even more aggressive sentiments (and backing themselves with logics that sounded super reasonable yet self-conflicting ):
"He has no acting skills, no famous songs...it is the fans that got him where he is today, not his ability." - said the fans.
As the corresponding comments escalated to a general debate about celebrities' work ethics, more people presented their opinions:
Having watched the debate evolving to this stage, we became really confused: what is this argument really about? Seriously, WHAT IS THE MATTER?
OK, so here's our version of the story in two points -
1."Chinese idols are not disciplined enough. They should come to term with the fact that they have no practical skillsets except pretty faces, and their fame and money are purely result of their fans' generous sponsorships."
2."Since they are themselves only because of the fans, they should respect, love and satisfy the needs of their fans utterly and devotedly. That includes no public relationships with other females whatsoever, as the boyfriend fantasy is the thing that the fans need the most."
Like several of these comments as well as our article on TFboys have pointed out, the essence of Japanese and South Korean idol-making is constructing an intimate, fantasized personal relationships between the idol and the fans. Lu Han, along with the other trending idols in China, have imported such model (Lu actually was a member of the Korean idol-group EXO to begin with) and successfully localized it in China - an entertainment market much greater than the Japanese and Korean ones.
Can you spot Lu in this EXO group shoot?
The Chinese market has a lot of ¥¥¥, but it also seriously lacks diversity as it is still in an infant stage of capitalization (or, a market economy with "unique Chinese characteristics", as the big boss like to say...). So when an idol like Lu Han swelled, everyone, literally every individual and every business jumped on him to extract his commercial value through every means possible. It is no longer an intimate, cozy relationship between fans and their idols, but a ruthless game about traffics, money and fame. In the end, the supposedly intimate relationship is twisted into an ownership which the fans feel entitled to the idol, whereas melon-eating folks (we are so going to writing a piece on 吃瓜群众!) like us get to consume whatever happens between them, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What makes things even more interesting is how culture played a role too. As multiple commentators have addressed, Lu's fans felt they were "slapped in the face" not because of the relationship itself, but that Lu didn't even try to console them when they received the heart-breaking news. So basically, 40 million passion young Chinese girls gave all of their loves to an idol because of his face (remember even the fans said he had no skills but a pretty face?), and now they felt humiliated because they've lost face.
So in the end, this is a real love story about, well, face (and about today's Chinese society, the Chinese Internet and the entertainment ecosystem, of course! The big things!).
What a fascinating country, oh China.
p.s - in the evening of Oct 8th, if you search for "Lu Han" on Taobao's mobile app, you'd be loaded with word-bombs flying through your screen like this -
We hear you there, dear Taobao engineers......
Thank you for tuning in and see you soon (don't forget to check out out Vlog!),
Biyi and Yan