Weekly #11 Five China stories you need to read: Dance in hot pot chain goes viral online; A “cyberpunk girl”; Russians in China; Postgraduate entrance examination; Short video drama wins overseas fans
Hello! I am on a business trip in Shenzhen this week, avoiding the heavy snow in Beijing. The temperature is expected to drop again in the coming week. With the holiday approaching, I hope you are taking good care of yourself, no matter where you are.
Below are the top stories of the week:
1. "Kemusan" dance in hot pot chain went viral online
2. After a crash led to amputation, I became a “cyberpunk girl”
3. Influx of Russians into Heihe in northeast China becomes the talk of the town
4. Significant decrease in Postgraduate Entrance Exam candidates
5. CEO swagger wins over overseas fans as Chinese short-drama platforms strike gold abroad
1."Kemusan" dance in hot pot chain went viral online 海底捞员工跳“科目三”被顾客嫌吵，网友：都是为了生活
Overview: Recently, a weird dance called "Kemusan" performed by waiters at the hot pot chain Haidilao, went viral online in China. While Haidilao successfully attracted many customers to enjoy the performance and interact with the dancing staff, there were also complaints stating that the tacky dance ruined their dining experience.
This article is from 中国日报双语新闻 [China Daily Bilingual New], a news WeChat account under China Daily that shares bilingual news and language tips.
In fact, the "Kemusan" (or "Subject Three") dance originated from lively wedding celebrations in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region. The tradition evolved into a cultural phenomenon, suggesting that in a Guangxi native's life, there are three essential experiences, or ‘subjects’: singing folk songs, eating rice noodles, and dancing.
The "Kemusan" dance had already become well-known online and ignited a national copying fad a long time ago. After that, Haidilao staff members impromptu performed this dance for customers, and their videos swiftly gained popularity on the internet. Later, "Kemusan" dance performances were added to the offerings of many Haidilao branches in different cities, with numerous staff members quickly gaining popularity for their dances. For instance, a 'Kemusan' performer from Dalian has amassed over 500,000 followers on his personal social media account and is now "touring" different Haidilao branches to give performances.
Now, in some Haidilao stores, all you need to say to the waitstaff is "I want 'Kemusan'," and you'll have handsome and beautiful servers performing a bewitching dance for you: waving hands, swaying hips, and some quirky footwork, all accompanied by lively music with a distinct rhythm.
Initially, everyone online was enthusiastic about "Kemusan" in Haidilao. People said it is the result of fierce market competition in the service industry that customers are now treated as "gods." Some diners seemed to enjoy the lively dance so much that they even joined the staffs in their performances.
However, not everyone found the "Kemusan" dancing cute, and there were an increasing amount of critical remarks about it. Many diners were annoyed by Haidilao servers dancing "Kemusan," finding it very noisy and discomforting. Some called the dance a "tacky" promotional tactic. "I brought my child to watch the servers twist around, and it felt disgusting," a woman complained.
Furthermore, in a recent incident in Huai'an city, Jiangsu Province, a conflict erupted between a diner and a Haidilao server who danced "Kemusan." The situation worsened to the point where police had to step in.
After the craze of "Kemusan," there were reports that these dancing servers at Haidilao were earning a monthly salary exceeding 12,000 yuan (about 1,675 U.S. dollars).
The official statement from Haidilao came soon after, saying, "We have always encouraged our store partners to innovate marketing strategies based on their own strengths and customer needs, and established corresponding incentive mechanisms for innovation. Piecework pay is used in our businesses to reward employees who put in extra time. We routinely run competitions to improve the business competencies of each position, such as "Face-Changing Artist" and "Noodle Master." Employees who receive recognition from customers are also appropriately rewarded by the company."
[Note: Piecework pay compensates employees based on the production of goods or services during working hours]
However, from videos circulating online, it can be seen that many servers often look stiff and expressionless while dancing "Kemusan," which implies they are not willing to do so. To improve employee "business skills," some stores gather employees for training sessions. However, it's certainly not possible during working hours, so it can only be done during off-duty breaks.
Comment: I guess the contrast between exaggerated dance moves and the inherently reserved nature of Chinese people always manages to capture everyone's attention.
2. After a crash led to amputation, I became a “cyberpunk girl” 车祸截肢后，我成为”赛博朋克女孩”
Overview: At the age of 25, Weng Xinyi lost her left arm and leg in a car accident. The accident didn't knock her down, and after a long recovery and mental struggle, she decided to stop hiding her disability with clothes and turn herself into a "Cyberpunk Girl" with eye-catching prosthetics.
This is a report by 极昼工作室 [Polaris Workshop], a WeChat blog under Sohu Inc., a news producer specializing in serious reporting and in-depth reporting.
Weng Xinyi rocks a bold shade of bright blue for her hair. After trying with various colors like pink, gray, and yellow, this striking and attention-grabbing color stuck around the longest. It's often the vibrant hair that first captivates people, leading their gaze downward to notice her distinctive features—
The gaze sweeps from top to bottom, where the left sleeve is noticeably empty, and the left leg has been replaced by a prosthetic. From the thigh down about several inches, a funnel-shaped socket encases the residual limb, connected by a slim gray steel pole linking the socket, artificial joint, and prosthetic foot.
While many amputees tend to opt for a flesh-toned covering to make their prosthetics blend in, Weng takes a different approach, striving to make hers stand out even more.
Weng Xinyi decorates her prosthetics with colored lights and 3D-printed shell
She's not big on long pants; underneath her short skirts, the exposed prosthetic socket doesn't just come in your usual black or gray – she's customized the blue starry design models and golden five-star pattern. Even the gray steel pole gets a touch of glam with a circle of shattered diamonds. Because she's into turning heads, snapping those edgy pictures, so she's got a set of gear that's extra attention-grabbing – a hollow 3D-printed shell, vibrant taillights, and throw in some steel poles, and you've got that extra “cyberpunk” flavor.
With a style like that, she never fails to catch all sorts of looks. Once, a little kid came up and asked, “What happened to your leg?” Weng Xinyi responded, “I went on a mission to save the Earth and got myself a new leg.” The kid didn’t buy it, “You're making that up; then where did your hand go?” Before Weng could lay out the full story, the kid's mom stepped in, pulling the youngster away with an apology, “Don't ask and don't be so rude. It's not polite.”
Most of the time, Weng is surrounded by hushed stares, mixed with a curious blend of surprise and sympathy. According to her, she'd rather see it as “appreciative glances”, “It's not all that different from when people ogle at female celebrities.” But if those eyes linger a tad too long, she might playfully shoot back, “Hey, buddy, never seen a stunner before?” – leaving the other person a bit red-faced.
What really gets on Weng's nerves is the ongoing criticism about her fashion choices, with people accusing her of “craving attention” and saying, “Already in this situation, why not cover up a bit?” Her thoughts on relationships and marriage during interviews have also sparked some heated debates. She refuses to see herself as inferior due to her disability and has no plans to settle for less in real life. “Just because I've got a disability doesn't mean anyone can just come chasing after me.” Her confident and unabashed attitude is often misconstrued as “arrogance,” sparking quite a stir among netizens.
But, Weng brushes off those negative reviews after just one night of feeling down. Over the last three years, she not only learned to navigate various stares but also got pretty good at tuning out those sharp, critical voices. It's her mom who can't resist hitting back one by one.
Hanging out with her parents, continuing to step out and show herself to more people—Weng says these are her top priorities moving forward. On her recent 3rd anniversary of rebirth on October 25th, she took a break from work, intentionally heading back from Guangzhou to celebrate with her parents in Nanning.
Every year on this day, she reflects on the past year of her life, scrolling through photos on her phone from before the amputation and the accident scene. Sometimes, she flips through them. However, they create fewer and fewer ripples in her heart. She silently glances at them for a moment, then sets them aside, moving forward with the rest of her life.
Comment: In the cyberpunk genre, individuals often modify their bodies with technology as a form of self-expression and empowerment. Weng Xinyi's adoption of a "cyberpunk" in adorning her prosthetics not only showcases her personal style but also challenges societal norms regarding how disabilities are perceived.
For individuals with disabilities, while accepting oneself is challenging, showing their bodies and lives is even more so. Weng has given many people with disabilities confidence by sharing her newfound life. With more narratives and visibility of people like Weng, people with disabilities may be perceived by society as less "different" and hence greater hope to move on.
3. Influx of Russians into Heihe in northeast China becomes the click bait 涌入东北黑河的俄罗斯人，成了流量密码
Overview: With Sino-Russia visa-free group travel services resumed in Heihe in northern Heilongjiang province, vitality is brought back to the border city by the influx of Russian visitors. The article tells the stories of individuals who were previously engaged in border trade but stopped their businesses due to the pandemic. They have now transitioned to becoming live-streamers, capturing moments with Russian visitors in the city.
The article comes from 凤凰网 [iFeng.com], a Hong Kong-based leading cross-platform new media company that delivers news and analysis from China and around the world.
Come late September, as the visa-free travel for Sino-Russian tourist groups resumed, Heihe witnessed a steady stream of Russians, bustling through its lively morning markets, indulging in breakfast, and splurging on shopping sprees.
Now, Heihe is practically a Russian hotspot.” Livestreamer Wuhuarou stood in the most bustling part of this border town, holding up his cell phone and filming Russians relishing steamed buns and fried dough sticks with gusto, over and over again.
Heihe, a port city on the China-Russia border, is a mere 700 meters across the river from Blagoveshchensk, also known as Hailanpao in Chinese. A quick seven-minute boat ride effortlessly connects the two. The pandemic disrupted communication between the two cities until the recent revival of the visa-free policy, gradually rekindling people-to-people exchanges between the two nations.
In Heihe, there's a gathering of Chinese entrepreneurs who once benefited from geographical advantages and the dividends of the times. Right now, they're wandering the streets filled with small commodities and inexpensive clothing, holding up their phones, targeting Russians. They capture every move of the exotic visitors in Heihe as the main content for their short videos, and Wuhuarou is one of them. These videos effortlessly garner tens of thousands of likes, as the combination of blond hair, blue eyes, and the eclectic mix of Northeast China seems to have hit the current trend's sweet spot.
Some Chinese business folks operating in Russia have started to take notice of the Heihe livestreamers.
At the end of October, a boss running a livestreaming e-commerce company in Blagoveshchensk reached out to ER Ya, wanting to hire her as a full-time livestreamer in Russia. The boss, surnamed Li, used to be in the home building materials business. After spending six months in Russia, he decided to venture into the video streaming industry.
His livestreaming company is located on the main street of Blagoveshchensk, with a billboard outside advertising for livestreamers. Half of it is in Chinese, and the other half is in Russian. The company was fully renovated in just three months, stocked with lighting, tripods, and foldable tables shipped from Heihe.
“Setting up a company in Russia is mainly to sell Russian products,” he realized that in Russia, hiring a full-time employee costs only three to four thousand yuan (about 420 to 560 U.S. dollars), “but in Heihe, for the same job, it would cost at least eight thousand yuan (about 1,100 U.S. dollars).”
Even though they've cut down on labor costs, it seems Russians aren't exactly jumping on the livestreaming bandwagon. “It's a new industry for them. Only a handful of college students or those familiar with China know what livestreaming for sales is all about,” he remarked.
From his perspective, Russia is “conservative and sluggish,” still stuck in the “planned economy era.” “You gotta pay the full deposit upfront before the factory starts churning things out, and almost everything takes about three months. That's why Chinese business folks, known for their knack for quick deals, see a lot of potential here. For instance, nearly all the veggie vendors in Blagoveshchensk are Chinese.”
Comment: New business opportunities unveiled upon the influx of Russian visitors showcase the adaptability and quick response of Chinese businessmen to changing circumstances. It's actually hard to say how well Chinese and Russians understand each other, and whether such interactions can deepen mutual understanding is also uncertain. But as the characters in this story say, what's most important at the moment is to find a way to make money, since supporting oneself is the prerequisite for everything else.
4.The size of candidates taking the postgraduate entrance examination down by 360,000 考研的人少了36万
Overview: For the first time in nine years, the number of people taking the Postgraduate Entrance Examination in China has fallen this year, which analysts believe is related to the increase in the number of students choosing to go abroad for further studies, the decrease in the number of academic master's programs and the phenomenon of devaluation of academic qualifications.
The article comes from the WeChat account of 中国新闻周刊 [China Newsweek], a Chinese weekly magazine under the China News Service.
The waning interest in postgraduate exams could stem from various factors, like a rising trend in students opting for international studies. Some scholars attribute it to shifts in the structure of postgraduate admissions. Notably, the prevalence of direct recommendations for postgraduate programs has been on the rise. Additionally, academic master's programs are facing continuous downsizing, while the share of professional master's programs keeps expanding. As per the Ministry of Education's roadmap, the enrollment capacity for professional master's degrees is expected to grow to about 2/3 of the total enrollment by 2025.
Insights from the professionals from testing institutions suggest, “With fewer spots available for academic master's programs, more individuals are leaning towards professional master's programs. However, the tuition for many professional master's programs is significantly higher than that of academic master's programs, and several universities have extended the duration of professional master's programs to 3 years. Against the backdrop of economic downturn, families are becoming more cost-sensitive regarding educational investments for candidates.”
Chu Zhaohui, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Education Sciences, opines that the decline in postgraduate exam registrations is influenced by several factors, with employment being the primary driver. In the current landscape, more students prioritize job prospects over pursuing postgraduate studies.
“Why go for a master's degree? The recent hype around “professional master's degrees” makes it clear that the demand for postgraduate education is now firmly intertwined with employment prospects. However, the harsh reality is that some master's grads end up with job offers and salaries that don't even match those of their undergraduate counterparts.
In recent times, the ongoing discourse on “first degree bias” has stirred quite a debate. A survey released this month showed that over 60% of respondents are calling for the abolishment of the “first degree” limitations in the job market. Having a less prestigious degree is now seen as a potential mark against you, and there's a noticeable tendency in hiring towards graduates from well-known universities.
As degrees face devaluation, their impact on employment becomes even more convoluted. In December of last year, Zhu Min, Vice Chairman of the China Center for International Economic Exchanges and former Deputy Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, noted that the employment rates for university graduates are lower than those for college grads, and college grads have lower rates than secondary and high school grads. He pointed out, “The more you study, the lower your chances of getting hired.”
In a comment under a post discussing postgraduate exams, someone brought up the fact that despite the continuous increase in postgraduate admissions, there aren't many quotas for top-tier universities and programs that significantly boost employability, “Even if you throw in most programs from 985/211 universities, standout programs from top-notch colleges, and versatile programs from second-tier colleges”, they said. To some extent, the postgraduate admissions pool, seen as a reservoir for employment opportunities, has hit a new turning point.
[Note: 985/211 refers to a group of universities supported by the Chinese government and generally regarded as the best in China, with a total of more than 100 universities.]
Comment: People are gradually finding that postgraduate degrees can no longer give them an advantage in employment, and the fact that those who are truly committed to academic research are after all a minority. Those factors have led to a decline in the number of people taking the exam. It is worth noting that the number of people taking the national civil servant exam this year has increased by 435,300, which is also evidence of the change from the pursuit of academic qualifications to the pursuit of jobs.
5. CEO swagger wins over overseas fans as Chinese short-drama platforms strike gold abroad 霸总风让老外上头，中国短剧平台海外吸金
Overview: Two dramas released by ReelShort, YouTube's TikTok, have gone viral on the internet with plots that are nothing new in China, such as "female lead revenge," "urban elite families," and "love at first sight" Such suspenseful and twisted plots bring strong emotional punches to the viewers, which is the reason for its success.
This article comes from 伍之管见 [Wu's point of view], a WeChat blog run by an individual whose articles focus on hot issues in China and the world, and many of its articles have been republished by Xinhua.
今年，ReelShort平台推出的两部短剧《Fated To My Forbidden Alpha》和《Never Divorce a Secret Billionaire Heiress》成了爆款，直接带动了ReelShort的下载量。有数据显示，7月，ReelShort在Google Play和App Store的总下载量达190万，月总流水达600万美元。
This year, the release of two short dramas on the ReelShort platform—namely, Fated To My Forbidden Alpha and Never Divorce a Secret Billionaire Heiress—turned them into blockbusters, directly propelling ReelShort's download numbers. According to the stats, in July, ReelShort hit a whopping 1.9 million downloads on both Google Play and the App Store, raking in a monthly revenue of $6 million.
In the past, Southeast Asian viewers were the main target audience for Chinese TV dramas venturing overseas. Now, ReelShort has set its sights on a more financially capable demographic in Europe and the Americas. Unlike their Southeast Asian counterparts, these users have a lower familiarity with Chinese culture, giving short dramas a more distinct local flavor.
以《Fated To My Forbidden Alpha》为例，该剧由海外演员出演，以西方熟悉的狼人题材为底，融合了中国网文中”女主复仇”“都市豪门”“一见钟情”等经典霸总文元素，但就是这样一部看似”很土”的作品，引发了欧美观众热烈讨论，还有很多人花钱追完了整部剧。
Using Fated To My Forbidden Alpha as an example, the show stars international actors and dives into the familiar Western werewolf theme, blending classic elements from Chinese online literature like “female lead revenge,” “urban elite families,” and “love at first sight.” Despite its seemingly “cheesy” vibe, this series has sparked lively discussions among European and American audiences. Many viewers have even opened their wallets to binge-watch the entire series.
Built upon scripts featuring “family feuds in elite circles,” “love after marriage,” “arrogant CEO falls for me,” “deep romance with a domineering CEO,” and “scheming revenge,” short dramas infused with Western elements and dominating CEOs have rapidly become hot favorites. Netizens playfully remark, “Jinjiang's successful venture into exporting vintage works” and “Chinese CEO short dramas are making waves in Europe and America.”
In recent years, the rise of platforms like Douyin and TikTok has cultivated a habit among many viewers to indulge in short videos. Dramas and short series offering viewers intense plot points and strong emotional punches have also taken the spotlight.
Many short drama production teams have mastered the art of grabbing the audience's attention in an instant. Themes with strong contrasts, like “elite family’s abandoned heir,” “hidden god of war,” and “CEO falls for an ordinary girl,” have gradually become hot commodities in the short drama market.
The booming overseas CEO short dramas feature a consistent cast of European and American faces, along with authentic Western accents. They play out familiar tropes for Chinese audiences, sacrificing tight logic and reasonable plot development. In just one or two minutes, these dramas deliver multiple jaw-dropping twists, leaving viewers on the edge with a suspenseful cliffhanger: to know what happens next, pay a fee.
This has significantly sparked the interest of overseas viewers, with some enthusiastic fans opting for a “premature sneak peek.” Reportedly, the ReelShort platform charges 0.6 to 0.7 USD per episode, making the cost of watching the entire series exceed 10 USD. This unit price is higher compared to Netflix's monthly unlimited viewing.
Comment: Drama themes that have become clichéd in China are loved by overseas audiences. Could it be that one day these short dramas, after being localized and adapted for Western markets, will be re-imported back into the domestic market and become popular series?