Mangling May Fourth 2020 in Beijing

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Viral Alarm

The 4th of May 2020 marked the one-hundred and first anniversary of the May Fourth demonstrations in Beijing 1919. Commemorations of that event, and the era to which it has given a name, at a time when the world is stricken by Covid-19 pandemic has given ideologues of various persuasions, and different climes, a particular opportunity. The China Heritage series ‘Viral Alarm’ offers an ongoing meditation on the coronavirus, its significance in the Chinese world, as well as its impact on China in the world. In this chapter we feature two online May Fourth commemorations which chime both with the events of 1919 and the political and social exigencies of 2020.

As a child of May Fourth myself — I was born on 4 May 1954 — added to the fact that my adult years have, for the most part, been involved with a study of the Chinese world, it is hardly surprising that date has been as inescapable as it has been significant. Indeed, I first became aware of the ‘palimpsest of May Fourth’ in my own history when, around the time of my fifteenth birthday in 1969, I first read Mao Zedong’s essay on the subject written thirty years earlier. Twenty years later, I would submit a doctoral dissertation completed under the supervision of Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys) that dealt, in the main part, with the May Fourth era and its mixed cultural and political legacies.

Previously, China Heritage has marked the May Fourth anniversary in various ways. See:

A decade earlier, the predecessor to this publication devoted an issue to the subject, see ‘The Heritage of CommemorationChina Heritage Quarterly, Issue 17 (March 2009). Then, in May 2014, it featured in the history of The Australia Centre on China in the World, of which I was the founding director (see ‘CIW — Opening a Building’.)

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May Fourth 2020 has turned out to be another red-letter anniversary, one on which issues that have bedeviled China for over a century, and that have appeared as a spectre haunting the Sino-US relationship at this moment in the history of the People’s Republic, enjoyed a particular moment in the spotlight. In a pair of commemorative essays, we discuss two very different messages delivered to Young China on 4 May 2020. The first, created by a commercial video-sharing website in Shanghai, took the form of ‘agitprop-advertising’; the other was a ‘spot-off’ claim on the hearts-and-minds of China’s youth issuing from a White House that is the viral epicentre of America’s politics of treason. That someone, anyone, at the Trump White House would have the gall to lecture anyone, even people in China’s People’s Republic, about ‘Mr Democracy’ and ‘Mr Science’ — the twin tutelary spirits of May Fourth — at the height of America’s coronavirus crisis is beyond satire. It is not, however, above lambasting.

The May Fourth messages issuing from both Beijing and Washington demonstrated through their culturally specific forms of bombast, hyperbole and self-delusion just how much the two great contending powers actually share in common. They also offered a Kafkaesque backdrop to the festive spirit of Zoomed-in birthday drinks and familial conviviality that I was able to enjoy in rural New Zealand.

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‘Mangling May Fourth 2020’ is published in two parts. Part one, below, focusses a gimlet eye on Beijing. In the second part we invite readers to turn their gaze to the Far East and the topsy-turvy world of Washington.

‘Viral Alarm’ is the theme of China Heritage Annual 2020. For a table of contents and links to other chapters in the series, see here. For further reading material related to May Fourth, scroll to the end of this essay.

— Geremie R Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
8 May 2020


May Fourth Square, Qingdao, Shandong province

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The End of Ambiguity —
Patria, Party & Purchasing Power

 

As early as May 1919, participants in the 4 May demonstrations that year were contending over what to name that moment in Chinese history and how to think about it in the context of the social, cultural and political maelstrom of the day. As Sebastian Veg noted during the 2019 commemorating of the centennial of May Fourth, such ‘foundational ambiguity’ remains relevant to China in 2020, as well as to the rest of the world:

The foundational ambiguity of May Fourth – the somewhat tenuous connection between the student protests and the intellectual effervescence of 1915-1923 – was reflected in the battle to control the naming and narrative of the movement, which began even before the end of the demonstrations. Indeed, selective re-narration has contributed so much to May Fourth mythology that before returning to the events themselves, it is useful to begin by briefly attempting to scrape off the commemorative varnish of the last century. 

In “The True spirit of the May Fourth Movement” (26 May 1919), Luo Jialun (1897-1969), one of the PKU student leaders and editors of New Tide, not only gave the movement its name, but also argued that its spirit could be summarized as a challenge to arbitrary authority. Chen Duxiu (1879-1942), a PKU professor and founding editor of the movement’s other most influential journal, New Youth, canonized the phrase “new culture movement” in several articles published in early 1920, in which he made a case for “newness” as its intellectual core. By contrast, Hu Shih (1891-1962) was critical of the notion of “new culture” and preferred the notion of “Chinese Renaissance,” which originated in a letter addressed in 1915 by the famous journalist Huang Yuanyong (1885-1915) to the editors of Tiger magazine in Tokyo, shortly before he was tragically assassinated in San Francisco. The implications were almost diametrically opposed: while the notion of “new culture” suggested a clean break with the past, Hu’s Renaissance highlighted the need to reestablish cultural continuity through a critical confrontation with the ossified aspects of tradition.  

The ambiguities of commemoration are well reflected in the stance of political leaders. The KMT leadership, including Sun Yat-sen and later Chiang Kai-shek, while eager to capitalize on their connection with the patriotic student demonstrations and outrage against unequal treaties, consistently tried to minimize the significance of language reform or anti-Confucianism (although Sun and the pro-KMT newspaper Meizhou Pinglun quickly picked up the term “new culture movement”). After the KMT and the CCP entered the Second United Front in 1937, they agreed to make May Fourth into Youth Day, a national holiday, in 1939. However, in 1944, Youth Day was changed by the KMT government to March 29, while May Fourth became “Literature Day,” which remained its name after the KMT fled to Taiwan, where the movement was commemorated, but with the lament that it had led to the victory of the “communist bandits,” a conviction shared by KMT and CCP historians alike.

The CCP leadership, no less eager to rake in the political capital of the patriotic demonstrations, went to great lengths to establish a direct connection between the movement and the foundation of the Party. In 1939 in Yan’an, Mao gave a speech for the 20th anniversary of May Fourth, in which he first set out the ideas that he refined the following year in “New Democracy” and that continue to inform PRC historiography today. The two strands of the movement are tied together as “anti-feudal” (new culture) and “anti-imperialist” (patriotic marches), and the emphasis is placed on the mass mobilization of 3 June 1919 that included workers, so that the movement can be construed as the turning point from the “old democratic” revolutions (controlled entirely by the bourgeoisie) to the “new democracy,” in which the proletariat has allied with the bourgeois intellectuals. While May Fourth is portrayed as a consequence of the Bolshevik Revolution, it necessarily remained incomplete until the foundation of the CCP in 1921 established the leadership of the masses, which intellectuals in Yan’an were now – in 1939 – summoned to conform to. 

The notion of “enlightenment,” today a central idea in the May Fourth portfolio, was not used at the time of the events and indeed appeared quite late, in the context of the United Front of the mid 1930s. It was discussed by Li Changzhi (1910-1978) in China’s Cultural Renaissance (1946), and picked up by intellectuals in the early 1980s who were eager to salvage May Fourth from Mao’s narrative. Li Zehou (b. 1930) used it to elaborate his influential theory of “enlightenment and national salvation,” in which intellectuals’ aspirations to autonomy were repeatedly thwarted by the demands of national politics. However, it too can be viewed as an ex post reconstruction that mainly served to vindicate the loyal intellectuals whose views had been neglected by the Party and who hoped to launch a new enlightenment in the 1980s by designating Mao’s despotism as the new “feudalism.”

— Sebastian Veg, ‘May Fourth, 1919:
The Making of Modern China’
The Diplomat, 1 May 2019

As we observed in Homo Xinensis, a preliminary study of the comrade-consumer ideal of the Xi Jinping era published in China Heritage on 31 August 2018:

The making of modern citizens, and consumers, is hardly unique to China. That it has been constantly embroiled with politics, in particular the party-state is, however, noteworthy. … In particular, we would note the importance for the party-state, be it that of the Nationalists or the Communists, to train generation after generation of young people to join the ranks of ideologically suitable patriots. As each generation ages, or becomes disaffected, new candidates are groomed.

From the 1930s, the Communist Party massaged the message of May Fourth to focus attention on patriotism. The intense ideological indoctrination process launched in the Communist wartime base at Yan’an in the early 1940s indicated Party members and China’s left-leaning intelligentsia not only into accepting the fundamentals of Mao Zedong Thought, but also, ideally, in expressing through thought, word and deed Party doctrine. A core element of the newly implanted mental landscape was that May Fourth was essentially a patriotic movement  manage and patriotism and 1-5 May holiday confounding the message.

Now the messaging is trifold: patria, party and purchasing power.

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‘Surge Forth, Wave of Chinese Youth!’. Source: Bilibili

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‘Surge Forth, Wave of Youth!’
Agitrop-Advertising for May Fourth

 

As May Fourth 2020 approached, there was an ongoing repression of free speech in the People’s Republic, both in response to the disastrous mishandling of the coronavirus at home and in relation to civil life generally. (See, for example, Vivian Wang, Amy Qin and Sui-Lee Wee, ‘Coronavirus Survivors Want Answers, and China Is Silencing Them’, The New York Times, 4 May 2020). As the country pursued a sector-by-sector return to the status quo ante, or 復工復產復學, commercial interests identified ways both to hail the May Fourth Youth Festival while exploiting its commercial potential. One forward-leaning Internet venture in Shanghai produced  a video ‘advertorial’ directed at the nation’s cashed-up youth while also appealing to their ideological overlords.

Bilibili 嗶哩嗶哩, also known as’B site’, is a video-sharing website built around ‘ACG’ —  animation, comic, and game, a flourishing online subculture in which users submit, view and add subtitled commentary to popular videos. On Bilibili users can submit videos that are hosted either by itself or third-party sources and there is also a live-streaming service that allows users to interact with streamers and, in real-time, overlay subtitles on videos allowing for interactive playback. That is, users can watch, engage with and comment on content. As it has grown in popularity, Bilibili expanded its pop-cultural purview to include music, dance, film, general comic entertainment, drama, fashion, lifestyle and even science and technology. One of its strengths is the kind of ‘advertorial’ or short-form advertisement or product placement films. Bilibili was also mindful of contemporary China’s particular regime of socialist-commercialism and it was energetic in the soft promotion of Party messages.

On 3 May 2020, Bilibili enjoyed a commercial propaganda bonanza. ‘Agitprop-advertising’ — ‘prop-ad’ for short — is a way of marketing a commercial brand, in this case Bilibili itself, while repeating key talking points from official propaganda. Ingeniously commodified ideological content has a long history in reform-era China. It was also the subject of ‘CCP™ & Adcult PRC’, my 1999 study of the intersection of advertising and avant-garde/ popular culture, on the one hand, and politics and propaganda (or ‘representational pedagogy’), on the other. That study addressed the question: ‘what happens when corporate competition feeds into patterns established by party-ordained ideological conditioning?’ At the time, I forecast that, ‘the avant-garde will also compose anthologies of previous avant-garde strategies, thereby enabling them to be recirculated into mainstream political and commodity culture and create a nostalgic revival of post-totalitarian tropes that have been colonized by the corporate totalitarian state.’ It’s a rather prolix way of saying that the appearance of Bilibili’s pro-patria and pro-party video ‘The Wave of Chinese Youth’ (or, ‘The Next Wave’) on 3 May 2020 hardly came as a surprise.

The title of the video, ‘後浪’ — ‘wave from behind’, ‘upcoming wave’ or ‘next wave’ — was a reference to the well-known expression 長江後浪推前浪, ‘New waves on the Yangtze River relentlessly push forward to overcome the old’. In the early evening of Sunday, the 3rd of May, Bilibili secured a four-minute advertising window for a video titled ‘Bilibili 献给新一代的演讲《后浪》’  , or ‘The Next Wave — Bilibili’s message for China’s New Generation’. During the 19:00 nationwide news program, CCTV included a two-minute clip of the video and, according to Bilibili, within the space of three hours the clip had been viewed over one million times. By the following day, 4 May, there had been 7.44 million views with over 1.25 million online comments. At the time of writing ‘The Next Wave’ had been viewed some 144 million times (see 《後浪》).

‘The Next Wave’ or ‘The Wave of Youth’ featured the stentorian tones of the popular veteran actor He Bing 何冰 and his stirring narration is accompanied by a montage of images of joyful young people, media stars, Bilibili influencers and a plethora of upbeat and glitzy romantic scenes. As He Bing tells what would soon be tens of millions of viewers:

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Young China, the Future is Yours

All of those people who go on about the youth of today being inferior to previous generations should take a long hard look at you. And they should take a lesson from me, someone who has been observing you with admiration:

The riches built up by humanity over the ages — all of the accumulated knowledge, understanding, wisdom and art — is yours, a gift prepared specifically for your generation. Witness the technological advances, the cultural efflorescence, the prosperity of our cities: all of the fruits of modern civilisation are available to you, who can indulge in them at will. You are free to study any new language that takes your fancy, or a particular art or craft; you can enjoy films as you wish, or travel to distant climes.

Many of you are free to explore whatever excites your interest; many of you already have the maturity of people far older than you, since you know your likes and dislikes. The barriers dividing people from each other have been breached; now you can get to know countless friends who share your interests, friends with whom you’d readily raise a glass in celebration. And, moreover, you enjoy a right that people of my generation could only ever dreamed of — the right to chose.

You love life; you’re lucky to be living in the present age, but in this era I am even more fortunate to be able to make your acquaintance. You inspire respect.

I respectfully acknowledge your professionalism for you are transforming tradition into the modern, the classical into the popular. You can turn what is academic into something that appeals to the masses; transmogrify what is ethnically ours into something that can be appreciated by the whole world. You can build an enterprise that is based on countless numbers of people discovering and appreciating the things that most appeal to you. I applaud your self-confidence. The weak are given to mocking and negating others; those with an indomitable will never resile from offering praise or encouragement. I applaud your magnanimity. Petty individuals have no hope of succeeding with others even while losing their individuality, while the truly exceptional flourish together while retaining their uniqueness. The younger you are in years the easier it is for you to accommodate a plurality of aesthetic tastes and value systems.

One day it finally occurred to me that although we only thought about how we were teaching you how to live meaningful lives, in fact you too were inspiring us how to enjoy more fulfilling lives ourselves. Those people who complain about the limitations of the younger generation should take a long, hard look at you. They should be like me and look at you with true gratitude. For, it is because of you that the world likes Chinese even more than ever and that’s because the most beautiful vista of any country is its young people. It is because of you the novels, music and films being made about young people no longer give in to despondency and aimlessness, rather they reflect goodness, courage, selflessness and fearlessness. You have fire in the belly and your eyes shine with aspiration. Of course you don’t have to grow up in our image, that’s because our generation lacks the ability to imagine your future.

If you still feel any need for a benediction, let me grant it to you:

Surge forth, for you are the wave of youth! We surging along in the same torrent together.

We stand with the 1.3 billion young people of Bilibili
Expressing ourselves while embracing the world

那些口口聲聲,一代不如一代的人,應該看著你們;像我一樣,我看著你們,滿懷羨慕。人類積攢了幾千年的財富,所有的知識、見識、智慧和藝術,像是專門為你們準備的禮物;科技繁榮、文化繁茂、城市繁華,現代文明的成果被層層打開,可以盡情地享用;自由學習一門語言、學習一門手藝、欣賞一部電影、去遙遠的地方旅行。 很多人,從小你們就在自由探索自己的興趣;很多人在童年就進入了不惑之年;

不惑於自己喜歡什麼,不喜歡什麼。人與人之間的壁壘被打破,你們只憑相同的愛好,就能結交千萬個值得乾杯的朋友,你們擁有了,我們曾經夢寐以求的權利——選擇的權利。你所熱愛的就是你的生活,你們有幸遇見這樣的時代;但是時代更有幸,遇見這樣的你們。我看著你們,滿懷敬意。

向你們的專業態度致敬,你們正在把傳統的變成現代的,把經典的變成流行的;

把學術的變成大眾的,把民族變成世界的;你們把自己的熱愛變成了一個和成千上萬的人分享快樂的事業,向你們的自信致敬。弱小的人,才習慣嘲諷和否定;內心強大的人,從不吝嗇贊美和鼓勵。向你們的大氣致敬,小人同而不和,君子美美與共,和而不同。更年輕的身體,更容得下多元的文化審美和價值觀。

有一天我終於發現,不只是我們在如何教你們生活,你們也在啓發我們,怎樣去更好的生活。那些抱怨一代不如一代的人,應該看看你們;就像我一樣,我看著你們滿懷感激;因為你們這個世界會更喜歡中國,因為一個國家最好看的風景,就是這個國家的年輕人。因為你們,這世上的小說、音樂、電影所表現的青春就不再是憂傷迷茫,而是善良、勇敢、無私、無所畏懼。是心裡有火,眼裡有光。不用活成我們想象中的樣子,我們這一代人的想象力不足以想象你們的未來;如果你們依然需要我們的祝福,那麼,奔湧吧,後浪,我們在同一條奔湧的河流。

和1.3億B站的年輕人一起
表達自我 擁抱世界

Within hours the leading Communist Party media outlet People’s Daily was promoting the Bilibili video and its own hashtag — #獻給年輕一代的演講#, ‘Addressing the New Generation’ — soon boasted over 80 million readers. The message was clear:

‘Recently, Bilibili released a video of a speech that acknowledges, praises and offers a word of advice to our young  people:

“All of those who complain that the youth of today can’t compare with the young people of the past need to take a good look at you. The most stunning landscape of a nation is the vista presented by its young. What great good fortune you enjoy to have been born at this time; just as the present age is fortunate to have you all living in it.”

‘Give expression to your own sense of self while embracing the world. Youth Festival [4 May] is upon us: follow your youthful dream!’

近日,嗶哩嗶哩發佈一段演講視頻,認可、贊美、寄語年輕一代:「那些抱怨一代不如一代的人,應該看看你們。一個國家最好看的風景,就是這個國家的年輕人。你們有幸遇見這樣的時代,時代更有幸遇見這樣的你們。」表達自我,擁抱世界,青年節將至,一起追夢青春!

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A clutch of online personalities and influencers promoted by Bilibili endorsing Bilibili. Source: screenshot from ‘The Wave of Youth’ by Bilibili

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Many WeChat comments were also soon being reported including such lines as ‘”The Next Wave” brought tears to my eyes’ 讓人熱淚盈眶. Some went so far as to declare that the video was nothing less than an updated version of ‘A Paean to Youthful China’ 少年中國說, a celebrated essay by Liang Qichao (梁啟超, 1873-1929) composed in 1900 which contained such sentiments as:

Today’s responsibility lies with the youth. If the youth are wise, the country will be wise. If the youth are wealthy, the country will be wealthy. If the youth are strong, the country will be strong. If the youth are independent, the country will be independent. If the youth are free, the country will be free. If the youth progress, the country will progress. If are youth are better than Europeans, China will be better than Europe. If our young people are more heroic than the rest of the world, China will be more heroic than the rest of the world. 故今日之責任,不在他人,而全在我少年。少年智則國智,少年富則國富;少年強則國強,少年獨立則國獨立;少年自由則國自由;少年進步則國進步;少年勝於歐洲,則國勝於歐洲;少年雄於地球,則國雄於地球。

On 1 September 2018, Liang’s paean had featured in the Ministry of Education’s ‘First Lesson for the New School Year’ broadcast to all school-age children. (For more on this and on the Communist culture of youth under Xi Jinping, see Homo Xinensis MilitantChina Heritage, 1 October 2018.) Evidently, commercial outlets like Bilibili had also been watching, and learning from, the show.

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The timing of the 4 May 2020 Bilibili video was exquisitely off-beat, for it appeared just as the world was exhibiting symptoms of what independent Beijing thinkers like Zi Zhongyun 資中筠 have referred to as ‘China Withdrawal’ as the coronavirus ravaged the international community and the Chinese Communists responded to the ‘home-goal’ global crisis by repressing outspoken critics at home, attempting to shift blame on to others overseas and unseemly crowing over the torments suffered by other countries. These are a contemporary outgrowth of the ‘dark taproots of the national character’ 國民劣根性 excoriated by Chinese writers since the May Fourth era. Neither China nor the world have witnessed such an ugly display since the zealotry of the mid 1960s when Mao’s rule reached its zenith.

Regardless of how thick the shellac of commercialism applied to the core propaganda narratives of the Chinese party-state, Bilibili’s viral message to Young China essentially replicated the infamously influential comments that Mao Zedong made to a gathering of Chinese students studying in Moscow in 1957:

‘The world is yours, as well as ours, but in the last analysis, it is yours. You young people, full of vigor and vitality, are in the bloom of life, like the sun at eight or nine in the morning. Our hope is placed on you.’ 世界是你們的,也是我們的,但是歸根結底是你們的。你們青年人朝氣蓬勃,正在興旺時期,好像早晨八九點鐘的太陽。希望寄託在你們身上。

When the Red Guards of the early Cultural Revolution years took to educating their educators, Mao’s exhortation was an inspiration (for more on this, see the 2003 film ‘Morning Sun’ 八九點鐘的太陽.)

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The ‘positive energy’ 正能量 encapsulated in ‘The Next Wave’ and further promoted by state media was hardly greeted with universal acclaim. As Initium Media in Hong Kong reported, the ‘incoming waves’ swelling in the wash created by this latest example of ‘Amazing-China hyperbole’ broke on barren shores. As one observer remarked about the fragile economic realities of the majority of China’s urban ‘youth wave’, the minute any ‘outgoing wave’ (that is a resource-rich landlord or entrepreneur) decided to raise their rent, then the jejune torrent would end up high-and-dry on the beach of debt. Many others who were outspokenly critical of the video similarly rejected its upbeat optimism about the state of affairs in China, a country in which public opinion is tirelessly corralled by censors. What, exactly, did ‘the right to chose’ vaunted by He Bing in his patronising message to Young China actually mean in practical terms? After all, in reality, the only acceptable ‘choice’ is a status quo determined by the Party and its myriad of operatives.

Of the flood of comments that appeared in the wake of the People’s Daily cross-promotion, one prominent writer posted the following observation:

‘Young people are reduced to using all kinds of online abbreviations because they are never allowed to express themselves freely. Young people have to change the lyrics of their songs if they want to reach a broader audience. Young people want to be creative and they want to exchange ideas meaningfully with each other but, more often than not, they are reduced to silence. Young people have learned that in this cultural environment they simply have to castrate themselves. What kind of Youth Wave is that? It’s a torrent that’s only permitted to flow along a course that you carved out for it.’ 「年輕人話都說不出來得用各種縮寫,年輕人唱歌上節目都得改歌詞。年輕人想創作想談論但都被緘默,年輕人學會了在這樣的文化裏自我閹割、奔湧?是在你們劃好的渠裏苟且差不多。」

Others, writing in mock homage to the narration of ‘The Next Wave’, offered:

‘Over millennia humanity has amassed vast wealth; [searching online for] all of the knowledge, understanding, wisdom and artistry that has resulted all you get is “404 Not Found.” ‘There are countless multitudes of friends who should be raising a glass in celebration [on May Fourth Youth Festival], who can’t do so because they are invisible — their online accounts have been deleted for breaching this or that regulation.’ 「人類積攢了幾千年的財富,所有的知識、見識、智慧和藝術,404 Not Found」、「千萬個值得乾杯的朋友,帳號因被投訴違反相關規定,現已無法查看」。

‘What right do they [the makers of the video] have to talk about nurturing a new and better generation? It’s an insult to China’s youth whose talents are being squandered. Young people are expected to dance although their ankles are weighed down by shackles. This video ignores the very things that keep them padlocked.’ 這樣的環境,有什麼資格說能培養出更好的一代。它只能愧對年輕人的才華,讚賞帶著鐐銬的舞姿,而絲毫不顧他們本不該有枷鎖。

Then there were those who bewailed the fact that at least previous generations, who are denigrated by inference in the Bilibili propaganda-advertisement, at least had the chance to ‘feel the pulse of the world freely because they came into contact with it directly via things like Google and Wikipedia’. Now they, too, have fallen silent over time. So, the message their example conveys to today’s youth is clear:

‘If you can’t be a role model of rebellion going against the tide, then it’s best if you just keep quiet. To you “Last Waves [of the middle-aged]”: stop trying to hijack us with your emotive tear-jerking appeals.’ 如果不能在逆流當中成為叛逆榜樣的話,那麼沉默吧,前浪,別再用熱淚盈眶綁架我們。

The swell of publicity and propaganda hype caught the proprietors of Bilibili off guard and when confronted by the mounting controversy they distanced themselves from the ruckus by declaring to journalists from Beijing Youth News that ‘The Next Wave’ was not designed with the intention of clogging up bandwidth or wreak havoc for the competition. ‘It was nothing more than a branding exercise designed as an advertisement to appear before the Evening News on the eve of the May Fourth Youth Festival’. Bilibili ‘just wanted people to be excited by it.’

This material has been adapted and translated  from
端小二, ‘「獻給新一代的演講」《後浪》掀爭議,
「後浪」能代表你嗎?誰能定義後浪?’,
Initium Media 端傳媒, 2020年5月4日


Keep Growing, Garlic Chives!
生長吧,韭菜!

Within hours of its release, Bilibili’s prop-ad was being parodied and spoofs proliferated. Video spoofs had been a mainstay of online culture since the appearance of Hu Ge’s ‘Murder by mantou 一個饅頭引發的血案 in late-2005. In May 2020, ‘Waves of Garlic Chives’ 《韭浪》, the tag line of which was ‘Keep Growing, Garlic Chives!’ 生長吧, 韭菜 offered a line-by-line, scene-by-scene lampooning of the po-faced bombast of ‘The Next Wave’.

The term ‘garlic chives’ 韭菜 (Allium tuberosum) is a popular Internet metaphor that refers to the vast numbers of common folk who are treated as a renewable resource that can used, exploited and repeatedly harvested by the powers-that-be and the capitalists. We have previously noted the currency of ‘garlic chives’ both in the prose of Xu Zhangrun (‘When Fury Overcomes Fear’) and in the poetry of Tsering Woeser (‘Poems from a Plague’). For this particular ridiculing recreation of ‘The Next Wave’, see:

Offering a parody of ‘The Wave’, the spoof mocks the exploitation of avaricious, escapist and diversion-hungry online consumers along with the particular kind of surveillance capitalism that has developed in the national-socialist Chinese state — although, unlike the narrow generational nationalism of the original, the message of this spoof is universal, one that should readily resonate around the world in the virus year of 2020.

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A screenshot from ‘Waves of Garlic Chives’, 5 May 2020

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Note: The dubbed voiceover of the ‘Keep Growing, Garlic Chives’ contains the following passages, translated from our transcription of the video.

All of those people who go on about the youth of today being inferior to previous generations should take a long hard look at you. And they should take a lesson from me, someone who has been observing you in amazement:

Capitalism has been built on millennia of human experience which it combines by means of an all-embracing system with exploitative genius. This is the gift that history has prepared specifically for your generation.

Witness the economic bounty and the abundant fields of garlic chives. Capital flourishes because it can employ every conceivable way in the task of harvesting you, Garlic Chives. And here you are using what freedom you enjoy to deliver up your personal wealth right to the doorstep of the capitalists. See how they get you worked up with all of that flag waving and the strident calls to arms? In the process you lay yourselves open to cultural brainwashing even as you are encouraged to think some beautiful scenario of escape exists … Trust between individuals has been obliterated, and when you are enticed to frequent high-traffic websites [like Bilibili] you end up being tagged a million times over all the better so they can harvest you now and into the future.

Today, you fully enjoy the right that we rid ourselves of: the right to be exploited. In response you have no right to speak out. This is your reality. You may honestly believe that you’re lucky to be living in the present age, but Capital knows that it is far more fortunate to make your acquaintance.

My respects, Garlic Chives: I’m in awe of your rank stupidity and dull-witted lack of self-awareness. You are in the process of turning yourselves into something useful to Capital. In the process every social good is debased as it becomes yet another form of Capital. Whatever was true is now corrupted into falsehood, whatever appeared to be white is turned black.

The very culture you revel in is drowning in a massive surge of Capital; after all, it’s just about doing business. … You’re exploiting yourselves as you learn how to be ever better Garlic Chives. And that’s why those people who complain about each new generation being inferior to the last really should take a good look at you, as I do.

Let me express my pride in you since, because of you, the inequalities of the world will continue to grow and because the Capitalist can maximise profit from your every move. Because of you, Internet influencers, the mavens of self-media and online marketeers don’t have to bother about disguising their trickery or refrain from engaging in outlandish manipulation. You give them all license to revel in blatant, anti-rational, in-your-face, fearlessness. Their hearts of darkness are transparent, their eyes filled with the lust for filthy lucre. Of course you don’t have to grow up in our image, that’s because our generation lacks the wherewithal to harvest the rich future that you, Garlic Chives, promise.

If you still feel any need for a benediction, let me grant it to you:

Keep Growing, Garlic Chives! We all flourish in the same luxuriant field.

We stand with the 1.3 billion Garlic Chives of Bilibili
We offer ourselves up, ready to be harvested

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那些口口聲聲, 一茬不如一茬的人應該看著你們, 像我一樣, 我看著你們滿懷羨慕:資產階級積攢了幾千年的經驗,嚴密的制度和壓榨的技術,像是專門為你們準備的禮物。 經濟繁榮, 韭菜繁茂,資本繁華,現在韭菜的收割方式被層層打開, 可以盡情地享用, 自由地給資本家送錢,被煽動著搖旗吶喊,接受文化洗腦,做著逃離的美夢。… 人與人之間的信任被打破,你們登上幾個流量網站,就能被貼上千萬個等待收割的標籤 。你們擁有了我們曾經徹底消滅的權利:被剝削的權利。你們沒有發言權,這就是你的生活, 你們有幸遇見這樣的時代, 但資本家更有幸遇見這樣的你們。我看著你們滿懷敬意,向你們的愚昧遲鈍致敬。你們正在把自己的變成老闆的,把社會變成資本的,把對的變成錯的,把白的變成黑的。 你們把自己的文化變成了被資本巨浪所席捲的,被裹挾的生意,… 你們也在剝削自己怎樣做一棵更好的韭菜。那些抱怨一茬不如一茬的人,應該看看你們,就像我一樣,我看著你們滿懷感激,因為你們這個世界會更貧富不均,因為資本家最擅長的事情就是拿年輕人來滾雪球。因為你們, 網絡上的意見領袖,自媒體和營銷號的斂財手段不在隱蔽,克制,而是放肆,反智,明目張膽,無所畏懼。心裡黑得透亮,眼裡只看見錢,不用長成我們想像中的樣子,我們這一代人的收割能力不足以收割你們的未來。如果你們依然需要我們的祝福,那麼,生長吧,韭菜!我們在同一塊翠綠的菜田。

和1.3億B站的韭菜一起
放棄自我 等待收割

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‘Organic Next Wave’. Source: ‘China Folk News, Episode 329’, 6 May 2020

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The Wave of American Youth

During the epidemic people have been drawn to make endless comparisons with the  United States, and they conclude that China has shown itself to be superior by far. I’ve kept my powder dry because, in my opinion, the gap between the two countries is not a matter of a decade or so; it’s a chasm that is decades if not a century wide. America takes the lead not perhaps in regard to its factories, its housing, in finance or with its political system. Where it is undeniably superior, however, is that is boasts a nurturing environment in which the kinds of creative young people [described in this article] can grow and flourish.

The most retrograde aspect of Bilibili’s ‘Wave Proclamation’ is that it negates the positive spirit of doubt and questioning. That’s exactly where America’s ‘Wave of Youth’ [again, described in the article] excel. They can enjoy an extraordinary freedom and can access vast resources. In doing so they don’t just go and lock themselves up at home to throw shade on others or waste their time making spoofs. They are tirelessly engaging resistance, in negating and creating anew.

這次的疫情,讓國人動輒就要跟美國比較,談超越。對此,我一直持保留態度,因為兩國的差距,不是十年八年,而是幾十上百年。美國的領先,不是工廠、不是房子、也不是金融和政治體制,而是這樣的年輕人和支撐他們如此有創造力的土壤。

B站的浪潮宣言,最迂腐的一點,是對質疑批判精神的否定。這恰恰是上述美國後浪們最重要的品質。他們享受著極大的自由,有著及其充沛的資源,但他們不是宅在家自我嘲諷,惡搞,而是永不停歇的反抗、否定和創新。

from 小強, ‘別人家的後浪,美國的年輕人實力有多強’,
《美加雙城記》, 2020年5月4日

This is Water

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

David Foster Wallace


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