‘We are little people knaves the black haired scum your children grandchildren tufts of grass little dogs and cats a gang of liumang [流氓] the cretinous crowds the great masses the hundred surnames and we feel oh-so-lucky extremely moved exceedingly uneasy terribly embarrassed so very pleased boundlessly enthusiastic very very overwhelmed by our good fortune grateful as all get out tears o’fill our eyes our hearts swell like the seas and we’re utterly and thoroughly lost for words.’
This is a passage in the Letter of Gratitude presented by the inhabitants of a Beijing hutong to a local Party boss in No Man’s Land 千萬別把我當人, a novel by Wang Shuo published in 1989. The letter is a parody of the kind of formulaic logorrhea that acts as a glue between the Communist Party and the Masses both of whom form the cadre of the party and are its subjects. In the 2010s, Wang Shu’s ‘tufts of grass, little dogs and cats, cretinous crowds, the great masses and the hundred surnames’ also came to be known as Garlic Chives 韭菜 jiǔcài, the boundlessly renewable resource of the Reform Era. In particular it referred to young men and women of working age.
As the year 2022 drew to an end, another old term for ‘The People’ enjoyed renewed currency. 人礦 rén kuàng, literally ‘human mine’ — also Huminerals, Renmine, Humine and Humore — first coined in the early 1980s, was widely used to describe the expendable nature of China’s working people:
‘You study for the first twenty years of your life; you spend the next thirty working to pay off a mortgage; and are in medical decline for the last decades of your time on earth’.
People over forty are little better than ‘a pile of slag’, 礦渣 kuàngzhā, while anyone who sits back and refuses to join the rat race is an ‘abandoned pit’ 廢礦 fèi kuàng. Once cut down, Garlic Chives sprouted again, growing rapidly for the next harvest. Huminerals, however, were a limited resource; 人礦 rén kuàng reflected an escalation of awareness and the encroachment of existential despair.
The party-state tirelessly repeated its claim that the draconian approach to the coronavirus, as well as a sudden policy U-turn, reflected a strategy of ‘putting The People first and prioritising life’ 人民至上、生命至上. Gleeful online discussion of the term ’human mine’ indicated that at least some of The People were not convinced.
A significant byproduct of the stultifying and erratic control-and-eliminate Covid policy of Xi Jinping, which was strictly pursued for sixteen months from August 2021 to December 2022, was a new awareness among China’s ‘Huminerals’. Workers of all kinds freed of the daily grind of 996 jobs, shopping, taking children to school, as well as socialising and in-person family interactions were becalmed at home and left to their own devices. Among the most important devices of all were mobile phones which allowed people to follow obsessively the main scandals and stories of the year. Despite the best efforts of the censorate, online reports and rambunctious discussions tracked the fate of the Woman in Chains, the April Lockdown of Shanghai, the female diners being assaulted in Tangshan, the woes of the Chinese economy and real estate market, the appearance of Bridge Man on the eve of the Twentieth Communist Party Congress in October, the ejection of former Party General Secretary Hu Jintao from the closing session of the Congress, the apartment fire in Urumqi in November and the callous response to it by local government officials, the protests at Urumqi Middle Road in Shanghai and the Blank Paper rebellion on campuses throughout the country… Isolated at home, forbidden from going out, subject to harsh treatment by state functionaries (the ‘Big Whites’ in PPE gear who were the seen as the equivalent of Mao’s Red Guards) and yet with 24/7 access to online chatter, some people experienced an existential crisis, others experienced a kind of ‘consciousness raising’ that for all the tireless Party education and propaganda had failed to achieve. Wide swathes of people had an unprecedented opportunity to reflect on their condition as ‘Huminerals’. This was part of a new ‘awakening’ 覺醒 juéxǐng, or ‘arousal’, unfolding in China, as well as among some Chinese people outside the People’s Republic (see, for example, Awakenings — a Voice from Young China on the Duty to Rebel).
[Note: See the ‘calligraphic record’ of the year by Liu Chan 劉蟾, 2022年，我用書法記錄了這22件事情。這些事，您還記得幾件？，油管，2022年12月31日.]
As soon as ‘Humineral’ became a trending topic on the Chinese internet in late 2022 and early 2022, discussions related to it were quickly censored. However, the censorate had difficulty keeping up with the volume, and volubility, of the online clamour. Media reports about a recently deceased high-level cadre having been kept alive as a result of having a number of organ transplants, boosted the topic anew. Huminerals were defined as ‘people who are exploited throughout their lives and after their living value has been thoroughly extracted they are harvested for their organs’ (see 中共部級高官病亡 被曝曾換多個器官 引熱議，2023年01月04日).
The Reform Era from 1978 has seen a state-directed melding of the Stakhanovitism of the Soviet-Mao era of Chinese economic development with the Taylorism of Deng Xiaoping’s neo-liberal vision for the country. For all the boosterism about China possessing boundless human resources and still being able to rely on demographic dividends, however, as the nation’s economy matures, and is stunted, under Xi Jinping, it is hardly surprising that the Huminerals who both stoke the fire of consumption and are the fire of economic growth grow increasingly querulous and restive.
China’s People’s Republic is an avowed proletarian state in which the working class are enshrined as the ‘masters of the nation’ 主人翁 zhǔ rén wēng. In reality, however, revolting workers have always been a problem. Worker protests during the 1956 Hundred Flowers Campaign are thought to have triggered Mao’s repressive policy U-turn, just as restive workers contributed to the Beijing Spring and the 1989 Protest Movement. On each occasion, the Communist Party responded with repression, re-education and recalcitrance.
In November 2022, it was workers at the massive Foxconn iPhone plant in Zhengzhou who played a crucial role in what would become the Blank Page rebellion that contributed to Xi Jinping’s own policy U-turn on Covid restrictions. For the Chinese economy to weather the ongoing crisis and flourish, Worker-Huminerals are more vital than ever. To deal with the situation, the tired appeals of the past will be trotted out along with the coercive measures that are the bedrock of China’s party-state. Xi Jinping will also have an important opportunity to put ideas about innovation 創新 chuàngxīn into practice. Given Xi’s history, however, it is more like that not that his core leadership will redouble the effort to mould what we call Homo Xinensis.
Below, after introducing the discussion of Humining and Huminerals in China today we return to the first phase of the Covid epidemic. Over the May Day holiday of 2020, Garlic Chives were a popular topic and they featured in Viral Alarm — China Heritage Annual 2020.
This appendix can be read China Heritage‘s version of A Hum
an document. See also Xi Jinping’s Harvest — an anthem for China’s disaffected Huminerals, 7 January 2023, an annexure to this appendix.
— Geremie R. Barmé, Editor, China Heritage
Distinguished Fellow, Asia Society
6 January 2023
This appendix in Xi Jinping’s Empire of Tedium should be read in the context of:
- Chapter Twenty-one 醒 — Awakenings — a Voice from Young China on the Duty to Rebel, 14 November 2022; and,
- Chapter Twenty-two 官逼民反 — Fear, Fury & Protest — three years of viral alarm, 27 November 2022 (see also Appendix XXIII 空白 — How to Read a Blank Sheet of Paper, 30 November 2022; Appendix XXIV 職責— It’s My Duty, 1 December 2022; and, Appendix XXV 贖 — ‘Ironic Points of Light’ — acts of redemption on the blank pages of history, 4 December 2022)
- Zheteng 折騰 in A Heritage Glossary
- “人口紅利” 變 “人礦” 網絡熱詞被官方封殺, 《自由亞洲電台》，2023年1月5日
- 梅六兒—侃大山，鄭州富士康2.0事件 富士康與當地政府作繭自縛惹了一批全中國最不好惹的人 這次事件給了國人一個啓示 富士康3.0是否會遍地開花？給大家捋一下劇情笑死我了，油管，2022年11月24日
Click on a highlighted title to scroll down.
- Xi Jinping’s Harvest
- Are You an End in Yourself, or Merely a Means to Someone Else’s End?
- Ten Cold Hard Facts from the Coal Face of Humining
- Huminerals Question China’s Demographic Dividend
- What Happens When China Runs Out of Huminerals?
- ‘Surge Forth, Wave of Youth!’
- Keep Growing, Garlic Chives!
- The Wave of American Youth
- Garlic Chive Pies & Pliant Pekingese
The Old Hundred Names — a lexicon
老百姓、人民、民人、平民百姓、普通百姓、普通老百姓、小百姓、小老百姓、平頭百姓、尋常百姓、中國老百姓、布衣百姓、人們、 人民大眾、群眾、廣大群眾、普羅大眾、民眾、勞動人民、勞動群眾、勞苦大眾、大眾、普通大眾、普通民眾、普通群眾、大眾群體、社會大眾、底層勞動人民、低端人口、無產者、窮苦人、無產階級、被壓迫者、廣大人民、廣大民眾、工農群眾、下層民眾、窮人、平民百姓、工人階級、勞動群眾、工人和農民、工農大眾、被剝削階級、普通人民、庶民、屁民、 p民、小屁民、皂民、黎民、一般人、世人、人萌、大眾消費者、普通消費者、小眾群體、普通公眾、一般大眾、普通人、一般民眾、大眾人群、 社會民眾、蜂營蟻隊、蟻民、蟻螻、人渣、奴才、升鬥小民、 鬥升小民、小民、市井小民、草民、一介草民、卑微者、小人物、那些小人物、我們都是小人物、 烏合之眾、阿貓阿狗、平庸之輩、庸眾、無足輕重的人、無權無勢之流、凡夫俗子、 販夫皂隸、蠅營狗苟、 細民、市民、小市民、市井百姓、國民、公民、可塑之才、可用之才、可造之材。
— compiled by GRB
Xi Jinping’s Harvest
人礦 rén kuàng is similar in meaning to garlic chives 韭菜 jiǔcài, although its darker connotations reflect the mood of despair following the start of Xi Jinping’s third term in office as China’s Chairman of Everything in October 2022.
Garlic chives — Allium tuberosum, Chinese leeks or Chinese chives — a hardy perennial plant native to Shanxi province, is used widely in Chinese cuisine. Celebrated as reliable and robust garlic chives, they were also an early feature of Mao’s China. Mao famously cautioned his comrades against executing purged senior cadres, ‘after all, he said, their heads are not like garlic chives; they can’t grow again.’ (Mao’s interdiction did not cover the lower orders or ‘The Broad Masses’.) For more on the rise of the garlic chive in contemporary Chinese discourse and popular culture, see Cut Garlic Chives 割韭菜 in the Grass Mud-horse Lexicon of China Digital Times (and the Chinese site 中國數字時代).
Garlic Chives and Human Mines are also referred to as 屁民 pì mín, or ‘shitizens’. Other popular terms for the Chinese ‘sheeple’ include 牛馬 literally, ‘cow and horse’, an ancient term for low-value laborers who, as the saying goes, ‘don’t even deserve to be treated as well as cows and horses’. As ‘拉丁鱼Latinfish’ commented online in early January, the good thing about the term Humineral is that it:
‘… is not that it a flowery expression or particularly inventive; it is in the fact that it is direct, confrontational and blood-soaked. It expresses the pain and tears behind the peaceful façade. Huminerals are mined for their bones and marrow. The term 人礦 rén kuàng represents an undeniable reality.’
Along with rising living standards, large swathes of the society, especially the young, have raised expectations. Terms such as Garlic Chives and Human Mines reflect the frustration and dissatisfaction with the actual limited horizons of economic growth. They reflect in particular a renewed awareness of the stratification of Chinese society. Xi Jinping and Official China talk about equality, community and collective effort, everyone knows that the party-state is striated by a strict system of hierarchy that for a chosen few offers access to unique and jealously guarded privileges. This institutional and system wide corruption cannot be questioned even as people were made aware of it during the Covid catastrophe blithely engineered by Xi Jinping from early December 2022. That is when access to medicine, hospitals and postmortem care depended more on one’s standing in the party than on personal wealth.
For Chinese civilians to think of themselves as 屁民 ‘shitizens’ is a far cry from the old Party ideal that extolled ‘The Bolt Spirit’ 螺絲釘精神 of the Good PLA soldier Lei Feng 雷鋒, or the Attitude of a Brick, summed as being ‘In the revolutionary scheme of things I am but a brick and I am happy to be moved anywhere that is required’ 我是革命一塊磚，哪裡需要往哪搬.
(Note 1: The soul searching by ‘cogs in the machine’ in China today is reminiscent of the Angst expressed at various times in many advanced economies from the 1960s. See, for example, Pink Floyd’s 1979 hit Another Brick in the Wall.
Note 2: On 5 January 2023, it was reported that Zhu Yongjia 朱永嘉, 1931- 2023, had died from the coronavirus. Zhu, an academic historian and Maoist intellectual based in Shanghai, was a founding member of Luo Siding, one of the most infamous Cultural Revolution-era writing collectives active from 1971 to 1976. Luo Siding 羅思鼎 Luó Sīdǐng was a homophone for 螺絲釘 luósīdīng, ‘bolt’, a reference to Lei Feng’s famous pledge ‘to be an eternally rustproof bolt [in the machinery of socialism]’ 做一顆永不生鏽的螺絲釘. For students like me at Fudan University in the mid 1970s, Luo Siding’s Maoist historical screeds were required reading.)
Nonetheless, the Communists still rely on lapdogs, members of the party faithful whose attitude was famously summed up in the poem ‘I’m the Party’s Dog’ 我是黨的一條狗:
‘I’m the Party’s dog, keeping guard at the door. I’ll bite anyone the Party tells me to, and as many times as instructed.’
Are You an End in Yourself, or Merely the Means to Someone Else’s End?
— 章立凡 Zhang Lifan (@zhanglifan) January 4, 2023
Ten Cold Hard Facts from the Coal Face of Humining
- The term ‘Humine’ [人礦 rén kuàng] or ‘Humineral’ indicates that you are thought of as being a resource, something that is ancillary to the main act. You are a means but never an end. You will spend your life in an exhaustive effort to aid and abet the success of others rather than to fulfill your own hopes and dreams.
- The life of a Humineral consists of three stages: exploitation, utilisation and dealing with waste products. In the first decade or so of your life, an investment is made in you in terms of an education. This is done only so that greater value can be extracted from you later. In the process of inculcation you become resource-rich. You are put into service, exploited and, ultimately exhausted during your young adult and middle years. Once your surplus value has been extracted completely it will be necessary to deal with the remains in a way that creates as little pollution as possible.
- The energy generated during your lifetime is partly devoted to the advancement of society while the remaining portion is devoted to develop new Huminerals. It is the virtuous circle of the Humineral’s existence, something that makes you a renewable resource. It also means that you are ideally suited to what is needed for sustainable development.
- In certain circumstances, some Huminerals prove themselves not to be renewable. These include: the premature depletion of the Humineral in question; cases when a Humineral develops enough self-awareness that they think training new Huminerals is meaningless; and then there are those Huminerals who have an inbred and instinctive resistance to spending life as a Huminerals.
- The practical value of a Humineral is akin to other natural resources as coal, oil and natural gas. They are cheaper when there is an abundance, although paradoxically their true value lies in them being a limited resource.
- The burning of fossil fuels produces carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. A similar principle applies to Huminerals which, if not thoroughly exploited, may find some dangerous outlet for their residual energy. An ideal social environment will ensure the complete depletion of a Humineral and the extraction of all value by the end of their existence.
- Humineral, or Human Resources, only exist in relation to Human Resource Owners. The fact of the matter is that someone who owns a coal mine is actually providing the coal an opportunity to play a useful role by being consumed. Similarly, the Humineral Owner creates opportunities for Huminerals to serve. Social progress is a result of the gradual replacement of non-renewable resources by renewables. Progress also sees the Coal Mine Boss become a Human Resource Manager.
- Huminerals are necessary if the wheels of history are to keep moving forward. As a Humineral you are duty bound to be consumed in the process of aiding the forward propulsion of history; any who resist will be crushed under the wheel of progress. The opposite is also true: if some Huminerals refuse to provide the energy required for the machine of state to advance, other Huminerals may well be spared the wheel. Nonetheless, the vast majority of Huminerals feel that providing energy for the forward motion of the engine of progress is more meaningful than succumbing to the wheel.
- Self-awareness occurs when you realise that you are nothing more than a Humineral; that is, when you realise that there is an inherent contradiction between the terms ‘Human’ and ‘Resource’ that constitute your existence. Human beings are the subjective standard by which all things are judged. Resources offer an objective measure of value. Resources exist to fulfill the needs of people, and people realise their existential value by expressing and pursuing their needs.
- Suffering awaits the self-aware Humineral, for they have realised that they are powerless to change their circumstances. The only way to cope with self-awareness is to remain muddle-headed and to pretend that you are asleep. In that state you can spend your time slowly depleting yourself. That’s why, when you look out and see the silent multitude of Huminerals you can never know how many of them are actually Awake. That is, of course, until something particular happens.
1月5日晚 鹿邑 迎宾大道
— 李老师不是你老师 (@whyyoutouzhele) January 5, 2023
‘Shitizen’ / ‘Huminerals’ in Luyi, Henan province 河南省鹿邑 celebrating New Year on 5 January 2023 in defiance of an official ban on fireworks. The soundtrack is an excerpt from ‘People With No Ideals Don’t Feel a Thing’ 沒有理想的人不傷心 by Peng Lei 彭磊
Huminerals Question China’s Demographic Dividend
China’s competitiveness is built on cheap and reliable Huminerals. Add to that the grand heritage of outstanding Humineral management.
It kills me that only a few years ago all those online Influencers were making fun of other countries because they suffered from a ‘resource trap’.
Can’t we just call them ‘cows/horses’? The word Huminerals freaks me out.
When you take them at their word when they talk about us being ‘the Masters of the Nation’, a lot of things make absolutely no sense at all. But, everything is cleared up when you call us Huminerals.
Li Yifan 李一凡：
[The term Humineral] explains perfectly the striking similarity between the problems that are facing a ‘certain country’ [ie, China] and the ‘resource curse’ that resource-reliant economies have to deal with. Everything makes sense when you regard people not as people but as resources that are essentially the same as any other mineral, oil deposit or pocket of natural gas.
Little White Rabbit 大白兔：
Remember when you mocked those Middle Eastern countries without a care in the world frittering away their reserves of oil without developing any technological knowhow of their own? And you thought your Rule of Qin [à la the cruel First Emperor of the Qin dynasty, to whom Xi Jinping is compared] was the only way to do things. This term [Humineral] is absolutely spot on.
- 觀眾阿景,「人礦」近於枯竭，無礦可挖的經濟體將如何持續？, 2023年1月1日. Originally posted on Zhihu 知乎 and quickly censored, Ah Jing’s compilation was reposted by other sites. See also 小木谈天, 人礦火了，最後一代的資源，韭菜的最高境界，城投貸款還不了，煙花革命帶來更大維穩危機，人定勝天的下場，2023年1月5日
What Happens When China Runs Out of Its Huminerals?
Tangshan Lao Wang
‘Surge Forth, Wave of Youth!’
Agitrop-Advertising for May Fourth 2020
As we observed in Homo Xinensis, a preliminary study of the comrade-consumer ideal of the Xi Jinping era:
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 [in 1919] 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.
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:
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 are surging along in the same torrent together.
We stand with the 1.3 billion young people of Bilibili
Expressing ourselves while embracing the world
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!’
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 our 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 Militant, China Heritage, 1 October 2018.) Evidently, commercial outlets like Bilibili had also been watching, and learning from, the show.
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, the Chinese Communists responded to the ‘own-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.)
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.’
Keep Growing, Garlic Chives!
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.
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
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。
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.
— from 小強, ‘別人家的後浪，美國的年輕人實力有多強’,
- Mangling May Fourth 2020 in Beijing, China Heritage, 8 May 2020