China's 10 Most Viral Memes of 2016

By Bridget O'Donnell, December 28, 2016

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201612/thats-year-review-logo-mini.pngFor many in the West, 2016 will be remembered for Trump, Brexit, terrorism in Europe and an absurd number of pop culture deaths, from Bowie to Muhammad Ali. By comparison, China had an unusually quiet year. Nonetheless, there were still a few goings-on in the world's most populous country. 

In our 2016 Year in Review series, we recap the best (and worst) of China's year in the worlds of technology, social media, sport, fashion, food, arts and more.


A look back at some of the memes and online trends that blew up Chinese social media in 2016.

10. Wang Jianlin's "small goal"

Wang Jianlin's small goal
Wanda boss and China's richest man Wang Jianlin is known for making rather bold statements. In a TV interview that went viral earlier this year, Wang defined the path to success as a series of smaller achievements. He'd tell a young apprentice who wanted to be China's richest person to "set a small goal first, for example, earn 100 million yuan to start with!” The "small goal" was widely seen as being unachievable, with one Weibo user saying you'd "have to work 1,000 years without eating or drinking" to meet that "small goal."

9. The "Five Worst Drinks"

The 5 Worst Drinks in China (According to Weibo)
They have been said to have the power to destroy the most rock-solid relationships when sent as gifts. They've made people want to vomit. They are even rumored to endanger foreign ties with small African nations. These are the "top five worst drinks" in China, and they went viral on Chinese social media last month after beverage producer Laoshan announced that it would begin shipping its mineral water to Liberia (causing netizens to lament the future of diplomatic relations between the two countries). From there, web users began ranking China's five worst beverages. See the full list here.

8. The full-body Facekini

These New Chinese 'Burkinis' Are Terrifying
The 'burkini' has made a lot of headlines this year after its appearance in the Rio Olympics and the controversial decision to ban it on French beaches. But did you know that an enterprising designer in Qingdao has also created a suit that is quite similar to the burkini? Yep, to celebrate the sixth edition of the infamous 'Facekini,' Zhang Shifan has created special Peking Opera-themed body suits with matching Facekinis, because a plain old Facekini is just sooooo 2012. Can you say 'Upgrade'?

7. Chinese New Year Me vs. Regular Me

PHOTOS: Chic Chinese Urbanites Before and After CNY
Fashion was the hot topic on Weibo in February, as young urbanites proudly showed off photos of how they dress before and after traveling home for Spring Festival. The images, which went viral, show what chic city dwellers look like when they DNGAF about their appearance.

6. The Shenzhen dancer

WATCH: Scantily Clad Man Takes Shenzhen by Storm
This year a scantily clad man, who goes by the Weibo handle Shenzhen Chaoji Nanshen Xihongshi, blew up the internet with his erotic dance moves and sexually-charged outfits. Most (if not all) of his photos and videos are taken in public places in Shenzhen – such as supermarkets and malls – and feature sexy poses and facial expressions. 

5. Chinese animals that look like Trump

This Rare Chinese Bird Looks Exactly Like Donald Trump
This Chinese Fish Looks Exactly Like Donald Trump
Donald Trump resembles a lot of things, including a number of Chinese animals. First there was the rare Chinese bird in Hangzhou went viral for bearing an uncanny resemblance to the celebrity politician, then there was the square-headed fish with a pout that rivals the billionaire US President-elect's.

4. Body-shaming memes

'iPhone Legs' the Latest Body-Shaming Fad to Hit China

Chinese netizens have used everything from sheets of paper to banknotes to pencils — and even the iPhone — to show off whether or not they meet 'ideal beauty standards.' Despite the backlash they've received, the memes took Weibo by storm this year.

3. PPAP

Everyone's Going Crazy for This Viral Song on Pineapple Pens
2012 gave us PSY's "Gangnam Style"; 2014 gave us Chopsticks Brothers' "Little Apple." In keeping with the theme of bizarre viral music videos, 2016 has given us "Pen Pineapple Apple Pen" (AKA "PPAP"), a song performed by fictional artist Piko Taro (portrayed by Japanese comedian Kosaka Daimaou). The video depicts Piko Taro dancing while describing different combinations of pens, apples and pineapples, eventually forming—wait for it—a pen-pineapple-apple-pen. 

2. The Beijing slouch

Chinese Actor Sues for 400,000 RMB over Internet Meme
An image depicting an incredibly lazy couch potato went viral on Chinese social media platforms in 2016. The image features actor Ge You from a two-decade old show called I Love My Family. The image resurfaced earlier this year and went viral, with many nicknaming Ge's pose the "the Beijing slouch.” Variations of the meme feature captions such as "I don’t want to do anything” and “Wasting my life.” Ge sued travel company Elong for RMB400,000 after they used the meme on their microblog.

1. Fu Yuanhui

China's Happiest Swimmer Becomes an Online Sensation

Sometimes, we see Olympians who win anything but the gold medal weep out of frustration. And then there is Fu Yuanhui, a swimmer for Team China in the 2016 Rio Olympics. After earning a bronze medal and being informed by a reporter that she had smashed her personal record, she declared "I was SO FAST!

When the interviewer then asked if she was "holding back" for the finals, Fu answered, with a violent headshake, "I was NOT holding back! I have used ALL of my 'mystical powers' (洪荒之力; literally, a force strong enough to reshape the universe)." Chinese netizens shared the video of her interview thousands of times within 24 hours, and some even created cartoon charaters, emoticons, and memes based on Fu. 

Fu Yuanhui meme

Fu Yuanhui
Fu further broke taboo by blaming a poor race performance on her period and telling a national TV station that she was in desperate need of a boyfriend. Her antics made her an overnight celebrity in China, and photos of her at Shanghai Disneyland in August only further vaulted her into social media celebrity fame.


For more 2016 Year in Review coverage, click here.

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