Saturday, December 19, 2009


Jia Jun Peng, your mother wants you to come home for dinner!

Excerpt from the LA Times: China, the latest Internet obsession began with an anonymous post on a computer gaming forum: "Jia Junpeng, your mom is calling you to come home and eat."

Was it a vexed parent hunting down her Internet-addicted child in cyberspace? A cheeky gamer poking fun at one of his buddies? Or simply an idler with a sense of humor?

The post's author and motive are unknown. What's clear is that the catchphrase has gone viral in recent weeks, kind of like a Chinese version of the satirical "facts" about actor and martial artist Chuck Norris that have spread on U.S. social media.

Jia Junpeng has popped up on T-shirts, on blogs and in song. The expression has been embraced by human rights advocates who sought the release of a jailed legal scholar. Naturally, businesses have also co-opted the meme of the moment.

A Sichuan car dealer advertised its vehicles with a banner that read: "Jia Junpeng, your mom is calling you to drive home a Roewe 550." A nearby restaurant hung a banner that read: "Jia Junpeng, your mom is calling you to eat Yanjing Hotpot!"

So widespread is the joke, it has its own Wikipedia entry. Even the state-run China Daily felt it necessary to weigh in with an editorial that called the spectacle "a demonstration of collective boredom."

The exact reason this quippy non sequitur has captured the fancy of millions of Chinese is as murky as its author. But it arrives while the Internet is expanding its reach into contemporary Chinese culture.

Jia Junpeng (pronounced Jah Joon-pung) joins a slew of online fads that have littered an increasingly crowded Web. China added 40 million Internet users in the first half of this year, boosting its total to 338 million -- a group larger than the population of the U.S.

In a country where free speech and public discourse are limited, Chinese are coalescing online and churning out catchphrases and goofy videos the way Americans have done for years.

Instead of the roly-poly, light saber-wielding "Star Wars kid" of American viral video fame, China has “Xiao Pang,” or “Little Chubby,” an unsuspecting Shanghai schoolboy whose face has been slapped onto images of everything from the Mona Lisa to "Pirates of the Caribbean" posters.

What makes the Internet especially potent in China, experts say, is its growing role as a social outlet.

Most young Chinese can't afford to roam shopping malls, catch a movie or go to karaoke. State television is often painfully out of vogue. So keeping up with peers on Internet forums and instant messaging services becomes a far more appealing alternative. Inside jokes such as Jia Junpeng are a big part of the allure.

"China has a more tightly integrated Internet community," said Kaiser Kuo, a Beijing blogger. "Everything you do is social media. It's almost incomprehensible for something like Jia Junpeng to pick up millions of posts in the States. But in China, virality is so much more ferocious."

Those movements can take on subversive undertones. Wordplay, a classic form of Chinese humor, is not only satirical but also necessary with so many government minders about.

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