Journey of Chinese Internet celebrity shatters our distorted view of ‘becoming them’

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2017/1/27 9:53:30

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

When Andy Warhol said in 1968 that "in the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes," he may well have been envisioning the yet-to-be-born Internet. But what Warhol failed to warn us is that both fame and shame could come from the Internet as fast as a tsunami. Just ask Sister Feng, whose name, until two weeks ago, was still a source of positive energy for hundreds of thousands Chinese who are on the lower rungs of the social ladder.

Sister Feng, China's homemade Internet star, first grabbed attention eight years ago when she was distributing fliers on the street to look for a husband in Shanghai and shared her criteria for a future husband in a TV program ¬-- he had to be tall, handsome and a graduate from one of the elite universities in China. Most saw these as unrealistically high requirements for someone like her -- after all she was short and chubby, from a poor rural family, with only a two-year college degree, and a low-income job as a salesgirl in a supermarket.

Since then, though, her fans have been increasing exponentially. First, they followed her blog just to laugh at her whenever she performed similar stunts. And then, after she moved to the US six years ago and managed to find work, she started receiving messages of admiration.

Despite the occasional absurd comments she made in the early years such as how she would soon become a lover of the then president Barack Obama, Sister Feng, whose real name is Luo Yufeng, lives like an ordinary immigrant in the US and makes a living by working in nail salons.

But for many Chinese, the ability of an average girl from a rural family in China to attract so much attention by simply inviting people's ridicule has shown that she is indeed smarter than most people may have thought. She was invited to write a regular column about her American life by a major news website in China. For a while it seemed like she had turned from an ugly duckling into a swan.

But the rosy picture shattered after a recent entry on her WeChat public account revealed she considers receiving a green card as a reward for her efforts in the past decade. In the article, Sister Feng talked about how she had dreamed her whole life to become one of "them"-first, the children of the employees of the state owned factory nearby her village who looked more sophisticated than the village kids, and then, when she went to Shanghai to look for opportunities, the seemingly well-bred people living in the big city.

But she also realized that no matter how hard she worked, people on the higher levels of the social pyramid just wouldn't accept her. Finally, the arrival of the American green card made a big difference -- she saw it as a hard-earned affirmation that she finally has joined "them."

The article immediately went viral, attracting more than three million views and more than 200,000 RMB donations from readers as an encouragement. A few days later, the same WeChat account issued a statement from Sister Feng saying the money made her uneasy and she had decided to donate all the money to children living in poverty in China. Then, Sister Feng's blog (which is different from the WeChat account) had an entry posted claiming her WeChat account had been managed by a friend who largely revised her original article against her will. That post said she would never boast about a green card and that she regrets "abandoning my mother country and my people." 

Now many readers are starting to question whether the whole thing was a hoax. Consequently, the WeChat account was shut down by the authorities for its possible involvement in a scam. 

It may take some time for the truth to emerge. It may take even longer to find out how the recent brouhaha has affected Sister Feng’s popularity. But I am certain of one thing: if Sister Feng or her readers in China really consider a green card as a confirmation of becoming "one of them," they'd be disappointed.

Indeed, many immigrants in the US share the same dreams and frustrations as Sister Feng, thinking their backbreaking efforts can one day allow them to become “one of them” only to be let down when they find mainstream society's door is still firmly shut.

It is not surprising that the super rich and the elites of the society are going to guard their privileges. But the frustration may come from immigrants’ own distorted vision of “becoming them." Any expectation of being taken inside the privileged club like a native-born American is destined to fail for immigrants. It’s important to know that merging into the mainstream means blending into the fabric as oneself -- a proud immigrant with has rich cultural heritage and unique characteristics.

The bottom line is: We can never turn ourselves into other people. But, with or without a green card, we can always try to be our better selves.

The author is a New York-based journalist.


blog comments powered by Disqus