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A foreigner’s unexpected rise to ‘fame’ on Weibo

Sometimes becoming a celebrity on social media is easy, particularly for a Laowai (foreigner). All you need to do, as in this particular case of “instant fame”, is to know how to pack a punch with the most idiomatic expletives in Chinese and target them at the Chinese media.

Weibo user @boogjohn小觉, a young overseas student from Republic of Congo, suddenly found his name all over the Chinese Internet over the weekend because of a post in which he expressed his fury over a Chinese website that used his photograph without his consent, which ended up in a local newspaper. In fact, he did not even know that his photograph was taken at all. Moreover, he was enraged by the fact that the photographer fabricated information about the picture.

The photo was taken by photographer Yang Fan who has been recording the comings and goings at a police station in Chongqing for two years. @boogjohn小觉 was photographed on September 8 when he went to the station to get a residence permit. The caption of the picture said that he was helped by an officer surnamed Wan who is fluent in English. Photo: weibo.com

“He knows English? Band 8 English? (Note: the highest level of English certificate for an English major in China) I did not ****ing speak English at all that day. He helped me with my problem?! The **********er didn’t know what a temporary residence registration is when I told him that’s what I needed. I had to show him (an example) on baidu.com.”

That is part of the now viral post where the young man vented his anger about the inaccuracy of the media report. He was even more furious about the fact that his photo was taken without him knowing it and was published without consulting him. The 22-year-old who has been living in China for nine years expressed his feeling in perfect Chinese slang rich in vulgarism.

The Chinese love to see a “scandal” that involves the media and they especially love it when it involves a foreigner. @boogjohn小觉’s post quickly went viral on Weibo. And the popularity was further fueled when the post got reposted by a number of popular Weibo accounts.

Before he knew it, @boogjohn小觉has become a Weibo celebrity with a hashtag dedicated to him. “Band 8 Chinese @boogjohn小觉” is what the Weibo users call him now. Though many picked on his choice of language, the majority, it seems, took it merely as a joke and were more impressed with his excellent command of the Chinese language. “Take it easy, brother,” one quipped sarcastically. “The Chinese journalist was only doing his job.”

The photographer responded to @boogjohn小觉’s accusation in an interview saying that his Chinese wasn’t very fluent and that he knew he was being photographed. “The photograph was not for commercial use,” he added. “It was used to show what the daily work at a local police station is like.”

However, @boogjohn小觉 rebutted his response in an interview with us. In a voice message, he explained himself in perfect Chinese. “You can be the judge,” he asked. “Is my Chinese fluent or not?”

“I swear that I did not know I was being photographed. You could see in the photo I was showing the officer the registration form. I had no idea he took the photograph,” he continued. “And the officer did not help me with the registration. I had to go back again a month later. It was another officer from a different floor that helped me.”

As for his swearing, @boogjohn小觉 said it was just an effort to make his friends laugh. “I just thought it was funny, that’s all. I did not expect it to be blown out of proportion like this.”

“The police has all my information. They could contact me if they wanted to. I don’t care if the photograph was for commercial use or not. If it is to be published in a newspaper, at least they should notify me. What if I don’t want to have my photo in the paper?”

“I just want to live my life quietly. But this incident just keeps getting bigger. So be it. I have nothing to fear. Everything I have said is the truth,” the young man concluded.


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