Buying a watermelon is a widespread thing in Chinese daily life. But this summer, a short video titled “Huaqiang comes to buy a watermelon” became a hot topic on the Chinese Youtube, Bilibili.
At the beginning of the video, a man named Liu Huaqiang rides an electric bike. He stops at a small stall along the sideway, pretending to buy a watermelon and bargaining back and forth with the stall owner. As Liu Huaqiang keeps provoking the merchant, the atmosphere becomes tenser. After revealing the stall owner’s trick of putting a magnet under the scale, a fight breaks out between the two. The scene culminates with Liu Huaqiang grabbing the machete the seller uses to cut watermelons to stab him. Just a few moments later, Liu Huaqiang jumps on his electric bike and races away.
Why did this video go viral?
First, this scene comes from the hit Chinese “gangster” TV series Conquest (征服 Zhengfu), released in 2003. When it reappeared on the Chinese Internet nearly a decade later, it triggered popular nostalgia. Second, the video effectively portrays a popular yet ruthless archetype characterized by his courageous attitude and strategic mind: the gang leader. Finally, the contrast between the mundane activity of buying watermelons and the sudden violence creates a dramatically compelling effect, which is highly appealing to viewers.
As the video became viral, nonetheless, an interesting phenomenon unfolded. When searching for “Huaqiang” on Bilibili, hundreds of reproduction videos (再生产视频 zaishengchan shipin) show up. Many of them have millions of views, to the point of overshadowing the original clip. These reproduction videos creatively combine cultural elements of different origins (Marvel films, Plants vs. Zombies, Naruto, Ultraman, or Journey to the West, among others), thus significantly enhancing the comedic and dramatic effect of the original video.
These reproduction videos are a new social dynamic. This online phenomenon blurs the line between video makers and viewers while fostering a unique collaborative creation process. The bullet comments (弹幕* danmu) and the comments under the video constitute essential parts of this replication frenzy: they can sometimes be as entertaining as the video itself. This trend is a byproduct of the recent popularity of short video format enabled by the 4G era – and much in line with a globalized meme culture, which is massive on Bilibili.
People do not care about why Liu Huaqiang stabbed the stall owner or who he is. The simple, violent, and exciting plot is enough to grab people’s attention, while the fast-paced reproduction of these videos provides an infinite scroll of visual entertainment.
特效小哥studio. "无 伤 反 杀 刘 华 强". Bilibili Video, 1:07. August 10th, 2021. https://www.bilibili.com/video/BV1qb4y1z7ve/?spm_id_from=333.788.recommend_more_video.-1
Which insights come from this short video reproduction process?
In this era of short videos, people can quickly combine different cultural elements while disseminating them, thus satisfying their needs for expression, sociability, and cultural identity. However, those needs are conditioned by the fast-paced, time-consuming, and alienated rush through the cities. This constant reproduction of “cultural fast food” fulfills the demands due to its characteristic spontaneity.
The main features of reproduction videos are novelty and excitement, satisfying the need to relax in a busy and stressful life. However, this relaxation does not relieve the nervous cerebral cortex, providing a brief moment of pleasure through new and entertaining stimuli so that people can get back to work. Accordingly, these videos are only for immediate entertainment. In this sense, these reproduction videos show an alienation of people’s leisure.