Chinese New Year Special: Top 3 Memes For The “Year of the Monkey”

In just a few days, the most important holiday in China will begin its seven day festivities. Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is a holiday filled with a multitude of time-honored traditions, including lion dances, fireworks, red envelopes (both paper and digital), and gathering with family.

But on the internet, nothing is sacred. In true netizen fashion, Chinese internet users have squeezed endless amounts of puns, jokes, memes, and satire out of this ancient holiday.

In honor of Chinese New Year, here are some of our favorite Spring Festival-themed memes:

1. 猴腮雷 (Hou Sai Lei), the Mascot for the Spring Festival Gala

Hou Sai Lei
Meilin Han’s original design of hou sai lei is on the left. The 3D modeling of it is on the right.

The Spring Festival Gala is a four-ish hour TV show that has rung in every Chinese New Year since 1983. Run by state-owned broadcaster CCTV (Chinese Central Television), the variety show includes stand-up comedy, singing, and other performances, and has also been criticized as a platform for political propaganda.

This year, the Spring Festival Gala has its own mascot, an unfortunate-looking monkey by the name of hou sai lei, which is the Cantonese pronunciation for “very impressive” or “intense”. The mascot was designed by Meilin Han, the renowned Chinese artist who was responsible for Fuwa, the Beijing Olympics mascot.

According to Baidu Baike, a web-based encyclopedia by search engine Baidu, Mr. Han’s original design was in the style of traditional Chinese ink wash painting and was generally well-received. However, the 3D rendering of hou sai lei has been critiqued as “terrifying” and “so ugly, I want to cry.”

In particular, the erroneous rendering of hou sai lei‘s cheek pouches, which is where the monkey can temporarily store food, was especially offensive. Since the 3D model lacks the ink wash painting style of the original design, hou sai lei’s cheek pouches resemble “tumors” instead of stuffed cheeks.

China’s netizens have skewered the new Spring Festival Gala mascot. Some have made jokes about the items stored in hou sai lei‘s cheek pouches, while others have made comparisons to Taiwan’s “even uglier” monkey mascot,  fu lu hou (福禄猴), which is deliberately shaped like a gourd:

taiwan hou sai lei

One netizen photoshopped fu lu hou into different photographs in a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter. At the end of the post, they concluded that hou sai lei wasn’t so bad after all.

Here’s fu lu hou in a scene from My Neighbor Totoro:

totoro hou sailei

Fu lu hou and Steve Jobs:

steve jobs hou sai lei

Fu lu hou as a Teletubby:

teletubby hou sai lei

And fu lu hou as a beautiful woman(美女):

meinv hou sai lei

2. 六小龄童, as Featured in Pepsi’s 2016 Spring Festival Commercial

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Jinlai Zhang or Liu Xiao Ling Tong acting as the Monkey King or Sun Wukong from “Journey to the West.”

Every Chinese New Year, Pepsi does a “Bring Happiness Home” (把乐带回家, our translation) campaign, where the Chinese word for “happiness” refers to Pepsi’s Chinese name.

This year, playing off the “year of the monkey” theme, Pepsi released a six minute TV ad about the actor Jinlai Zhang (章金莱), who goes by Liu Xiao Ling Tong (六小龄童). Mr. Zhang is famous for playing the Monkey King or Sun Wukong (孙悟空) character from the popular 1980’s T.V adaptation of Journey to the West, a famous Chinese novel from the Ming dynasty.

According to the commercial, which is voiced over by Mr. Zhang, four generations of the Zhang family have acted as the Monkey King. The opening shot shows Mr. Zhang’s older brother whirling a pole and sweating through training as he preps for the role. Through a series of touching cameos, it’s revealed that he dies prematurely from leukemia, leaving Mr. Zhang to inherit the Monkey King legacy instead.

The commercial ends with a shot of Mr. Zhang in a movie theater, surrounded by audience members who are saluting him with Pepsis and wishing him “100 things to be happy for” in 2016, which is a literal translation of Pepsi’s Chinese name.

Though cheesy, the commercial has received a lot of emotional responses from netizens, most of whom grew up watching the 1980’s TV series Journey to the West. A “Feature Liu Xiao Ling Tong at the Spring Festival Gala” hashtag (#六小龄童上春晚#, our translation) has even circulated Weibo, as many hope that Mr. Zhang will make an appearance at this year’s Spring Festival Gala.

For a video of Pepsi’s commercial, click here.

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Well done, Pepsi.

3. 耍猴 or “Putting on a Monkey Show”

We kind of cheated with this meme, since it’s not exactly Spring Festival themed. However, it involves monkeys and Xiaomi’s founder, Lei Jun, so we decided to throw it into our list.

Cynical Chinese netizens have accused Lei Jun of “putting on a monkey show,” in reference to Xiaomi’s flash sales, where thousands of phone sell out in seconds. For Xiaomi, the flash sales create a hype around new products and allows the company to avoid over-production. However, this means that users have to act quickly and aggressively in order to snag the latest Xiaomi product.

The “monkeys” in the “monkey show” refer to Xiaomi fans, who have to play along with Xiaomi’s flash sale antics in order to get their newest products. As Xiaomi’s founder, Lei Jun has been dubbed as the “Monkey King” or one who “puts on a monkey show” (耍猴). For example: “Lei Jun is putting on another monkey show!” (雷军又耍猴了!) is how some netizens react when Xiaomi announces a new flash sale.

In the spirit of Chinese New Year, some Weibo users are jokingly calling for Lei Jun’s appearance at the Spring Festival Gala, as “Monkey King”:

Screenshot (96)
“Spring Festival Gala should feature Lei Jun. After all, no one can put on a monkey show like he can.”
Screenshot (98)
“How can the Spring Festival Gala put on a monkey show without Lei Jun?”
Screenshot (97)
“Everyone wants the Spring Festival Gala to feature Xiao Liu Ling Tong. Well, I support Lei Jun. They don’t call him the Monkey King for no reason. He’s the best at “putting on a monkey show,” he’s the Monkey King of millions….”

With a disappointing 70 million smartphones sold in 2015, it is not a fun year to be “Monkey King” Lei Jun.

Image credit: Shutterstock, Han Meilin Art Foundation, Weibo, Pepsi.