A Chinese video creator on Bilibili recently built a 3D virtual museum of Chinese memes featuring popular Chinese internet memes from the past 20 years. The museum is accessible on VRChat with VR headsets or on PCs.

Siji, the museum founder, said he wanted to build the virtual institution to expose ordinary Chinese people to the metaverse concept and help them understand the next iteration of the internet. He decided to build the museum around memes due to their broad accessibility and existing popularity among Chinese internet users.

“The museum is not only for entertainment. It’s also an exploration of future online consumption trends, ” Siji wrote in the opening dedication for the museum.

The virtual museum took Siji, his friends, and volunteers three months to build.

The project has seven sections, arranged in chronological order to show 20 years of Chinese internet memes. They comprise the photo-heavy memes of the early 2000s, video-focused memes of the 2010s, and memes in a variety of formats from the last 10 years.

The collections on display take the form of pictures, text descriptions, and immersive 3D demonstrations that “restore” some famous memes.

One of the first items in the collection is a desktop computer from the 90s running on Microsoft Windows 95, a highly recognizable symbol to the first generation of Chinese internet users.

The museum also features some memes that originated in English language cultures and made their way to China, such as Rickrolling. The museum presents a localized version – “Gotcha” (“pian dao ni le” in Chinese) – by displaying an image that, in classic Rickrolling style, plays pop star Rick Astley’s hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” when a user clicks on it.

The museum presents a localized version of Rickrolling – “Gotcha” (“pian dao ni le” in Chinese). Credit: Bilibili

Another notable meme in the museum’s collection is “Are you ok?” This emerged from a phrase in a speech given by Xiaomi CEO Lei Jun in India in 2015. Lei spoke in English at the event, with his delivery leading to widespread amusement among Chinese internet users. Creators on Bilibili created a host of video memes based on Lei’s idiosyncratic phrasing. One of the main videos that helped spark the outpouring of Lei Jun memes now has over 41 million views (in Chinese) on Bilibili. Xiaomi ultimately embraced the meme, even using it as kind of slogan in the brand’s marketing (in Chinese).

Although the memes museum is built on VRChat, it first gained traction on China’s video platform Bilibili. An introduction video to the museum already has over 655,000 views on the video streaming site. The platform is popular with Chinese youth and has been a fertile breeding ground for internet memes due to its large fanbase of animation, comics, and gaming enthusiasts. Many of the memes from the museum originated from Bilibili and subsequently spread across the Chinese internet. 

Ward Zhou

Ward Zhou is a tech reporter based in Shanghai. He covers stories about industry of digital content, hardware, and anything geek. Reach him via ward.zhou[a]technode.com or Twitter @zhounanyu.