Name an internet sensation you know. What pops in your head might be an accidental celebrity such as Ted William, a.k.a., the “man with a golden voice,” the adorable little fat Brit baby Charlie, who, by the way, also bites, or the infamous Alexandra Wallace, a UCLA student who ranted about “Asians in the library” and stirred up a tsunami of online criticism. It might also be a calculated product of internet marketing such as The Blair Witch Project, or a prank gone wrong. An article on Wikipedia, “List of Internet Phenomena” lists an array of internet sensations since the 1990’s. It also includes one entry on an internet sensation in China, “Baidu 10 Mythical Creatures,” a list of ten fictional creatures with the pronunciations of ten Chinese profanities and popular terms.
However, sensational as these online phenomena are, they all seem lackluster when compared to these two women in China who have gained their fame solely by playing the internet. The two of them are indeed the gems in the category of famous people who are famous for… being (in)famous. They play the “being famous” card so well that Paris Hilton looks like an amateur put side by side with them. These two internet celebrities in China are 芙蓉姐姐, “Furongjiejie” (“Sis Lotus”) and 凤姐, “Fengjie” (“Sis Phoenix”). (And google them, my friends, especially for their images.) It’s fair to say that these two are of iconic status in the online culture in China, and they have even reached beyond the internet to other domains in Chinese popular culture.
Furongjiejie, or Furong or Frjj, has been famous since 2005, when she started posting her photos and promoting herself on Tsinghua University’s BBS. She soon gained nation-wide notoriety because of her narcissistic and blatantly excessive confidence. On her blog on 163.com, she states that she is 21 years old (she was born in 1977), and writes in her personal Introduction:
Love-song diva, dancing queen, queen of the Web, Furong queen. A columnist, singer, dancer, artist, model, actor, MC, senior editor, advertising designer. The creator of the Furong Spirit characterized with bravery, perseverance, and confidence. Furongjiejie, who, relying on her absolute confidence and pride, presents her real self, has become an internet sensation through her unique personality and perseverance, and her influence has extended beyond university BBSs to the mass media, so extensive that her fans call her “a campus celebrity like a goddess”…
Frjj also states in her recent updates that:
With her overflowing talent, smooth style, strong and independent character, and innocence that defies traditions and conventions, Frjj has become a grass-root idol for youth in the age of the internet, and has become a support in spirit for their rejection of low self-esteem and self-loathing. Since she launched her career, Frjj has been recognized and affirmed by the public for her healthy, confident, and attractive image. With her extremely feminine figure, combined with her explosive dance moves and her sweet voice, she exudes the most mesmerizing stage charm, and has become a super diva that attracts fans. She is a big start at the center of the public fascination, and a very personable grass-root star, who has very strong mobilizing power and the widest fan base. Most importantly, Frjj has a kind heart, who has participated in countless charity events, and has been a public and health ambassador for countless times, welcome and supported by the public.
The trick is, Frjj‘s talents, status, and achievements are all self-claimed, at least at the beginning of her “career.” Frjj attempted and failed several times to get into the grad school, and she is not considered pretty by the Chinese standard. In fact, many consider her overweight and ugly. But in the photos she posted, she often poses in a “S” shape with ultra confidence. Combined with her own claims of sexiness and attractiveness, she has been a huge laughing stick among Chinese netizens, so huge that she actually has become a celebrity. She is often used as an iconic comparison when people talk about ugly, talentless, yet shamelessly confident women. What’s amazing is that her fame has lasted for six years and seems to be growing, unlike some might have predicted. Recently, she gave a talk at Beijing University, one of the most prestigious universities in China, and her recent weight-loss has been a widely talked about topic online. It also reported that she is written in a textbook for Chinese learning. Frjj‘s influence was so huge that the government ordered the website that hosted her blog to tune her down, forbidding her posts to be put on its homepage. In many ways, Frjj is indeed very different from many internet fads in the U.S., which usually enjoy 15 minute of fame. Her very excessive confidence, a trait that is extremely undesirable in Chinese culture that values humility, especially for women, has a strange yet strong momentum that has turned the negative into the capital for positive results.
Fengjie, compared to Frjj, is a new comer to the internet hall of fame, but not a bit lackluster. To put it simply, Fengjie‘s fame has come from the almost inconceivable gap between her outrageously high standard for her boyfriend candidates and her own looks and talent. In this regard, Fengjie is similar to Frjj, both exhibiting almost insanely excessive confidence. She first emerged in a supposed documentary TV show where she talked about her standard for her boyfriend — holding a Master’s degree in Economics from Tsinghua or Beijing University, 176cm-183cm in height, with “global” visions, etc. In fact, she said in various occasions that her boyfriend must have Prince William’s body, and she would be happy to have Obama as her boyfriend. Herself, on the other hand, is 146cm in height, without a college degree, considered ugly by many Chinese, and working as a cashier in a supermarket. Like Frjj, Fengjie‘s boldness, or shamelessness to many Chinese, has won her the status of celebrity across the country.
It is reported that Fengjie‘s success is actually the result of the operation by an online marketing company she hired. Nevertheless, she clearly understands how to capitalize on this fame. Recently. she went to New York and met with Sinovision’s HR for an interview to become a TV personality. Fengjie‘s visit to Sinovision was far from a low-key job interview. The interview was even video recorded, during which Fengjie commented on many things including the U.S. presidents, saying that the only two presidents she admired were Lincoln and F. D. Roosevelt. As to Clinton and W. Bush, she didn’t even bother to comment on them.
So, what do I think? Frjj‘s and Fengjie‘s images completely defy the traditional image of a good woman in China, who is supposed to be not only beautiful, knows how to take care of her husband and her family, but at the same time humble and quiet. Frjj and Fengjie are not pretty, they are single, do not have prestigious family or social status, yet they exhibit themselves in public and express themselves without any reservation. They are loud, outrageously confident about themselves, and demand the best for themselves. Many regard them as jokes, but neither of them has ever defended herself. They are fascinating to Chinese, men or women, precisely because of this outrageousness, this “shamelessness,” this notoriety. And in a way, in this world where the media are full of gorgeous and perfect celebrities, these women make everybody, especially those who are insecure about themselves, feel good about themselves. It’s almost like, “Look at Furong and Fengjie; what worse can happen?” And that’s why Chinese can’t get enough of them.