Popular culture in any nation is littered with symbols, characters, and icons that often stump foreigners. Have you ever seen the same image repeated on everything from balloons, clothes, and toys to food and other packaging and wonder “What the heck is that?”
All over the big cities and smaller rural areas of China there are a variety of these culturally branded visuals splattered on shop walls, construction sites and products. While you might recognize these recurring images or advertisements, you might feel clueless about what they represent or why they are so popular.
If you’ve been curious, you’re in luck! Keep reading and you may recognize a few of the images below that you saw everyday while in China.
1. Happy/Pleasant Goat (喜羊羊)
Happy/Pleasant Goat, (Xi Yang Yang (喜羊羊)) is the main character of an extremely popular children’s cartoon, “喜羊羊与灰太狼”or “Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf.” This animated TV series quickly shot to popularity during its debut season in 2005 and now Xi Yang Yang has captured the hearts of millions of Chinese children. The focus of the program is on a group of school-aged goats living in the Green Grasslands (青青草原) who are constantly being hunted by Hui Tai Lang (灰太狼) or Grey Wolf. With the help of the other goats, Xi Yang Yang always finds a way to outsmart Grey Wolf and save all the goats from being eaten.
2. China Dream Poster (中国梦, 我的梦)
You will find this poster (or one of its variations,) covering bulletin boards and construction site walls all around China. Since Xi Jinping coined the term “China Dream”, this image and slogan have been spread throughout Chinese cities. The actual meaning of the “China Dream” is still highly debated, but that did not stop this image’s reach and prominence (here’s an Economist article on the topic to get you started). Propaganda posters have a long history in China as a way to gain the support of the people for a specific cause or campaign. Have you also have noticed sentences in red covering bridges or other high traffic places? These are also propaganda campaigns, usually encouraging ‘civilized’ behavior.
3. Real Kung Fu (真功夫)
Fast-food chain restaurants have become prolific throughout China. One famous one that always caught my eye, due to its noticeable logo was 真功夫. I always wondered what Bruce Lee had to do with fast food? Although the name and the logo bear an unmistakable resemblance to the kung-fu master, 真功夫 claims the image is not meant to represent Bruce Lee. This chain, based in the southern city of Guangzhou, serves fast-food Cantonese food with popular dishes such as steamed chicken and mushrooms, egg custard, rice noodles and fish ball noodle soup.
4. Metro Logos (地铁商标)
(From left to right): Beijng, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Xi’an, Nanjing, Shenzhen, Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Chengdu
Probably the most useful item on this list; metro signs are a constant throughout large Chinese cities. However each city has a different metro logo. You might notice the logo, but not realize that it is a symbol for the metro. Here are a few metro signs to be on the look out for when traveling around China’s biggest cities. You can usually spot these near bus stations, at intersections, or near major tourist destination sights. How many of these have you seen?
5. YiHaoDian (一号店)
If you have ridden the subway in Beijing or Shanghai, or potentially other major cities in China, you should definitely recognize these advertisements. Usually posted on the walls around metro stations, these advertisements are for the Chinese e-commerce company 一号店 (Yihaodian). This online supermarket allows shoppers to buy their groceries off the Internet, arranged on the site in “virtual stores.” One of the largest selling points of Yihaodian is its large imported foods section on the website. Wal-Mart has even invested in Yihaodian and is currently the biggest shareholder in the company. Check out the site at yhd.com.
6. Monkey King (孙悟空)
If you walk around China you are bound to see images of a monkey man like creature or even spot someone dressed up as a monkey. Sun Wukong (孙悟空) or the Monkey King in English, is a main character in the Chinese classic novel, Journey to the West, written by Wu Cheng’en. Sun Wukong is a monkey born from a stone, who later obtains supernatural powers (from Taoist practices) and then accompanies a monk to retrieve Buddhist sutras from India. Sun is extremely strong and fast and can even change his physical form! Due to Sun Wukong’s popularity, many later stories and adaptations about his character have been written. The Monkey King is revered by Chinese people as a role model and positive example for the qualities you should possess as a Chinese citizen.
7. Doraemon (叮当猫/机器猫)
Like Xi Yang Yang, this blue cat cartoon is a prevalent image on children’s toys and clothing. This cartoon cat image is called Doraemon (叮当猫／机器猫), a robotic cat, originating from a Japanese comic strip, published in multiple magazines first in 1969. In the series, Doraemon travels back in time from the 22nd century to aid a pre-teen boy called Nobita Nobi. The comic has been transferred to a TV series comedy with valuable lessons for children. Doraemon was first introduced into China in the early 1990s and has become extremely popular with Chinese children ever since.
8. WeChat (微信)
These green and white chat bubbles have become another ubiquitous symbol in modern Chinese culture. This messaging app has quickly become China’s most popular app, with a whopping 30 million users. Aside from the basic functions of texting, voice, picture and video messaging, Wechat also includes a feature that allows friends to post updates to their ‘friend circle’ (朋友圈). This has expanded from personal friends to include ‘official accounts’ of different organizations and businesses, many of which have jumped on the Wechat wagon to post promotions, and even take orders for delivery!
I hope this was helpful! What images would you add to the list? Leave a comment below!