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Bilibili’s Youth Day video prompts backlash from China’s ‘next wave’

The video site’s move into the mainstream has yielded mixed results.

Photo Source: Bilibili

On Sunday, Chinese hit video-sharing platform Bilibili released a video titled “The Next Wave: A speech by Bilibili for the new generation” ahead of China’s Youth Day, which commemorates the student-driven May Fourth Movement of 1919.

Although millions of viewers shared the video on major social platforms and offered their approval, a segment of Bilibili’s younger audience offered a contrasting view that airbrushed images of young people in the video don’t reflect real-life conditions, and that the polished footage is a misrepresentation of young people in the country.

In the four-minute run, He Bing, a 52-year-old actor known for his portrayal of protagonists that brim with “positive energy,” recites a poem to praise the creativity, knowledge, and world view of China’s younger generation. “I look at you, full of envy. . .You now have the right that we used to long for—the right to choose,” he says as an upbeat musical score swells. The video cuts to clips of young people who are traveling to new destinations, exploring the outdoors, filming, playing traditional musical instruments, and studying.

“The Next Wave” was jointly released by Bilibili and several state-owned news outlets, including Global Times, The Beijing News, and Guangming Daily. As of Tuesday afternoon, the video has been viewed more than 10 million times. It was also aired before the China Central Television’s daily news broadcast one day ahead of Youth Day.

Bilibili CEO Chen Rui commented on the site that “what you love is your life.” However, some of the site’s users are rejecting the “positive energy” embedded within He’s performance, in part because they perceive a distance between themselves and older generations.

“The video only highlights a small part of youngsters, but ignores more people who need more encouragement. . . Those who run into walls after graduation, those who live in small towns and feel confused about their future, and those who work overtime in order to survive in big cities. . . Are their lives as cool as the video shows?” One netizen posted on the Q&A site Zhihu.

“But the young people in the country are tethered to houses, 15 years, 30 years. . . They don’t dare to do what they want, they dare not speak about dreams, every day, round after round, it’s a rat race, like walking on thin ice,” reads a comment in response to state-owned publication People’s Daily’s post about “The Next Wave” on Weibo. The comment points to the burden on many young people when it comes to seeking housing, and has garnered more than 74,000 “thumbs up” responses.

Bilibili became popular in China by hosting content related to anime, comics, and games. In recent years, it has been transitioning into an all-encompassing video site that hosts all types of content to woo a wider audience.

The Nasdaq-listed company claimed to have 130.3 million average monthly active users and 37.9 million daily average users, up 40% and 41% year-on-year respectively, in its 2019 annual report. It also reported earning more than USD 282 million in revenue during the fourth quarter of 2019, up 74% from a year earlier. Backed by Chinese tech giants Tencent and Alibaba, Bilibili also raked in USD 400 million from Sony of America in exchange for a 5% stake last month.