Free Coffee for North Korea?

Free Coffee for North Korea?

An Internet Meme Explodes

What should China do to persuade its moody ally North Korea to comply with international restrictions on its nuclear ambitions?

“Free conference rooms, free coffee, free soft drinks and dessert,” was the surprising and quickly viral Internet-meme-of-an answer from Ruan Zongze, the Vice President of the China Institute of International Studies, a Chinese think tank, speaking on February 12 on China Central Television (CCTV).

“China has always insisted on denuclearization on the Korean peninsula and the international community has consensus on this issue,” Ruan said about 18 minutes into the video below, which drew nearly 400,000 viewers in two days on web portal Sina’s video channel alone.

With a brief, faint smile, Ruan was referring, of course, to the fact that since 2003 China has played regular host to the Six-Party Talks, providing (what else?): “free conference rooms, free coffee, free soft drinks and dessert.”

Netizens instantly jumped at the chance to lampoon Ruan’s glib catalog of failed Chinese diplomatic entreaties. Or did they see that he was in on the joke?  Who can say?

“China’s no longer considered reliable [by North Korea],” mocked user @爱_自_由_ “Only Western desserts on the table without a hint of kimchi during the break at the Six-Party Talks. What the hell?! And only coffee to drink? This is ridiculous! I’m out!”

Netizen @GAGA亲亲 recounted her two-year-old daughter pointing at the “expert” (Mr. Ruan) on CCTV and asking, “What’s this big fat guy talking about, Mama?” Her reply? “He bought free drinks for others but in return was threatened with a big bomb!” To which her daughter replied: “So, is this guy a Coca-Cola salesman?”

User @5星级上将詹姆斯下士 reacted thusly: “Holy crap! Are you telling me that we can achieve universal peace by offering a one-stop spa and sauna service?” “Why were we beaten to a pulp? Because there were no free refills of the free coffee!” wrote @曾匀 “Details are everything!”

Twinning concerns over North Korea with those about the recent spate of bad “weather” in Beijing, user @蔡荣画_5ae wrote “China has also provided free polluted air for the Six-Party Talks!”

The thinly-veiled anger reflected in Weibo posts after Ruan’s digital gaffe hints at newfound public concern that China pumps millions in grain and fuel into North Korea but gets no respect in return.

“People always said China and North Korea have a traditional friendship,” said Ruan’s host on CCTV’s talk show Focus Today, starting at a point just before the eighteen-minute mark in the video. “China’s selflessly provided massive aid to North Korean development for a long time. But what we are seeing now is that North Korea took the grain with one hand and pressed the nuclear button with the other.”

Netizens were less polite. User @杨小华199 wrote, “Finally, we see why [the late North Korean leader] Kim [Jong-il] didn’t care about China: because we are tea boys!”

User @李冰冰, the award-winning Chinese movie actress Li Bingbing, a co-star with Jackie Chan and Jet Li in “The Forbidden Kingdom” (2008) and an ambassador for Korean Culture in China, shared a mock conversation between the two old Communist allies on her Sina Weibo page. Her post promptly was reposted over 45,000 times and drew over 8,000 comments:

North Korea: Old Bro, I’m going to conduct a nuclear test!

China: When?

NK: Five!

China: After five days?

NK: Four!

China: Four days?

NK: Three!

China: Exactly when?

NK: Two!

China: … two? Are you being stupid?

NK: Go!

China: We’re trying to stop North Korea at the last second!

Ouyang Bin is an Arthur Ross Fellow at the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society in New York and Associate Editor of ChinaFile, where his major interests concentrate on China’s political...
Zhang Xiaoran is U.S.-China Dialogue Fellow with Asia Society’s Center on U.S.-China Relations, where she works on the U.S.-China Dialogue project and on Chinese social media outreach. She...





All Hail ‘Fatty Kim the Third’


It’s North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un as the world has never seen him. In a three-minute clip that has accumulated over 200,000 views after its early July posting on Chinese video site Tudou, a crudely photoshopped Kim dances on the street, on a baseball diamond, and...

Viral Videos


Making a Show of the News?


In what seemed like a flash on April 20, Chinese netizens dubbed TV reporter Chen Ying “the most beautiful bride” on China’s Internet. It was the day of her wedding but a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Ya’an in Sichuan province and Chen didn’t bother to change her clothes...

Viral Videos


CNBC Quarrel About China’s Housing Market Bubbles Over on Chinese Internet


China’s real estate prices continue to skyrocket despite government efforts to rein them in to prevent a dangerous housing bubble. On March 5, American television network CNBC invited two analysts to debate the state of the sector. But when Peter Navarro, a U.C. Irvine...

Viral Videos


What Do You Know About China’s Politics?


The Liang Hui or “Two Sessions”—the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC)—are the most crowded, most covered, and probably most hilarious annual political events in China. Every March, thousands of “...

Viral Videos


Flowers of the Motherland


School uniforms have been a hot topic in the Chinese media since last Thursday. On February 20, 2013, on a new satirical TV news talk show akin to the Colbert Report but with a pre-recorded laugh track instead of a live audience, host Jin Yan of Shanghai’s Dragon TV-produced...

Viral Videos


Complaints, Nationalism, and Spoofs


This week, United States government and American media charges of Chinese cyberattacks have led to a variety of responses from netizens across China. On February 19, a CNN camera crew tried to shoot video of the twelve-story military-owned building that the U.S. Internet security...

Viral Videos


Michelle Obama’s DNC Speech


Something big is about to happen in China. After ruling the country for a decade, China’s current leadership, helmed by President Hu Jintao, will transfer power to a new group of leaders. The process will be opaque, the date of the transition is a secret, and no one knows for...

Viral Videos


Happiness with Chinese Characteristics


On April 2, 2012, the United Nations released the first World Happiness Report on the occasion of its first General Assembly on “Happiness and Wellbeing: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” It ranked China the 112th happiest country out of 156. As an article in Caixun....

Viral Videos


Students Tear Up Books Before Big Exam


The gaokao, China’s annual National Higher Education Entrance Examination, is known for being extremely difficult and a stressful rite of passage for Chinese students. Due to the society’s traditional emphasis on education, many Chinese people still believe in a direct...

Viral Videos


Food Paradise or Hell: A New Documentary Sparks Debate


A seven-part documentary on China’s food culture, “A Bite of China” (which translated literally means “China on the Tip of the Tongue”) premiered on the main channel of China Central Television (CCTV-1) on May 14, 2012 and became an instant sensation. The series gives a...

Viral Videos


Zuckerberg’s CCTV Cameo


Chinese social media outlets lit up after sharp-eyed viewers caught Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg making a cameo appearance on Chinese Police, a documentary series produced by China Central Television (CCTV). Just a few second long, the footage shows Zuckerberg and his new wife...

Viral Videos


TV Show Catches Flak for its Criticism of Contestants Who Have Lived Abroad


The gameshow Fei Ni Mo Shu (Only You) has a pretty straightforward premise: a contestant steps onto a stage next to the host and introduces him/herself to a panel of twelve bosses of major companies who sit in highly extravagant throne-like chairs. Much along the same lines as...

Viral Videos


Hong Kong Movie Star Now a Motivational Speaker


Nicholas Tse—the famous young Hong Kong singer, actor, and musician—is known for portraying irresponsible young rebels. People think that's what he's like in real life. The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology invited Tse to be a speaker for the Asian Leadership...

Viral Videos


Drunken Brit Assaults Chinese Woman in Beijing


A drunken foreigner was caught sexually assaulting a Chinese woman in Beijing near the Xuanwumen subway station. Pedestrians stopped him and it ended in a fight. This video shows the initial confrontation with the foreigner and then jumps to the moment when the police arrived, by...

Viral Videos


Villagers Loot Spilled Watermelons From Truck After Car Crash


Two trucks collided on the Beijing-Hong Kong-Macao Expressway in Yueyang, Hunan Province. While local firemen worked to rescue the drivers stuck in their vehicles, people from a nearby village arrived on the scene to loot watermelons that had fallen off of one of the trucks. A...

Viral Videos


IV Drips Sustain Students Studying for College Entrance Examination


The Xiaogan No.1 High School in China's Hubei Province allegedly hooked students up to intravenous drips filled with amino acids to sustain them while studying for the country's notoriously difficult national college entrance exams:A photo was originally posted by a student on...

Viral Videos


Du Fu Is Very Busy


The 1300th birthday anniversary of the great Chinese poet Du Fu will be celebrated this year. An illustration of Du Fu in Chinese literature textbooks has recently been the inspiration for a spat of creative graffiti and videos. In them, he has been depicted participating in such...

Viral Videos


Children Travel on Zip-line Across Abyss To and From School


All 3,369 inhabitants of Hongde Village in Guizhou province, including dozens of school children, must either somehow cross the gorge, or take a detour by walking for several hours, in order to get out of their village. In 2002, a zip-line was set up over the gorge...

Viral Videos


Ferrari Stunt Scars 600-Year-Old Monument


Netizens are outraged after a 60-second stunt by car manufacturer Ferrari leaves a 600 year-old historical site marred with skid marks.From Youku

Viral Videos


Hospital Staff Forced to Kowtow for Forgiveness at Patient’s Funeral


After a patient died allegedly from medical malpractice in Shaanxi province, the hospital’s president and more than 40 staff members put on heavy mourning garments and attended the patient’s funeral, where the president gave a tearful self-criticism speech and kowtowed with...