In each movement, there needs to be an anthem, a rallying cry that captures the spirit and message of the cause. And for the emergent “Kong Yiji literature” movement, that anthem came in the form of the now-censored musical parody, “Sunny Side Kong Yiji.”
“Kong Yiji literature” is a genre of online writing that originated in China and compares unemployed college graduates to the eponymous protagonist of Lu Xun’s 1918 short story, who is ridiculed at the village pub. It is a critique of the Chinese state and society’s apathy towards the marginalized, as well as a challenge to the state’s belief in the “bootstrap mentality.”
The song, which was uploaded to the video-sharing site Bilibili by user @鬼山哥, was a direct response to a series of state-media reports that admonished the youth to work hard and stop complaining. In particular, People’s Daily instructed the youth to “work hard and your days will become ever sweeter.” CCTV posted a WeChat article that misconstrued the “Kong Yiji” genre and downplayed youth concerns about suffering a similar fate to Lu Xun’s protagonist. Additionally, CCTV aired footage of an impoverished “bang-bang” porter as a Porsche drove past, praising the supposed peace of mind that came from manual labor.
These reports reveal official unease with youth dissatisfaction as expressed through the “lie flat” and “involution” memes, as well as the “Kong Yiji literature” trend.
“Sunny Side Kong Yiji” immediately went viral, garnering over 3 million views before it was censored. The highly sarcastic lyrics imagine a modern-day Kong Yiji, an educated patriot condemned to a life of working as a delivery boy. The song speaks to the frustrations of the youth in China who feel like they are being exploited by a corrupt society that has no regard for their dignity. It also reflects the despair and disillusionment that many young people feel about their future prospects.
Unfortunately, @鬼山哥’s Bilibili account was suspended for 15 days, and the song was censored. In an explanation on the popular question-and-answer site Zhihu, @鬼山哥 expressed his surprise and dismay at having his account banned, citing his motivation for writing the song as a means of blowing off steam and sharing his frustrations. He quoted his own lyrics to compare himself to Shang Yang, the Qin dynasty philosopher-politician who was executed by being torn apart by five horses after falling afoul of that era’s ruling families. In essence, @鬼山哥 was saying that he has been pushed to the brink by the repressive actions of the state and society.
The censorship of “Sunny Side Kong Yiji” and the suspension of @鬼山哥’s Bilibili account are indicative of the Chinese government’s increasingly restrictive policies towards dissenting voices. The crackdown on the “lie flat” and “involution” memes and the suppression of the “Kong Yiji literature” trend suggest that the state is willing to go to great lengths to maintain its control over the narrative and quash any criticism of its policies.
However, the popularity of “Sunny Side Kong Yiji” and the resilience of the youth who identify with its message demonstrate that the spirit of dissent and resistance is alive and well in China. Despite the obstacles they face, these young people refuse to be silenced and will continue to fight for their rights and their futures.