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Communication & Technology

An American boy’s ‘fake smile’ got 1.8 million Weibo fans in China


Gavin Thomas, an 8-yr-old American boy who has a surprisingly huge Chinese fan base, visited Beijing in 2018 (photo from CNN)

CNN’s updated report on Nov 9 said that Gavin Thomas, born in Minnesota and still in elementary school, has some “unique facial expressions, which have become a hugely successful, viral meme ……

A gif of Gavin’s face, smiling awkwardly, might be used as many as 10 million times a day across China’s various social media platforms …”

A major distributor of online gifs “estimated that all of the total number of Gavin related gifs used across platforms in China has easily exceeded 1 billion.

His debut on Weibo (similar to Twitter) was widely reported by Chinese state media, and his first trip to China in August made headlines across the country …”

His popularity, according to the report by The Strait Times, stems from his ‘fake smile’ which “appears to say: “I really want to get out of here but I shall try to be polite about it ……”

Gavin-related memes and gifs were used in different contexts: to express indifference; as a form of self-mockery; or simply when one is at a loss for words. ‘

When you are stuck in an awkward situation, Gavin comes to the rescue. It is a polite way to wriggle out of it, by flashing a meme of Gavin’s forced ‘official’ polite smile,’ said a Chinese social media user …”

It is therefore an easy way for foreigners to understand one of the various common characters of the Chinese people. Many Chinese by tradition often avoid to behave impolitely even though they strongly disagree or dislike. Some Western people have commented that Chinese tend to be indirect in speeches and therefore difficult for them to ascertain what the content really means.

They prefer to have blunt and straight talks. Some commentators think it is about ‘giving face’. The hard lesson for this many Chinese learn from history is that if you are rude today, there will be no deal in future in case an opportunity arises on another day.

Why is it an American boy popular for this reason, not a Chinese child? The reason is again simple, the Chinese tend to think that an ‘indirect’ way to tell the counterparty is better, no hard feeling. Some may say it is ‘fake, but another view suggests that it is, in one word, ‘pragmatism’.

Therefore, even though the US-China relation will hollow out in long term, the present non-pragmatic trade war will not last long, subject to how many trophies with which President Trump is satisfied.

The opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of China Daily Mail.

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About keith K C Hui

Keith K C Hui is a Chinese University of Hong Kong graduate major in Government and Public Administration and the author of "Helmsman Ruler: China's Pragmatic Version of Plato's Ideal Political Succession System In The Republic" (2013).

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