Hanmai, a Chinese rap-like performance, symbolizes a cultural interest in Rural China

“I was once crazy for ya.”

“I worked my ass for ya.”

“My heart only belonged to ya.”

“But you fxxked someone at my backyard.”

These words were uttered by a young male in a tacky outfit sitting in front of the computer screen in a revamped bedroom. Tianyou, his name is. MC, he entitles himself.

In this recorded live-streaming video, he was constantly spitting out his anger about discrimination, wealth and disappointment of social inequality in the form of Hanmai, a rap-like performance popular in China. The coarse combination of narration and single-rhythmed music back in 1980s’ Disco ballrooms uncomfortably bombarded my ears, but was celebrated by tens of thousands of young people in China.

Not long after this, I learned his story: dropped school at 16, now the top live-streamer in China and has made a fortune by this said new type of “music” — Hanmai. A millionaire at the age of 23.

He has companions — thousands of performers are shouting out loud on various livestreaming platforms trying to catch attention, most of which are uneducated young males from northern China and have to make a living by themselves at very young age. Their average monthly income ranges from ¥2000 to ¥4000.

Audiences are mostly millennials, scattering in rural areas and second tier or third tier cities in China. Most of them are neither highly educated nor have high income, but the total number is massive.

Yes. Hanmai is a big deal in China.

Hanmai is a rap-like performance, not rap.

Hanmai is born on Chinese live-streaming platforms, mainly on YY Live. It originates from MC, which stands for “microphone controller”, a role who enlivens the atmosphere at clubs or pubs. They embellish what they are talking at parties by narrating with high-energy dance music. That is why most Hanmai live-streamers’ aliases start with MC.

 

MC is more like a host of a party or an event, but Hanmai is a real type of performance. The basic components of Hanmai include rhyming lyrics and accompaniment with a strong beat, like a combination of prose and raps.

Hanmai is famous for its lyrics, from regional slang to online popular phrases. They usually have themes centered on sex, violence, money, discrimination and social issues. Meanwhile, I found out Hanmai live-streamers are usually in favor of such words like “dragon”, “king”, “bitch”, “bros”, “drunk”, “rich”, “cars”, “intercourse”, “betray”, etc. Sounds like gangster-rap huh.

But the truth is Hanmai is not rap. With no flow and no delivery, not required to be performed in time to a beat, Hanmai is just a narration with music.

 

Hanmai is popular in rural China

However, the lack of flow does not hurt its popularity. It is now one of the most welcomed form of music in rural China.

It is extremely popular on YY Live and millennial fans are crazy about it. MC Tianyou has over 17 million fans on YY Live, and the number is still growing.

Why?

One probable cause is that Hanmai can raise people’s inhibited desire for release, especially for those Chinese millennials who are stressed by life and hard work. They long for things that can resonate with them. Look at the history of rap, and you will soon be aware of the similarity between it and Hanmai.

One of MC Tianyou’s fans told me Tianyou was his idol because of his powerful lyrics and his personality. He earns 2000 yuan per month and he spends half of his salary on awarding Tianyou.

Another reason could be its simplicity. The lyrics are catchy and entertaining, while the rhythm composes of simple integer ratio which our brains are more tuned in to this type of music. With all these advantages, Hanmai becomes a widespread performance online.

Last but not least, live-streaming business is skyrocketing in China, offering a great environment for Hanmai performers. In 2016, a new live-streaming platform goes online in every 18 minutes.

That does not equal to the acceptance of all people, though.

MC Tianyou submitted his Hanmai-style song to an original music competition, but it was rejected for Hanmai is not considered to be a real piece of art. It reveals a public opinion that Hanmai has not been considered as a serious type of music or arts in China yet.

Meanwhile, Hanmai is controversial for its lyrics because it indicates political incorrectness, narcissism and male chauvinism. You might see criticism occupying pages of comments about Hanmai in various Chinese online forums. “It is loser’s spiritual comfort.” “I have never seen such ridiculous lyrics and it has so many loopholes in lyrics that I cannot withstand it for even one more second.”

 

There is a long way before Hanmai goes mainstream. Or will it after all?

Hanmai live-streamers are rock stars in their 200-feet streaming room, gifted and complimented by millions of fans online. But it is still a local phenomenon.

The director of the music competition that rejected MC Tianyou’s latest workpiece made an announcement after MC Tianyou tweeted complaints over this issue. He said Hanmai’s oversimplified rhythm made it a long way to go mainstream.

It reminded me of the history of rap, a merely spoken oration centered on violence and materialism back in 1970s in the U.S. Rap was not accepted as the mainstream music and art until someone like KRS-One or Public Enemy in 1980s spoke out against violence and embedded race and class into his lyrics.

Later on, Eminem’s popularity at the beginning of 21th century as the first while popular rapper, made rap be a mainstream culture that is welcomed by white kids.

It took 30 years for Rap to be a widely accepted music style. The time duration won’t be less for Hanmai.

I will not deny the commercial potential of Hanmai as a kind of to-be-mainstream music. Any subculture, like rap 30 years ago and Hanmai for now, will face inevitable obstacles of being excluded from mainstream. It needs various factors to make things different, including a phenomenal figure that has the impetus to reform the performance, a well-known performance style that can fuse original characteristics of Hanmai and an established business operation.

There’s still years to go, before people actually take Hanmai serious, or it can appear on any official stage.

It does remind me of something though.

Like a lot other Chinese people who live in the metropolitan, I sometimes forget about the other part of the world — there are a huge number of Chinese people out there, enjoying music that we’ve never heard and leading a life even though there’s always little money to spare. A different life, but vigorous too.

Naked Loan: a Loan-for-Porn Scheme Went Viral in China

Here’s what she saw when she turned on her iPhone: “First step, pose for ten nude photos holding up your ID card, along with your phone number and your home address.”

A new text popped up. She read the text and got lost in her thoughts. Then she scrolled up her phone screen and read the previous messages again. The one that grabbed her said, “You will get $1,000 immediately after we receive your photos.”

She clicked the camera button and started to take off her clothes.

This is not made up. The scenario has been happening throughout the whole year at various Chinese college campuses. Thousands of female college students have been trapped in a loan-for-porn scheme, called “naked loan.”

The issue went viral last November, when 10 gigabytes of young women’s naked selfies were leaked to millions of Internet users. The source of the leak is still unknown.

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(Hundreds of young women took nude selfies holding their IDs.)

It is not a Hollywood-celebrity-nude-selfie-leak type of scandal. In fact, those photos revealed a horrific practice of illegal underground loans in China.

What The Hell Is “Naked Loan”?

How is it different? “Naked loan” is a disguising form of “underground banking” in China. It means borrowers taking nude photos of themselves as collateral for quick cash loan lent by Chinese online loan sharks or peer-to-peer loan platforms, “Jie Dai Bao” in this case.

So why would anyone possibly take the deals, considering naked loan is so creepy?

Well, most students who are out of pocket are not eligible to borrow a great amount of cash from traditional financing institutions due to their low credit score. Conversely, there is no such requirement in naked loan. Borrowers can as much money as they want, which is why so many people will take the risk.

What’s wrong with it then? Borrowers are required to provide nude selfies along with ID information, parent’s phone numbers and home address as collateral. Meanwhile, they are obliged to repay the loan plus a weekly interest rate of 27% in 15 days.

Get it? Naked loan only preys on young women, especially female college students because of their distinct features – young bodies and desperate desires for shopping without the bankroll to pay for what they buy.

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(A young woman was talking with a naked loan lender on Chinese instant communication app called “QQ”)

And then, things got ugly. Wait. It gets worse.

A naked loan is impossible to repay.

With an average weekly interest rate of 27% reportedly, naked loan is a definite usurious business. It spanned from ¥1000 to ¥23,000 (about $150 – $ 3500), which is a big debt for Chinese college students. With a grace period ranging from few days to 2 weeks, it makes repayment even harder.

Most female victims have reportedly owed debt of over 10 thousands of dollars before they took the deals.

For most of the borrowers, the journey merely starts from an irresistible handbag, or a charming outfit they must purchase before a major event. The process is somehow too smooth, though, that they will turn to the online loan platforms every now and then. When they reach the limit on one platform, there is always another that they can use and repay their loans. It is like robbing Peter to pay Paul. But it won’t help solve the problems ultimately due to the extreme interest and consistent lust for stuff they can’t afford.

Then, one day, they’ll be recommended to some nice guy who is willing to give them money with just a simple little request.

Photos. Videos. Special Requests.

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(Millions of nude selfies were leaked last November, vastly distributed and downloaded by Chinese Internet users.)

And for most of the borrowers, nude loan is the last chance to get money. From then on, the money they borrowed will bring endless harassments, threats, and fear that their nude photos and self-touching videos will be shared online.

Yeah, it’s a vicious circle.

So if lenders know that the borrowers have little chance to repay, why do they still give the money in the first place?

It’s the first step of a prostitution system

Lenders will allure borrowers to reimburse in another way, such as naked streaming or even prostitute. Some dodgy agencies of prostitutes have thousands of male customers who are eager for sexual service. Therefore, they will pretend to be lenders and induce female college students to be prostitutes, like “solve the debt problem once for all”. For some of young females, the choice has to be made.

Even though borrowers repay on time, lenders can still breach the commitment by selling photos for profits, ¥30($4.5) for each photo in the black market. It might lead to a series of blackmails, harass calls, financing scam, etc.

Thousands of young women do everything to avoid their photos leaked to the public because their lives were done if it happens. Their parents and friends will get shamed. The reputation is sabotaged. And they will be tagged as slutty girls who sell bodies for money, and no one cares the reasons behind all of these.

But still, it happened.

A massive leak of 10 gigabytes of nude selfies emerged in November swept their last self-esteem. Some of them were forced to quit school, while others left home without notice or even attempted to commit suicide. Some may have “succeed” in taking their lives.

They lost everything.

How did this happen?

A recent online survey found that, among over 69,000 participants, 44% of people blamed lenders and 55% of people think those young female victims deserved this.

But it is more complicated than that.

The naked loan was secretly rooted in China for a long time, but thanks to the development of Internet technologies, the massive leak revealed the whole landscape and raised international concern for law enforcement, student loans and the objectification of women.

Chinese law enforcement should take the responsibility for the outcome caused by a scarcity of relevant legal practice. It reminds me of a legal term in the U.S. – “criminalization of revenge porn.” This law forbids distributing sexual scene without consent, and has been approved in 34 states and D.C. in protection of civil rights, but not in China. Considering a huge spike of revenge porn emerged in China, it is urgent to accelerate the legislative process.

The lack of established student-loan organizations in China worsens the situation. Over 60 percent of victims in this massive leak are college students. They don’t have any opportunities to get money except from usurious loan platforms.

But after all, women are still being objectified in Chinese society and are being seen as an object of male sexual desire, rather than as a whole person. Although the pictures get wiped out by Chinese censorship system immediately, some compressed packages are still being distributed through emails and social media apps.

Recently, Jie Dai Bao declared all female victims involved in this naked selfie leak are not required to repay.

But the naked loan won’t be stopped as millions of young women in China still long for the “quick and easy” money that forces them to deal with the devils.