China shut down a humor app. Now there’s a new one.
For nearly four months, China’s tight-knit community of Duanyous -- or friends of jokes -- were without a home.
Since the country’s media watchdog told Bytedance to shut down a humor app in April, the most dedicated of its 17 million users have struggled to find a place to share funny videos with each other.
Then this month, they discovered something new. Or rather, a new app with a different name that feels vaguely familiar.
Pipi Xia is now available for download on various Chinese app stores. Just like the now-dead Neihan Duanzi, Pipi Xia gives you an endless feed of light-hearted clips and gifs -- sort of like the harmless jokes and satire you would find on the friendlier parts of Reddit.
News of the Pipi Xia app spread quickly among Duanyous, who are calling on each other to “go home.” In the comment section under a song about Neihan Duanzi on NetEase Music, one user said, “Duanzi never dies. It’s been resurrected” and “Pipi Xia, this is real.”
Others claimed they are able to log in with their old Neihan Duanzi usernames, and found that their comments and saved posts have been preserved. Unconfirmed reports also say former Duanzi users were greeted with a message in Pipi Xia that says, “You are the nth golden shrimp to return to the new home.”
“Everyone let’s hurry home! Our old accounts and posts are still there!” one user wrote online.
Pipi Xia isn’t directly owned by Bytedance, but the company behind it is legally represented by Wang Fengkun. Chinese media say he is a senior developer at Bytedance’s main news app Jinri Toutiao. We’ve reached out to Bytedance about their relations with Pipi Xia, and will update this story when we hear back.
Despite the two apps’ similarities, it seems like Pipi Xia is careful to avoid the fate of Neihan Duanzi. In a set of rules pinned to the top of the newsfeed, it stresses that it’s committed to “promote the core values of socialism,” “spread positive energy,” and “promote traditional Chinese culture and virtues.”
The elaborate guidelines, peppered with communist jargons, mirrored a dramatic apology issued by Bytedance’s Zhang Yiming back in April. After Neihan Duanzi was pulled and the Toutiao app was taken offline temporarily, the CEO took blame for “publishing content that was inconsistent with core socialist values” and promised to “educate” employees.
The name Pipi Xia, which means mantis shrimp, comes from one of the most viral memes on Chinese internet last year, featuring a man riding a prawn. It’s often paired with the caption “Pipi Xia, let’s go” -- and went on to spawn related memes involving weird-looking seafood like abalone, sea cucumber and geoduck.
The meme was so popular that netizens voted in droves for the National Meteorological Centre to name a typhoon Pipi Xia, and called for the Defense Ministry to name China’s first self-made aircraft carrier Mantis Shrimp. (It would have been the perfect name for a sea vessel, though the warship is expected to be called Shandong, after the coastal province.)
Bytedance is one of China’s most valuable startups, specializing in keeping users glued to their smartphones with clickbait content. In addition to Toutiao, which has 120 million daily active users, it also owns viral teen video app Tik Tok.