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A Taste of China's New Media

Photo: Xie Yunfeng's Chinese Snacks Trailer
Source Duan Gang/Dajia

June 20, 2013
By Siu Tan

It's the kind of story that has the potential to go viral across China.

An entrepreneurial fellow from Luoyang, a backwater city in Henan Province, is living the American Dream selling popular Chinese snacks like Roujiamo (肉夹馍) and Liangpi (凉皮) from a converted trailer at the gates of Columbia University in New York.

Throw in a couple of other tasty morsels like examples of the vendor's poor English and his ability to make hundreds of U.S. dollars a day, whack up a small photo of the trailer, and you have click-bait gold.

Duan Gang (段刚), who from his Weibo account appears to be an executive with a Chinese media company currently studying at Columbia University, presumambly came across Xie Yunfeng (谢云峰) and his trailer on the way to class.

In early June, Duan wrote up a colorful account of Xie and his food trailer for Dajia (大家), a news blog run by Tencent.

In his short first piece for Dajia, Duan described how Xie understood almost nothing in English, and didn't speak it at all, noting "The only English words he understands are one, two and three, he doesn't even know what four is."

He also wrote that despite his lack of language skills, Xie, who manned the food truck alone, was able to apply for his business permit in Chinese and sold between $700 and $800 worth of snacks on a busy day. Duan also told readers that Xie had taken out a loan for more than $20,000 to set up the mobile food stand and was still in the process of paying it back.

Duan finished the article on a positive note, praising the "street entrepreneur" for his tenacity and mentioning how another Chinese person from the same province as Xie is now operating a similar food stand at the gates of New York University.

Despite the eye-catching nature of the topic, after Duan's post was published on Dajia, it didn't seem to get too much attention. Duan posted a link to the story on his own Weibo and it was only "re-tweeted" about 50 times.

Then, about 2 weeks later, the story finally took off but Duan didn't get much of the credit.

A Chinese-language online forum picked up on Duan's story. A user posted the text of Duan\'s piece to the site, but didn't provide a link to the original source or cite Duan as the original author. The name of the editor from Dajia was also removed.

Wang Weihua (王卫华), a young Chinese man who writes about the NBA from Los Angeles for, then posted a link to the post to his Weibo and after that it took off.

As of today, Wang's Weibo post has been re-tweeted over 700 times but more importantly it was picked up by two local papers in China and after they ran the story it spread across China's internet.

The Luoyang Evening News (洛阳晚报) published a feature story about Xie's food trailer on June 17. According to Dajia, the piece was just a re-write based on Duan's Dajia article and the newspaper had not done any original reporting. The paper also used the photo taken by Duan, but attributed it to Wang Weihua.

The next day, Zhengzhou Evening News (郑州晚报) devoted a full page in their print edition to Xie's food trailer, the paper had picked up the story from Wang Weihua's Weibo post. The newspaper used a photo taken by Duan and 500 words from his original post without any quotation or attribution.

Though this kind of re-writing and lack of attribution are quite common in the Chinese media, Dajia wasn't prepared to just sit there and have these other news outlets steal their content.

Dajia posted an official statement on its website that criticized the news organizations for unauthorized use of Dajia's work. "It not only infringed our copyright, but also violated news standards."

Dajia requested official apologies from the news organizations and asked them to delete the unauthorized posts.

The version of the story that now appears on the forum now prominently attributes the story to Duan and acknowledges the original source.

Wang Weihua also responded to a Weibo message from Duan and recognized him as the original author.

However, it seems like the damage has already been done. After the story appeared in a domestic press it spread like wildfire as various wesbsites and news portals re-posted the story and attributed it to either the Luoyang Evening News or Zhengzhou Evening News.

According to Huati Weibo, a platform on Sina Weibo that tracks trending topics, the hashtag #Big Uncle Sells Liangpi in America (#大叔美国卖凉皮) has been discussed more than 51 million times.

Today, popular Weibo accounts like Sina Finance (almost 7.5 million followers) and  Weitianxia (微天下) a popular aggregator of content with over 2.2 million followers, both posted links to versions of the story that make no mention of the original author.

Links and Sources
Dajia: 看不见的管理
Dajia: 关于《大家》作者段钢文章被侵权的声明
Sina Weibo: Duan Gang\'s Original Post
Sina Weibo: Wang Weihua\'s "Re-tweet" 
NYren: 美国的街头小贩如何生存


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