What do you think of Wu Xiaobo’s article “The Metaphor of Zibo Barbecue” blocked in China?
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Zibo Barbecue is fulfilling people’s common people’s imagination of a free market: high-quality and affordable commodities, a hearty consumption experience, a market environment that is childlike and honest, and a humble and friendly “small government”.

Text/Wu Xiaobo

Any popular occurrence is essentially a catharsis of social emotions. In the beginning, it was a collective unconscious, which then constituted a contemporary narrative. The popularity of Zibo barbecue does not meet the definition of popularity in the economic sense. It is neither scarce nor a new invention, nor does it represent a certain fashion. Its metaphorical significance lies in the “here and now” and the expression of freedom by the common people.

It is said that the detonators of Zibo barbecue were those college students who were treated well during the epidemic. In May last year, more than 12,000 students from universities in Jinan, Shandong, and other places were taken to Zibo for isolation. The government specially invited the students to have a barbecue and agreed that everyone would bring their friends to visit Zibo again when the spring is warm and the flowers are blooming.

This “promise” is a kind of aimless expectation, but in the end, the beneficiary interprets it as a warm return movement. In the world of the Internet, college students have always been the most active fermenters of popular culture, and they are the core elements of what Gladwell called “the law of personal characters” and “the law of environmental power”. The emotions would be smoky, which in turn triggered the “post-epidemic empathy” of the whole society.

The popular second-level detonator is the local government of Zibo. They are actively complicit in their emotions. In the past three months or so, they have distributed barbecue coupons, launched a dedicated barbecue line, organized and arranged for barbecue volunteers, and even specially cooperated with the Jinan Railway Bureau on a “barbecue train”, giving commemorative gift bags when boarding the train.

These measures of theirs remind me of Guan Zhong, a native of Zibo more than 2,600 years ago. At that time, in order to attract businessmen from other vassal states to do business in the remote Qi State, Guan Zhong proposed that “don’t ask for empty cars, don’t enter with empty ones, and come from afar.” He also specially set up guest houses to entertain businessmen from various countries. There is one place every 30 miles. One foreign businessman who comes by car provides food for himself, two people who come by car provide food for horses, and three people who come by car provide food for his servants. . From then on, “the merchants of the world return to Qi Rushui”.

What makes people happier to see is that the Zibo government has liberated the control power once. They allowed barbecue stalls to go on the street, thereby giving up some of the powers of the city manager; they mobilized all civil servants, regardless of positions and positions, to be on call 24 hours a day, and accept transfers at any time; Parking lot and toilets. People also saw that Zibo’s director of culture and tourism “publicly apologized” for the fact that the passenger flow exceeded the reception capacity, and the secretary of the municipal party committee rode a shared bicycle to inspect the streets in person.

On the Internet, there are also complaints from local civil servants that “officials are not living well”, but in the eyes of the public, this is a new atmosphere that has not been seen for a long time. When these measures are finally settled into a system, they may represent some kind of specimen of government function reform.

Any national carnival is based on the cost of participation. To eat barbecue in Zibo, a beef skewer is 2.5 yuan, and grilled oysters are 5 yuan. The average meal is about 50 to 75 yuan per person. Someone did the math, and the tourists from other places rushed over together, and the two-day cost was about 345 yuan per person. Because of the proper management of various prices, there has been no news of ripping off customers so far.

In a sense, Zibo Barbecue is fulfilling people’s common people’s imagination of a free market: high-quality and affordable commodities, a hearty consumption experience, a market environment where children are not deceived, and a humble and friendly “small government”.

As a result, millions of people traveled hundreds of miles and thousands of miles to “vote” – 4.8 million tourists came to Zibo throughout April. During the May Day holiday that just passed, there were about 200,000 tourists a day, and the Badaju Convenience Market in Zhangdian ranked first in the “queuing list” of national scenic spots.

On the surface, they are going to have a barbecue or a few meals, but subconsciously, they are realizing an indulgence and expression, participating in a small experiment of democratization. This is an extremely humble goal, but it is so precious in today’s China.

You can never underestimate the silence and “voting with your feet” of the people. Today, when people’s wisdom has been developed, no slogan or declaration is worth a free barbecue. People don’t need sentimental “fatherly love”, but only long for equality. People’s recognition of power has always been based on the common value of “people do not deceive themselves”.

Looking back many years later, the popularity of Zibo barbecue is so absurd, but at this moment, it is the whole reality of China in 2023.

The author of this article | Wu Xiaobo




文 / 吴晓波















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