The story of how a Taiwanese pop song from 1983 became a TikTok meme in 2020.
If you’ve been on TikTok in the past month, you might have run into videos of people lip-syncing a line from an old Chinese song.
For Chinese people of a certain age, it’s an unmistakable tune, a classic Taiwanese pop song from the 1980s. For TikTok users, it’s the latest meme.
A line from the song—”xue hua piao piao bei feng xiao xiao”—has been used as a non-sequitur on the internet. The line has seen a surge of searches on Google as TikTok users scratch their heads over what the lyrics mean.
How did a Taiwanese pop song from 1983 end up taking the world by storm? Like most things on the internet, it began with a random video.
It started with a man singing in the snow
Most Chinese people who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s know “Yi Jian Mei.” It’s a melancholic love ballad that compares the singer’s undying love to a blossoming plum tree in the middle of winter.
Originally the theme song to a Taiwanese drama, the track became a hit, and its singer, Fei Yu-ching, became a household name.
Fast forward to 2020. On Jan. 6, an actor-turned-director named Zhang Aiqin posted a 10-second video of himself singing the song’s iconic line.
While not quite a household name, Zhang has played supporting roles in several Chinese blockbusters. His unusual appearance earned him the endearing nickname “Duck Egg.” On Kuaishou, a TikTok-like app in China, he calls himself “Brother Egg.”
In the clip, which he posted to Kuaishou, he performs a brief rendition of “Yi Jian Mei” outdoors, surrounded by bare branches and heavy snow. The line ”xue hua piao piao bei feng xiao xiao” means “the snowflakes are fluttering and the north wind is blowing.”
The video has since been viewed more than 3.2 million times by Kuaishou’s primarily China-based users.
It might have just stopped there if not for the power of the internet.
In a string of events detailed by Know Your Meme, a user discovered Zhang’s video in February and shared it on YouTube.
In late March, as the world grappled with the coronavirus pandemic and hunkered down at home, another user reposted the clip on Instagram and replaced Zhang’s voice with the original performance by Fei Yu-ching.
From there, the clip gradually gained momentum, circulating widely on global social platforms such as Twitter and TikTok.
By the last week of May, Alt TikTok took notice.
Sometimes known as Elite TikTok, Alt TikTok consists of teens who indulge in sarcastic insider jokes that sometimes mock ordinary TikTok users doing ordinary things like dancing to popular tunes.
One user came up with the idea of pairing a hip hop remix of “Yi Jian Mei” with a sexist joke. Some apparently found it funny, and a meme was born. One of the top videos has more than 800,000 likes so far, and there’s even a remix with Childish Gambino.
As for Zhang, whose innocent rendition of the old Chinese classic set off a global trend, he told Abacus that he was flattered by the song’s reception.
“I feel rather excited and honored that my video clip is trending overseas and being recognized by so many foreign friends,” he said via a WeChat audio message.
Adapted from an article first published in Abacus.