Chinese Pop Culture Primer: What You Need to Know about TFBoys, China’s Most Popular “Fresh Meat”

Three teenage boys make up the China entertainment industry’s freshest “meat.”

Last week’s big hubbub in China’s entertainment circles was getting a sneak peek at tomorrow’s celebrities auditioning for the notoriously exclusive Beijing Film Academy. But even with the feast of fresh faces available for China’s stargazers, one name stood out from the crowd: TFBoy band member Wang Junkai.

Simply describing TFBoys as a popular boy band won’t properly explain the massive gravitation pull of their all-encompassing popularity in China. TFBoys is nothing less than a cultural phenomenon that some of their fans have likened to proof of China’s growing soft power.

The People’s Daily quoted one enthusiastic TFBoys fan as saying, “I bet many people in the US know about Wang now – isn’t that a new method to disseminate our modern culture?”

Who are TFBoys? What’s so special about them? Well, let’s explain it this way:

For a bunch of kids who aren’t even 18, TFBoys are everywhere.

TFBoys are primarily known for their music, but that hasn’t stopped them from appearing in just about every significant cultural event over the last year.

Let’s go over a small checklist:

  • China’s most-watched television broadcast, the Spring Festival Gala? Yep, the TFBoys appeared in last year’s show, and this year the trio was given the honor of kicking off the annual four-hour snooze-a-thon.
  • China’s sleeper hit about an aging gangster looking for redemption, Mr. Six? Yep, TFBoys are prominently featured in the film’s underwhelming third act, seen above singing at a hospital.
  • Last year’s breakout television drama about Chinese students studying abroad, A Love for Separation? Yep, TFBoys suddenly appear as greeters at a parent-teacher conference and are even given lines such as “Go this way, you can’t miss it.”
  • The Matt Damon action blockbuster film, The Great Wall? Yep, leader Karry makes a cameo as Emperor Renzong of Song.
  • Don’t listen to Chinese music or watch Chinese TV or movies? Well, you’ll still know them because:

TFBoys are avid celebrity endorsers

TFBoys are also happy to show up in commercial advertisements for everything from Snickers candy bars to Safeguard soap, Fanta soft drinks to toilet cleaning products – they know no low.

Although not as proficient as China’s most celebrated celebrity endorser Lu Han, the androgenous promoter for Star Wars: The Force Awakens in China, TFBoys are most definitely at the leading edge of one Chinese social phenomenon:

As young male celebrities in China, TFBoys are referred to as “fresh meat” by their fans.

So as not to mince words, the popular Chinese term to refer to attractive, young male celebrities is 鲜肉 xiān ròu, which literally translates into English as “fresh meat.” The term is not used to describe female stars, but then attractive Chinese actresses and models have had to put up with other dehumanizing terms like “flower vase.”

Celebrities are often given unappealing nicknames by their Chinese fans; for instance, Katy Perry is referred to as “Sister Fruit” while Taylor Swift’s Chinese nickname is the equivalent of “Moldy.”

And if there’s a reason why you should provoke TFBoys fans, it would surely be because:

Their fans live up to the term “fanatical.”

Individually, TFBoys are Wang Junkai (Karry), Wang Yuan (Roy), and Yiyuan Quanxi (Jackson), three Chinese teenagers with really good (and eerily similar) bone structure who sing and dance. Put them together, and the three inspire nothing less than fanatical devotion from their worshippers.

Last September, the idol worship came to an apex with TFBoys fans buying advertising in New York City’s Times Square in order to celebrate Wang’s 17th birthday. TFBoys fans have also uses the likenesses of their idols to adorn busses, airports, and metro stations throughout China, South Korea, Japan, and beyond.

But if we have to single out the craziest thing TFBoys fans have done, it’s:

Claiming the Guinness World Record for Most Forwarded Post: 100 million times.

We live in an age where we can access just about any information instantaneously. And now, thanks to TFBoys fans, the world’s first piece of information to be forwarded a 100 million times is the following Weibo post made by Wang Kaijun:

Today I am 15 years old, and there are so many of you accompanying me. Thank you for continually being with me these past few years. The song “Giving myself 15 years” is not just a song for myself, but also for all of you who have supported me. Having all of you with me today makes me very happy.

Deep stuff. Since breaking the record last fall, fans haven’t slowed down, signifying a new record of one billion forwards may be the crowning milestone that will define humanity in the near future.

Fun fact that doesn’t mean anything: “TFBoys” stands for “The Fighting Boys.”

— A version of this article was published originally on the Beijinger.