The humble thermos — a must-have item for tea-sipping middle-aged Chinese — may seem an unlikely viral sensation, but a photo of an aging rock star holding such a bottle recently sparked wide discussion on social media about aging, midlife crises, and fear of the future.
In the widely circulated photo sits Zhao Mingyi, the 50-year-old drummer for the iconic ’90s rock band Black Panther. Once a muscular man, Zhao’s hair is now graying, he has a slight paunch, and — to complete the picture of middle age in its most distilled form — he holds a silver thermos. In his heyday during the early 1990s, however, Zhao was part of the generation of rockers who gave an energetic voice to China’s economic revival.
The photo has inspired gibes about how the inevitable process of aging turns even fierce rock stars into tea guzzlers. “When you get to this age, you’ll even think your beer needs two goji berries added to it,” reads a widely referenced quote on microblog platform Weibo. Another user glibly noted that the image reflected one of three classic symptoms of the Chinese male’s midlife crisis: Buddhist prayer beads, extramarital affairs, and a thermos.
Left: Zhao Mingyi plays the drums during a concert in 2003. Cheng Gong/IC; right: The viral photo of Zhao holding his thermos at a recording studio in 2017. From his Weibo account
The image has also prompted negative comments reminiscent of sang, the counterculture of apathy and listlessness that young people who feel disillusioned by the pressures of modern life often find themselves relating to.
An article posted by Newsbro, a popular account on messaging app WeChat, jokingly mourned the aging of the former stars and described the “midlife crisis” that China’s once-hopeful post-80s generation is now entering. It listed exhausting work, fierce competition from younger professionals, unfulfilling marriages, and encroaching physical complications as but a few of the issues they face.
The article clearly struck a chord with many, being widely shared and read on WeChat and contributing to the meme’s momentum. In an upvoted comment at the foot of the article, a female user described how she prefers to play the hit mobile game “Honour of Kings” in her car after work rather than go home and face her crying child and bickering husband.
In response to such negativity, Party newspaper People’s Daily published a commentary on Wednesday calling on all citizens to remain positive and maintain their motivation regardless of whatever crises they might face. The commentary acknowledged the challenges of living in a transitioning China but said that the lives of many people are still improving through their own hard work.
The commentary left netizens feeling bemused that even an online meme could warrant an official response. “In this day and age, how can ‘drive’ possibly survive in the face of dim employment prospects, skyrocketing home prices, and the ever-increasing cost of living?” reads one upvoted comment on Weibo. “Maybe you should research why people are losing their drive!”
“Unbelievable,” wrote another Weibo user. “Even this needs to be criticized? People use thermoses — what’s it to you?”
Contributions: Yu Dingzhang; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: E+/VCG)