How a Chinese Cat With a Doleful Mug Became an Online Star
It never occurred to Han when she began posting videos of her beloved cat Guangdang meowing for food on social media two years ago that her pet would become an online sensation.
“I initially just wanted to record Guangdang’s daily life online,” says the 28-year-old, who prefers to go by her surname to protect her privacy. “I didn’t think she was the kind of cat that people would adore.”
Guangdang’s appearance, characterized by deep folds between the nose and lips, gives her a sad but heartwarming expression, especially when she’s begging for food: The cat’s passion is eating, and she looks hungry even after Han feeds her.
On the Chinese lifestyle app Xiaohongshu, Guangdang has amassed over 380,000 fans, who often post comments about how the cat’s appearance and behavior bring joy to their lives. On Instagram, she has 1.3 million followers.
Han, who describes herself as an introvert, says she is somewhat flustered by the sudden fame. “I was a little shocked by it all,” she says. “I don’t know if I should reply to all the comment posts or what I should say if I do.” The flood of positive feedback has motivated Han to continue sharing daily posts of Guangdang.
One of Guangdang’s fans, Zhang Xin, watches her videos every day. She loves cats but cannot afford to keep one at the moment. “A day without hearing her voice feels like something is missing,” says the 25-year-old, who lives alone in Shanghai. “Especially hearing her meow when I get home after a hard day, I feel healed.”
Another follower, Yu Xiaohui, 33, says she fell in love with cats because of Guangdang, which also motivated her to feed the strays in her community with other volunteers.
“I’ve never seen such a cute cat,” Yu says. “Sometimes I wish I was Guangdang, not having to go to work and worry about making a living, just eating and playing every day, and in return receiving the love of the world.”
Because Han’s nickname is Dingdang, she named her cat Guangdang, an onomatopoeia in Mandarin Chinese. “It’s like the sound a cat makes when it lands on its feet,” Han explains.
Guangdang became a global sensation when Han, on the recommendation of numerous fans, created an Instagram account for the cat. The short videos usually attract hundreds of comments and tens of thousands of “likes.”
“It’s really the most famous cat on the internet,” one comment reads on Instagram. “You are my daily dose of happiness,” reads another typical comment.
Han, who says her English is limited, posts simple sentences in her online captions about the cat.
Guangdang’s global influence has continued to blossom as netizens around the world began creating videos featuring her and another Chinese cat named Bozai in 2023. The two cats have been paired, with their conversations reflecting the everyday anxieties and emotions of people.
In the videos, Bozai is portrayed as serious, with wide-open, round eyes and a commanding presence, while Guangdang comes off as timider, with a furrowed brow and the look of wanting to speak but unable to manage more than a quiet “meow.”
In these creative works, netizens have depicted the two cats as mother and daughter, teacher and student, husband and wife, and other relations. Through these videos, they express their feelings about the pressures of schoolwork, strained relationships with parents, and the challenges of finding a job in today’s competitive market.
Han says, “In these two cats’ moods, it may be that humans see the feelings that they struggle to convey in their daily lives.” Although Han has been in contact with Bozai’s owner, there are currently no plans for the cats to meet or their owners to film videos together.
“Guangdang is afraid of other cats, so the reaction that many netizens imagine would occur probably wouldn’t if they actually met,” Han says, guessing that perhaps her cat was bullied by other felines during her initial life as a stray: Han found Guangdang in her neighborhood in 2019, fighting over food with a group of kittens.
“I noticed how emaciated she was, which made her body look extremely long, Han recalls. “I felt sorry for her.” She adds that the kittens were later rescued and adopted by other cat lovers.
Han took Guangdang to a vet for a check-up, which revealed that she was a 1-year-old mixed tabby and weighed less than two kilograms. The cat now weighs five kilograms, no doubt due to her gourmand habits.
“Now her body looks very short, with a small head,” Han says, “She’s chubby and cute.”
Han grew up in the northwest of China. Before Guangdang, she had never had any pets and didn’t think of herself as an animal lover. She didn’t pay any attention to cats and dogs she saw on the streets. “It’s a magical feeling,” Han says. “When I saw Guangdang, I just wanted to keep her.”
Han currently lives alone in the eastern city of Nanjing, where she works in the animation industry. She and Guangdang are inseparable. “When I talk, she responds, and when she talks, I respond,” Han says, with a laugh. “It feels like we are communicating, but maybe we don’t really understand each other’s meaning.”
While most online comments about the Guangdang videos are complimentary, Han says there is occasionally malicious feedback. She has been accused of abusing Guangdang, deliberately not feeding her for days to make her look weak and exhausted. There were online rumors that Guangdang had given birth to kittens that had died, causing her pain.
“At first, I was furious by such comments, but after a while, they didn’t bother me anymore,” she says.
In addition to Instagram, Han posts Guangdang’s videos on TikTok, where she currently has over 400,000 followers. Although most of the comments there say how cute the cat is, some netizens have remarked that the cat’s sad appearance may suggest she is ill.
“These kinds of comments have recently decreased,” Han says. “I feel that as long as I continue to post enough videos, people will get to know her better and there will be fewer negative comments.”
Most of Han’s short videos are shot spontaneously and edited quickly, taking her about 10 minutes a day. “Most of the time, I’m just struggling to come up with a title. How many different ways can I say that Guangdang is hungry again?” Han says with a laugh.
In one video, Han put a hat on Guangdang. Many overseas netizens accused her of “forcing” behavior. In another video where she was petting Guangdang, the video didn’t do well on Chinese apps but got countless “likes” on foreign platforms.
“I think foreign netizens prefer videos where there’s more interaction, while Chinese fans prefer to hear Guangdang’s meowing,” she says.
Does this all have an element of cultural export? Han says she isn’t sure about that, though she does try to introduce some Chinese cultural traditions in videos on Instagram and TikTok for the benefit of foreign netizens.
For instance, during the Mid-Autumn Festival, she posted a video of Guangdang eating a mooncake shaped like a cat’s paw. On the winter solstice, she placed a dumpling on Guangdang’s head, explaining to foreign fans that Chinese people eat dumplings on that occasion.
Looking ahead, Han says she wants to resign from her job and go freelance. She reckons that will give her more time to devote to Guangdang at home and to the creation of the cat videos. She also plans to upload an animation of Guangdang.
Han says many foreign netizens mistakenly think Guangdang is a Japanese, Korean, or Singaporean cat. “I might have to emphasize more that Guangdang is Chinese,” she says
(Header image: Visuals from Xiaohongshu and VCG, reedited by Sixth Tone)