Chinese netizens question moral standards of classics
Stage photo of The Lover
Chinese netizens criticized multiple artistic works including both Western canons and Chinese classical literature as being “infested with immoral scenes” on, an influential book, music and movie review website in China. The disparaging remarks on classics were unexpectedly rated as “useful” by a large number of Douban users, sparking heated debate on Chinese social media, according to an opinion article published in, a Chinese news portal.

For example, many short reviews of the famous English Patient noted that the film promoted immoral values. “(I) cannot bear that they take adultery for granted,” one reviewer wrote, while the other one went like, “they tell the story in a way like having an affair is something noble.” Many similarly negative feedbacks on the film’s Douban page were rated as “useful” by Douban users who may be in two minds about watching the movie.

On the other hand, labels were pinned on the leading characters of many literary classics in the reviews. Julien Sorel, the intelligent and ambitious protagonist of Rouge et noir, was called by Chinese netizens as a “Feng Huang Nan”, literally meaning ‘phoenix man’ in Chinese, which is a buzz word on Chinese social media, referring to those young men who grow up in underprivileged rural families and then by attending good schools and getting good jobs, marry into well-off families and finally settle down in big cities. The Internet phrase is often used with derogatory connotation.

According to the opinion piece in, this kind of reviews focusing on moral aspects are not uncommon, and many other classics from ancient Greek mythology to China’s The Dream of Red Mansions were targeted and accused of being unprincipled. A netizen who is against the trend posted, “Generalizing characters in the classics with over-simplistic labels could be quite misleading, which from the very beginning, entices readers to give up on exploring the many possibilities and significance behind the characterization.”

Many Internet users attribute the kind of ‘labelling reviews’ to the popularity of social media. These days, in fast-paced lives, if people want to learn something right away about a book, a movie or some field he’s not familiar with, the best way is to read the ‘labels’ pinned on it, like phoenix man.

Beyond that, ‘sticker’ kind of reviews are not only used for ‘exploring’ moral issues, “acting”, “story” and “characterization” have become tags that the debased Douban reviews always use to make their one-sided argument against artistic works. For example, The Lover written by Marguerite Duras was criticized for lacking a logical story-telling method.

Internet users who don’t agree argued standards used to evaluate a literary work should not be clearly defined. Instead, there are many angles. No matter its “acting”, “logic” or “story”, they are a part of the works but not all.  “They’re not supposed to demand what the works should be. On the contrary, the ‘critics’ should know literary just means to present a unique point of view to look at the world,” wrote  

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