When masked rats go viral

An image of a decorative rat donning a surgical mask went viral on Chinese social media.
An image of a decorative rat donning a surgical mask went viral on Chinese social media. PHOTO: SINA WEIBO
Singapore label Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Friends released a WhatsApp sticker of the character with a surgical mask to remind users to stay safe and wear a mask if they are feeling unwell.
Singapore label Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Friends released a WhatsApp sticker of the character with a surgical mask to remind users to stay safe and wear a mask if they are feeling unwell. PHOTO: ANG KU KUEH GIRL AND FRIENDS

As light-hearted Chinese New Year wishes spread online, netizens in China are also rallying behind medical and construction workers and even cement trucks

Never mind the ingots, carps and auspicious red lanterns.

In the light of the coronavirus outbreak originating from Wuhan, the star of festive greetings this Chinese New Year is the surgical mask.

An image of a decorative rat donning a surgical mask, for example, went viral on Chinese social media, while a similar WhatsApp sticker of local cartoon character Ang Ku Kueh Girl is making its rounds among Singaporeans.

The sticker, an add-on to Ang Ku Kueh Girl and Friends' latest Chinese New Year sticker pack, was released on Jan 24, the eve of the festival, shortly after the team heard news of the first coronavirus case confirmed in Singapore.

"Suddenly the issue felt closer to home," said founder of the label Wang Shijia, 43. "Many are afraid, so we hope the sticker serves as a light-hearted reminder to stay safe and wear a mask if you are feeling unwell."

If laughter is the best medicine, netizens are also staving off illness by joking about how surgical masks are now a prized commodity.

Memes featuring the masks being used instead of cash in hongbao and mahjong games are popular, even as the 15 days of Chinese New Year draw to a close tomorrow.

The new year wish, the pictures say, is for health rather than wealth.

While most Chinese residents are spending the holidays confined to their homes, they are rallying together online, sharing creative ways to kill time while indoors.

These include fishing from their living room tanks, playing table tennis on coffee tables or breaking out into impromptu lion dances.

Others improvise games of ring toss with grocery baskets and wine bottles, among various household items.


An illustration by a Weibo user depicts civilians holding up a pyramid of construction workers, machinery and medical personnel. The words read: “While you battle on the frontline, I have got your back.” PHOTO: SINA WEIBO

In an attempt to lift one another's spirits, they are also "making celebrities" of cement trucks and forklifts in the race against time to build two new emergency hospitals in Wuhan.

Live streams of the construction on state broadcaster China Central Television have proven to be an unlikely hit, drawing tens of millions of viewers.

In the comments section, self-appointed "online overseers" bestow nicknames upon the machinery to cheer them on.

Cement mixers and electric welders, for example, have been christened "Song Huizong" and "Han Wudi" after ancient Chinese emperors.

Especially popular are the small but mighty forklifts, affectionately referred to as "folkchan".

The yellow vehicle's fan page has been viewed around 150 million times on Sina Weibo, where some supporters have even created fan art.

One user wrote: "Let's guard the most adorable and hardworking little forklift in the world!" alongside a widely circulated photograph of the forklift.

Another illustration shows civilians with their keyboards, holding up a pyramid of construction workers, machinery and healthcare professionals. Beneath are the words: "While you battle on the frontline, I have got your back."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 07, 2020, with the headline 'When masked rats go viral'. Print Edition | Subscribe