Coronavirus: Cement mixers become celebrities in China lockdown

By Kerry Allen
BBC Monitoring

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image copyrightSina Weibo/@万殆
image captionForklifts and cement mixers have earned nicknames from their captive audience

Unlikely heroes have arisen in China's coronavirus crisis - a group of construction vehicles building two new hospitals in the city of Wuhan, where the outbreak emerged.

With all regions in the country affected by the virus, people have been told to stay indoors - except where absolutely necessary.

Perhaps understandably, they are struggling to keep themselves entertained.

So they're turning to livestreams of two hospitals being built - and have created characters and heroes on the building site.

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The 25,000 square metre Huoshenshan Hospital in Wuhan will be ready by 2 February. The Leishenshan Hospital will be in use by 5 February.

China's official CCTV broadcaster has been hosting livestreams so people can watch the hospitals being built in real-time - and they have proved an unlikely hit.

And they've also proven popular overseas. Both YouTube and Periscope have been running livestreams for viewers outside the country, which are consistently bringing in hundreds of thousands of views.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionConstuction on the site in Wuhan has already begun with staff hoping it will be completed within six days

The popularity of this footage has led to the construction vehicles at the Huoshenshan Hospital earning unusual fame.

Cement mixers have found themselves with nicknames like "The Cement King", "Big White Rabbit" and "The White Roller".

A large flat-bed truck carrying construction supplies has affectionately been termed: "Brother Red Bull".

Some of the diggers are given affectionate names based on their colour, such as "Little Yellow" and "Little Blue".

Others have coined more imaginative names for the vehicles, with one cement mixer being named Song Huizong, after an ancient emperor.

image copyrightCCTV/WeChat
image captionWeChat users have been voting on and ranking their favourite construction vehicle

The official CCTV has set up an "epidemic 24/7" page built into mobile messenger WeChat, where users can vote for their favourite vehicle.

The undipsuted stars of the show are the small, yellow forklift trucks, which are collectively known as "folkchan".

Searches of "folkchan" on the popular Sina Weibo microblog bring up fan art and tributes to the little vehicles.

Users call them "the cutest and most hard working little forklifts" and call them, "the loveliest little world guardians".

The fans themselves have formed online fan groups, and collectively call themselves the "online overseers".

image copyrightSina Weibo
image captionThe little forklifts are China's most beloved construction stars

With much of the country in lockdown, it's perhaps not surprising that "alternative" entertainment has popped up.

Transportation links have been suspended in a number of major cities, and companies throughout the country are suspending their opening hours.

Arenas and cinemas have closed. On Tuesday, China's top regulator announced that it would be reducing entertainment TV programming "to strengthen publicity on epidemic prevention".

High engagement in the government's activities has obviously been a win for the Chinese Communist Party.

But as Shi Wenxue, a teacher at the Beijing Film Academy told Global Times, the livestreams are helping people feel more involved in what is going on.

"The 'overseers' participation shows young Chinese people's concern over the epidemic," Shi said, adding that it helps people feel they have "warriors in any battle situation".

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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