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Here’s why you can buy a t-shirt featuring Baidu’s CEO soaked in water

Vendors on Alibaba’s online shopping platform jump on viral Robin Li meme

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

It’s hard to beat the speed of China’s enterprising online sellers.

Yesterday, one of China’s most famous tech tycoons, Baidu’s Robin Li, was doused with water by an unknown man while speaking on stage in Beijing.

Within hours, the incident became a trending search term on Weibo. And almost just as quickly, it spawned a host of memes that were swiftly transformed into merchandise.

T-shirts, tote bags and lollipops, take your pick. (Picture: Taobao)

T-shirts and tote bags are printed with drawings depicting the moment the assailant poured water over the CEO’s head. Of course, no memes are complete without a good slogan, and the obvious choice this time is “what’s your problem.” The words, uttered by a drenched Robin Li moments after the attack, are now plastered on items ranging from phone cases to lollipop wrappers.

To make sure people can find their products, vendors are including some lively descriptions. The most popular of them all is “Hong Yan Huo Shui” (宏颜获水). The phrase literally means “Robin’s face received water,” but it’s also humorous wordplay on a Chinese idiom meaning femme fatale.

Even entirely unrelated merchandisers are latching onto the new craze. Sellers of rollerskates, handbags and eye masks are including related viral phrases in their product descriptions, likely in the hope of appearing in more search results.

Just in case you’re also interested… (Picture: Taobao)
Online shopping is big business in China. It’s estimated that 610 million people, more than 70% of the country’s internet population, have made online purchases. But as more mom-and-pop sellers burst onto the scene, the competition is tougher than ever. If you’re one of thousands of t-shirt sellers on Taobao, you’re likely asking yourself what you can do to stand out.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba, operator of Taobao.)

For some, the answer is to jump on a hot trend faster than anyone else. And in a country known for cheap manufacturing, there’s no lack of factories willing to turn simple ideas into real products overnight -- whether it’s a fresh meme about a tech celebrity or a viral movie prop featuring everyone’s favorite cartoon pig.

Even Chinese netizens seem to be impressed by the speed of internet vendors.

“Taobao sellers are forever at the forefront of hot trends,” wrote one Weibo user.
“This is what we call business acumen,” said another.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.