Serendipity | Beyond Ding Zhen sensation: Tibetan boy conquers netizens' hearts with pureness and rugged sweet smile
By Ang Li
Ding Zhen (Tamdrin's name in Mandarin) would never have thought that an ordinary experience to buy instant noodles at the entrance of the village would change his life so abruptly and completely. The 10-second video of him captured by a photographer went viral instantly. This 20-year-old youth of the Tibetan ethnic group in Southwest China's Sichuan Province has become an Internet sensation, conquering netizens' hearts and popping up on almost every social media platform in China.
In a fast-paced society immersed with fast-food culture, people get used to and even a little numb to good looks. What makes Ding Zhen stand out among so many seemingly "perfect" faces? All he has are weathered natural skin color, rugged sweet smile, and innocent sparkling eyes resembling deer in the forest. But somehow, these deeply touched urbanites who long for undecorated, rugged beauty in the materialistic society, unworldly pureness in a complicated environment, and serenity in the hustle and bustle.
In an impetuous world dazzled with artificial beauty and impeccable makeup, Ding Zhen appears, like clear spring flowing silently, free eagles soaring in the sky, or a distant temple standing still with bells echoing around. Just like a netizen's comment, "His rawness is everything." Netizens are so mesmerized by him that they even create a word tailored for his charm, which is "Tianye Nanhai", meaning a boy who has both heart-melting sweetness and wild beauty.
For the past 20 years, Ding has lived a very simple life. He grew up herding cattle and doing farm work. He never went to school, didn't know how to read, and couldn't speak any Mandarin. He has never left his hometown Litang county, Sichuan Province. His only extravagant wish is that his pony "Pearl" would run first in the competition and he could become the "Horse Prince".
While many people express concerns that Ding's overnight fame would be too overwhelming to make him lose his own characteristics and be reduced to one of the many ordinary Internet influencers, Ding surprises all by joining a local cultural tourism company instead of netizen commercial operation agencies such as MCN. He still insists on staying in his hometown Litang and promoting local economy and tourism of Garze Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan.
Dubbed "the city in the sky," Litang is located over 4,000 meters above sea level and 654km from Chengdu, Sichuan's provincial capital. In the Tibetan language, Litang means "flat grasslands like bronze mirrors." The county, with a population of around 73,000, just shook off poverty in February. Compared with its neighboring Daocheng County, Litang's tourism has not been robust, though its views are no less impressive, according to local authorities.
According to Ctrip data, the popularity of "Litang" has soared since Nov.20, and the search volume in the last week of November even skyrocketed by 620%, four times more than the National Day holiday (Oct. 1-7), making it the new most-desired destination. The career in which Ding will devote himself is meaningful and a perfect example of applying fame to something that could bring real changes to the region and its people, an arduous path towards poverty alleviation in vast remote areas in China.
Fun Facts: Nationwide Competition
At first, many netizens got confused and thought this young man in a traditional Tibetan costume was from the Tibet Autonomous Region. Sichuan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism was quick to respond by trending a topic on Weibo, saying "Ding Zhen is actually from Sichuan". Ding also posted a picture of him holding a piece of paper bearing his own handwriting, which read, "My home is in Sichuan."
Interestingly, Sichuan and Tibet are not the only two competitors for the new tourism icon. Many other provinces have joined the contest and tried their best photoshop skills to "prove" themselves as the real hometown of Ding Zhen.
The "Ding Zhen phenomenon" has swept across the social media for days, and one netizen commented, "I feel so comforted that Ding Zhen's phenomenal popularity has a great significance that goes beyond an Internet sensation, as it sheds light on the efforts that local government and rural officials have made to boost local tourism and fight poverty. This brings enormous opportunities to his hometown's cultural and tourism development. I'm also extremely proud to realize the vast, unexplored, breathtaking scenery in our country."
Ding Zhen sensation will bring positive changes to local economy and tourism for sure, but what about his own future? Will he adapt well to the changes and the new world he dabbles in? Will he enjoy being the new icon and still maintain his true self in the grasslands freely? Only time will tell.