Have you noticed the recent trend #xuehuapiaopiao on TikTok? The line “Xue Hua Piao Piao Bei Feng Xiao Xiao”(“雪花飘飘，北风萧萧”, meaning “The snowflakes flutter / The north wind blows”) is from the 1983 song “Yi Jian Mei” (一剪梅 “One Plum Blossom”) by Fei Yu-ching.
In early June, this 37-year-old song became a sudden hit on TikTok. Its overwhelming popularity has landed Fei Yu-ching a top spot on Spotify Viral 50 playlists in Norway, Sweden and New Zealand.
Fei Yu-ching was an icon during our parents’ generation. Since 1973, he has enjoyed a long and versatile career as a singer and variety show host. It wasn’t until last year that he decided to retire at the age of 64 to explore life beyond singing. He would have never expected an old song of his to go viral abroad after he retired. So how did it happen?
The story begins with Chinese actor Zhang Aiqing–nicknamed “Eggman” because of his shaven egg-shaped head–posting a video of himself singing “Yi Jian Mei” in the snow. The video was later reposted and spread abroad as a meme. Netizens took notice of the video as well as the original song. By May, “Yi Jian Mei” went viral on TikTok. Its hashtag #xuehuapiaopiaobeifengxiaoxiao has over 121M views.
The exact meaning of the phrase is ambiguous. According to language blog Lingodeer, “people are using it to express not just sadness, helplessness and desperation, but also a ‘whatever,’ ‘it is what it is’ or ‘I give up’ attitude.” Here is a compilation of TikTok videos using the hashtag:
Some kids further created a trend called #Things Chinese Parents Say by asking their parents to read out a list of phrases that Chinese parents use. Things like “Drink some hot water” and “Aiya” are some of the examples. At the end of all the phrases, there is the “Xue Hua Piao Piao, Bei Feng Xiao Xiao” line from “Yi Jian Mei.” Almost all the parents would sing out loud instead of simply reading out the lines. Indeed, “Yi Jian Mei” was so popular among our parents’ generation that almost all of them know it.
This is not the first time TikTok has created hit songs as well as resurged old ones. For example, Indonesian music group Potret’s “Bagaikan Langit” was first released in 1999 and resurfaced on TikTok thanks to a remix uploaded by a DJ in 2019. More and more examples have proven TikTok’s ability in creating virality. The platform has a unique recommendation algorithm and an emphasis on visual presentation. Because of this, non-English music can be exposed to a wider audience. It will be interesting to see how TikTok will further facilitate cross-cultural communication. This time “Yi Jian Mei” got its fame as a meme song. Hopefully in the future, TikTok can help people abroad discover more music outside of the English-speaking market.