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Our top five episodes: Feminist Chinese-language podcast Loud Murmurs celebrates its anniversary on International Women’s Day

BY AFRA WANG

On International Women’s Day 2018, four women came together to launch Loud Murmurs, a Chinese-language podcast on American popular culture discussing the latest movies, TV shows, documentaries, and more. One year later, the podcast now boasts a collection of 25 episodes across two seasons.

Loud Murmurs aspires to be the best Chinese-language pop culture podcast. Fans have called it the Chinese version of NPR’s “Pop Culture Happy Hour” and the New York Times’ “Still Processing.”

The four hosts — Izzy Niu, Afra Wang, Siyu (Diaodiao) Yang, and Ina Yang — hail from different regions in China but currently all live and work in the United States. While they’re on opposite coasts (New York and the Bay Area) and work across several industries (journalism, consulting, internet), they are united by a shared passion for American pop culture.

The bi-weekly podcast draws from the hosts’ diverse cultural and academic backgrounds, taps into the most current cultural conversations in China and the U.S., and explores the social, political, and cultural contexts of pop culture and entertainment.

In an era of click-baits, fake news, and fragmented content, Loud Murmurs brings in-depth conversations and a unique bi-cultural perspective that challenges the narrow examination of pop culture through the rigid dichotomy of “East” and “West.” In the Chinese-language world, the podcast stands out as a rare source of original and engaging content. It serves as a gateway to understanding  Chinese-speaking moviegoers and consumers of U.S. cultural products.

With four women behind the mics, the podcast is also unapologetically feminist in nature. Loud Murmurs has dedicated itself to bringing gender-related subtexts in pop culture to the forefront since its inception. The hosts are aware of the power popular culture holds and wanted to create a platform where women, as well as non-binary folks, can share their perspectives.

This year, on International Women’s Day 2019, Loud Murmurs has picked out five of its most popular episodes for you. If you are interested in understanding how U.S. pop culture is consumed and discussed in Chinese (the language and the context), or if you just want to brush up on your Mandarin skills, this podcast is perfect for you. Grab your headphones and start listening now!

Find the podcast on iTunes, XimalayaFM, SoundCloud, Player FM by searching “Loud Murmurs.” Loud Murmurs is also active on Twitter, Weibo, and Wechat. Please search “小声喧哗LoudMurmurs.”

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Our top five episodes

Episode 20: Dystopian classic Gattaca and the CRISPR baby experiment

Chinese researcher He Jiankui shocked the world after announcing an experiment that led to the birth of babies with CRISPR-edited genomes. Heated debates over laws and ethics overtook the internet in China and around the world. Paranoia and misinformation around gene-editing technology ensued.

This episode of Loud Murmurs centers around the 1997 sci-fi film “Gattaca.” The movie depicts a dystopian society where children are conceived after genetic selection to have their parents’ best hereditary traits. Along with our guests Dr. Santu and Kong Kong — two scholars who study philosophy and biology — we use this film as a starting point to discuss the controversy. What are the implications for the world, and how it’s viewed in China?

Episode 17: BoJack Horseman and existential nihilism in the Chinese context

In this episode, we recap the previous seasons of BoJack Horseman and explore why this particular Netflix show resonates with so many Chinese millennial viewers, and to what extent it reflects the exhausting lifestyle of young people in urban China. We’re joined by our old friend, Dr. Santu, who has a philosophy PhD from Columbia University and is now a JD candidate at Yale University. We also invited a new friend, Qian, who’s also pursuing an advanced degree at Yale. The episode contains a quick “Philosophy 101” crash course. In addition, host Diaodiao discusses “sang culture,” a buzzword in China that describes a celebration and acceptance of the bleak reality of life.

Episode 14: Pop Culture In the Age of #MeToo

The four hosts of Loud Murmurs gather to discuss a serious subject: pop culture in the age of #MeToo. The episode starts with a discussion about the ongoing anti-sexual harassment movement engulfing Hollywood and how #MeToo has spread to China, where it took Chinese social media by storm. It also dissects popular Asian as well as Chinese movies and TV shows to examine how they reinforce outdated gender norms. Last but not least, we also discuss how Chuck Bass looks like a young Khrushchev. This is the episode that inspired the “Chinese Censorship” episode of Hasan Minaj’s Netflix series “Patriot Act.”

Episode 16:  Crazy Rich Asians—a tale of two generations of immigrants

This is one of the most-listened-to episodes in the history of Loud Murmurs. We are joined by two cultural commentators and Weibo influencers – Tony and Xiaozi – and together discuss the all-Asian-cast blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians. The movie received stellar ratings from critics and audiences alike in the U.S. and is celebrated as a major step for the movement to increase screen representation for Asian Americans. But the reception in China as well as reactions on Chinese social media have been lukewarm at best. Why is the hype and box-office success in America not replicated in China? What does this have to do with the differing experience of growing up as part of an ethnic majority vs. as as minorities in a predominantly white society? Is this movie a historic step towards equality or a rom-com with a lot of the same genre tropes? Tune in to hear our take on this important film.

Episode 9: The Death of Stalin (amongst other things)

In this week’s episode, hosts Diao Diao and Afra are joined by the podcast’s dear friend (and fellow comrade) Zhu to discuss the hilarious political comedy, The Death of Stalin. We dove deep into the political history of the Soviet Union and how closely the script follows history. By the way, this episode has been removed from the Chinese podcast hosting platform, Ximalaya FM. On Douban, China’s version of IMDB, people are no longer allowed to review this movie. Our educated guess is that it has something to do with the sensitive nature of the topic: the death of a superior leader and his successor. So, don’t miss out on this exclusive take on a surprisingly relevant movie.

About the producers and hosts

Isabelle Niu is a video journalist based in New York. She’s an alum of Columbia Journalism School and Caixin Media as well as the co-founder of Channel C, a YouTube channel promoting understanding between American and Chinese students. Inspired by amazing English-language podcasts such as “Still Processing” and “Pop Culture Happy Hour,” Isabelle asked some of her most brilliant friends to co-found “Loud Murmurs”, a Chinese-language podcast that explores how pop culture shapes and transcends borders and identities. Twitter: @Muge_Niu

Afra Wang is a writer, researcher and podcaster. She finished her Master’s degree in International History at Columbia University and the London School of Economics. Afra’s byline has appeared in The New York Times Chinese Website, Initium Media, and Iris Magazine, a leading online publication of Chinese film critics. Afra uses her skills in theoretical, historical, and cultural analysis and broad knowledge of the history of popular culture and social media to contribute to the podcast ‘Loud Murmurs,” which she co-founded with her friends in March, 2018. Afra is interested in China-related issues and gender inequality. Afra is a museum-goer and art-lover. Twitter: afrazhaowang / Weibo: afrazhaowang

Ina Yang works in New York City. A previous student of journalism and integrated marketing at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, she calls Chicago and Guangzhou home but is always shuffling between cities and traveling for good food and company. She is a food-obsessed photographer, art historian, museum dwelling science-nerd, and Oxford-comma enthusiast. She is one of the hosts of “Loud Murmurs.” Twitter: @CaptainIna0328

Siyu Yang is an aspiring journalist and tech / strategy consultant. She graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Government and has contributed to Caixin Media and Initium Media. She is a data nerd, a vocal “Baizuo” on Chinese social media, and a die hard cinephile.