(T-shirt with textbook characters, photos from yule.baidu.com )
Fictitious Characters in Textbook Caused Collective Sorrow among Chinese Young People
In the newly published English textbook for Chinese junior high school students, two names “Li Lei” and “Han Meimei” appeared again. In this edition, “Han Meimei” is described as a married young woman with stylish curly hair, who is always busy working in the kitchen and taking care of her two children. However, her husband is NOT “Li Lei”, but a new role named “Han Gang”.
The “cruel fact” that “Han Meimei” is already married with another man seemed unacceptable to the audience and caused strong disappointments among Chinese young people, most of whom were born in the 1980s in China, and are often called “The 80s”. They collectively felt disappointed and sad, and expressed their emotions in words or songs on various Chinese web pages.
Who are Li Lei and Han Meimei?
(Li Lei and Han Meimei, photos from yule.baidu.com )
“Li Lei” and “Han Meimei” are two of the leading roles in the English textbook widely used in Chinese junior high schools from the year 1990 to 2000. This set of English textbook was based on family and school life. “Li Lei” is a Chinese boy, who is reliable and has great sense of responsibility. “Han Meimei” is a Chinese girl with short straight hair, who is usually serious, conservative, lovely, and ready to help others.
(English textbook, photo from yule.baidu.com )
This edition of textbook was initially adopted in eight cities and towns including Chongwen District in Beijing and Chengdu in Sichuan Province in 1990. In 1993, it became the prevailing English textbook all over China, except in Shanghai. It is estimated that in the decade between 1990 and 2000, over 10,000,000 junior high school students learned English with this textbook.
About Their Story
(illustrations from the English textbook, pictures from yule.baidu.com )
Interestingly, the romantic story of “Li Lei” and “Han Meimei” is based on imagination of some students, who claimed that the English text book was actually telling a romantic story. On the website Tianya.com, a post called “Li Lei and Han Meimei are Supposed to be Married now, right?” spread widely soon on the web. Followers ardently discussed their understandings of this romantic story. Some people said that “Jim from England and Li Lei from China both adore Han Meimei a lot. However, Han Meimei and another girl Lucy (from England) both favor Li Lei.” and they listed evidences and examples (the illustrations from the textbook) to prove their opinions.
For instance, in one scene, Han Meimei is borrowing a ruler from Li Lei, and Jim, who is sitting behind them, is staring at Li Lei. This scene is cited as an example of “Jim’s jealousy “. “There’s a mix of jealousy and upset in his eyes.” said one netizen. The other girl Lucy, who is sitting beside them, is said to “ put her head down with grievance, almost burst into tears….”
In another scene, Han Meimei is picking apples in an apple tree. This scene is described as “She is busy chatting with LiLei, and this makes Jim, who is holding the ladder for her, really nervous and shouted out ‘Be Careful!’ twice.”
The readers not only remembered the leading roles, but also recalled many other characters such as the Parrot Polly, Uncle Wang who enjoys inventing new machines, and a senior lady who says her age is a secret.
According to some social researcher, for most of The 80s, 1993 was the year when they entered junior high school, began to learn English, and met “Li Lei” and “Han Meimei” for the first time. These two “friends” accompanied them in the following three years’ of English learning. Thus, these two characters can be regarded as two symbols that carry their collective memories of the days when they were simple and unsophisticated teenagers.