Last December, a video of what appeared to be the unbridled joy of a dog the moment he was adopted from an animal shelter quickly went viral around the world. It has now reached China and unleashed a torrent of emotion online, with users sharing their experiences of loneliness and feeling rejected.
The video, posted on Facebook in December 2015 by the Carson Animal Care Centre in California, focuses on the story of Benny, a dog who waited for weeks to be adopted and who would have been put down if he failed to find a home.
His animated reaction, jumping for joy, tail wagging, as he is finally led out of the centre to life with a loving family, had not been seen in China until this week because Facebook and YouTube, where the video was also posted, are blocked.
Then Zha Shushu, a social media user with four million followers on the popular Sina Weibo microblog, posted the video online, with added Chinese captions of what he thought the dog might say.
He calls the video, “I didn’t believe anyone could love me”.
It shows the dog with speech bubbles, asking, “What is happening? I don’t want to die,” when his pen is opened.
Zha Shushu says that when the dog discovered someone wanted to adopt him, his “first reaction was not excited, but both frightened and distressed”, before visibly leaping and bounding.
Within a couple of days it racked up five million views on the popular video service Miaopai. The user also shared the video on Weibo, where it got even more shares and user comments.
And this is where the story really hit home as people used it as an opportunity to share their own feelings of loneliness and rejection.
It wasn’t the most popular thread but it really stood out for the intensity of emotion it revealed. Those responding ranged from animal lovers, to those who read their own trials in life into Benny’s experience.
Here is a selection of some of the comments:
I feel as though I’m watching myself.
Why do I feel envious?
This really hits home, I can’t stop crying.
Watching this is like seeing the feelings of every one of us.
Every creature wants to be loved
One user, Yike Zhengxinxin, describes a feeling of “silent helplessness” saying that “society makes me more and more frustrated”.
The discussion spilled over into shared experiences of pain, rejection and feeling like an outsider.
Of course, sharing emotion and anthropomorphism are not specific to the Chinese internet – this happens all over the world. But Marcella Szablewicz, assistant professor of Communication Studies at Pace University who has researched the Chinese internet, points out that the internet and memes are a simple way of reflecting people’s dissatisfaction.
“Everyday life hasn’t panned out in the way they hoped it would,” she says, adding that with content open to interpretation, people can and do project their own emotions onto it and this transforms into what she describes as a “collectively felt emotion”.
And in China, there are political implications to complaining too much on some issues, with many sensitive posts being censored outright. So with emotion, which is a “fuzzier” phenomenon, “it’s safer to say ‘I can relate to this situation’ than to make other critiques.”
Of course, a lot of the focus was on the fact that Benny had to experience rejection until his adoption. Wuren Xiangni says the video gave her “heartache”, saying, “please do not treat them any differently than you would children”.
And there have been major social media campaigns in China over the last year to raise awareness and put a stop to incidents where dogs are mistreated.
In August, tens of thousands of social media users posted outraged messages using the #WeihaiAnimalAbuse# hashtag after a video circulated showing a dog being dragged by a rope along a busy road. Social media users rushed to expose the driver, circulating his image and licence plate nationally.
Netizens also regularly criticise the annual Yulin Lychee and Dog Meat Festival, which sees thousands of dogs slaughtered and eaten.
So it is poignant that Benny’s story, which ended happily, saw Chinese netizens share their experiences of pain.