British writer and academic Michael Rosen boasts five decades of experience in publishing, performing and teaching.
But what he wasn’t expecting was to develop a passionate fan base in China.
Rosen became aware of his popularity in mainland China when he led a student orientation day at Goldsmiths College in London, where he is a professor of children’s literature.
When he stepped onto the stage there was a ripple of excitement in the audience and after his presentation a group of excited Chinese students came up to him, saying they know him from his popular internet memes.
Rosen, now in his seventies, is best known for a particular performance of his children’s poem ‘Hot Food’.
Such is the relish with which he says “nice” after popping a cooling potato in his mouth in the performance of the poem that the video has been distilled down to a single clip, or GIF, of him uttering the word.
It is widely used to express approval or enjoyment of something on social media. And in China, it has also earned him the nickname of Nice Yeye or Grandpa Nice.
In a recent interview on the Ant Group podcast Antkast, Rosen said he was honoured to pick up the Chinese monicker. “I like it. I can’t think of a better term,” he said.
After the interview, in which Rosen also talks about his long recovery from Covid and the loss of his teenage son to meningitis, netizens took to Sina Weibo to express their admiration.
“After watching the video of Grandpa Nice, I cried like crazy. I have no right to complain about life. People who turn grief and anger into warmth are really great,” wrote one.
“A Marxist and an emoji, what a legend,” wrote another, referencing Rosen’s socialist beliefs.
Another netizen was surprised to learn that the “man who shouts ‘nice’ in clips is also the one who writes the lovely children’s books”.
Several of Rosen’s 140 books have been translated into Chinese and are well-liked among more urbane Chinese parents. Others enjoy reading the originals in English to their kids.
Rosen, who is Jewish, is a committed supporter of former British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Yet one suspects that if Rosen were to visit China – as the Antkast presenter suggests he should – there might be some difficult moments, given his strong advocacy of human rights issues.
For now, however, his Chinese book sales are likely to soar.
“Chinese fans like [Rosen] even more after knowing his tough life experience… His positive and optimistic attitude towards life are absolutely precious,” wrote one Xinhua editor.
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