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One early morning after the rain in the eastern Chinese city of Zibo, two people dressed as fishermen stir dozens of giant inflatable fish and peppers in the polluted, dark-brown water of the Yueyang River, shouting, “Zibo’s hotpot fish!”

A crowd of people point, take videos and laugh at the giant “soup.” Days later, on April 1, 2021, a video of the performance was uploaded to the internet, garnering more than 10 million views. As a joke, someone posted an entry for “Zibo Hotpot Fish” on the popular city-guide dianping.com that soon became the most-liked page in the “local food” category.

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