In the early 2000s, Chinese internet users started to notice the uncanny similarities between a toad and Jiang Zemin, who was famous for wearing absurdly high-waisted pants and supersize, black-rimmed glasses. The resemblance led to memes juxtaposing Jiang’s images with the amphibian’s and people calling Jiang “toad.”
But as time went on, the meme blossomed into “toad worshiping” (膜蛤 móhá), a humorous subculture of people who unironically admired Jiang and used the nickname affectionately. Calling themselves “fans of the toad” (蛤丝 hásī), Jinag’s followers celebrated his birthday every year by simply posting “+1s” on their social media accounts, which stood for their best wishes to add “one more second” to Jiang’s lifetime. To discuss the difference between Xi and Jiang, “toad worshippers” invented the phrase xíxíháhá 习习蛤蛤, a pun on the onomatopoeia for the sound of laughter xīxīhāhā 嘻嘻哈哈.