Decrypting China’s “Cailing” Craze

Cailing (pronounced tsai-ling) is big in China. If you’ve called someone in China, only to hear pop music, meowing cats, or the latest duanzi (spoken jokes) when you were expecting the boring doot-doot tones, you’ve experienced this craze called cailing, literally color rings.

Cailing became controversial sometime ago, as an increasing number of China Mobile users (including some family members of your less-than-cheerful publisher’s phones) had cailing switched on automatically. The scary thing is that this service has teeth — financial teeth. After the outcry, China Mobile stopped switching cailing services when the spirit hit it.

So what’s exactly playing on the cailings? In no particular order, here’s a totally unsorted list of what those poor ears of yours truly have been exposed to:

  • Duanzi (spoken jokes) — from the guy at your author’s garage
  • Jasmine Flower from Kenny G — heard a lot with the folks at the radio station
  • Flute music
  • Spoken jokes from Ge You (an entertainment world bigwig)
  • Für Elise played on a piano (the default)
  • Official-sounding corporate “propaganda” (for lack of a better word)

Welcome to the PRC. The nation of portable ringing crazes.

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