While many netizens payed their respects to the young soldiers fighting the disastrous flood in the south of China, Chinese state media outlet Global Times elevated this ‘tribute’ to new heights by sharing pictures of girls holding the message “I wish to wash your uniform for you”.
The photo series, titled “100.000 soldier-loving girls”(十万恋军女孩), was originally posted on China’s Military Web. It triggered online discussions on the submissive female image propagated by Chinese state media.
This is not the first time netizens collectively respond to how patriotism in women is portrayed by official media. Earlier this year, a comic that was released by China’s Youth League also caused some controversy.
“Thank you, our angels”
The big flood in Wuhan, the worst since the flood of 1998, has dominated Chinese headlines over the past week. Social media sites overflowed with images of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers fighting the flood. They showed them walking in muddy water to put sandbags in place, evacuating the young and the elderly, or pictured them sitting on the road side, eating plain buns in muddy uniforms.
Many netizens praised these young soldiers as China’s present-day heroes: “You always come out the first moment whenever problems arise. Thank you, our angels. Hope you are all safe”, one netizen writes.
“My soldier brother, I wish to wash your uniform for you”
Amidst the widespread online support for and praise of China’s soldiers, state media outlet Global Times (环球时报) published the Weibo post titled “100 thousand soldier-loving girls: my soldier brothers fighting the flood, I wish to wash your uniform”.
The post features pictures of girls holding the message “I wish to wash your uniform for you” in their hand.
The text of the post reads:
“Our heart goes out to what is happening with the flood, and it also goes out to the young soldiers. What is so touching to us, is your high spirit while confronting the flood; it is your fatigue during brief breaks; it is your running about in the pouring rain. All we want to say at this moment is that we wish to wash your uniform for you – this uniform that has become stained by mud because of all your hard efforts.”
The feminist activist Sina Weibo account Voice of Feminists (@女权之声) responded to the post, saying that “soldier-loving girls seem to have become the most popular ideal female image in the official media.”
“He sticks to his belief. He said it is Communism. I do not quite understand. But I support him.”
This comic narrated an ever-lasting romance between a woman and a man from the female perspective. The ‘him’ in the comic was depicted as a young soldier. Some of the comic’s narrations read as follows:
“When I first knew him, he was still a poor young man, but I never cared about his poverty.”
“He has an unpleasant past. That is his trauma. He does not want to talk about it, and I am always careful to avoid it. After all, who doesn’t have a past?”
“Sometimes I am attracted to someone else, but that is just for a second! He is forever my idol.”
“He sticks to his belief. He said it is Communism. I do not quite understand. But it sounds fancy. I support him.”
“I love him, for his tenderness, for his assertiveness, for his strong character, and for him always walking straight all the way.”
The comic drew much criticism online. On Chinese question-and-answer platform Zhihu (知乎), many netizens responded to it with sarcasm. The post became so controversial that the original post on Central Youth League’s account was later removed.
Under the Global Times’ post, many netizens also responded with sarcasm or critique: “Attention begging, gender stereotyping – so China”, writes one netizen.
“Where are our female soldiers?”
Many netizens deem the representation of the patriotic female as meek and submissive as insulting to women: “A kind reminder”, says one netizen: “back in the war, when Japanese troops recruited comfort women, they also claimed it was for washing clothes”.
“I wonder who washes the uniforms for our heroines?” one netizen asked.
“The male heroes save the country and resist disasters at the front; the female housekeepers stay behind to do the cooking, washing and providing maternal or female care,” Voice of Feminists author Datu (大兔) writes, summarising how state media construct the female gender in times of disaster.
“I think our female soldiers, doctors and nurses deserve more attention,” one netizen writes.
Despite all controversy, there are also who don’t see what all the fuss is about. As one Weibo user says: “Maybe there are just some girls who really just do want to wash their uniforms!”
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