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15-year-old Finn Wants to Join China’s Army

A 15-year-old boy from Finland has made media headlines in China by expressing his wish to enter the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China. The young man posted his request to join the PLA on a special online forum called the Sino Defense Forum back in 2009. Chinese online magazine ‘the Observer’ has translated the entire forum discussion in English, turning it into their best-read article of the day, leading to Weibo exposure.

Manya Koetse

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A 15-year-old boy from Finland has made media headlines in China by expressing his wish to enter the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China. The young man posted his request to join the PLA on a special online forum called the Sino Defense Forum back in 2009. Chinese online magazine ‘the Observer’ has translated the entire forum discussion in English, turning it into their best-read article of the day, leading to Weibo exposure.

As to why the boy wanted to join the PLA, the Observer explains: because it is a large army, and because China is a superpower with a powerful government and beautiful women. Also, the boy expressed he wanted to “defend peace” (Guancha 2014).

The Observer’s article is published at a time when China is making its military more assertive and has recently seen the biggest mobilization of its army to combat natural disasters, making ‘news’ on the PLA more popular. Special agent Xie Qiao (谢樵) was awarded with an honorary badge after he died when coming to the aid of villagers after the Yunnan Earthquake earlier this month.

xieqiao

Since it is not possible for non-Chinese to join the People’s Liberation Army, we can be certain that the now 19-year old Finnish boy has not been enrolled to join China’s armed forces.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China History

A Chinese Christmas Message: It’s Not Santa Bringing Peace, but the People’s Liberation Army

On social media, Chinese official channels are not celebrating a Merry Christmas but instead focus on a Military Christmas.

Manya Koetse

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It is not Santa bringing you peace and joy, it is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Chinese state media and other influential social media accounts have been pushing an alternative Christmas narrative this year, which makes it very clear that this ‘Merry Christmas’ is brought by China’s military forces, not by a Western legendary figure.

On December 24, Party newspaper People’s Daily published a video on Weibo featuring various young PLA soldiers, writing:

Thank you for your hard work! Thanks to their protection, we have a peaceful Christmas Eve. They come from all over the country, steadfastly guarding the front lines day and night. “With our youth, we defend our prosperous China!” Thank you, and salute!

People’s Daily post on Weibo, December 24 2023.

The main argument that is propagated, is that this time in China should not be about Christmas and Santa Claus, but about remembering the end of the Korean War and paying tribute to China’s soldiers.

This narrative is not just promoted on social media by Chinese official media channels, it is also propagated in various other ways.

One Weibo user shared a photo of a mall in Binzhou where big banners were hanging reminding people of the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War: “December 24 is not about Christmas Eve, but about the victory at Chosin Reservoir.”

Mall banners reminding Chinese that December 24 is about commemorating the end of the Second Phase Offensive (photo taken at 滨州吾悦广场/posted by 武汉潘唯杰).

Another blogger posted a video showing LED signs on taxis, allegedly in the Hinggan League in Inner Mongolia, with the words: “December 24 is NOT Christmas Eve, it is the military victory of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir” (“12.24不是平安夜,是长津湖战役胜利日”).

One social media video showed a teacher at a middle school in Chongqing also emphasizing to her students that “it’s not Father Christmas who brings us a happy and peaceful life, but our young soldiers!”

In the context of the Korean War (1950-1953), December 24 marks the conclusion of the Second Phase Offensive (1950), which was launched by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army against the United Nations Command forces–primarily U.S. and South Korean troops.

The Chinese divisions’ surprise attack countered the ‘Home-by-Christmas’ campaign. This name stemmed from the UN forces’ belief that they would soon prevail, end the conflict, and be home well in time to celebrate Christmas. Instead, they were forced into retreat and the Chinese reclaimed most of North Korea by December 24, 1950.

The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, also known as the the Battle at Lake Changjin, is part of this history. The battle began on November 27 of 1950, five months after the start of the Korean War. The 2021 movie Changjin Lake (长津湖/The Battle at Lake Changjin) provides a Chinese perspective on the lead-up and unfolding of this massive ground attack of the Chinese 9th Army Group, in which thousands of soldiers died.

Especially in recent years and in light of the launch of the blockbuster movie, there is an increased focus on the Chinese attack at Chosin as a glorious victory and strategic success for turning around the war situation in Korea and defending its own borders, underscoring the military strength of the People’s Republic of China as a new force to be reckoned with (read more here).

This Chinese Christmas narrative of honoring the PLA coincides with a series of popular social media posts from bloggers facing criticism for celebrating Christmas in China.

One of them is Liu Xiaoguang (刘晓光 @_恶魔奶爸_, 1.7 million followers), who wrote on December 25:

Some people are criticizing me for celebrating Christmas Eve, because, by celebrating a foreign festival, I would be unpatriotic and forgetful of our martyrs. What can I say, in our family Christmas must be a big deal, even if I don’t come home it must be celebrated, because my mom is a Christian, and she’s very devout (..) So you see, on one hand I should promote traditional Chinese virtues, and show filial piety, on the other hand I should be patriotic and not celebrate foreign festivals.”

Meanwhile, other popular bloggers stress the importance of remembering China’s military heroes during this time. Influential media blogger Zhang Xiaolei (@晓磊) posted: “It’s not Santa Claus who gives you peace, it’s the Chinese soldiers! #ChristmasEve” (“给你平安的不是圣诞老人,而是中国军人!🙏#平安夜#”). With his post, he added various pictures showing Chinese soldiers frozen in the snow as also depicted in the Battle at Lake Changjin movie.

Throughout the years, Christmas has become more popular in China, but as a predominantly atheist country with a small proportion of Christians, the festival is more about the commercial side of the holiday season including shopping and promotions, decorations, entertainment, etc.

Nevertheless, Christmas in China is generally perceived as “a foreign” or “Western” festival, and there have been consistent concerns that the festivities associated with Christmas clash with traditional Chinese culture.

In the past, these concerns have led to actual bans on Christmas celebrations. For instance, in 2017, officials in Hengyang were instructed not to partake in Christmas festivities and several universities throughout China have previously cautioned students against engaging in Christmas-related activities.

Chinese political and social commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also weighed in on the issue. In his December 24 social media column, the former Global Times editor-in-chief wrote that there is no problem with Christmas Eve and the Second Phase Offensive victory day both receiving attention on the same day. Even if the younger generations in China view Christmas more as a commercial event rather than a religious one, it’s understandable for businesses to capitalize on this period for additional revenue. He wrote:

In this era of globalization, holiday cultures inevitably influence each other. The Chinese government does not actively promote the rise of “Western holidays” for its own reasons, but they also have no intention to “suppress foreign holidays.” Some Chinese celebrate “Western holidays” and it is their right to do, they should not face criticism for it.”

Although many Chinese netizens post different viewpoints on this year’s Christmas debate, there are some who just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. “December 24 can be both Christmas Eve, and it can be Victory Day. It’s not like we need to pick one over the other. We are free to choose whatever.”

By Manya Koetse

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China Insight

Chinese Social Media Reactions to Israel-Hamas War: Pro-Palestinian Sentiments and Anti-Semitic Discourse

Chinese perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict are influenced by China’s historical context and perceptions of its role in the world today.

Manya Koetse

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The Israel-Hamas war has been dominating discussions on Weibo recently. Amid the different Chinese responses to what’s happening in Israel and Gaza, recurring trends and narratives highlight how social media reactions and their pro-Palestine stance are connected to China’s own historical context and perceived global role, as well as Chinese anti-Jewish prejudices.

After the Hamas attacks began on October 7, the Israel-Hamas war has been a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media.

Over the past two weeks, a series of critical events have unfolded since Palestinian militant group Hamas fired more than 5,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel and infiltrated Isreal. The attacks killed a large number of Israeli civilians, including the 260 deaths at the Supernova music festival massacre. As deadly fights continued, the Israeli government formally declared war and retaliated against Hamas.

Israel has since dropped some 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of Palestians. More than a million people have fled their homes in the Gaza Strip.

On October 17 and 18, various media reported that at least 500 people were killed in a devastating blast hitting the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City, a day before US President Biden arrived in Israel for a wartime diplomatic trip, marking a public show of support for Israel.

While Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the hospital blast, Israel asserts it was a rocket launched by an Islamist militant group that caused the explosion. This claim was later backed by American officials, who cited intelligence suggesting that the explosion was indeed caused by an armed Palestinian group.

On Chinese social media sites, various discussions related to the Israel-Hamas war and all the latest developments have attracted a lot of attention. From October 7 to October 19, the Weibo hashtag “Palestian-Israeli Conflict” (#巴以冲突#) received over 2 billion views. One hashtag related to the Gaza hospital explosion received over 320 million views in a day (#加沙地带一医院遭袭数百人死亡#).

Amid all of the hashtags, posts, videos, images, and discussions on Chinese social media, we have identified three prominent trends concerning the Israel-Hamas conflict: growing pro-Palestinian sentiments, a surge in anti-Jewish racism, and an increased focus on China’s role on the world stage and how its calls for peaceful resolutions contrast with U.S. policies.

 
1. Pro-Palestine Sentiments
 

There is a clear trend on Weibo, as well as on other Chinese social platforms like Douyin and even Xiaohongshu, that netizens are demonstrating greater support for the Palestinian side than for Israel.

Some posts (here, here) argue that if the recent attacks on civilians by Hamas militants are labeled as “extreme terrorism,” Israel’s actions against Palestinians over the years should be seen as a form of “mild terrorism.”

This view is repeated by many bloggers and regular netizens all over Chinese social media, where numerous videos depict bombings in Gaza, emphasizing heartbreaking scenes of severely injured children and their grieving parents and siblings.

In Weibo’s ‘hot’ section, which features currently popular posts, it’s evident that there’s a stronger emphasis on images and videos portraying the suffering in Palestine compared to those depicting hardships on the Israeli side.

These distressing videos evoke significant sympathy on Chinese social media, where some commenters suggest that the Hamas movement is becoming more prominent because of the suffering Palestians are enduring (“If my child were killed like that, I would immediately turn into a terrorist as well.”) Others argue that Hamas should be seen as guerrilla fighters rather than terrorists.

The pro-Palestinian sentiments go beyond netizens’ views alone, and are strengthened by Chinese media reports and official positions. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s initial response to the conflict focused on expressing concerns about the escalating tensions and voicing China’s stance that civilians should be protected and that further deterioration should be prevented.

They reiterated that the fundamental solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the path to peace, according to China, lies in the implementation of the “two-state solution” (两国方案) and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Days later, on October 13, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Wang Yi stated that the “historical injustice suffered by the Palestinian people” lies at the root of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, emphasizing the “two-state solution” and the importance of realizing the dream of an independent State of Palestine.

Wang also stated on October 15 that Israel’s bombing campaign had gone “beyond the scope of self-defence” and that it “should stop collective punishment of the people of Gaza.”

One Weibo newsblogger called Creamy Banana (@Creamy蕉, 140k fans) writes:

“What many people do not understand is that when we support Palestine in the Israel-Palestine [conflict], is that we do not support a specific regional political group, that we do not support or oppose a specific racial group, and that we certainly do not support a particular religion. None of that. In this issue, supporting Palestine means supporting justice, supporting the weak, supporting the eggs resisting the high wall, it’s as simple as that.

For instance, during World War II, when Jews were massacred by the Nazis, we sympathized and supported the Jews because they were the weak ones and the victims at that time. Now, Israel is involved in genocide against Palestine, killing civilians, attacking hospitals, and it is the Palestinians who are the weak and the victims. Former victims—the Jews—have now become the perpetrators.

Good people and bad people, justice and evil, they are all relative and ever-changing. This may be the complexity of human nature. There is no absolute goodness, no absolute evil. You can be a victim and a villain hurting others at the same time.”

While the blogger argues that the pro-Palestine sentiment on Chinese social media is unrelated to politics or race, this isn’t exactly accurate. Many Chinese netizens’ support for the Palestinians is closely connected to current geopolitics, America’s pro-Israel stance, existing prejudice towards Jews, and China’s own historical context.

As suggested by Yiyi Chen in “The Basis of China’s Pro-Palestine Stance and the Current Status of Its Implementation” (2013), China leans towards supporting the Arab side because, in the Chinese perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Israel was established by aligning with the Imperial powers of its era. In this context, the Palestians are seen as sufferers of imperialism (p. 216).

This deeply resonates with many Chinese, who, both explicitly and implicitly, associate the current Palestinian issue with China’s historical scars of the “hundred years of national humiliation,” during which China also suffered from imperialism by Western powers and Japan from 1839 to the 1940s.

“The Gaza children shaken and trembling from Israeli bombardments experience scenes similar to what China went through during the War of Resitance against Japan,” one Weibo user wrote: “So don’t say that it has nothing to do with you.”

“We’re helping Palestine, but we’re helping ourselves from 70 years ago,” (“帮的是巴勒斯坦,也是七十几年前的自己”) one commenter (@
姜橙橙_捏唐冽大脸) wrote, receiving over 5500 likes. Others reiterated similar views, writing: “It’s because we endured hardship that we now hold the umbrella for others who are suffering.”

Another reason for the pro-Palestine stance, as detailed by Chen, is rooted in reciprocity. The Chinese tend to support the Palestinians as a way of reciprocating the solidarity shown by Arab countries during the 1960s and 1970s when China was isolated due to Western animosity (p. 216).

Furthermore, and this is particularly evident in the numerous posts and blogs within China’s online media landscape, support for Palestine also stems from opposition to the United States and a lack of trust in Israel due to the close alliance between the U.S. and Israel.

New York Times changing its headline, image posted and reposted on Weibo.

This distrust also extends to American media, which is seen as biased and untrustworthy on Chinese social media platforms. For instance, when the New York Times modified its headlines about the Gaza hospital blast to reflect new information indicating that Israel might not be responsible, many Chinese netizens viewed it as another instance of American media deliberately distorting facts and concealing the truth.

“They did it because of political correctness,” some suggested: “They were afraid to trigger the anger of the Jewish people.”

 
2. Anti-Semitic Sentiments
 

Apart from the general pro-Palestinian views on Weibo, there are also voices on Chinese social media denouncing Hamas and the people who support them. For instance, when a video captured students from New York University (NYU) tearing down posters depicting Israeli children held hostage by Hamas, many commenters condemned their actions and questioned why they didn’t go to Gaza themselves. Others comment general phrases such as, “The Hamas evil must be eradicated” (“消灭哈马斯恶魔”).

But despite some condemnation of Hamas, it is hard to find many strong pro-Israel voices on Weibo these days.1 Notably, the Israeli Embassy in Beijing, which is one of the most popular foreign embassy Weibo accounts with 2.4 million followers, is currently not only shadowbanned on the platform (it does not immediately show up in search results), it has also disabled comments on many of its posts or is showing only a limited number of replies.

The posts that do allow comments do not only show strong anti-Israeli sentiments, denouncing Israel as a state engaged in acts of terror and genocide in Gaza, but they also display instances of anti-Semitic racism.

For instance, when the Israeli Embassy posted about the Kutz family, murdered by Hamas terrorists in their home, some netizens commented: “Auschwitz misses you.”

References to the Holocaust, Hitler, Goebbels, and related topics are also evident in many other posts on Weibo. Some bloggers (@扫天下媒体, over 70,000 fans) write things such as “(..) the Germans have since long seen through the true nature and character of the Jewish people.”

Alongside openly anti-Semitic comments, there are anti-Semitic conspiracy theories circulating on Chinese social media. Some of these theories mention Hollywood actors or American political figures of Jewish descent, hinting that Jews control different parts of America’s political, entertainment, and business sectors.

The ubiquity of anti-Semitic comments in China’s online media sphere may be surprising, especially considering how bilateral relations between China and Israel have blossomed since the 2000s.

Not only did a 2019 Pew Research Center study discover that the Israeli public held a “very favorable” opinion of China, but a 2016 China Radio International feature also sought the views of Chinese people on Jews and Israelis. The responses were generally positive, with many respondents describing Jews and Israelis as “very smart” (Yellinek 2022, 185-192).

There are also those who generally express pity for Jews, considering them “stateless” or “oppressed,” and empathizing with their historical struggles. This is one of the reasons why the Holocaust, and Holocaust studies, have received relatively more attention in China than in other Asian countries (Haime 2020; Timmermans 2016).

In 2010, the animated film A Jewish Girl in Shanghai (犹太女孩在上海) was proudly described as “China’s first homegrown Jewish film” – it was part of a renewed remembrance of shared Jewish-Chinese history (read more). The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum was opened in 2007 to commemorate the Jewish refugees who lived in Shanghai during World War II, and the first musical themed around the Jews in Shanghai saw the light at the Shanghai International Arts Festival in 2015, the same year when a renewed Chinese translation of The Diary of Anne Frank was published.

Still from Jewish Girl in Shanghai, China’s first domestic Jewish film.

However, the perception of ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewishness’ in China is multifaceted and often conflicting, as shown by various studies. According to Zhou Xun (2016), Chinese attitudes towards Jews and Jewishness are often a mixture of curiosity and envy, yet Jews are primarily seen as a racialized ‘Other’ who differ significantly from social groups in China. Xun suggests that anti-Semitic language in China is frequently borrowed from Western sources, but that the racialized discourse itself is inherently rooted in Chinese society.

The many popular books that exist about Jews in China, ranging from What’s Behind Jewish Success to 16 Reasons for Jews Getting Wealthy, demonstrate that the authors’ perceptions of Jewishness are often riddled with misunderstandings and stereotypes. These books frequently highlight the perceived success of Jews in business and education to promote values highly cherished by the Chinese (Ross 2016, 25-30).

While many prevailing opinions and stereotypes about Jews in China today revolve around their perceived success, intelligence, and warmheartedness, there are also those who portray them as devious, dominating, and cruel.

The recent surge of anti-Semitism on Chinese social media underscores that ‘Othering’ and stereotyping of Jewish people can focus on their perceived admirable traits in times of flourishing Israel-China relations, but that this praise, exaggerated and rooted in prejudice, can just as swiftly turn into hatred in times of Israel-Palestine conflict escalation.

 
3. Sending Help: China as Responsible World Leader
 

Another key trend within Chinese online discussions about the Israel-Hamas conflict is the focus on China’s role as a geopolitical influencer: many see China as a promoter of global peace that is “mending the world.”

Within this context, the topic of China providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians gained traction on Weibo recently (#中国政府向巴勒斯坦提供紧急人道主义援助#, #中方向巴方提供紧急人道主义援助#), referring to China’s efforts to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

“We bring emergency relief, others bring bullets,” some commenters wrote.

This ubiquitous narrative of China as a responsible, fair, and peaceful global power, supported by Chinese state media reports, underscores a distinction between American and Chinese influence on the world stage. It implies that the U.S. frequently interferes and provokes conflicts, while China discreetly offers aid and works to reduce tensions.

In this context, reports of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi telling his U.S. counterpart, Anthony Blinken, that the United States should genuinely play a constructive role in the Israel-Hamas war and push for a political solution sparked hundreds of online comments praising China for being a responsible and peaceful leader (#中方呼吁召开巴以冲突国际和会#) .

On October 18, the United States vetoed a UN resolution calling for a humanitarian pause in the Israel-Hamas war, citing Israel’s right to self-defence. China was one of the countries voting in favor of the ‘humanitarian pauses’ resolution.

In response to the American decision to vote against the resolution, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, said: “We cannot help but doubt that some countries do not genuinely wish to resolve the issue” (#联合国巴以问题决议草案遭美一票否决#).

Among the comments are statements like: “This clearly indicates a lack of desire for peace.” “They’re the tumor of the world.” “The U.S. is lacking moral values.”

China as the rabbit in the Chinese webcomic series Year Hare Affair (那年那兔那些事儿).

One popular Weibo reply suggested that “the rabbit is quietly patching up [mending] the world” (“兔子总在默默为世界缝缝补补”). In this context, the ‘rabbit’ is ‘China’, referring the Chinese webcomic Year Hare Affair (那年那兔那些事儿) in which different animals represented different countries.

These phrases about China “mending the world” have been posted numerous times on Chinese social media (also: “世界破破烂烂,兔子缝缝补补”). Some of these posts also include a political cartoon showing Western media solely focusing on a crying baby in Israel while turning their backs to the bodies in Gaza.

Posted on Weibo (@粤港澳小小胖).

Meanwhile, there are also many commenters who simply express their hopes for a swift end to the war. “I hope for peace between Palestine and Israel. War is merciless.”

Some netizens also just share their appreciation for living in China. “We are not living in peaceful times, but at least we’re living in peaceful China.”

By Manya Koetse

1 Given the scope of this article and its time sensitivity, this comment exclusively focuses on online discussions on Weibo on October 16-19, and it does not reflect the period prior to the current Israel-Hamas conflict

References

Chen, Yiyi. 2013. “The Basis of China’s Pro-Palestine Stance and the Current Status of Its Implementation.” Digest of Middle East Studies 22 (2): 215-228.

Haime, Jordyn. 2020. “Chinese Philo-Semitism: Why China Admires the Jewish People.” Student Research Projects. 26. https://scholars.unh.edu/student_research/26

Ross, James R. 2016. “Images of Jews in Contemporary Books, Blogs, and Films”. The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, edited by James R. Ross and Song Lihong, Boston, USA: Academic Studies Press, pp. 24-36.

Timmermans, Glenn. 2016. “Holocaust Studies and Holocaust Education in China”. The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, edited by James R. Ross and Song Lihong, Boston, USA: Academic Studies Press, pp. 185-205.

Xun, Zhou. “Perceiving Jews in Modern China”. The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, edited by James R. Ross and Song Lihong, Boston, USA: Academic Studies Press, pp. 5-23.

Yellinek, Roie. 2022. “China’s Media Strategy Towards Israel.” Israel Affairs 28: 184-198.

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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