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What’s Not on Weibo – The 2014 APEC in Beijing

In this new column, we highlight the offline effects of online topics on people’s everyday life in China. This week: The 2014 APEC in Beijing. Interview with Ryan Myers: “Most of the time we have no clue of what is really happening and the measurements that are taken.”

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Over the past week, Weibo and Chinese media were overflowing with all news concerning the Nov 8-10 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). Even stories that were not actually related to the contents of the summit, like Obama chewing gum or Putin handing a warm shawl to Mrs. Xi Jinping, became much discussed topics online. This year’s theme of the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting was “Shaping the Future through Asia-Pacific Partnership”. The APEC leaders, including the presidents of China, America, Russia and South Korea, came together at Beijing’s Yanqi Lake.

The event was also noticeable for those living in the center of Beijing who are not active on social media or news sites. “I surely noticed APEC was going on, both in the week preceding it as during the last week”, says Ryan Myers: “I did not like it at all.” Myers, a U.S. citizen who has been based in Beijing as a Chinese language specialist and teacher since 2007, lives in the center of the city’s embassy district. He describes how the APEC influenced his daily surroundings over the past week: “There were actually very few people on the streets,” Myers says: “A lot of my favorite restaurants were closed, so I had to eat at restaurants I normally would not eat at. On my way home from work, there was police and military everywhere. I had to wait for ten minutes at one intersection where the military police came through on motorcycles. I had actually never seen that before.”

ryan1-1

Ryan Myers, Chinese language specialist and teacher in Beijing since 2007.

The Beijing government has become much more proactive in security matters over the recent years.

The presence of security guards, police and military was noticeable in Beijing before and during the APEC. “Near to my house there is a little hutong [traditional alley] I always take as a shortcut home,” Myers explains: “I walk there everyday. And one day over the past week there was suddenly a group of forty policemen standing in the road. I don’t even know what they were doing there.” In some parts of the city near the third ring road, people were told to stay clear of windows due to heightened security. “One of my friends received a message from her company kindly asking her not to lean out of the windows during these days. It said there were snipers working for national security and they would not want to mistake people leaning out of windows for their target.” According to Myers, the Beijing government has become much more proactive in security matters over the recent years. They also sent out a message to people before Halloween, telling them not to dress up in costumes on the subway for security reasons. The APEC event and its safety measures displays how China is increasingly taking charge of security issues.

Most of the time we have no clue of what is really happening and the measurements that are taken.

Myers smilingly tells how some diplomats visiting Beijing over the previous week made remarks over the limited amount of cars on the streets, thinking that the city’s roads were always this quiet. In fact, it is a far cry from the hectic traffic on average Beijing days; the government took half of all cars off local roads to avoid smog and jammed traffic. The countermeasure had its upside, says Myers: “Everybody said you would never be able to get a taxi during the APEC. But because the roads were clear, people got to their destination more quickly and efficiently. It was actually much easier for me to get taxi’s than normally. And I did not end up getting stuck in traffic.” Taking the subway was a different story. Due to the limited amount of cars allowed on the streets, the subway traffic became extra heavy: “It was extraordinarily crowded. One passenger was actually crushed to death the weekend before the summit when she became stuck between the subway doors.”

“I thought there was thunder on the night Obama arrived,” Myers says: “I later found out it was actually fireworks. I never really know these things because I do not spend a lot of time online. But honestly, I think those of us living in Beijing never know what is going on during these events. Most of the time we have no clue of what is really happening and the measurements that are taken. I don’t think anybody knows. Not even the international media.”

Feature image from Radio Free Asia, 2014 (http://www.rfa.org/english/news/china/shutters-11042014141641.html).

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[box type=”bio”]

koetse.148x200About the Author: Manya Koetse is the editor of What’s on Weibo. She’s a Sinologist who splits her time between the Netherlands and China. She earned her bachelor’s degrees in Literary Studies, Japanese & China Studies and completed her MPhil in Asian Studies. Contact: manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.[/box]

©2014 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Memes & Viral

UK Embassy Lights a Virtual Candle on Weibo on June 4th, Gesture Instantly Backfires

A virtual candle posted on the UK embassy account was meant to commemorate June 4, but Weibo users turned it into something else.

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The virtual candle was meant for the annual – heavily censored – commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, but Chinese netizens responded with ‘RIP the Queen’.

On June 3rd, What’s on Weibo reported that various Weibo emoji disappeared this week in light of the June 4 anniversary and heightened censorship.

One of the Weibo emoji to have been removed from the platform’s collection of frequently used emoticons is the candle [蜡烛], which is often used to commemorate, mourn, or pay respects to people and incidents on social media.

On Friday, June 4th, one of the times in the year when censorship on Chinese social media intensifies – June 4 marks the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student protests in 1989 – the official Weibo account of the UK Embassy in China (@英国驻华使馆) published a noteworthy image, namely that of a burning candle.

The Weibo account of the UK Embassy in Beijing has over 1.8 million followers. On Twitter, the ‘UK in China’ account posted the same image.

In order to ‘justify’ the image of the candle posted by UK officials, the hashtag “The Queen of the United Kingdom Passed Away” started making its rounds on Chinese social media. By Friday night, local time, the hashtag page was viewed over 16 million times and the comments started to get wilder (#英国女王因病去世#).

Some people suggested the candle was lit because the Queen had passed away due to illness, others said the death was due to childbirth complications, and then some wrote it was after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Meanwhile, the original post by the Embassy has disappeared from Weibo at the time of writing. It is unclear if the post was removed by online censors, or if the UK Embassy deleted its own post soon after it backfired.

On Twitter, Christina Scott, Minister and Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Beijing, claimed that the image of the candle was “censored within 20 minutes.”

UK-China relations have seen major shifts in recent times, especially since the UK banned Huawei from British 5G networks and also stepped up its criticism of China’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Beijing’s national security law covering Hong Kong – which are seen as domestic matters in China.

In light of the various events that have hurt the ties between the UK and China, the British embassy’s virtual candle on June 4th was not necessarily perceived as a ‘friendly gesture’ by many.

Many Chinese netizens found the online stream of wild fabrications funny, although others were left confused and wanted to know if something had really happened to the Queen.

Hu Xijin (胡锡进), Chinese journalist and Global Times editor-in-chief, also responded to the ‘RIP the Queen’ trend on his Weibo account. In his post, Hu suggested that the very fact that Chinese netizens joked about Queen Elizabeth is the price the UK Embassy needs to pay for its ‘provocative’ post. He also warned the American and British embassies that they should learn from this incident to “thoroughly understand the actual feelings of the majority of Chinese people, and [to understand] how their perceptions have become so out of touch with China’s reality.”

Hu’s post received hundreds of replies, with some praising how Weibo users have found a way to “cure ills with poison” (以毒攻毒, ‘fight fire with fire’).

In the midst of all controversy, the ‘T-word,’ Tiananmen, was completely left out of the online discussions.

By Manya Koetse & Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

The Disappearing Emoji on Weibo in Light of June 4

No candle or cake emoji on Weibo on June 4th.

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This week marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen student protests which started in April 1989 and ended with the violent crackdown on June 4th of that year.

It is the time of the year that censorship on Chinese social media intensifies, which is noticeable in various ways.

One noteworthy change is the disappearance of various Weibo emoji. Already in 2012, China Digital Times reported that the Sina Weibo platform quietly removed the candle icon from its collection of “frequently used emoticons” just before June 4. A year later, Shanghaiist also reported that the candle emoji had once again been removed, making the disappearing emoji a questionable annual Weibo tradition.

On Twitter, BBC reporter Kerry Allen (@kerrya11en) posted earlier that usually at this of year, it is not just the candle that disappears from Weibo’s list of emoji, but also the leaf, the cake, the ribbon, and the present.

A screenshot taken by What’s on Weibo on June 1st of this year showed that all emoji were still available.

But on June 3rd, three emoji had disappeared from the list, including the falling leaf (风吹叶落), candle (蜡烛), and cake (生日蛋糕).

Screenshot June 1 2021 (left) versus June 3 2021 (right).

The disappearance of the emoji means that Weibo posts that were previously made by official media using these emoji also no longer contain them – instead, only the emoji description shows up.

To circumvent censorship, social media users in China often use emoji, creative language, or images to get their message across. To keep discussions on the violent events of June 4 contained, online censors also crack down on sensitive words, numbers, photographs, and symbols.

At this time, the term ‘Tiananmen’ has not been banned on Weibo, but the only posts using the term are official ones about another anniversary, namely that of the Communist Party. The Communist Party of China will mark its 100th anniversary in July.

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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