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“America’s Gone Insane” – Chinese Consulate in Houston Ordered to Close

News of the Chinese Consulate on Houston being ordered to close by the US is top trending on Weibo today.

Manya Koetse

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The US-ordered closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston has become a top trending news topic on Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo today, with the “Houston Consulate” (#休斯敦领事馆#) hashtag receiving over 230 million views on Wednesday night, Beijing time.

One hashtag page, hosted by People’s Daily, repeats the words of China’s new Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌), who stated that “Ameria’s abrupt request to close the Chinese consulate in Houston on July 21st” is a “political provocation unilaterally initiated by the American side that seriously violates the international law and goes against the basic norms of international relations.”

News of the closure of the Houston consulate first started making its rounds when American local media reported that documents were allegedly being burned inside the consulate compound. The Houston fire department responded to reports of smoke and arrived at the scene.

Hours later, the Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to these reports and stated, as reported on Weibo as well, that the Consulate had received a sudden eviction notice.

On Wednesday, the US State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus confirmed that the US had ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate “in order to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information.”

The alleged burning of documents inside the consulate compound is also reported by Chinese state media outlets such as The Observer, although they only report that people in the vicinity of the consulate stated that they “saw smoke coming from the compound” and that they could “smell paper burning.”

“Perhaps it’s the smell of war,” one Weibo user wrote.

“They’re destroying their documents, it’s normal,” some commenters said: “They can’t take [the documents] with them.”

The Chinese Consulate in Houston was opened as the first Chinese consulate in the US in 1979, shortly after the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping visited the city in January of that year.

The Houston consulate was the office serving Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Besides the Chinese Embassy in Washington and the Houston consulate, there are also four other Chinese consulates in the United States, in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (胡锡进) called the move to have the consulate closed “crazy” in a post on his Weibo account, that has approximately 23,2 million followers.

“Not only did the American side order to have the consulate closed,” he writes: “they also only gave the Chinese side three days to evacuate [the compound], this is completely deranged.”

“Has America gone crazy?”, some Weibo users wonder, with others wondering: “Is this meant to break off diplomatic relations with China?”

In response to the news, many commenters suggest that China should retaliate by also closing an American consulate in China. Besides its Beijing embassy, the US also has consulates in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenyang, and Wuhan in mainland China. There is also a U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong.

There are currently also reports by Reuters, New York Times, and other media indicating that China may shut the American Wuhan Consulate.

“It would be best if the Hong Kong consulate were to close,” multiple commenters on Weibo write (“最好把美国香港领馆关了”).

“America has gone insane,” one person writes: “This year, any kind of historical event could happen.”

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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 and Covid19

Zhejiang Daily: ‘People First’ Does Not Mean ‘Anti-Epidemic First’

Many Chinese netizens are showing support for Zhejiang Daily after the Party newspaper published an article that tries to find a middle ground between what authorities want to say and what ordinary people want to hear.

Manya Koetse

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After days of unrest, Party newspaper Zhejiang Daily published an article by the Propaganda Department (aka Publicity Department) that addresses the current problems in China’s epidemic situation, talks about the way forward, and stresses the importance of listening to people’s demands and “putting the people first.” But not everyone is convinced.

On Tuesday, November 29, after days filled with unrest and protests in various places across China, Party newspaper Zhejiang Daily (浙江日报) published a noteworthy article titled “‘People First’ Is Not ‘Anti-Epidemic [Measures] First'” (“人民至上”不是“防疫至上“).

The phrase “the people first” (人民至上 rénmín zhìshàng), also “putting the people in the first place,” is an important part of the Party’s ‘people-based, people-oriented’ governing concept. The phrase became especially relevant as part of Xi Jinping’s now-famous “put people and their life first” slogan (人民至上,生命至上, rénmín zhìshàng, shēngmìng zhìshàng), which became one of the most important official phrases of 2020 in light of the fight against Covid19.

The Zhejiang article starts by addressing the recent unrest surrounding China’s zero Covid policy, writing:

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus epidemic in late 2019, already three years have passed. As the time of preventing and controlling the epidemic situation is getting stretched, many people’s psychological tolerance and endurance level are put to the test, and they are even breaking down little by little. As some netizens say: if the first year was about panic followed by the secret joy of being able to have a good rest at home; the second year began to be more bewildering and was about the hope for a quick end to the epidemic situation; the third year is then more about dissatisfaction, when will this finally end?”

The article mentioned that in addition to growing frustrations about the endless pandemic, various places across China have been intensifying their anti-epidemic efforts in the wrong ways:

“​​”(..) they are abusing their power, and are making things difficult for the people. This has led to epidemic prevention becoming deformed. They will not explicitly say they are locking down, but they are locking down, they are ignoring the interests of the masses and the demands of the people, interrupting the order of normal life at their will, and are even disregarding the lives and safety of the people, harming the image of the Party and the government, and breaking the hearts of the masses. There are even some people who will seize this epidemic situation to make money. Compared to the epidemic, it’s these phenomena which are hurting people. The ensuing sense of helplessness and tiredness and anger are all understandable.”

The article then stresses:

“Anti-epidemic measures are to guard against the virus, not to guard against the people; it was always [supposed to be] about ‘people first,’ not about so-called ‘epidemic prevention’ first. Regardless what kind of prevention and control measures are taken, they should all be aimed at letting society return to normal as soon as possible and getting life back on track as soon as possible. They are all are like “bridges” and “boats” to reach this goal, and are not meant to keep people in place, as blind and rash actions that disregard the costs.”

Zhejiang Daily mentions how the World Cup in Qatar has made some people wonder about the crowds in the audience not wearing any masks, as if there was no pandemic at all. If they can, why can’t China?

As the foremost reason, the article mentions the relatively low number of hospital beds in China.

Whereas countries such as South Korea or Japan, which are still seeing high numbers of new Covid infections, have about 12.6 beds per 1000 people (12.65 and 12.63 respectively), China only has 6.7.

With the United States being mentioned as an example of a country where Covid-19 patients were using up 32.7% of total nationwide ICU capacity early in 2022, with 7 ICU beds per 100,000 people being occupied by Covid patients, the article suggests that China does not even have this many ICU beds per 100,000 people.

Zhejiang Daily posted its article on Weibo, where one related hashtag received over 350 million views by Tuesday night.

The article further mentions how China, which is a rapidly ageing country, has a relatively large elderly population. With mortality rates being higher in Covid patients over the age of 60, it is estimated that if China would let go of its Covid measures, some 600,000 seniors (60+) catching the virus would die (the article bases this estimation on mortality rates in the Singaporean Covid epidemic.)

Due to Chinese historical, social and traditional values, the protection of the country’s eldest is of great importance. Zhejiang Daily suggests that this is different from Western societies: “Some Western countries had nursing homes where hundreds of people passed away during the epidemic – if that would happen in China, it would be unacceptable. If you understand this point, you can also understand all the efforts we are putting out to contain the epidemic situation.”

And so, Zhejiang Daily highlights the high price people in many Western countries paid to get to the stage in the epidemic where they are today.

The article repeats some of the arguments that have previously also been included in writings in other newspapers and by political commentator Hu Xijin, namely that with China’s current zero-Covid policy and the adjustments that were recently made, the country is now focusing on precise and science-backed epidemic prevention that is meant to put as little strain as possible on society and economy.

However, the latest changes and the essence of China’s zero Covid policy are not properly implemented everywhere, the article says, as there is a lack of understanding or an incapability to handle the situation due to a local lack of staff or available methods. Then there is also the issue of some people making money off of to strict epidemic measures. This has all led to tragic situations that should never have happened.

Although the article does not mention any concrete examples, there are many recent incidents where people did not get the help they needed because of excessive Covid measures. We have covered some of the biggest ones on What’s on Weibo, including the young girl who passed away after getting gravely ill at a quarantine location in Ruzhou; the toddler who died due to carbon monoxide poisoning and a severe delay in medical help in Lanzhou; and the woman who jumped from the 12th floor of an apartment building in Hohhot, although her daughters had been seeking requesting help for her deteriorating mental state for hours.

The problem at hand, Zhejiang Daily suggests, is that some local authorities are putting epidemic prevention first instead of putting people’s lives first. The problem can also not be solved by letting go of all measures, nor by adhering to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ zero Covid policy (“走出疫情阴霾,不是一句“放”与“不放”就能解决的事情.”)

Instead of fighting for ‘opening up’ versus ‘closing down’, the point is to find a “soft landing” (“软着陆”) way out the “haze of the epidemic situation” (“走出疫情阴霾”).

Although the article does not give very concrete answers on what the best way forward is – although it does mention increasing China’s vaccination rates, hospital beds, and available medications, – it proposes to look at the exact pain points within the bigger picture, and to deal with them one by one in order to quickly improve epidemic situations across the country.

At the same time, it also advocates that the various systems that are in place across China should be efficiently unified. The health code system in China is not operated nationally, and instead, various regions are each working with their own Health Code apps (see this article).

So, in other words: local problems should be spotlighted and dealt with, while regional innovative tools or effective measures should also be pinpointed and standardized across the country (“一地创新、全国使用”).

The article does not explicitly mention the recent unrest across China, but it does hint at it: “The voices and the demands of the people have always been the central point regarding the adjustment and optimization of anti-epidemic policies. There is only one goal in the fight against the virus, and that is to benefit the people, to protect the health and safety of every person. If we hold on to this point, our steps won’t be chaotic, and our actions won’t stray from the intended line.”

On Weibo and WeChat, the article is discussed by many netizens (#浙江宣传发文人民至上不是防疫至上#). One hashtag related to the article received over 350 million views on Weibo on Tuesday (#人民至上不是防疫至上#).

Many people spoke out in support of the article.

“This is a well-written article. It really combines the two components of ‘what we want to say’ and ‘what the ordinary people want to hear,’ it brings in some fresh air, clears up some confusion and eases the mood,” one commenter from Hubei writes: “But why is only Zhejiang Daily publishing this? The Zhejiang Propaganda [department] is the pride on the propaganda front, the fact that there’s just one Zhejiang Propaganda [department] is the sorrow on the propaganda front.”

“Finally something that’s clear-headed,” others wrote. “This article actually moved me. There’s been masses of people raising their voice recently because some local epidemic measures are creating problems and are not benefiting the people. No matter how we solve it, the target is unchanged.”

“Well put!” others wrote: “So what do we do now?”

But not everyone was convinced that the article is meaningful. “I don’t buy it,” one person wrote: “This won’t do much more than a fart.”

“The title is welcomed by the people, the content protects the central authority,” another commenter said.

The Zhejiang Daily article suggests that there is nothing wrong with the general zero-Covid policy and the twenty new measures, but instead points at how various places across the country have different interpretations of the policies and sometimes take drastic measures which actually undermine the authority of the central government (“中央定下来的“动态清零”总方针、优化防控二十条措施,一些地方有不同解读,极大降低了中央政策的权威性.”)

“It only scratches the outside of the boot,” another Weibo user replied: “It does not talk about the main point and avoids taking responsibility by how it’s written. It shifts the conflict to ordinary people (..), the fact that we are still reading these kinds of [xxx] articles in 2022 is typical [xxx] socialism.”

Regardless of criticism, many people did praise how Zhejiang authorities wrote the article: “Zhejiang has done quite well, and I’ll praise their Publicity Department.”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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Featured image via Zhejiang Daily.

 

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China and Covid19

Chinese Students Are Making Their Voices Heard, from Nanjing to Xi’an

“Tonight is the night when students are flooding the internet,” some on Weibo said during a dark night filled with students’ bright lights.

Manya Koetse

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The Communication University of China in Nanjing (南京传媒学院, abbr. CUCN) is trending on Weibo on Saturday night, with one hashtag receiving over 180 million views on Weibo before 23:00 local time.

Students at the university gathered on Saturday evening, chanting slogans such as “long live the people” and turning on the lights on their phone as a tribute to victims of the fire in Urumqi.

Over the past few days, there has been ongoing unrest in various parts of China. The fire that occurred in Urumqi on November 24 triggered waves of anger online (read here), and at the same time there have also been other incidents that further intensified the anger, which some also took to the street.

Another incident that attracted a lot of online attention this week happened in the Shunde District of Foshan, Guangdong, on November 24. Online, the incident was referred to as a “stampede,” but the hashtag “Foshan Stampede” (#佛山踩踏#) was soon taken offline. According to China Daily, the incident happened when a crowd of people gathered at a Covid testing place in the Xincheng community of Leliu subdistrict at about 8:30 am. The situation became chaotic when people fell down due to the slippery ground, but nobody reportedly was injured.

Nevertheless, the incident surely did not help to calm the growing tensions, especially this week when we also saw protests and unrest at Foxconn in Zhengzhou and the third consecutive daily record for new Covid cases in mainland China following by local (semi-) lockdowns across the country.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Weibo flooded with comments in support of the students who stood up to make their voices be heard.

“I’m not there with you, but I’m there with you,” one commenter wrote, with others posting: “Brave young people. This society is no longer giving them a way to live. History is repeating itself. If we don’t do this now, it’s our children who will have to struggle.”

“CUCN come on!” some cheered, while others wrote: “We’re proud of you.”

Some screenshots claiming to come from people at the scene said that it was the students’ intention to show solidarity with the people who passed away in the Urumqi fire and those in Xinjiang who were treated unfairly in light of the ongoing lockdowns the region saw since August of this year.

An anonymous poster warned people not to believe rumors regarding the protest being a conflict between the school leadership and the students: “The school is protecting its students, although some on the internet would like you to believe otherwise.”

Lights at the CUCN scene were allegedly turned off to prevent students from being identifiable on videos and photos.

As soon as the live commenting section on the CUCN protests was shut down by Weibo, another topic came up before midnight.

Students at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts (西安美术学院) were also taking their anger to the campus streets, where they allegedly demanded for freedom amid Covid lockdowns.

One commenter wrote: “Tonight is the night when students are flooding the internet, their fire [torch] will burn forever, what a magnificent night!”

“The students are very brave, they are the first to stand up. I hope the workers will stand up, and finally, all people will stand up.”

Many people on Chinese social media posted references to La Jeunesse (New Youth), a Chinese literary magazine that was founded in 1915 by Chen Duxiu and also influenced China’s May Fourth Movement (sometimes referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment), which was all about the Chinese youth being the catalyst for transformation.

“You are the heroes of the awakening,’ others wrote.

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

For more articles on the Covid situation in China, check here. If you appreciate what we do, please support us by subscribing for just a small annual fee.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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