Popular Taiwanese model ‘Stella’ (史黛拉) stirred controversy on Chinese social media on September 29 for calling mainlanders ‘426‘, a Taiwanese term for scolding people from the PRC.
The pronunciation of ‘426’ [死阿陆] sounds similar to ‘damned mainlanders‘ [死大陆人] in Taiwan’s Hokkien dialect.
The model made the remarks as she posted pictures on her Facebook page that show her working at the Shanghai International Automobile Fair: “Can you let me take a selfie?! Masses of ‘426’ (damned mainlanders) want to take pictures with me, and Arabic people, Japanese and all kinds of bastards secretly photographing me and asking my number,” she complained.
The model’s remarks triggered hundreds of reactions on Sina Weibo. Many Chinese saw the post as an indication of Taiwanese attitudes towards mainland China. Some netizens wrote: “Resist Taiwan bastards from earning money in China and then scolding mainlanders. Trash!”
“Taiwanese people have no inner qualities,” another Weibo user commented.
“Can’t the government take measures against people who insult mainlanders?”, another netizen said.
Similar controversies frequently surface on Chinese social media. Last August, Chinese netizens were furious after footwear brand K-Swiss launched a commercial that depicted an alleged Chinese character in a way that was called “insulting” and “humiliating” to China.
Popular Korean actor Park Bo Gum, who featured in the commercial, received a storm of criticism. Many Chinese netizens blamed him for ridiculing their country.
China’s Angry Cyber-Nationalism
News of ‘China’ getting its “feelings hurt” by foreign celebrities or institutions frequently pops up in Chinese media, leading to an angry display of Chinese cyber-nationalism.
According to Ying Jiang, the author of Cyber-Nationalism in China (2012), the roots of the “angry nationalism” expressed by today’s Chinese netizens can be traced back to China’s “Century of Humiliation” that took place from roughly the mid-1800s until after WWII.
During this period, China faced a great deal of hardships brought about by foreign powers. The Opium Wars and unequal treaties led to an economic and military decline, and ultimately caused China to weaken.
In the postwar 20th century, the rise of Chinese nationalism has gone hand in hand with an intensification of anti-foreign sentiments. A new wave of nationalism came about in the 1990s when Western influences on China were considered to negatively influence Chinese traditional culture. It was also the time when the government launched an extensive propaganda campaign of patriotic education, that especially impacted China’s younger generations.
Although China’s post-1990s generation is generally known for having a strong sense of internationalism, they also have a distinct sense of patriotism.
Author Zheng Jiawen recently wrote how the term ‘little pinkos’ (小粉红) nowadays refers to a high-profile group of Chinese young female netizens who go online to defend their patriotism. Taking action against foreign “insults” is part of their movement. They are not alone; the sentence “never forget national humiliation” (勿忘國耻) is ubiquitous on Chinese social media.
A Year of Apologies
China’s angry cyber-nationalism has become very apparent in 2016, a year in which China has received multiple apologies for “hurting the feelings of the Chinese”. Many of these incidents occured during the Rio Olympics.
One of the controversies involved an inaccurate Chinese flag. Chinese Olympic viewers were offended when a wrong version of the Chinese flag was used during several medal ceremonies. While the Chinese embassy in Brazil subsequently rushed to have accurate versions of the Chinese flag made by local manufacturers, netizens started a petition demanding an apology from the Rio Olympic organization.
Subtle difference. This is the incorrect flag. The correct Chinese flag has one large star and four small stars, each of whose points angle towards the main star. See image below by Daily Mail.
The flag mishaps continued. During the medal ceremony where Chinese swimmer Fu Yuan Hui shared the bronze with Canada’s Kylie Masse, the Chinese flag was seen hanging below the Canadian one. Many netizens viewed this as a sign of disrespect. Then there was Australia’s Channel 7 flag mix up where China was mistakenly represented by the Chilean flag, leading to furious reactions with another online petition demanding an apology from Channel 7.
Another noteworthy incident involved the Canadian media. When Canadian Olympic TV commentator Byron MacDonald thought his microphone was off, he insulted a Chinese athletic swimmer and caused outrage on Weibo. The presenter apologized shortly after.
The list does not end here. Back in January of this year, 16-year-old Taiwanese K-pop singer Chou Tzuyu got into trouble for waving a Taiwanese flag on a Korean reality show. Netizens criticized the singer for supporting Taiwan’s independence by waving the flag, which prompted Chou to release a video on the eve of Taiwan’s presidential elections to apologize for her actions.
Later in April, two cast members from No Other Love, a popular Chinese romantic film, also got into trouble for “insulting” China. Taiwanese lead actor Leon Dai was even removed from the film for his alleged support to the Taiwanese independence movement. American-born Japanese actress Kiko Mizuhara was criticized for being anti-Chinese for liking an Instagram photo that offended the Chinese.
She later apologized in a 5-minute video on Weibo.
‘Apologize to China Contest’
According to some commentators, the sensitivity over “hurt feelings” sometimes becomes problematic. Last July, Japanese vlogger Kinoshita Yuka, known for eating large quantities of food on camera, came under fire after she posted a video of herself eating 137 bananas. Chinese netizens wondered if Kinoshita was eating bananas that originated from the Philippines, and if the 137 bananas were an allusion to China’s 1.37 billion population, as a revenge in reference to the South China Sea verdict.
The YouTube video soon triggered another war of words between Chinese and foreign netizens, as many Chinese netizens viewed the act as a deliberate insult aimed at China .
One comment read: “At a sensitive time like this, you release this video of you eating 137 Philippine-grown bananas to insult the Chinese, are you dumb? Do you think the Chinese are easily bullied?”
In the same month, Lady Gaga caused a ‘bad romance’ between herself and China after she met with the Dalai Lama. For many netizens, it marked the end of her career in China: “I like your songs, but I choose my country over you.”
Seeing this trend of Chinese people easily getting their “feelings hurt”, an activist in Taiwan named Wang Yikai started an “Apologize to China” contest in the summer of 2016. The contest soon went viral and attracted the attention of netizens from all over the world, including from China.
The contest received many creative apologies in all shapes and forms, from pictures to videos. The winning apology came from a Hong Kong group and was a parody of the song “Sorry Sorry” by Super Junior. In the parody, the group sings they are sorry for not loving China enough because they don’t own a made-in-China iPhone clone.
It seems that Taiwanese model Stella has chosen the wrong year to upset Chinese netizens. By now, she has removed her comments from her Facebook page, but the screenshots have already gone viral on Chinese social media.
“Go back to your own island!” many netizens say.
“Why are you Taiwanese always so disgraceful?” another Weibo user comments: “Good for us that you don’t call yourselves ‘Chinese’ when going abroad, otherwise you would give us all a bad name.”
The model has not responded to the controversy yet. Perhaps she can start by registering for next year’s ‘Apologize to China’ contest.
Ying Jiang. 2012. Cyber-Nationalism in China: Challenging Western media portrayals of Internet censorship in China. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press.
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Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang
Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.
Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.
The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.
People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.
The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.
Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.
As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.
In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.
“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”
“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”
For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”
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‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives
‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.
Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.
The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.
US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.
Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.
One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.
The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.
“American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”
One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”
The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后：时间，或许真的不在美国那边了“).
It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”
“American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”
Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”
The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.
Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”
“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”
Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.
Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你：将美国经济从中国分离，美国会破产“).
In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”
The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》：那些说出来的，和没有说的“).
The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”
In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.
Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”
“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”
Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.
In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”
Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.
Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”
Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”
Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”
Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.
Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”
“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”
“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”
Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.
Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.
According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”
More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”
American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.
The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”
Edited by Eduardo Baptista
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