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Another Apology to China? One Taiwanese Model and China’s Angry Cyber-Nationalism

Public anger and displays of cyber-nationalism often end with a public apology “to China.”

Manya Koetse

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When a Taiwanese model recently scolded people from the mainland on social media, it triggered a wave of comments from netizens who took it as a personal insult and an attack on China. Anger has become a recurring display of Chinese cyber-nationalism. Controversies often end with a public “apology to China”.

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.

stella

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.

stellafb

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.

_90879762_cctvwrong2Subtle 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.

3700a45200000578-3729719-image-a-2_1470670139662

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.

chou

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.

_90427647_weibo

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.

imgres

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.

sorry

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.

– By Manya Koetse and Chi Wen

References

Ying Jiang. 2012. Cyber-Nationalism in China: Challenging Western media portrayals of Internet censorship in China. Adelaide: University of Adelaide Press.

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content 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.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    John Rain

    September 30, 2016 at 2:31 am

    I don’t know whether Chinese people’s thin skinned nationalism is more funny or pathetic. China, as a nation, is a sulky 2-year old.

    • Avatar

      Wang Wei Guo

      October 1, 2016 at 9:38 am

      When foreign barbarians and raiders burn down your national monuments, rape your children, loot your history and tarnish your culture you can complain about our “thin skinned nationalism”, until then know that we forget not and we forgive never. 勿忘國耻, 以身报国

      • Avatar

        John Rain

        October 2, 2016 at 8:43 am

        “burn down your national monuments, rape your children, loot your history and tarnish your culture” This also describes the Communist Party under Mao, yet both the party and Mao are held in very high regard today, how is this possible if you “forget not and […] forgive never”?

    • Avatar

      Silver Sterling

      October 1, 2016 at 6:17 pm

      John Rain,

      And it concerns aWestern degenerate accursed breed like you ……because?

      Oh yeah, I know, as a an accursed bloodthirsty breed you guys are ALWAYS looking for trouble stirring up shit when it does not concern you. Westerners , as a breed, are inflammatory, savages always looking to start shit from physically bombing and hijacking other countries to playing the Big Brother – always have a need to dissed others PROACTIVELY.

      • Avatar

        John Rain

        October 2, 2016 at 8:47 am

        It concerns me because the Chinese government used “hurt feelings” to censor things they don’t like outside China’s borders. I don’t know about you, but I’m a fan of free speech and free media. I hope alluding to the fact that China has neither won’t hurt your feelings even more?

    • Avatar

      John Rain

      October 2, 2016 at 8:39 am

      Thanks to both Wang Wei Guo and Silver Sterling for proving my point better than I could ever hope to. Thank you, both of you!

  2. Avatar

    Silver Sterling

    October 1, 2016 at 6:24 pm

    Btw, the Taiwanese “model” look like those plastic surgery whore-wannabe-model. In HK this type of “leng-mo” is a source of joke and ridicule. Basically slut -like clowns.

    Dress and act like a slut with those fake ass ,pouty 3 year old demeanor, then crap about lusty hounds wanting to approach her? Anyone wanna wager her breast is implants and those features are cosmetic surgery?

  3. Avatar

    Erisadesu

    December 7, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    oh well.. it seems that everyone in this world is more sensitive, you can’t make sarcasm or ironic remarks or tell a joke because you don’t know who you will offend any more…but all those people who want to use china for making money should be more carefull on what they are saying….

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Backgrounder

“Fake” and “Hypocritical” – Western Anti-Racism Movements Criticized on Weibo

Chinese social media responses to the Western anti-racism movement after Floyd’s death.

Manya Koetse

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George Floyd and the global anti-racism movements have not just dominated headlines in the US and other western countries – in China, they have also become a major news topic. This is an overview of the general Chinese online media discussions of these global news developments, including all the big hashtags, from the George Floyd killing to global companies changing their policies amid concerns over racial stereotyping.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China (forthcoming), see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

George Floyd – it is a name that the entire world has come to know since the 46-year-old black man was killed during an arrest in May of this year.

The death of Floyd has sparked major Black Lives Matter protests around the world, inspiring international movements fighting against racism. The incident also led to unrest, riots, and the defacement of controversial statues in America and other countries.

In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against systemic racism, many organizations and companies in western countries have also made various anti-racist statements and announced policy changes.

Minneapolis graffiti mural honoring George Floyd, photo by Munshots, Unsplash.

In China, the case of George Floyd (transcribed as 乔治•弗洛伊德 Qiáozhì Fúluòyīdé) and its ongoing aftermath have also made headlines in the media and have become big news topics on social media sites such as Weibo.

In a year of COVID-19 crisis and geopolitical tensions – including escalating China-US tensions and the passing of the national security law for Hong Kong -, many of the recent news stories do not stand alone.

The way the news is reported and discussed in China by state media and web users is often part of larger narratives about China and its current relations within the international community. But it’s not just politics; cultural context also greatly matters when it comes to how the anti-racism movement in the Floyd aftermath is perceived in the PRC.

 

“Oh, How Free America Is” – Floyd’s Killing

 

As now widely known, the George Floyd incident took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, when police responded to a shopkeeper’s call about someone potentially using a counterfeit bill. Floyd was sitting in his car when officers arrived at the scene and was asked to step out of his vehicle.

Even though Floyd was compliant and unarmed, a bystander video shows how he was held face-down on the ground, the officer pressing his knee into the side of his neck, while Floyd was begging for air, uttering the sentence: “I can’t breathe.”

While the officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for over seven minutes, the 46-year-old could be seen losing consciousness and going limp.

The video of the fatal arrest went viral on social media overnight, and soon led to people protesting in Minneapolis and elsewhere across the US, demanding justice over the fatal arrest.

Black Lives Matter public demonstration in Cincinnati, photo by Julian Wan, Unsplash.

The four officers involved in George Floyd’s death have since been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and have been criminally charged. Tensions in Minnesota reached a boiling point and protests escalated to riots and lootings, with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey declaring a state of emergency on May 29.

On that same day, CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, a reporter of color, was arrested and handcuffed on live television together with his cameraman and producer while reporting on the situation in Minneapolis. Although the CNN crew was released shortly after, the incident also further intensified the debate on discrimination and racism in America.

On Weibo, news of the George Floyd incident and the American protests soon went trending with various related hashtags.

By late May and early June, some of the top Weibo hashtags regarding the protests were “CNN Crew Arrested by Police” (#CNN报道团队被警方逮捕#, 170 million views), “Minneapolis Enters State of Emergency” (#美国明尼阿波利斯市进入紧急状态#, 370 million views),  “Protests Erupt over Case of Black Man Dying after American Police Applies Pressure on Neck” (#美警察压颈致黑人死亡引发抗议#, 7+ million views),  “American Anti-Racist Demonstrations” (#美国反种族歧视游行#, 3+ million views) and many more.

The hashtag “U.S. Riots” (#美国暴乱#) garnered over 5,3 billion views and triggered thousands of reactions on Chinese social media.

Many of the Weibo responses to the killing of George Floyd and its direct aftermath incorporated these developments into a bigger framework of strained US-China relations, pointing out the supposed American hypocrisy for criticizing China regarding freedom and human rights, especially in light of the COVID19-crisis and the Hong Kong situation.

“Oh how free America is,” one popular comment on Weibo said (“多么自由的米国”), with others saying things such as: “Are these the human rights you are advocating?”

Commenters expressed their disgust at the brutality of the policemen, calling the police officers “ruthless” and “sadistic,” with some – not without sarcasm – wondering if China should introduce an “anti-racism law” against US officials responsible for racial abuse.

News of CNN reporter Jimenez being arrested by the American state patrol was also shared on Weibo by the Communist Youth League official account, leading to many reactions criticizing America’s “freedom of press.”

“So this is so-called equality? Freedom? Democracy?” Another user writes: “So this is the freedom I’m yearning for? Is this called freedom?”

Some Weibo users shared compilations showing American officers using excessive force and violence while beating and shooting down people during their work.

Although criticism of the US-dominated Chinese online discussions of Floyd’s killing, there were also social media users showing support for the protesters: “I fully support the movement of Black Americans fighting for the rule of law, equality, and freedom,” one popular comment, receiving over 14,000 likes, said.

One blogger with over 123,000 followers wrote: “The riots erupting in the US will surely have a negative impact on society. But looking at it from another perspective, it still makes me envious because they have the guts to speak up, the courage to resist. If such a thing would happen in China, would you stand up?”

 

“Fake Anti-Racism” – From The Simpsons to Darlie Toothpaste  

 

As George Floyd protests have now ignited a wave of anti-racism efforts across the globe, there are also new hashtags popping up on Chinese social media that are generating a lot of discussion.

Although the protesters denouncing racism and police brutality directly after the Floyd killing were often praised on Chinese social media, some of the latest efforts by companies and brands – showing wider consideration of racism in media, fashion, and entertainment – met less sympathy among Chinese web users.

One example is the news-related hashtag “The Simpsons Cartoon Stops Using White People to Dub the Voices of Non-White Roles” (#动画辛普森不再用白人为非白人配音#), which had over 90 million views on Weibo at time of writing. In late June, producers of The Simpsons announced that they will no longer let white actors do the voices of characters of color.

“Bloody hell, [as if] you can hear by the voices if they are white or not?!”, a typical comment said, with other recurring comments saying: “This is crazy! Voices aren’t black or white.”

“Just make them all blue,” others suggested, with one person writing: “They [the Simpsons] all have yellow skin, why don’t they use actors of Asian descent to do their voices? This is fake so-called anti-racism.”

Others also argue that these kinds of initiatives only stress racial differences, instead of combating racism: “The more it’s like this, the more they stress the importance of racial distinction. Why?”

Other anti-discrimination initiatives, such as that of Unilever and beauty brand L’Oréal Paris to stop using words like “whitening” and “fair” in describing their products, together with other brands’ initiatives to remove some skin-whitening products altogether, also received a lot of attention on Weibo (hashtag #欧莱雅停用美白宣传语#, 110 million views).

“This goes too far,” “Unbelievable,” “How unnecessary,” many commenters wrote, adding: “What does this have to do with racial discrimination?” “Isn’t this just another form of discrimination?”

“Why do I feel that it’s Asians who are being discriminated against here,” some users said: “Different ethnicities have different beauty standards, different people also have different tastes in beauty. For many Asians, they just happen to think fair skin is pretty.“

Noteworthy enough, the critical stances that are ubiquitous on Weibo toward this kind of initiatives are not just visible from the most general comments; the news sources posting these news articles, from Xinhua to Sina Top Trending, also use ‘thinking face’ or ‘surprised’ emoji in their posts that suggest a certain reproachful attitude towards these kinds of developments.

Chinese media often use pensive/surprised emoji when reporting on western brands’ anti-racism policies (image: screenshot of Xinhua reporting on L’Oréal).

Another notable brand response to the anti-racism movement also ignited online discussions: Colgate announced a review of its Chinese toothpaste brand “Darlie”[1], once known as “Darkie” (literally “Black Man Toothpaste” 黑人牙膏 in Chinese), for featuring a man in blackface.

Some of the hashtags used in discussing this news are “Black Man Toothpaste is the Latest Brand Affected by American Anti-Racism” (#黑人牙膏成美反种族歧视受影响最新品牌#) and “Colgate Considers Changing the Name of the Chinese Market ‘Black Man Toothpaste’” (#高露洁考虑将中国市场黑人牙膏改名#, 110 million views).

Darlie toothpaste is a household name for many Chinese (image via Sina Weibo).

Darlie toothpaste is originally a Chinese brand, under the umbrella of the 87-year-old Shanghai company Hawley & Hazel, and is a household name for many Chinese. The overall sentiment in response to this news is that many do not understand how changing the brand is helpful in the battle against social injustice.

“I just don’t see how this is racial discrimination,” one person comments: “How is this stereotyping [black men]?”

News that America’s biggest bank JPMorgan Chase is dropping the terms “master,” “slave,” and “blacklist” from its technology material and programming code was also met with criticism on Weibo (#摩根大通停用黑名单等术语#), where some wondered if they had “gone mad” and whether this way some sort of “literary inquisition.”

In a recent blog article on Weibo discussing these latest developments, blogger Captain Wuya (@乌鸦校尉) wrote about the brands and companies involved that “they are waving their big stick of political correctness at anyone they can hit.“

“What really needs to change here, is American big brands exaggerating the facts,” another popular comment said.

 

“Excessive Political Correctness” – Rejection of Western Anti-Racist Policies

 

The latest anti-racism movement in western countries is clearly discussed in a very different way in the Chinese social media context than it is in the English-language social media sphere.

Although many of the latest anti-racism initiatives by brands and companies also draw a mix of praise and criticism on Twitter or Facebook, the general view on Weibo seems to be that they are “fake,” “overdoing it,” are “unnecessary” and “non-sensical,” and that they stress racial differences rather than equality. Another recurring sentiment is that anti-black racism is prioritized over racism against Asians.

The different views among Chinese social media users on what is deemed racist or not has attracted wide attention before. One noteworthy example is that of the 2016 Qiaobi laundry detergent commercial that shows a black man turning into a Chinese man after being ‘washed.’ The commercial was taken down after causing controversy outside of China.

The Chinese Qiaobi commercial drew much controversy for being racist in 2016.

A typical comment on Chinese social media, at the time, was: “Western media have just taken their concept of ‘racism’ and applied it [to this commercial]. In reality, the great majority of Chinese people have no notion of ‘white’ versus ‘black’ or ‘Asian’, and any supposed inferiority in this.”

Similar responses also came up when the 2018 CCTV Gala caused consternation in foreign media for featuring a Chinese actress wearing blackface in a segment emphasizing Sino-African relations.

The controversial skit included a Chinese actress in blackface (CCTV).

These attitudes and general comments seem to suggest that racism or discrimination is just less of an issue in China, or that it is soon trivialized. Is this the case?

Issues of racism and discrimination are certainly not trivialized in China when it is about anti-Asian racism. Throughout modern history, the Chinese have been victims of racism. Over recent years, there are myriad examples of collective anger and boycott campaigns because Chinese feel discriminated against.

For example, when Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana launched a promotional video in which a Chinese-looking woman clumsily attempted to eat a large cannoli bread with chopsticks, many netizens on Chinese social media called it racist. After screenshots went viral of a China-bashing online conversation with the alleged Stefano Gabbana, the issue became one of the largest trending topics on Weibo in 2018.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to an increase in racism in the US and other countries directed at those of Asian descent, something that has recently become a hot topic on Chinese social media, triggering anger and calls for equal treatment of Asians.

Is it, then, perhaps that discrimination and racial inequality within mainland China are not so much of an issue? This certainly is also not the case. Besides the many different shapes and forms of discrimination – regional discrimination being one of them –, there are many examples of anti-black racism in China. Online racism against Africans has been an ongoing issue on Weibo ever since the platform was first launched in 2009 (example, example).

A notice at a Guangzhou McDonald’s restaurant saying “black people cannot come in” sparked international outrage earlier this year.

Voices against the discriminatory treatment of Africans in China have only grown louder during the coronavirus outbreak, when hundreds of Guangzhou-based Africans were evicted from hotels and apartments after local authorities began a campaign to forcibly test them for the coronavirus. A notice at a Guangzhou McDonald’s restaurant saying “black people cannot come in” sparked international outrage earlier this year.

All in all, it is not about racism being non-existent in China, nor is it trivialized. The fact that the latest western developments are discussed in such a different light on Chinese social media has much more to do with how American and European anti-racist policies, and the grip they hold on media, politics, and the corporate world, are rejected by Chinese netizens.

This does not mean that the Floyd incident is deemed any less horrific in China than elsewhere in the world. Social injustice and inequality are recurring topics on Chinese social media, and it is something that greatly matters to many Chinese web users, with these kinds of stories going trending all the time.

It does mean, however, that western approaches to anti-racism, with the racial etiquette that comes with it and a focus on what is correct or incorrect when it comes to language, imagery and behavior, are often deemed excessive (“矫枉过正”) by Chinese web users – or useless in actually combating social inequality.

These responses have a lot to do with current geopolitical developments and the position of China within the international community, but more so with the fact that China has a very different historical, cultural, and societal context when it comes to (anti-black) racism compared to the US or other western countries.

In a lengthy article posted on Weibo in early July by Chinese commentator and academic Guo Songmin (郭松民), who has been actively posting about the Black Lives Matter movement, the prominent leftist author explains that this also has a lot to do with the fact that, different from most western countries, “China has neither a history of slavery nor a history of colonizing Africa,” and that, at the same time, China is also not a country of immigrants.

In the end, some say that they do understand the latest anti-racist initiatives by American and European companies in their home markets, but also argue that they should not impose their political correctness upon the Chinese market.

A recent Weibo blog, reiterating the views of many on Weibo, argues that Darlie Toothpaste should still be ‘Black Man Toothpaste’ in China, and that cosmetic brands should continue to cater their ‘whitening’ products to the Chinese market. According to the author, these colors, words, and imageries mean something different in the PRC than in the West. “If European and American cosmetic companies truly respect the cultural and ethnic diversities across the world,” they write: “they should also respect the culture and aesthetics of East Asians.”

To what extent the anti-racist movement will eventually affect the Chinese market, and how -and if- this will change existing views on racism remains to be seen. Meanwhile, heated discussions continue on social media. For some Weibo commenters, the situation at hand seems clear enough: “American-style political correctness just makes no sense here.”

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

For COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

[1] Darlie is a toothpaste brand of Colgate partner Hawley & Hazel, that was established in Shanghai in 1933, and was originally marketed as a parody of American performer Al Jolson. He became popular for his blackface performances, and the whiteness of his teeth made him the face of the toothpaste brand.

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This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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China Insight

“It’ll Only Get Better” – The Week of Hong Kong National Security Law on Weibo

“Horses will still run, stocks will still sizzle, and dancers will still dance.”

Manya Koetse

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The implementation of the Hong Kong National Security Law has been a hot topic in international media over the past week. On Chinese social media, the law and the global responses to it have also triggered widespread discussions.

The new National Security Law (NSL) that came into effect on June 30 has caused alarm in Hong Kong, where people have protested for greater freedom, democracy, and independence from the political influences of Beijing since March of last year.

Although the law has been described as a “nightmare” by some critics, there are Beijing supporters who claim it is “huge progress.”

Pro-regime author Thomas Hon Wing Polin, for example, called the implementation of the law “the most hopeful day in the life of Hong Kong since its return to China in 1997.”

The law’s full name is the “Safeguarding National Security Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China” (中华人民共和国香港特别行政区维护国家安全法), and it basically stands for everything Hong Kong demonstrators have protested against for so long – less autonomy and more Beijing influence over the city.

On July 8, the national security office was officially opened in Hong Kong.

 

About the National Security Law

 

The NSL provides legal guarantee for police to “safeguard China’s national interest” and apply the law, that imposes criminal penalties for secession, subversion against state power, terrorist activities, and collusion with foreign forces.

The NSL has many vague provisions, and the legislative interpretation is up to Beijing. This makes it easier for Chinese authorities to punish protesters and those who criticize the government. People convicted of national security crimes could face up to life imprisonment.

The law (see full text here) has garnered special attention for its Article 38 and Article 43, the latter of which took effect on July 7.

Article 38 mainly triggered controversy for stating that every provision of the NSL also applies to everyone outside of Hong Kong:

This Law shall apply to offenses under this Law committed against the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region from outside the Region by a person who is not a permanent resident of the Region.”

Article 43 includes seven implementation rules, including one that allows Hong Kong authorities to demand tech companies to remove information and to share private user data. Noncompliance could result in fines or even imprisonment for staff members.

China Law Translate‘s Jeremy Daum commented on Twitter: “Regardless of how often such requests are made, even the possibility of such harsh penalties for protecting user data will leave foreign businesses in an incredibly difficult position. They may well be left with no choice but to leave HK, which may be the goal.”

 

International Responses to Beijing’s NSL in Hong Kong

 

Over the past few days, foreign companies and governments have responded to the law’s enactment with their own measures.

Both Canada and Australia have suspended extradition treaties with Hong Kong. New Zealand’s Foreign Minister stated the country is “deeply concerned at the imposition of this legislation” and that it would “review” its relationship with Hong Kong.

UK has offered citizenship options to Hong Kong residents, while France and Germany proposed EU countermeasures.

Major tech companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Google, Zoom and LinkedIn have indicated they will “pause” requests for data from authorities while they are assessing the situation and their position.

Beijing-headquartered ByteDance told Reuters that it will withdraw its TikTok app out of the region. (Note that there is a difference between the Tiktok app and Douyin app, that is available in mainland China).

During a press conference on July 7, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian reacted to a question regarding these responses to the National Security Law, reassuring that “horses will still run, stocks will still sizzle, and dancers will still dance” in Hong Kong – referring to the famous words Deng Xiaoping once said about Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.

 

Weibo Discussions

 

On Chinese social media platform Weibo, there have been discussions on the National Security Law developments under various hashtags – all hosted by the Weibo accounts of state media outlets such as People’s Daily or CCTV – since June of this year.

Some of the main hashtags:

  • “Hong Kong National Security Law” #港区国安法# (260 million views at the time of writing)
  • “Hong Kong National Security Law Takes Effect” #香港国安法正式生效# (380 million views)
  • “Hong Kong National Security Law Full Text” #香港维护国家安全法全文# (280 million views)
  • “Hong Kong National Security Law’s Implementation Rules Effective as of July” 7 #香港国安法实施细则7月7日生效# (81+ million views at the time of writing)
  • “Hong Kong’s National Security Law Specifies Four Types of Criminal Acts that Endanger National Security” #香港国安法明确4类危害国家安全犯罪行为#
    (13+ million views)
  • “Member of Hong Police Force Says Deterrence of National Security Law Is Already Apparent” #港警一哥说港区国安法的震慑力已显现# (67+ million views)
  • “Hong Kong Will Introduce the National Security Law to Students in Class Curriculum” #香港将在课程中向学生介绍国安法# (210 million views)

Although, as always, most comment threads below news articles on Weibo are heavily censored, there still are thousands of comments on these news developments.

A recurring comment is that the implementation of the law will make Hong Kong “more stable” and therefore “more prosperous.” Also: “Hong Kong is part of China. I hope our country will only get better.”

About Facebook and other tech companies “pausing” data requests from local authorities until further notice, some commenters say that this shows that these platforms are biased or hold a double standard. (Facebook has a page about its requests for user data here.) “They hand over data to other countries, but not to China?”

“If you don’t approve of China, if you don’t like Hong Kong, just get out instead of earning money from Chinese.”

Among all comments, there are also those acknowledging the forms of (silent) protest going on in Hong Kong, with sheets of blank paper becoming the latest protest symbol to avoid using slogans banned under the new national security law.

Others make fun of the subdued protests after the implementation of the NSL, posting photos of “before” and “after” the law took effect (image below).

Post on Weibo: protest in Hong Kong before and after the implementation of the National Security Law.

Last year during the Hong Kong protests, many Chinese social media users praised the Hong Kong police force and condemned the “angry youth.”

As explained in this article, the ideas shaping the discussions on Hong Kong on Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo mainly were that Western media were biased in reporting the demonstrations and that Hong Kong youth were stuck in a ‘colonial mentality’ and lacked patriotic education.

“We support the Hong Kong police force” was one of the slogans going around in 2019.

 

New Law, Same Ideas

 

This time around, the same rhetorical perspectives reappear on Chinese social media as during the start of the Hong Kong protests.

Firstly, there is a clear focus on the Hong Kong police force and the power they (should) have. Weibo users collectively praise the implementation of the NSL because the authorities now have more legal power to punish those who are “disturbing” Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.

The apparent general support for tough laws against anti-Beijing protesters also becomes clear looking at the recent news regarding the “Hong Kong Man Who Trampled and Burned Flag Sentenced to Five-Week Imprisonment” (#香港踩踏焚烧国旗男子改判入狱5周#), which was viewed 190 million times on Weibo on Friday.

A 21-year-old man who burned the national flag during protests in September last year was initially sentenced to 240 hours of community service. After prosecutors, pushing for tougher sentencing, requested a review of the case, the man was resentenced.

On Weibo, thousands of people responded to this news, saying his punishment was “too light” and that it should have been “five years rather than five weeks.”

“Even five years would not be enough for these kinds of cockroaches [蟑螂],” blogger Taogewang (@淘歌王) writes.

Second, there is also, again, a focus on the lack of patriotic education among Hong Kong youth.

On July 11, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam spoke at a local education forum, where she said that over 3,000 students have been arrested during the Hong Kong protests since June of last year. Lam pointed out that the NSL was an important moment to “let education return to education” and to let “student’s study return to the right track.”

On Weibo, this news item (#3000多名香港学生因修例风波被捕#) was discussed with a seeming general consensus that “patriotism starts with education” and that patriotism should be taught in Hong Kong schools.

Some argued that when teaching Hong Kong students about “One Country, Two Systems,” there should be more focus on the ‘One Country’ aspect rather than on the ‘Two Systems.’

Third, the supposed Western media bias in reporting about the Hong Kong National Security Law is again used in pro-Beijing discussions in Chinese online media, suggesting that Western media are prejudiced and show anti-Chinese sentiments in how they report about the developments in Hong Kong.

On July 11, Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者) posted a fragment of a BBC Hardtalk interview about the National Security Law from July 7, in which BBC’s Stephen Sackur repeatedly interrupted Hong Kong Senior Counsel and politician Ronny Tong (汤家骅), who defended the implementation of the law (see full interview here).

“They don’t want to hear your opinion at all,” one Weibo commenter said about Western media: “They just want you to make a mistake that suits their narrative.”

“Why do you invite a guest if you want to answer the questions you pose yourself?” others wonder.

For many on Chinese social media, the implementation of the law means that Hong Kong will see more law and order after a year filled with unrest. For others it simply means that the city has “finally” has returned to the motherland.

Many netizens keep repeating the same phrase: “Now that the National Security Law takes effect, Hong Kong will only get better.”

Also read: How the Hong Kong Protests Are Discussed on Chinese Social Media

By Manya Koetse

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