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Anti-Black Racism Dominates Online Discussions over ‘Privileged’ Exchange Students in China

Controversy erupted when Jinan University allegedly ‘forced’ female students to accompany exchange students from Congo.

Manya Koetse

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This week has seen various heated discussions on Chinese social media regarding the alleged privileged position of exchange students in the PRC. Anti-black racism is ubiquitous within these online discussions.

In the same week that a short video exposing the dorm disparity between Chinese and foreign students went viral, another issue has sparked controversy regarding overseas students in China.

This time, Chinese bloggers and social media users show their discontent with another type of alleged “internationalization” at Chinese universities – Jinan University in specific.

The controversy was triggered by a Weibo post published on June 24, in which a female netizen claimed that Jinan University was “forcing female students to participate in [cultural] ‘exchange’ activities with black exchange students.”

The post added fuel to recent ongoing discussions about the privileged position of foreign students, in which many Chinese social media users show their anger over exchange students’ relatively better dorm conditions, the scholarships they get, and other ways in which universities allegedly prioritize the comfort of international students over that of Chinese students.

This week, the alleged installment of new air-conditioning at the exchange students’ dorm at Jinan University – rather than an installment of air-conditioning at the Chinese students’ dorm – also sparked anger.

 

“Why don’t they send their own wives and daughters to ‘communicate’ with black students?”

 

What stands out in these online discussions is that, although there is a general anti-foreign trend, many netizens specifically talk about black students when they vent their anger, with waves of anti-black racism permeating these debates.

The claim that Chinese female students would be required to participate in on-campus activities with black exchange students triggered controversy on many online media platforms, from Sina Weibo to Zhihu.com and Tianya.

Some internet commentators suggested that it was improper for university staff to ‘assign’ Chinese girls to African students.

Photos of the programme arranged for the foreign students, in which Chinese students were to take part in, also leaked online.

“Not only does China educate these black devils for free, lets them eat and live for free on a scholarship, but also do they provide them with women. Just reincarnate me as a black person in my next life,” one commenter on messageboard Tianya writes.

“Why don’t they send their own wives and daughters to ‘communicate’ with black students?”, one Weibo user asked.

Jinan University responded to the online controversy on Weibo, writing:

Firstly, these exchange students from Congo visited China with a clear sequence of processes. Our school helped to arrange the welcoming of these visitors, as is said in The Analects of Confucius: ‘What a pleasure to have friends come from afar.’ (..) Since our students from the foreign language department are mostly female, these circumstances were unavoidable. (..). Our school is on a regular site and is all monitored. No one needs to worry that something would happen at our school.

 

“Is this the People’s Republic of China, or People’s Republic of Africa?”

 

With the promotion of the One Belt One Road initiative and closer China-Africa relations, thousands of African students come to China on scholarships every year, pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees subsidized by the government.

African exchange students at Hefei University (via Hushe.net).

According to Quartz Magazine, more Anglophone African students studied in China in 2017 than in the United States or the United Kingdom, which used to be their traditional destinations of choice.

The issues of the recent viral short movie – exposing the better living conditions of foreign students – together with the Jinan University controversies, have sparked off hundreds of comments on Weibo over the past week.

Exchange student featured in the short movie that went viral this week.

Saying they feel that Chinese students are being treated as “second-class citizens,” some netizens ask: “Is this the People’s Republic of China, or People’s Republic of Africa?”

“The Ministry of Education has become like an immigration office,” one Weibo user says: “It is damaging our country.”

Some blogs focusing on “black exchange students” in China say they bring HIV into the country, writing: “The Ministry of Education spends ten-thousands of yuan to let these low-class exchange students come to China, yet they haven’t had medical checks and bring in diseases.”

This is a recurring pattern on Weibo and other Chinese social media, where phrases such as “black devil go away” or “black monkey go back to Africa” are commonplace. Discrimination of Africans often comes with issues in which Chinese netizens themselves somehow feel marginalized or discriminated.

 

“The denigration and discrimination of black people is spreading like an epidemic.”

 

Online racism against Africans has been an ongoing issue on Weibo since the platform was launched in 2009. At the time, an essay about the racism against Chinese in Africa drew much attention. In 2013, Weibo was flooded by news of Chinese being killed in Ghana.

The existing idea that Chinese are looked down upon in Africa has allegedly worsened anti-African sentiments in China, although there are also those who already warned in 2013 that “the denigration and discrimination of black people [in Africa by the Chinese] is spreading like an epidemic.”

Throughout the years, multiple news stories concerning Africans have triggered waves of racist remarks. In “From Campus Racism to Cyber Racism,” scholar Cheng (2011) argues that anti-black racism in China has re-emerged with China’s deeper economic involvement in Africa, due to which large numbers of Chinese and Africans have come to work and study in each other’s countries.

Cheng writes that, although there already were waves of racism against Africans in the early post-Mao era, it has resurfaced over the last decade with the rise of China as a global power. Given that there are still many Chinese regarding Africans as “racially inferior,” “these people think it is wrong for Africans to create social problems in Chinese cities and impede China’s actions in Africa” (561).

 

“Chinese students often suffer discrimination when they go abroad. Why would they do the same to black students here?”

 

What is noteworthy is that anti-African sentiments on Weibo are mostly targeted at black men, not black women, and that their relations with Chinese women are strongly denounced. (Note: the Google image search results for ‘black African exchange student’ in Chinese (非洲黑人留学生) are very telling for what African exchange students are associated with online). It is perhaps for this reason that the Jinan incident especially ignited controversy.

But there are also those who resist racial stereotyping and discrimination.

Popular Weibo blogger Mai Tian (@麦田) wrote this week: “Lately, in the news feed of Weibo, I see more and more content that denounces Chinese girls being romantically involved with black men. This kind of content distributes racial discrimination, narrow-minded views, and a conceited stinkiness. It’s unbearable.”

“Chinese students often suffer discrimination when they go abroad. Why would they do the same to black students here?”, another commenter writes.

Others think the problem can be easily solved: “Just give Chinese students the same dorm conditions as other students and foreign students.”

For now, discussions are quieting down; most online threads and articles discussing this issue, including the response by Jinan University, have been taken offline by censors.

By Manya Koetse with contribution from Chauncey Jung

Reference

Cheng, Yinghong. 2011. “From Campus Racism to Cyber Racism: Discourse of Race and Chinese Nationalism.” The China Quarterly (207): 561-579.


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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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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Sotka Pujo

    July 3, 2018 at 7:24 pm

    So the jew communist are doing same thing they did in west.

  2. Avatar

    Mickey D

    July 7, 2018 at 8:28 pm

    When I first found out about China’s infiltration of African countries, I believed part of the motivation was for Chinese to have someone to feel superior to, besides the Uighers.
    When I first taught in China in 2009, I was very surprised to see how much Michael Jackson and Martin Luther King, Jr. were honored. And later I saw how the black atheletes like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Lebron James were adored! I can’t remember how many students had Kobe, James and Jordan for their English names. I even had a couple Obamas! But there is apparently a huge difference between black celebrities and black people they don’t know. When I play a song that featured a couple black musicians–really grooving–many students would laugh at how black they were. And some of the darker skinned students were nicknamed Obama. There were some that even laughed at how black Michael Jackson was in the short for “Thriller.” Girls especially, want to be as white as possible, and buy expensive whitening creams. But this article has shown me that the prejudice is deeper than color. It’s racism similar to what we see from lower class whites in the US. Because it’s common for foreign teachers to have better accommodations than Chinese teachers. Reason being, to keep the foreign teacher comfortable, reducing the culture shock, with the goal of the teacher staying a long time.

  3. Avatar

    Uncle Tom

    August 19, 2018 at 5:40 am

    This article raises the issue of preferences. And that preferring any group over another does in fact amount to discrimination. In the United States it is appearing in public service and in university admissions as well as scholarships and “entitlement” programs. Yet every instance in which the party being discriminated against (in this instance Chinese university students) calls out the blatant discrimination against them, they are portrayed with random examples from unrelated incidents, as racist. These media tactics are abhorrent.

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China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse

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On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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