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BBC’s ‘Racism for Sale’ Documentary Triggers Discussions and Censorship on Chinese Social Media 

Weibo discussions on ‘Racism for Sale’ documentary: “BBC is maliciously hyping up the issue.”

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A video in which a group of African children dressed in red are happily chanting Chinese slogans made international headlines back in early 2020. Although the video might have seemed cheerful at first to those who don’t know Chinese, it is actually racist and exploitative.

The children are energetically repeating what someone else is telling them to say, while holding up a blackboard with the phrase they are chanting written out: “I am a black devil. My IQ is low” (“我是黑鬼, 智商低”).

The video was initially posted on Chinese social media on February 10th, 2020, sparking some controversy within China. It later started to attract international attention after Ghanaian vlogger Wode Maya, who studied in China, spoke out about it on his YouTube channel in a video on February 16th which has since been viewed nearly 200,000 times.

The video featuring the African children shocked people from all over the world and led to some media outlets looking further into the context. In April of 2020, France 24 Observers reporters investigated the video and shed light on a wider Chinese market for videos recorded in Africa with locals.

These type of videos are reportedly made by Africa-based Chinese nationals who give the children some money or food in return to perform for personalized videos, which are then sold via Chinese online platforms.

The videos often include birthday greetings or other personalized messages, but as the aforementioned example shows, sometimes also contains far more sinister content. In another video, the children were made to say they promised they’d never go to China.

There had been controversy over these kinds of videos before. As reported by France 24 Observers, such videos have been circulating on Chinese social media since 2015. In 2017, Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao already closed a few accounts selling such content.

This month, the racist video issue has been brought back to the forefront again due to BBC Africa Eye releasing its “Racism for Sale” documentary, in which reporters Runako Celina and Henry Mhango further investigate and expose the Chinese video-making industry that exploits vulnerable children across Africa. They traced the Weibo video and dozens of others back to one Chinese national living in Malawi, and then confronted him (watch the BBC documentary here).

Image of the Chinese national making the videos. (Via Yahoo).

On Weibo, the ‘Racism for Sale’ documentary also triggered discussions, but instead of focusing on the racist videos, they were generally more focused on the BBC documentary’s narrative and its intentions, and about anti-Black racism within China.

The influential Weibo channel Diba Guanwei (@帝吧官微), which has over 1,5 million followers, called out the documentary in a Weibo post for purposely wanting to meddle in China-Africa relations. It said that the Chinese man recording such videos and insulting African people was indeed a problem, but that it was too much to suggest that this is all about Chinese people exploiting Africans.

Other Weibo users denounced the Chinese man for making such videos, with one popular account suggesting that this person might have intentionally shot these videos to “hurt the friendship between Africa and China,” and that he should be severely punished for it.

One thing that some people jumped on is how a racist Weibo account named “Black People Joke Club” (黑人笑话社) is featured in the documentary for being the first Weibo account to post the video of the African children. Popular nationalist blogging account Guaguashuashi (@呱呱傻事) suggested that BBC Africa used the supposedly insignificant account to make a big story and stir up anger among Africans. Moreover, the account also claimed that the man identified as ‘Lu Ke’ (卢克) who was making the children chant and dance for the video actually had a Taiwanese accent. Guahuashashi’s post received over 2000 likes and more than 300 comments.

The “Black People Joke Club” (黑人笑话社) Weibo account was previously shut down. In light of the recent BBC documentary, other accounts publishing racist content have also been removed, including an account titled “That Guangzhou Guy” (那个广州人). Words such as ‘black devil’ have also been censored and come up with zero results on Weibo now. Images included in discussions of the BBC documentary have also been censored.

Censored images in a post about BBC’s ‘Racism for Sale.’

At time of writing, some content related to the “Black People Joke Club” or other racist accounts is still available on Weibo due to other social media users previously tagging these accounts when posting their own content. There are also still many Weibo groups, topics, and hashtags where people share racist jokes and memes. Many of these posts feature racist jokes about the N-word, blackface, or other stereotyping and derogatory content.

Although some Weibo bloggers blame the BBC for attracting more attention to the old racist video, there are also those who point out that there is indeed a problem with anti-Black racism among Chinese: “Some people in China are really discriminating against black people. Whenever there are women online who post about their happy life with their black husband, they are often cursed on by some men. I think there are really a lot of racist people in our country,” one Weibo commenter wrote.

Another popular comment by a Weibo account from Jiangxi said that some Chinese are hypocritical to deny their own racist rhetoric against black people and are loudly calling out America for anti-Black racism, while also being quick to call something ‘discrimination of Chinese people’ whenever they feel something is insulting to China.

The issue of anti-Black racism on Chinese social media has often popped up, turning into trending discussions, especially when it is about foreign media reporting on it. In 2021, a Chinese influencer came under fire after a video of her doing a blackface makeup tutorial resurfaced online. A Chinese Vtuber (virtual influencer) on Bilibili also stirred controversy for being blatantly racist and forcing her (virtual) ‘slave’ to go and pick cotton.

In 2016, social media exploded in light of a Chinese ad campaign for washing detergent brand Qiaobi (俏比) which featured a black man turning into a Chinese man after being ‘washed.’ Although the commercial initially did not receive much attention in China, the international media coverage eventually sparked major discussions on Chinese social media for being racist.

An Africa-themed skit performed during the 2018 CCTV Gala was meant to promote China-African relations, but instead it received backlash for featuring a Chinese actress wearing blackface and being accompanied by someone costumed as a monkey.

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

The ‘Racism for Sale’ video has not just triggered discussions on Weibo, it has also become a diplomatic issue. On June 13, Malawi’s Foreign Minister Nancy Tembo shared a video via Twitter addressing the matter, adding that she felt “disgusted, disrespected and deeply pained” because of the video industry exposed by BBC Africa.

The Chinese Embassy in Malawi condemned the videos in a Twitter post on June 13. Wu Peng, China’s Director-General of the Foreign Ministry Department of African Affairs, met with Minister Nancy Tembo a day later, and stated on Twitter that both China and Malawi have “zero tolerance for racism” and that China will continue to crack down on such racial discrimination videos in the future.

A Weibo account dedicated to the overseas Chinese community in Malawi has not posted anything about the BBC documentary nor the videos discussed in it.

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

By Federica Giampaolo and Manya Koetse

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    Richard Merlin

    June 24, 2022 at 5:02 am

    The characters on the blackboard are traditional Chinese characters, which have been replaced by simplified characters on the Chinese mainland since the 1950s but remain in use in Taiwan and Hong Kong. People from mainland China of “Shushu”s age will not write that way.
    His accent is typical Taiwan while Lu Ke has a Jiangsu or Zhejiang accent. It would be inconceivable for Lu Ke who makes a living filming in Africa to make such a disgusting, offensive and politically incorrect (in both China and Africa) film to destroy his own business AND himself.
    The Chinese people have been extremely sympathetic for the African people. After all, the Chinese have been discriminated against, abused, exploited, and bullied by Western powers like the African people for almost two centuries.
    The Chinese government has been sending aid to Africa since the 1950s, totally trillions of dollars even while the Chinese people were suffering from hunger en masse themselves. For emotional reasons and cold calculation, the Chinese government won’t tolerate anything that will undermine its huge investment in Africa.
    In conclusion, this appears highly likely to be part of special operations by Taiwan’s intelligence agency to smear the Chinese people and to poison relations between Africa and China at the same time.
    Chinese as well as people from all over the world of all political conviction and affiliation should do everything they can to expose and condemn such evil and hideous smearing attempts against all Chinese people.
    黑板上写的都是繁体字,这个年纪的大陆人不会写繁体字。卢克的口音是典型的江浙口音。可领着小朋友们喊侮辱性口号的“叔叔”的口音明显是台湾人。卢克再愚蠢,也不会拍那种极具侮辱性的视频自断财路甚至自掘坟墓,而且拍了以后竟然还胆敢留在当地。推测很可能是台湾军情局的杰作 – 一方面败坏中国人的国际形象,同时离间中非关系。全世界的华人中国人无论何种政治信仰,无论身在何处,都应团结起来,揭露声讨谴责这种极其卑劣的、败坏全体中国人华人国际形象的无耻恶行。

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China Media

No Hashtags for Mahsa Amini on Chinese Social Media

“Why is that every time Mahsa Amini is mentioned, it somehow gets linked to America?”

Manya Koetse

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While the death of Mahsa Amini and the unrest in Iran is a major news story worldwide, the incident and its aftermath received relatively little attention in Chinese media, where the narrative is more focused on how Western responses to the issue are intensifying anti-American sentiments within Iran.

Her name in Chinese is written as 玛莎·阿米尼, Mǎshā Āmǐní. Mahsa Amini is the young Iranian woman whose death made international headlines this month and triggered social unrest and fierce protests across Iran for the past ten days, killing at least 41 people.

The 22-year-old Amini was arrested by morality police in Tehran on 16 September for allegedly not wearing her hijab according to the mandatory dress code for women while she was visiting the city together with her family. According to eyewitness accounts, Amini was severely beaten by officers before she collapsed and was taken to the hospital where she died three days later.

The protests following Amani’s death were visible in the streets, but also on social media where Iranian women posted videos of themselves cutting off their hair as a sign of mourning and protest, asking others to help raise awareness on Amini’s death and violence against women amid internet shutdowns in the country.

There were also protests outside of Iran in other places across the world. In London, protesters clashed with police officers during a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy on Monday.

On Chinese social media platform Weibo, Chinese news site The Observer (观察者网) reported Amini’s death and the ensuing protests on September 22, but the hashtag selected to highlight the post did not focus on Amini.

Instead, it emphasized the reaction of the Iranian Foreign Ministry, which accused the United States and other Western countries of using the unrest as an opportunity to interfere in Iran’s internal affairs (hashtag: “Iran Denounces the US and other Western Countries #伊朗谴责美西方#).

The hashtag decision is noteworthy and also telling of how the developments in Iran have been reported by Chinese (online) media sources, which evade the topic of anti-government protests and instead focus on pro-regime marches and anti-American sentiments.

On China’s Tiktok, Douyin, as well as on Weibo, the Chinese media outlet iFeng News posted a video showing Iranian pro-government, anti-American protests on September 25, featuring interviews with veiled women speaking out in support of their country and showing “down with America” slogans and people burning the American flag.

In the comment sections, however, people were critical. One of the most popular comments said: “It must have been difficult organizing all these people.” Another person wrote: “Ah now I am starting to understand that it must have been Americans who beat the girl to death for not properly wearing her hijab.”

But there were also Chinese netizens who said that Iran was seeing a “color revolution” (颜色革命) initiated by the West, suggesting that foreign forces, mainly the U.S., are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

China Daily also published a video on Douyin in which they featured Iranian political analyst Foad Izadi who said that the demonstrators in Iran could be divided into two groups: one group cared about “a young woman losing her life,” but a second group are people “linked to terrorist organisations based outside Iran.”

Chinese media commentator Zhao Lingmin (赵灵敏) posted a video in which she spoke about the situation in Iran and provided more background information on the history of the country, during which she noted how one Iranian official had supposedly said that “the only two civilizations in Asia worth mentioning are Iran and China.”

Zhao explained how Iran officially became the Islamic Republic in April of 1979 as 98.2% of the Iranian voters voted for the establishment of the republic system in a national referendum.

Videos using the Douyin hashtag “Iran’s Amini” (#伊朗阿米尼) were seemingly taken offline while various images included in Weibo posts about Mahsa Amini and the unrest in Iran were also censored.

“It’s good that we can follow the situation here [on this account], because it’s been removed at others,” one commenter said in response to one post about the many protests following the young woman’s death.

Searches for Amini’s name came up with zero results on the website of Chinese state media outlets CCTV and Xinhua, where the last article about Iran was about how Iranian people think “America can’t be trusted.”

The official Weibo account of the Iranian Embassy in China did post a statement about Amini on September 23, writing that Iranian authorities have ordered an investigation into her tragic death and that the protection of human rights is an intrinsic value to Iran, “unlike those who use ‘human rights’ as a tool to suppress others.” “America must end its economic terrorism instead of shedding crocodile tears,” the last line said. That post received over 11,000 likes.

“Why is that everytime the Mahsa incident is mentioned, it somehow gets linked to America?!” one popular comment said, with another person also responding: “Sure enough, the U.S. gets blamed for everything.”

“So it was the Americans who killed her?” some Chinese netizens sarcastically wrote in response to the post by The Observer, which also mentioned the U.S. in their report of Mahsa’s death.

“I don’t know the exact circumstances, but I support the right of women not to wear a veil,” others said. “Men and women are equal, women should have the freedom to wear what they want and have education and get a job and have some fun,” another Weibo commenter wrote.

One Zhejiang-based Weibo user wrote: “The courage of people marching in the streets for freedom is moving. I wish that women will no longer have their freedom restricted through a hijab. What will the 21st century look like? The answer is still blowing in the wind.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Media

News of Pelosi Bringing Son on Taiwan Trip Goes Trending on Weibo

News of ‘Little Paul’ quietly joining Pelosi to Taiwan received over 380 million views on Weibo on Friday.

Manya Koetse

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Perhaps one would not expect Chinese state tabloid Global Times to care about American taxpayers’ money being spent responsibly, but in today’s trending headline on Weibo, they suggest they do:

As American media have discovered, Pelosi’s son Paul Pelosi Jr., who is not an official nor an adviser to her, has followed Pelosi around Asia at the expense of the American taxpayer,” Global Times wrote.

The topic “Pelosi Secretly Brought her Son to Visit Taiwan” (#佩洛西窜台偷偷带儿子#) garnered over 380 million views on Weibo on Friday.

Earlier this week, various American media outlets, including The New York Post, reported that the 53-year-old Pelosi Jr. ​traveled together with Nancy Pelosi during her Asia trip, but his name was not included in the official list of officials on the trip released by the speaker’s office.

The Chinese-language Global Times report on this issue is largely based on America’s Fox News host Jesse Watters reacting to Nancy Pelosi bringing her son on the Asia trip in his ‘Primetime’ show, with many of his words being directly translated in the Chinese news report: “He is not an elected official, he is not an advisor Nancy, he doesn’t even live in Washington, but he was greeted as royalty by the President of Taiwan.”

Jesse Watters’ suggested that Pelosi Jr. was involved in “shady” business, being on the payroll of two lithium mining companies and then visiting Taiwan, a world leader in lithium battery production. “Prince Pelosi will go wherever the money is,” Watters said, a sentiment that was reiterated by Global Times.

During a press conference, Pelosi confirmed that her son had joined her on the trip, saying: “His role was to be my escort. Usually, we – we invited spouses. Not all could come. But I had him come. And I was very proud that he was there. And I’m thrilled – and it was nice for me.”

When Pelosi was asked if her son had any business dealings while they were in Asia, she replied: “No, he did not. Of course, he did not.”

In response to Pelosi’s highly controversial visit to Taiwan, the Chinese government took sanctions against Pelosi and her immediate family.

According to Global Times, this might also affect Paul Pelosi Jr., who allegedly sought business opportunities in China via two companies, International Media Acquisition Corp and Global Tech Industries Group.

Many netizens are also ridiculing ‘Little Paulie’ (小保罗), especially because, based on the reports, they had somehow expected Pelosi’s son to be a child or young man instead of a 52-year-old. Part of the confusion stems from the Chinese translation for “Jr.”, xiǎo (小), which also means “little.”

“He’s 52! I though we were talking about a little kid,” some wrote, with others calling him a ‘mama’s boy.’

“That entire family will just do anything for money,” others wrote.

More than a week after Pelosi’s visit, news of ‘Little Paul’ joining her on the controversial trip just reinforces existing narratives on Chinese social media, led by official media, that Pelosi’s Taipei decision was more about self-interest than serving her country – and its taxpayers.

By Manya Koetse

 

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