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The Brexit “Divorce Drama” Captivates Chinese Netizens

As politicians, (British) citizens and international media are feverishly discussing the post-Brexit turmoil, many Chinese netizens see the Brexit referendum as a “divorce drama” rather than a critical political decision-making process: will Mrs. Britain and Mr. EU ever get back together?




As politicians, EU citizens and international media are feverishly discussing the post-Brexit turmoil, many Chinese netizens see the Brexit referendum as a “divorce drama” rather than a critical political decision-making process: will Mrs. Britain and Mr. EU ever get back together?

Brexit is not just making headlines in Europe. The topic is also trending on Chinese (social) media. On Sina Weibo, the topic #Brexit Referendum (#英国脱欧公投) has attracted 980 million readers since Sunday.

The question how Brexit might affect China has been discussed by different official Chinese media such as Global Times, that suggests that Britain leaving the EU might indirectly affect China’s export. Britain is China’s second largest trade partner in EU.

As the “leave” vote also affects the overall financial market, it could also cause instability and a possible setback to the internationalization of Chinese currency, according to Global Times.


China Daily reported that especially Chinese companies with a significant presence in Britain and the EU will be impacted by UK’s decision to leave the European Union, as they might encounter legal issues and problems over taxation or employee mobility.


“Although deep down B. still had faith in their marriage, she could not make this decision by herself.”


But for most Chinese netizens, Brexit is not so much a political decision-making process but rather a “divorce drama” – with Britain’s EU leave actually being compared to a married couple in a relationship crisis. Many netizens wonder whether their crisis is severe enough for an actual divorce.

A popular illustrated article by Phoenix News best represents the so-called “divorce drama between Britain and the EU”:


“A long time ago, Little B. [Britain] was very powerful, with villa’s on every island and fields on half the globe..At the same time, on the continent of Europe, some people had been fighting for hundreds of years. Until one day, after the war, they finally stopped and made a baby named E. [EU, previously ‘European Community’]..It did not take long for E. to grow up and notice his pretty neighbor B. Although E. seemed small and harmless, Little B. feared that he might grow big pretty soon and would then cross the English Channel to bully her.”


But E. did not grow up to be a spoiled brat – and he actually gathered quite some money. Although E. was not very handsome, he was a capable young man. Little B. had some bad luck; all her fields over the world turned independent, after which she had less to eat. In a moment of desperation, B. thought E. was not so bad after all – and she was hungry – so she decided to marry him. But married life was quite tragic for the couple. Because E. was a real male chauvinist, and meddled in all kinds of big and small issues, which made B. very uncomfortable.”

The story continues:

“E. really wanted some kids with B., but she firmly refused as she was afraid it would turn her into a faded old woman.(..) Although B. and E. always had some small frictions during their marriage, Mr. E. always thought B. was very pretty, and her family was rich, so he treated her like a princess. Although B. was not really satisfied with the marriage, she had no intentions to actually divorce…until E. brought home some poor neighbors recently…”

divorce drama2

“B. was outraged, and all the anger of the previous years came out, as she said E. would never listen to her – she wanted a divorce. Despite all the havoc, E. still really liked B. and would do everything to make her stay. Although deep down B. also still had faith in their marriage, she could not make this decision by herself. So she decided to consult her family” – and we all know how that story ended.

Caption: E. (man): “It is all my fault!” B. (woman): “I drink milk tea, you eat sausage, how come I marry you!!?”


“The drama is coming to an end; go wash up and sleep.”


The story of “B. and E.” continues on Chinese social media, where some netizens believe that Britain threatening to leave the EU is just a symptom of the UK needing some extra TLC: “Britain wants out of EU? It’s just like a wife demanding a divorce. It is merely a matter of a romantic night and giving her an extra handbag. It just takes some persuasion and it will pass”, one netizen says.

Although there are now more voices rising saying that Brexit might not actually happen, some netizens still see reasons to worry: “It is so awkward for EU now – Brexit is like a couple that wants a divorce. Even if the marriage remains, life will remain to be difficult in the future.”

Whether they are positive, negative, or indifferent about the Brexit turmoil, the majority of Chinese netizens see the referendum as a “relationship drama” which will probably end with Britain remaining in the EU. “Britain will not leave”, many netizens remark matter-of-factly: “The drama is coming to an end; go wash up and sleep”, writes another netizen.


“It will be Scotland all over again.”


One of the reasons why many netizens are convinced Brexit will not end up in an actual break-up is because it reminds them of another “divorce drama” in 2014: the Scottish independence referendum.

Back in 2014, the Scotland referendum also attracted much attention on Chinese social media, with the topic #Scotland referendum (#苏格兰公投) being viewed over 11 million times at the time. The referendum was framed in a similar “divorce” narrative, with many netizens referring to the referendum as Scotland proposing to end of its 300-hundred-year marriage with England.

“It will be Scotland all over again”, says one netizen: “Create a scenes, make some headlines, and then get some extra rights”.

Many netizens created their own “dramas” around this referendum. One netizen even wrote a romance story featuring Arthur, a young man who was losing his charm, anxious about whether others would stay with him.


“Dear Little B, if you ever want to get back to me, I will always be here for you!”


Many netizens also get poetic about the Brexit crisis: “Dear Little B, if you ever want to get back to me, I will always be here for you!”, one netizen writes, posting the following video [turn on subtitles]:

“I just broke up with my girlfriend,” one netizen comments: “and then came Brexit. This video perfectly represents our epic love story.”

The original poster is not too positive about this love story’s outcome: “The UK will say: ‘I’d rather cry in my Rolls-Royce, then laugh on the back of your bike!”

“B. and E. have really split up,” one netizen writes: “And matchmaker Cameron has left the stage.”

Scotland leaving Britain or Britain leaving the EU might be far-away political events for many Chinese, but recent social media reactions show that netizens form their own understandings of the tumultuous events. Although the actual story might go beyond a simple marriage crisis, many Chinese netizens are eager to see if the B. and E. will finally get to live happily ever after.

– By Diandian Guo and Manya Koetse

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China Local News

Online Anger over “Special Treatment” for Quarantined Foreigners in China

Are foreigners in quarantine being treated better than Chinese nationals? This Nanjing Daily article has triggered controversy.

Bobby Fung



On March 27, an article titled “For the Good Health of 684 Foreigners” (“为了684个“老外”的安康”) sparked controversy online over the alleged special treatment of foreign nationals during their mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

According to the article published by Nanjing Daily, Nanjing’s Xianlin Subdistrict set up a special WeChat group for foreign nationals and their families returning to the city after the Spring Festival holiday, which coincided with the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

In special WeChat groups, subdistrict officers, doctors, translators, and property managers provide assistance and daily services to these China-based foreigners. Examples of such “daily services” include delivering fresh bread or contacting pet boarding facilities.

“One young man loved online shopping on Taobao, and once we delivered twenty packages for him within one day,” one member of the service group told Nanjing Daily.

Although foreign residents in China and foreigners with previously issued visas are currently no longer allowed to enter China, they needed to undergo a two-week quarantine period upon entry until the travel ban of a few days ago.

Jiangsu Province, of which Nanjing is the capital, tightened quarantine rules on March 23, making every traveler from abroad subject to a centralized quarantine (e.g. in a hotel) for fourteen days.

The special services for returning foreigners reported by Nanjing Daily triggered controversy on Chinese social media this week. Many netizens criticized it as a “supra-nationals treatment” (超国民待遇).

Under one Weibo post by media outlet The Cover (@封面新闻), which received over one million views, many people are criticizing local officers’ favorable treatment of foreigners. One commenter writes: “Will they provide the same comprehensive services to their compatriots?”

Another person writes: “Why don’t they also adhere to the slogan of ‘Serve the People’ (..) when dealing with Chinese citizens?”

In discussing the supposed inequality between the treatment of foreigners and Chinese nationals in quarantine, many netizens raise a recent example of a quarantined Chinese student who asked the civil police staff for mineral water. In a video that circulated online in mid-March, the girl quarrels with the police for not being offered mineral water. The student, demanding mineral water over the available boiled tap water, was ridiculed for suggesting that having mineral spring water is a “human right.”

Ironically, the Nanjing Daily article explicitly mentions how the Xianlin Subdistrict deals with foreigners drinking purified water: “[This] Laowai [foreigner] wants to drink bottled purified water, [so] we bought four barrels for him (..) and carried them from the community gate to his apartment.”

The contrast in treatment of quarantined foreigners versus Chinese nationals prompted some Weibo users to reflect on their previous remarks on the female student: “I apologize for previously mocking the Chinese student at the quarantine center in Pudong, Shanghai, for demanding to drink mineral water,” one commenter writes.

In response to the online controversy, the office of the Xianlin Subdistrict clarified that Chinese nationals would receive “similar services” during their quarantine period. Some netizens question what these alleged “similar services” exactly entail.

In another media report, the official reply was that “the Subdistrict treats Chinese and foreign citizens the same.”

Over recent years, there have been many online controversies on the issue of privilege in China. Earlier this year, there was public outrage over two women driving a Benz SUV into the Palace Museum, where cars are usually not allowed.

The issue of the perceived privileges of foreigners in China has particularly triggered anger among netizens. The “preferential treatment” of overseas students and the “dorm disparities” between Chinese and foreign students in China, for example, previously became major topics of online discussion.

A popular WeChat article that comments on the Nanjing controversy of this week also lists examples of special treatment for foreigners, including cases where foreigners were not fined when breaking rules in China or being “treated better” in other ways. By now, the article has received over 100,000 views.

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Bobby Fung (@bobbyfungmr)

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China Media

Online Outrage over Gansu Female Medical Workers Required to Shave Their Heads

Heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of visual propaganda? A video showing female medical workers having their heads shaved has triggered controversy.




First published

A Chinese media post praising female nurses for having their heads shaved has sparked outrage on Weibo and WeChat. Are these women heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of gendered visual propaganda?

A video showing tearful female medical workers having their head shaved before going to COVID-19 epicenter city Wuhan has sparked outrage on Chinese social media.

The video, originally posted by Gansu Daily (每日甘肃网) on February 15, shows how a group of female nurses is standing in line to have their hair shaved off in preparation of their mission to Hubei to assist during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

In the short segment that has since gone viral on Weibo and WeChat, some women can be seen crying while having all of their hair shaved off.

According to Gansu Daily and other Chinese media, the fifteen nurses, including one man, are part of a medical aid group that was sent out to Wuhan this weekend. Their hair was reportedly shaved off “in accordance with requirements” to make their work more efficient and reduce the risk of infection.

The original news post praises the women as “the epidemic’s heroes in harm’s way” (“疫情中最美的逆行者”) – a term also used to describe brave firefighters during the 2015 Tianjin explosions (for more background on this term in Chinese, also see Xinhua and Zhihu).

Although the story praises the female medical workers as heroes and was soon reposted and promoted by many other (state) media, it was not just met with positive reactions from Chinese netizens.

On the contrary: it triggered waves of criticism over the medical team’s supervisors requiring the women to shave off their hair, with many deeming the measures unnecessary, humiliating, and sexist.

“Why do they need to shave all of their hair, the men don’t even need to do that?!”, some Weibo commenters wonder.

Many Weibo users wonder how necessary it actually is for the women to go completely bold for medical work purposes, wondering why the male workers do not need to shave their heads and why the women could not just opt for a shorter hairstyle instead – suggesting the media circus surrounding the shaving of the heads is more about visual propaganda than actually being a necessity.

“I am a medical worker myself,” one Weibo user writes: “I consulted an infection control doctor [on this matter] and they said it is not necessary at all to have a bald head. Short hair is convenient enough, and hair has a protective function too to reduce [skin] irritation from the friction of wearing hats and masks. It furthermore also has a function of catching sweat, preventing it from dripping to your eyes. A shaven head does more harm than good.”

“Why do people need to bleed and cry in order for them to become heroes?”, others say: “This is just cruel.”

Adding to the online fury was a photo showing the group of medical workers after their heads were shaved, as the one male nurse in the group not only seemed to wear a better quality face mask, but also appeared to have much more hair left than the female nurses.

The original Gansu Daily post has since been deleted from social media.

On WeChat account Epoch Story (“epochstory2017″/Epoch故事小馆), author Chen Mashu (陈麻薯) posted a critique on February 17th titled “Please Stop Using Female Bodies as Propaganda Tools” (“请停止用女性的身体,作为宣传的工具“).

Recent online Chinese visual propaganda in times of the coronavirus crisis has seen a strong focus on Wuhan medical workers.

This kind of visual propaganda often highlights the idea of “sacrificing,” especially when it comes to women as pretty girls, loving mothers, or good wives.

In the WeChat article, author Chen argues that Chinese state media always uses women’s bodies as a tool for propaganda, and argues that it should not be necessary for women to endure extra hardship or suffering (in this case, sacrifice their hair) in order to make them admirable ‘model workers.’ The fact that they are fighting on the front line should be more than enough reason to praise them, Chen writes.

While these women’s tears were “used to try to impress the audience” and become an example of some “collectivist spirit,” Chen argues, this kind of propaganda backfired because the individual needs and wishes of these women were completely ignored during the process.

Although the original story and visuals may have meant to be empowering in times of coronacrisis, they are actually counterproductive to female empowerment at large.

This is not the first time the role of women in Chinese state media propaganda become a big topic of discussion online.

In 2016, a photo series titled “100.000 soldier-loving girls” (十万恋军女孩) posted by China’s Military Web during the Wuhan flood also caused controversy. In the online media campaign, Chinese state media paid a ‘tribute’ to rescue workers by sharing pictures of girls holding the message “I wish to wash your uniform for you”. It triggered online discussions on the submissive female image propagated by Chinese state media.

At time of writing, various posts about the shaved heads of the Gansu medical workers have been taken offline.

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan) and Bobby Fung (@bobbyfungmr), with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

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