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Brussels Attacks – Weibo Responds

As news of multiple explosions at the Brussels Airport and in the metro line in the morning of March 22 was reported by Chinese media, it soon became trending on Chinese social media, where netizens respond with shock.

Manya Koetse

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In the morning of March 22, the European capital of Brussels was in chaos from around 8.00 to 11.00 as several explosions took place at Brussels Airport and in the central metro station Maelbeek. The developing events were immediately covered by Chinese media, and soon became trending on Chinese social media, where netizens respond with shock.

Just over an hour after news came out of explosions in Brussels Airport, followed by news of the city’s metro stations being under attack, Chinese media such as Sina News and Tencent sent out push notifications on the news to its mobile users. The Brussels attacks soon became trending on China’s social media.

Under the hashtag of Brussels Airport Explosions (#布鲁塞尔机场爆炸#), thousands of Chinese netizens are discussing what is happening in Brussels, as the latest news is still coming out.

Around 13.30 Central European Time, Belgian media reported that there were at least 70 people wounded. Later other sources spoke of 170+ injured. It has not been confirmed how many people have died, although Dutch NOS live news speaks of 34 dead; 14 in the airport and 20 in the subway.

According to different Chinese media, there are no reports of Chinese amongst the victims. The Chinese consul in Brussels is in close contact with local authorities.

Weibo netizens are posting emoticons of burning candles and asking questions regarding the news.

At the same time, there are also many netizens who wonder about the news of a massive illegal vaccine operation that has been uncovered in Shandong province – causing the news of Brussels and the vaccine scandal to become the two main topics discussed on Chinese social media now.

Further updates added below (times UTC+1, no more updates added).

15:50 Hainan Airlines Brussels-Beijing Flights Legal Evening has just reported through its Weibo account that it is uncertain when the direct flight from Brussels to Beijing HU492, that was supposed to leave at 12.20 Central European Time, will now depart. It also reports that Hainan Airlines, that flies directly between Brussels-Beijing, is awaiting the decision that will determine what will happen to all flights until April 5th. Passengers who have already bought a ticket for this period can ask for a refund. For more information, travelers can call Hainan Airlines at +86898-95339.

16:02 Weibo netizens, just as social media users on Twitter and Facebook, are sharing pictures of the aftermath of the explosions at the subway station.

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16:10 Two suspects under arrest Sina News reports that the police has arrested two suspects in the vicinity of the Maelbeek subway station. They also write on the official Sina Weibo page that one of the suspects was carrying a AK-47.

16:36 ISIS claims responsibility attacks. Sina News just posted that ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Brussels Attacks. This is according to a news agency close to the group.

16:46 As it is soon midnight in China, some netizens are wishing Brussels a good night, hashtag: Brussels multiple explosions (#布鲁塞尔连环爆炸#).

– By Manya Koetse

©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.

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China Insight

Chinese Netizens Are Seeking the Truth Behind the Mysterious Death of a Chengdu High School Student

The “Chengdu 49 Middle School Incident” has been dominating discussions on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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First published

The death of Lin, a student from Chengdu, has become a national issue this week, leading to a wave of online rumors and theories on what might have happened to him. Some even claim the protests that erupted in response to the student’s death were set up by “foreign forces.”

The mysterious death of a high school student in Chengdu has been trending on Chinese social media and in mainstream media over the past few days, with bloggers and netizens looking for the truth behind the incident.

The 16-year-old Lin Weiqi (林唯麒), a student of Chengdu No. 49 Middle School, fell to his death around 18:40 on Sunday, May 9.

Lin’s parents allegedly were not notified about their son’s death until over two hours later, at 21:00, and were not allowed to see enter the school, see their son, nor talk to teachers. And where was the surveillance video showing how this incident took place?

The case started getting major attention on social media after Lin’s mother (later switching to username @四十九中林同学妈妈) posted about her son’s death and the dubious circumstances surrounding it on Weibo on Monday morning. In the post, the mother suggested it took over an hour for an ambulance to reach her son’s school.

The case set off a stream of wild rumors. There was online speculation about corporal punishment and abuse taking place in the school, with one theory suggesting Lin had been pushed to his death by a chemistry teacher. Netizens speculated that the school was trying to cover up the incident.

The school responded to the issue on May 10, confirming that a student from their school fell “from height” in their school’s ‘Zhixing’ building. According to the school, they immediately called the police after the incident, and have now set up a special team to assist in any ongoing investigations.

The official Weibo account of Chenghua district of the city of Chengdu (@平安成华官方微博) issued a statement on the evening of May 11, ruling out any criminal elements to the death of Lin.

As reported by South China Morning Post, a joint statement by the district propaganda department, the police and the education bureau then stated that investigators had come to the initial conclusion that “the student took his own life due to personal problems.”

On the night of May 11, students gathered at the school and protested for the truth to come out. Videos shared on social media show dozens of students carrying flowers and chanting “Truth! Truth!”

Other videos show chaotic scenes of the rare demonstration, where protesters and police guards clashed.

On May 12, the popular Wechat blogging account ‘Yi Jie’ (熠杰) published a lengthy post about the incident and its aftermath. The article claims that Lin committed suicide by jumping after an argument with his girlfriend. The reason Lin’s parents were not allowed to enter the school after their son’s death, Yi Jie writes, is because the forensic investigation was still ongoing.

Any rumors of teachers pushing students down the stairs or abusing students are false, the article says. Although the school could surely improve its crisis communication, the fact that it did not handle the communication about the incident in a professional way does mean there is a ‘cover up’ going on.

The article, that was soon spread around on Weibo, also questioned the authenticity of the mother’s account, writing that three different cell phones were used to log in to Weibo and publish various posts, suggesting that the mother either has three different mobile phones or that there are different people in charge of her account.

Although he does not believe there is anything concealed behind the death of Lin, the blogger Yi Jie does have a theory about the ensuing protests, claiming those who demonstrated belonged to an “organized group” linked to “hostile forces.” Yi Jie even connects the protests to the CIA, claiming the protesters were paid to be there.

By Wednesday, many netizens were unsure of what to believe anymore. The hashtag “Chengdu 48 Middle [School]” (#成都49中#) had 1.6 billion views on Weibo at the time of writing.

“No wonder many people do not believe [what happened], I don’t believe it either. It’s always that the news is blocked once it comes out, it’s always that the surveillance camera records were lost, it’s been like that for many years. It’s not a method to protect social stability anymore,” one Weibo user writes.

Others blame Lin’s mother for causing all rumors: “After reading so much, I get the feeling we were cheated by that parent. This is not the first time that a victim’s family has gone crazy with public opinion, and it’s not the first time that I’ve fallen for it.”

There are also many who sympathize with Lin’s parents: “The loss of a child, it’s something that needs so many years to recover from. There’s so much pain. I just hope they’ll find answers.”

Update May 13

On May 13, Chinese media published a reconstruction of the May 9 incident, which attracted much attention online, with one page about the news (#监控还原成都49中学生坠亡前轨迹#) getting 1,3 billion views.

People’s Daily‘s post including the video received over 100,000 comments and 2,7 million likes.

The reconstruction is based on surveillance camera videos and police investigation, starting at 18:16 on Sunday night when Lin leaves a classroom on the 4th floor of the school building, going down the stairs to the 3rd floor on 18:17.

Surveillance cameras captured Lin leaving the 4th floor via the stairs and recorded how he was heading down the western hallway on the 3rd floor, walking on through various parts of the school, reaching the basketball court at 18:23, and then walking on to the building’s water pump room, where he stayed for over ten minutes.

A security camera recorded how Lin stayed in the corner of the room, holding a knife in his right hand and cutting himself in his left wrist.

After Lin leaves the room, he keeps on walking through the school’s hallways, reaching the fifth floor by 18:39. The next ten minutes have not been captured by security cameras, since Lin was located in blind spot areas outside of the vision of the installed security cameras. One camera from another building does capture a person’s silhouette falling from the building at 18:49.

“There are blind spots in the surveillance footage. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the parents to initially doubt [the incident]. I think it’s the duty of the public security authorities to explain the course of the events of the incident and the crucial time points to the public,” one popular comment on Weibo said.

Others think the record has been set straight by this reconstruction, and are hoping Lin can now rest in peace.

The idea that the death of Lin was used by ‘evil forces’ for their own agenda, which was previously also raised by the Yi Jie blogger, is still circulating on Chinese social media – a theory that is supported by many.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government. There are people who believe those demonstrating in front of the Chengdu school were paid to do so.

“Certain hostile countries are watching all the time. Be alert,” one person wrote on Weibo.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 
For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
 

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

“Support Xinjiang MianHua!” – China’s Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton Ban

The hashtag “Wo Zhichi Xinjiang Mianhua” – “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” – received over 6 billion views on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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Western brands faced heavy criticism in China this week when a social media storm erupted over the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and its brand members for no longer sourcing from China’s Xinjiang region. The ‘Xinjiang cotton ban’ led to a major ‘Xinjiang cotton support’ campaign on Weibo, and a boycott for those brands siding with BCI.

In 2019, an extensive brand ‘witch hunt’ took place on Weibo and other Chinese social media networks in light of the protests in Hong Kong, with international fashion and luxury brands, from Versace to Swarovski, getting caught in the crossfire for listing Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries or regions – not part of China – on their official websites or brand T-shirts.

Now, another brand ‘witch hunt’ is taking place on Chinese social media. This time, it is not about Hong Kong, but about Xinjiang and its cotton industry.

H&M, Uniqlo, Nike, Adidas and other international brands have caused public outrage for the stand they’ve taken against the alleged use of forced labor involving the Muslim Uyghur minority to produce cotton in China’s western region of Xinjiang.

The social media storm started earlier this week on Wednesday, March 24, and is linked to H&M and the ‘BCI’ (Better Cotton Initiative), a Swiss NGO that aims to promote better standards in cotton farming.

In October 2020, H&M shared a statement on its site in which the Swedish retailer said it was “deeply concerned” over reports of forced labor in the production of cotton in Xinjiang, officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

H&M stated that it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang, following the BCI decision to suspend licensing of BCI cotton in the region.

 

BCI and its Suspension of Activities in Xinjiang

 

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. It practices across 23 countries and accounts for 22% of global cotton production. The governance group was established in 2005 in cooperation with WWF and leading retailers, with the aim of promoting the widespread use of improved farm practices.

While H&M is a ‘top member’ of the Better Cotton Initiative (link), many others brands such as IKEA, Gap, Adidas, Nike, Levi’s, and C&A are also brand members.

January 2020
In January of 2020, the BCI was slammed by Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington DC, for its refusal to pull out of the Xinjiang region. At the time, 20 percent of its ‘better cotton’ was sourced from Xinjiang, which is China’s largest cotton growing area.

According to a 2020 report by EcoTextile, the BCI maintained that its implicated council member, the yarn producer Huafu, denied the allegations and that an independent audit of the company’s Aksu facility in Xinjiang had failed to identify any instances of forced labor. An earlier report by Adidas from 2019 also stated that their independent investigations found no evidence of forced labor.

March 2020
In late March of 2020, the BCI reportedly did suspend activities with licensed farmers in the Xinjiang region for the 2020/21 cotton season while also contracting a global expert to conduct an external review of the Xinjiang situation. Chinese state media Global Times later reported that despite suspending its licensing activities, the BCI would remain committed to cotton farming communities in Xinjiang and would continue to engage in activities in the region.

July 2020
The pressure on BCI and other brands to stop sourcing from Xinjiang was heightened when a coalition of civil society groups raised concerns over the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China and the “grave risk of forced labor.” Reuters reported that more than 180 organizations urged brands from Adidas to Amazon to end sourcing of cotton and clothing from the region and cut ties with any suppliers in China that would benefit from the alleged forced labour of Uyghur other Muslim groups.

October 2020
In October of 2020, the Better Cotton Initiative announced it would cease all field-level activities in Xinjiang with immediate effect because the region had reportedly become “an increasingly untenable operating environment.” The aforementioned statement by H&M came out in the same month.

March 2021
By late March 2021, various Chinese state media reported on the BCI suspension. These reports came days after a coordinated effort by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over China’s alleged human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang, something which was called a “concerted effort to slander China’s policies in its Xinjiang region” by Global Times. The news outlet linked these “anti-China forces’ efforts” to the BCI decision to suspend its Xinjiang activities.

 

A Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton

 

The news developments were followed by a wave of social media boycott movements and Chinese brand ambassadors cutting ties with international brands, with H&M being the main target over its Xinjiang statement.

Chinese e-commerce platforms Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, Suning.com, and Meituan’s Dianping on Thursday all removed H&M from their platforms, with Chinese Android app stores also removing H&M. On Thursday, a search for “H&M” came up with no results on these sites (see images below).

Two of China’s largest online maps also removed H&M from its systems.

No H&M on these maps.

On Thursday, virtually all topics in Weibo’s top trending lists related to the Xinjiang cotton ban (see image below), with Chinese famous influencers and celebrities one by one announcing they would terminate their contracts with international brands related to the Xinjiang cotton ban.

The storm became so big this week that some people on social media even commented that “if you’re a Chinese celebrity and you don’t have any contracts to terminate now, you’re not doing so well.”

After H&M, an entire list of brands was targeted, including Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, New Balance, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Converse, Puma, Burberry, and Lacoste.

In light of the heated discussions and calls for boycotts, there was also another hashtag that popped up on Weibo, namely that of “don’t make it hard for the workers” (不要为难打工人). The hashtag came up after some Chinese staff members at Nike and Adidas stores were scolded on a live stream, with netizens calling on people to stay rational and not let the boycott turn into personal attacks on people. But another popular video showed a man in Chongqing calling customers out in an H&M store for buying their “trash.”

Another hashtag gaining many views, 520 million in total, was that of two ‘girls from Xinjiang dancing outside H&M’ (#新疆小姐姐在HM门店外跳新疆舞#) – it was linked to a video that showed two women performing outside of a H&M store in Chongqing.

Meanwhile, some brands, including Chinese company Anta Sports and the Japanese Asics, reportedly announced they would leave the Better Cotton Initiative in order to continue sourcing cotton from Xinjiang.

The discussions on Xinjiang as Weibo saw this week are unprecedented, as ‘Xinjiang’ was previously a sensitive topic on Chinese social media and was barely discussed in political contexts. The last time Xinjiang became a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media was in 2018, when CCTV aired a program on the region’s “vocational education programs” in Xinjiang. That media moment triggered mixed reactions on Weibo, with some commenters wondering what the difference between a ‘re-education center’ and a ‘prison’ is.

 

Chinese State Media and the ‘Xinjiang Cotton Ban’

 

While Chinese netizens and celebrities play a major role in the storm that erupted over BCI, H&M, and Xinjiang cotton, the role of Chinese state media is pivotal.

Over the past week, various state media outlets posted strong messages regarding the ban in various ways, the most noteworthy one being People’s Daily‘s “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” (#我支持新疆棉花#) hashtag, which had garnered six billion views by the weekend. “The H&M Group released a statement that sparked outrage among netizens. Let’s pass it on together: Support Xinjiang Cotton,” the tagline of the hashtag page said.

The message came with an image saying “Xinjiang Mianhua” (Xinjiang cotton) in a similar font to the H&M logo, the “H” and “M” within ‘mianhua‘ being identical to the H&M letters.

The image and post by People’s Daily was shared over 36 million times.

A message by People’s Daily: those who slander China are not welcome.

Another image by People’s Daily published on March 25 said that the Chinese market does not welcome those who slander China.

The Communist Youth League also contributed to the online storm by posting about H&M, writing: “On the one hand they are starting rumors and boycotting Xinjiang cotton, on the other hand they want to make money in China. Dream on, H&M!” That post received around 430,000 likes.

Various official media, including Global Times and China Daily, posted about cotton production in Xinjiang. Besides refuting the forced labor accusations and accusing Western players of hypocrisy and ulterior motives, a recurring issue stressed is how 42 percent of Xinjiang’s cotton is harvested by machines. Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng was quoted as saying that “the so-called forced labor in Xinjiang is nonexistent and entirely imaginary. The spotless white Xinjiang cotton brooks no slander.”

This image was posted by China Daily USA.

On March 27, People’s Daily posted a rap video by ‘Xinjiang Youth’ (新疆青年) on its official Weibo channel (video below) that included some tough lines attacking Western powers, companies, and media.

Also noteworthy in this propaganda campaign is how the Canadian YouTuber Daniel Dumbrill got caught up, as what he said in one of his videos was quoted by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) on March 27 during a press conference, with his video being screened before the conference.

In this video, that was part of a larger panel on Xinjiang, Dumbrill responded to the decision-making process on how China’s treatment of Uyghurs is called a “genocide.”

Recently, a number of countries and parliaments including the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands have declared that China’s crackdown on the Muslim minorities amounts to “genocide” in violation of the U.N. Genocide Convention. Dumbrill talks about why the Xinjiang narratives matter to both the foreign and domestic politics of the US and other Western countries, with Dumbril claiming it “isn’t really about human rights and a care for overseas Muslims” but about other political goals. Dumbrill’s video was praised by authorities, state media, and by Chinese netizens.

“We have to push for the truth to come out,” some netizens commented. Others wrote: “But we’re only allowed to discuss it from within [the country].”

Meanwhile, while many companies are seeing sales falling, there are also many who are benefiting from the current developments. Some sellers on Taobao have found another way to attract customers, promoting their products as being made with “100% Xinjiang Cotton!”

As this is an ongoing topic, we will report more later. Meanwhile, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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