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CCTV Airs Program on Xinjiang’s ‘Vocational Training Centers’: Criticism & Weibo Responses

A noteworthy episode of CCTV “Focus Talk” marks the first time Chinese state media extensively reports on the existence of vocational education programs in Xinjiang. Weibo reactions are mixed.

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A recent CCTV “Focus Talk” TV program themed around an “educational training center” in Xinjiang, along with other Chinese state media articles on ‘training facilities’ in northwest China, has triggered the attention of foreign media this week. Many reporters interpret the latest Xinjiang publicity as a way for the Chinese government to create a “new narrative” to defend its policies in the region.

On Tuesday, October 16 2018, the CCTV prime-time program ‘Focus Talk’ (焦点访谈) dedicated a 15-minute episode to the topic of Xinjiang’s ‘vocational skills educational training centers’ (职业技能教育培训中心), marking the first time for Chinese state media to extensively report on the existence of these controversial programs in Xinjiang.

‘Focus Talk’ is a renowned news program that has been aired by China’s state broadcaster since 1994. It is generally themed around various societal issues, and provides background analysis of various topics through interviews with officials and the public. The show’s official Weibo account has over 1,8 million fans.

Noteworthy is that the special Xinjiang-focused episode was aired hours after Xinjiang governor Shohrat Zakir (雪克来提·扎克尔) issued a statement to fend off international criticism on government-operated ‘Muslim internment camps,’ characterizing them as “people-oriented” facilities built to “fundamentally eliminate the environment and soil that breeds terrorism and religious extremism.”

Earlier this year, United Nations’ human rights experts said they had received credible reports that up to one million Muslim Uighurs may be held in extra-legal political detentions in Xinjiang, and called for them to be released.

Since 2014, China has implemented several measures to keep religious expressions to a minimum after a string of attacks allegedly committed by Chinese Muslim extremists. In March 2014, a knife attack at the Kunming railway station left 29 civilians dead. In May, 43 were killed when a Urumqi market was bombed. On June 22, attackers drove into a Kashgar police building and set off explosives. The list goes on.

The government responded to the increasing violence in 2014 with an ongoing crackdown that, at the time, resulted in more than 380 arrests within one month, and public controls on religious expression. In 2015, a ban on wearing burqa’s, or ‘face masking veils’ (面罩袍), was legally approved and went into effect on February 1st. In 2016, there were reports of local governments ordering restrictions on fasting during Ramadan. That same year also saw reports on the existence of “ideological training camps.”

This week’s efforts of Chinese media to highlight Xinjiang’s “educational centers” as a humane, positive, and constructive solution to defeat terrorism and extremism in the region (both in written state media and by state broadcaster CCTV) have made headlines in international media.

“China defends Xinjiang camps for Muslim citizens,” the Financial Times reported; “China admits to locking up Uyghurs, but defends Xinjiang crackdown,” CNN headlined; “China defends its ‘people-oriented’ Muslim reeducation program as job training,” Washington Post wrote.

On Twitter, New York Times reporter Chris Buckley tweeted about the CCTV episode, writing: “Dispelling any doubts that the Chinese government is trying to create a new narrative about its indoctrination camps in Xinjiang, CCTV on Tuesday broadcast a primetime program praising the camps.” Reporters from other newspapers also described the latest Xinjiang publicity as a “new narrative.”

 

The “Source Governance” Episode

 

On October 16, CCTV aired the episode in question. At the start of the program, the talk show host introduces the topic as follows:

Terrorism and extremism are the public enemy of civilized society, and are the enemy of the international community. Since the 1990s, the ‘Three Evils’ of domestic and foreign ethnic separatist forces, religious extremist forces, and violent terrorist forces, have schemed and organized the execution of thousands of violent terrorist incidents in Xinjiang, victimizing a great number of innocent people, leading to the deaths of hundreds of public security forces, and causing incalculable damage.”

The crackdown on terrorism and extremism is a global problem. To tackle this problem, Xinjiang has carried out the exploration of ‘source governance’ (源头治理) through the means of vocational skills educational training (职业技能教育培训), in accordance with the relevant laws and regulations. What is the result of this training? Let’s take a look.”

The show then shifts from the studio to the footage show in Xinjiang, with the voice-over saying:

Recently, our reporters went to Xinjiang’s Hotan (和田市) to visit a vocational skills educational training center, just in time for the smooth graduation of some students.”

Mayor Alken Aili of the city of Hotan, a major oasis town in southwestern Xinjiang, then talks to reporters, saying:

There are criteria for our students to complete the course. Firstly, they need to reach the qualified standards in the spoken and written national common language. Then they need to qualify in legal and regulatory knowledge, and then in their training and employment ability. Once they reach the standard, and qualify for it, then they can complete the course.”

A student named Abdul then speaks to the reporter, saying:

Through my studies, I’ve deeply realized my mistakes. I will continue to study hard once I’m back. I’ll be a good citizen, and influence the people around me.”

In the program, the mayor of Hotan then explains the main contents of the learning center as learning standard Chinese, studying various laws (including criminal law, national security law, anti-terrorism law, etc.), and then learning vocational skills.

A female student tells reporters:

Before, I couldn’t understand the language and struggled to get by. Now, if I continue to study hard, I’ll be able to work and make money anywhere.”

The voice-over continues to explain that many of the students at the Xinjiang training center do not master standard Chinese, have a “weak sense of the rule of law,” and face employment difficulties due to a lack of skills, leaving them extra vulnerable to turn to terrorism and extremism.

Another female student by the name of Turenisha Abdulla then says:

If I wouldn’t have come here, I can’t imagine what would have happened. Perhaps I would have joined those religious extremists and take the criminal path. The Party and government have found me in time and saved me, giving me a chance to reform and start anew. I am very grateful.”

The voice-over explains that, looking at local needs and industrial development, the training center educates its students in various skills from beauty salon skills to food processing, and more “skills specific to ethnicity” (“民族特色的手工艺技能”), such as carpeting or making flatbread.

The program then further zooms in on the importance of education, and how teaching skills to students (of which some reportedly have been “eroded by religious extremism”) gives them better opportunities and a brighter future, and have “significantly improved the sense of security and happiness” in the region.

Throughout the episode, the CCTV voice-overs or commentators not once mention ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslims.’ They also do not label the educational center’s students as belonging to any particular religions. Instead, the program only mentions “terrorism” and “religious extremism.”

This is noteworthy because while foreign media have consistently reported about “Xinjiang camps for Muslim citizens” or “Uighur Muslims,” Chinese state media evade this issue by not mentioning any specific religion at all, but only mentioning the issue of extremism and terrorism.

 

Mixed Reactions on Weibo

 

The CCTV episode in question has triggered hundreds of comments on Chinese social media this week, which were quite mixed; many commenters expressed positive sentiments on the episode and its contents, but there were also others who were critical of the ‘educational centers.’

Comments in favor of the Xinjiang centers praised the government’s policies, with one micro-blogger writing: “Go and watch this episode of ‘Focus Talk’! It explains Xinjiang’s vocational education centers, which have been criticized as ‘transformation camps’ (转化营) by the West. They’re very real, very feasible, very effective, and very good.”

“Foreign journalists are distorting the facts,” others said: “I just came back from a business trip to Xinjiang, and it’s really much better there now than a few years before, so I need to support this.”

“We have to help a large number of Muslims to quit their Islam addiction,” another popular comment read: “It’s a quite frightening disease.”

“We can only adopt the correct extreme measures to combat the evil of extremism,” some in favor of the Xinjiang ‘education centers’ wrote in other threads discussing the program.

The negative comments often used sarcasm in their reactions, writing things as: “This is quite fantastic! Do they get winter- and summer holidays? When can they graduate? Can we visit there? And will we come out alive if we do?”

And: “What a great educational programme, we should implement it all across the country, so that we can all be treated this well!”

“But, isn’t this just exactly the same as a prison?”, one commenter said. “It’s really frightening, they all look like robots,” another person responded.

There are also Weibo users who simply want to know more about the ‘centers’, writing: “I want to know the reason for them to go there. And what if they do not qualify the standards [to complete], will they continue to stay there indefinitely?”

Some netizens indicate that what is happening in Xinjiang today might also happen in other provinces in China with a large Muslim population. Although Muslims live all over China, the majority lives in the northwestern regions of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu and the Qinghai provinces.

“Xinjiang’s present-day is Ningxia’s tomorrow,” one Weibo user predicts.

Watch the full episode by CCTV here (no subtitles).

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 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 and Covid19

Xi’an Outbreak Largely Under Control, But Weibo is Grieving the Death of an Unborn Baby

On the 15th day of lockdown, Xi’an has largely brought the Covid19 outbreak under control, but at what cost?

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“Are we really fighting this epidemic to save lives?”, some wonder after Xi’an enters its 16th day of a very strict and sometimes messy lockdown. The story of a pregnant woman having a miscarriage in front of the hospital gate has brought the public’s anger to a boiling point.

On January 4th at around 4.30 pm, a Weibo user nicknamed ‘Don’t Make It Rain Ok’ posted a heartbreaking story on social media about her pregnant aunt, who lost her baby on January 1st when she did not receive medical care in time and was left waiting outside of the hospital. It was one among multiple stories showcasing the struggles faced by thousands of citizens during the Xi’an lockdown, the biggest one in China since Wuhan was shut down in 2020.

While the story about the pregnant woman was top trending on Weibo on Wednesday and Thursday, the Xi’an city government declared that the Covid19 situation in the city of 13 million inhabitants was reaching the phase of “zero in society” (“社会面清零”), meaning that the outbreak was largely contained in the city’s main communities after two weeks of lockdown, during which over 42,000 people were quarantined and brought to other locations.

But rather than cheers of joy, Weibo was dominated by sad stories of people whose lives have been seriously impacted by the restrictions and hurdles they face in times of a lockdown that was mismanaged by local authorities, according to many.

The woman losing her unborn baby because of severely delayed emergency services struck a chord with a lot of netizens. This is a translation of the original post, which was removed from social media without given reason on January 6:

My aunt said on January 1st 2022 at around 7:00 pm that her stomach hurt, so she called 120 [emergency telephone number]. But 120 was constantly busy and there was no way to get through. Only when she called 110 [police] she was taken to Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital (高新医院). After all this, it was already past 8 pm before she arrived, but she eventually was at the entrance and still wasn’t allowed to get in, the delay lasting until after 10 pm – she was told her nucleic acid [test] had exceeded the four-hour time frame. My aunt sat down at the entrance for a while, and because the delay was lasting so long, she was starting to bleed. I saw the video sent by my aunt’s husband, seeing my aunt struggling to support her body with both hands sitting on the chair, blood flowing down the chair and down her pants, the floor was full of blood! Also because of the excessive bleeding, the hospital staff saw it really wasn’t going well and only then was she admitted and taken into the surgery room. As a result of the untimely medical treatment, my aunt had a miscarriage after carrying the baby for eight months. At eight months, the baby died in the womb without a pulse because of wasted time. Originally I was thinking of telling this story on another platform, but I actually just saw in my Moments [WeChat timeline] that a friend posted a screenshot of another story told by someone and I discovered we are not the only ones to go through something like this at this hospital. I just wept. My aunt also has an 11-year old son who is alone by himself, looking after himself, he still doesn’t know what happened to my aunt – he just knows her belly hurt.”

The incident sparked outrage on social media, where one hashtag dedicated to the topic received 780 million views on Thursday alone (#西安孕妇流产事件相关责任人被处理#) after it was publicly announced that the hospital’s general manager Fu Yuhui (范郁会) would be suspended and that the staff responsible for the incident at the outpatient department were fired.

The hospital was ordered to publicly apologize for the incident, and the local Health Commission director also made an apology.

But the apologies did not seem to reduce the anger many expressed online.

“Are we fighting the epidemic to save lives?”, one popular blogger wondered in an article dedicated to the incident (“西安孕妇医院门口流产:抗疫,是为了救命啊“) published on January 6th. The author argues that the ultimate purpose of China’s epidemic prevention and control is to save lives and that a hospital and its staff should do everything in their power to save people’s lives rather than letting them suffer outside of their door with the excuse of ‘epidemic prevention and control.’ In the end, a person’s life is more important than their Health Code and the last time they did a Covid test.

The story of the miscarriage was not the only one going viral these days relating to people not being able to get the medical help they need. One story to go viral on January 3rd was that of one Xi’an resident (@太阳花花花00000) reaching out for help via social media platform Xiaohongshu because her father suffered from chest pains and they could not get through to emergency telephone lines fast enough. The original poster later updated their post to share that he had passed away.

The man’s daughter later clarified in the media that her father was refused access to medical services at multiple hospitals before he also encountered issues at Gaoxin Hospital where he did receive treatment at 10pm – an astonishing eight hours after reaching out to emergency services. He reportedly passed away due to the severe delay in this treatment (#西安网友称父亲被多家医院拒诊后离世#).

Then there was another pregnant woman (@A有雨有晴天) who allegedly suffered a miscarriage after being refused to be taken to the hospital (#西安又一孕妇流产 警察护送被拒诊#). She came out with her story on January 5th, but it happened on December 29th. The woman claims that she sought help but that various hospitals refused to take her in during the extreme lockdown circumstances.

On January 5th and 6th, the death of a 39-year-old man also sparked online anger. According to online reports, the man could not get through to emergency services on December 31st while suffering from severe chest pains. He was refused to be taken in by two hospitals because he supposedly did not have a current negative Covid19 test result. He died shortly after being taken in by a third hospital. A hashtag dedicated to the incident received over 150 million views on January 6 (#西安一男子连续被3家医院拒诊最终猝死#).

“Help the helpless!”, some on Weibo wrote: “What would you do if these were your loved ones?!”

“How many people have passed away due to this kind of ‘prevention and control’?”, other commenters wondered: “What is wrong with the Xi’an authorities?”

Besides the staff fired at the Gaoxin Hospital, the Municipal Discipline Inspection Commission reportedly also gave official warnings to the local deputy secretary and Xi’an Emergency Center director Li Qiang (李强) and local Health Commission director Liu Shunzhi (刘顺智) for not properly fulfilling their duties regarding emergency work during the lockdown.

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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China Digital

Will Weibo Become 30% State-Media Owned?

Alibaba is allegedly ready to give up its Weibo shares to SMG.

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Bloomberg recently reported that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is preparing to sell its 30% stake in social media platform Weibo. According to people familiar with the matter, Alibaba is negotiating with the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

News about Alibaba planning to sell all of its Weibo shares has triggered some online discussions on the Chinese social media platform. Bloomberg was the first to report that the Chinese e-commerce and IT enterprise is talking to the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG) to sell all of its 30% stake in Weibo.

According to Bloomberg, the move relates to regulators wanting to curb the influence of Chinese tech giants in the media sphere. The Bloomberg article claims that SMG, as one of China’s largest state-owned media and cultural conglomerates, stands a higher chance of gaining the approval of Chinese authorities than a private acquirer.

SMG is a large state-owned enterprise with over a dozen TV and radio stations, many newspapers and magazines, various drama & film production and distribution businesses, and more. The company has a major media influence, not only in Shanghai but throughout the country.

According to Weibo’s 2020 annual reports, New Wave held a 45% stake in Weibo, followed by Alibaba with its 30%. New Wave is the holding company by Weibo chairman Charles Chao.

“Weibo will change into another channel for SMG,” some Weibo users predict, with others also sharing their fear that Weibo would become more and more like a platform for official media (“微博现在越来越官方化”).

“This would be a big milestone in the crumbling of Alibaba’s media empire,” another commenter wrote. Some wonder if the developments have more to do with Weibo as a platform, or with Alibaba and its media influence.

In March of 2021, the Wall Street Journal already reported that the Chinese government asked the Alibaba Group to dispose of its media assets due to concerns over the company’s influence in the sensitive media sphere.

“When Alibaba exits and state-owned capital enters, Weibo is expected to magnificently transform into a ‘state-owned enterprise’,” another Weibo user wrote.

Although some commenters worry that Weibo will change for the worse and that there will be more censorship, others see a sunnier future for the social media platform: “It would be good for Weibo to be ‘state-owned’ so that it won’t be controlled by capital to influence public opinion anymore.”

Chinese tech site 36kr also reported about the issue on January 1st, but neither Weibo nor Alibaba or SGM have officially responded yet.

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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