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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.

Manya Koetse

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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 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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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

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

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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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of 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.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

 

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