Connect with us

China Insight

China & UN Peacekeeping – Netizens Commemorate Chinese Blue Helmet Killed in Mali

While Chinese netizens collectively commemorate a young Chinese peacekeeper killed in an attack on a UN peacekeeping camp in Mali, they also reflect on China’s role in international peacekeeping.




While Chinese netizens collectively commemorate a young Chinese peacekeeper killed in an attack on a UN peacekeeping camp in Mali, they also reflect on China’s role in international peacekeeping.

On May 31st, a United Nations peace-keeping camp in Gao, Mali, suffered a terrorist with an explosive device, killing one Chinese peacekeeper and three civilians working for the UN’s Mali mission. The attack generated international reactions, with UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon issuing a statement on June 1st 2016, expressing his “deep concern” for the recent series of attacks, and reiterating that “nothing can excuse these acts of terrorism.”

Al-Qaeda’s North African Affiliation has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Besides the four casualties, four other Chinese peacekeepers were also injured during the attack, as confirmed by the Chinese embassy in Mali.

Hua Chunying, spokeswoman at China’s Foreign Policy Department, offered condolences to the families of the dead and injured and stated that terrorist attacks against UN peacekeepers is “a serious, intolerable crime”. She pressured for the Mali government and United Nations to conduct thorough investigation, and expressed China’s persistent support for the cause of peacekeeping.

The stance of the Department of Foreign Policy was echoed in a UN press conference the same day by Chinese diplomat Liu Jieyi (刘结一).

Mali is in the grip of an enormous political crisis, as the country fell to Tuareg separatists and then Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. Mali has become the most deadly UN operation internationally, with 65 peacekeeping troops having died in action since the start of the mission in 2013.

Earlier this week, on May 29, five UN peacekeepers were killed in an ambush in central Mali during broad daylight. On May 18, another deadly attack also killed five peacekeepers and injured three others of the UN mission.

Chinese Peacekeeper Commemorated on Weibo

Soon after news of the deadly attack was released, the identity of the killed Chinese peacekeeper was revealed on Chinese social media. It concerns the 29-year-old corporal Shen Liangliang.


Many netizens lit digital candles on Sina Weibo for the killed soldier to express their sympathy and condolences. “I hate to hear such news. For most of us, they are peacekeepers; but more importantly, they are children, husbands, and fathers. I don’t dare to imagine how his family will take such news”, said one netizen with several crying emoticons in the post.

“I pay my respects to those who fight for peace and against terrorism,” one Weibo user says.

The other injured soldiers are also not forgotten amidst all social media comments: “Come home when your condition is more stable! There is nothing in that poor country”, says one netizen.

China and International Peacekeeping

Although China’s government officially values ‘non-interference’ as a high principle, the country began to take part in selected UN peacekeeping efforts since the early 1990s. Chinese participation in UN peacekeeping operations includes, amongst others, that in Iraq-Kuwait (1991), Mozambique (1993), Sierra Leone (1998) and Congo (2001), and roughly saw a 20-fold increase since 2000 (Kornberg & Faust 1995, 219-220; Huang 2016, 338). As Huang (2016) notes: “Beijing’s expanding role in peacekeeping creates new opportunities for China to strengthen its role as a responsible major power” (338).

In 2014 and 2015, China made a historical move when it sent a motorized infantry brigade to Mali and started deploying hundreds of troops to South Sudan. China is now the largest contributor of peacekeeping troops among the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.


Throughout the years, numerous Chinese Blue Helmets have died during their mission. Amongst others, there were two UN soldiers who died in Cambodia in 1993 during a fire attack, casualty in Liberia in 2005 during a shooting, the death of UN observer Du Zhaoyu during a raid in Lebanon in 2006, and the death of 8 peacekeepers during the Haiti earthquake in 2010.

Most netizens acknowledge peacekeeping as a noble and worthy cause and see the Chinese peacekeepers as respectable heroes. “I pay my highest salute to you, all those who risk their lives and endure separation with their families for the peaceful lives of people from other countries”, writes one netizen.

Some Weibo users also see China’s participation in UN missions as an inevitable part of China’s growing importance in international society. User Lan Cheng says: “If we want to lift China’s international position and prestige, joining peacekeeping operations is necessary.”

But some netizens are more critical about the UN mission in Mali. One netizen responding to Liu Jieyi’s speech about the joint effort of the Mali government and the UN writes: “Isn’t peacekeeping supposed to protect local people? Why should it need protection from the locals”?

Some also point out that “peacekeepers are armed forces”. Since the attack happened in the UN’s own camp which was supposedly heavily guarded, they say they “should reflect on why peacekeeping forces are situated there in the first place”.

There are also netizens who argue that China should “stop bleating like a sheep and take some action”. As this Weibo user writes: “I fully support China dispatching troops and fight agaist terrorism!” “A government with guts does not satisfy itself with protesting”, says another netizen.

While China is an active participant in peacekeeping operations, it is not involved in the fight against ISIS.

However, the central point in the discussion of the Mali attack is not China’s involvement in peacekeeping, nor its contribution to the fight in the Middle East – it is focused on honoring those who have died, and those who are defending the peace.

As one Zhejiang policeman writes: “We will always remember you. In the most dangerous and impoverished corners of the world, there is a group of Chinese Blue Berets defending hope and peace with their own lives. Respect to you, my peacekeeping heroes, and I wish you all a safe return for every mission you join.”

– By Diandian Guo & Manya Koetse

Featured Image by Panos London.


Faust, John R. and Judith F. Kornberg. 2005. China in World Politics: Policies, Processes, Prospects. Toronto: UBC Press.

Huang, Chin-Hao. 2016. “China and Peacekeeping Operations”. In The Ashgate Research Companion to Chinese Foreign Policy, Kavalski, Emilian; Kavalski, Assoc. Prof. Emilian, 337-349. Surrey: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

©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.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse



On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes


Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Continue Reading

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



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.


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.


Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Continue Reading



Got any tips? Or want to become a contributor or intern at What's on Weibo? Email us as at

Become a member

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What's on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles.    

Support What’s on Weibo

What's on Weibo is 100% independent. Will you support us? Your support means we can remain independent and keep reporting on the latest China trends. Every contribution, however big or small, powers our website. Support us from as little as $1 here.

Popular Reads