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China’s Celebrity Diplomats: The Online Fan Culture Surrounding Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin

The fan culture surrounding Wang Wenbin comes at a time when China’s ‘diplomat dream team’ already has a steady fanbase on social media.

Manya Koetse




From TikTok fan videos to Weibo super topics – there’s a lively fan culture surrounding China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin. He is not the only ‘celebrity spokesperson’ on Chinese social media. Fans see China’s diplomats as national heroes and online idols.

In December of 2022, Wang Wenbin, top diplomat and the 32nd spokesperson for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was spotted out and about at Huangshan Mountain by Chinese netizens.

Soon, videos of Wang spread on Weibo and Douyin, where many people expressed excitement about seeing the top diplomat at the popular tourist spot and outside of the usual formal setting.

Wang Wenbing (汪文斌, b. 1971) is the Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department of China. He studied at China’s Foreign Affairs University, majoring in French and economics, and has been working for China’s Foreign Ministry since 1993. Wang previously also took up the post as ambassador in Tunisia from 2018 to 2020.

Wang was in Huangshan, Anhui, to attend a visit of various international VIP guests from the IMF, World Bank, OECD, etc. on the occasion of the Seventh “1 6” Roundtable, which convened in the province of Anhui. Wang Wenbin originally is from Xindu village in Tongcheng, Anhui.

The fact that Wang was spotted in Anhui at that time was noteworthy. It was the first time since Covid that various Chinese officials welcomed and entertained international guests, marking an end to China’s zero-Covid era; and it was all taking place in Wang’s home province, where he is also known as “Anhui’s pride.”

Wang Wenbin, top diplomat and spokesperson for China's MFA, was out and about in Anhui, and many people were happy to see him IRL and posted their videos of him on social media,calling him “the pride of Anhui, the pride of China.”

The 2022 excitement on Chinese social media surrounding the new Wang Wenbin videos went far beyond ‘Anhui’s pride’ alone; it showed the wider popularity of the top official on Chinese social media and signaled a broader trend of Chinese diplomats becoming online celebrities.

From fan videos on Douyin (TikTok) and Bilibili to discussion threads on Zhihu, Chinese diplomats have become idolized on social media over the past few years. Besides all the fan accounts on various Chinese social media platforms, Wang Wenbin also has dedicated ‘super topic’ communities on Weibo, which are forums focused on particular topics or celebrities.

There is the “Wang Wenbin Super Topic” page and also the “Wang Wenbing Exchange” (汪文斌交流) and the Wang Wenbin’s Bin’s Sweets” forum (汪文斌的斌糖). These public online forums contain thousands of posts dedicated to Wang.

One of the supertopic forums on Weibo dedicated to Wang Wenbin.

The Wang Wenbin supertopic pages are all about content featuring Wang in his role as the spokesperson of the Foreign Ministry, replying to various questions during regular press conferences. Netizens are creative in editing images of Wang, adding quotes or drawings, and they make special fan videos.

Some of these videos have added texts or special effects, showing Wang Wenbin surrounded by sparkles and floating hearts as a sign of affection. Commenters praise Wang for being “so simple, so assertive,” while others complement the diplomat on being so “hard-working,” “concise and comprehensive.”

Wang Wenbin ‘fan art’ on one of the supertopic pages.

There are also those who praise Wang’s looks and expressions, saying his facial features are “handsome,” “cute,” “adorable,” and saying that ‘Uncle Wang’ is just too “cool.”

At a time of growing U.S.-China tensions and recurring international hot issues including China’s stance on the war in Ukraine and the Taiwan question, Wang Wenbin and his immediate colleagues Mao Ning (毛宁) and Hua Chunying (华春莹) are featured more prominently on social media by official media accounts that highlight answers given during the regular Foreign Ministry press conferences, which are held five times per week.

As Wang Wenbin is given greater visibility on Chinese social media by state media accounts, the online fan communities dedicated to Wang grow more lively as they have more material to express their enthusiasm about the Foreign Ministry spokesperson.



Chinese Diplomats Becoming Celebrities


Wang is not the first Chinese top official or diplomat to become an online celebrity. Former Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) previously also became very popular among Chinese netizens.

Zhao rose to popularity in 2020, the year he started his job as the spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), and many netizens loved him for his “disarming smile” and because of his demeanor, as many joked Zhao often looked like he could not wait to get off work.

An online meme culture developed around Zhao, who often repeated certain phrases or expressions during press conferences. Among them was the expression “shìmù yǐdài” (拭目以待), to eagerly wait for something to happen, literally meaning “to wipe one’s eyes and wait” (e.g. he used it in 2022 in the context of China waiting to see if Pelosi would actually dare to visit Taiwan or not). Phrases such as these became widely known and were used in affectionate online jokes about Zhao.

Shìmù yǐdài 拭目以待, to eagerly wait for something to happen, literally “to wipe one’s eyes and wait,” is one of Zhao Lijian’s famous phrases.

Even though Zhao was moved from his position as spokesperson and transferred to the Boundary and Ocean Affairs department earlier in 2023, there are still online communities dedicated to him where new posts with Zhao-related images, gifs, and videos keep flooding in.

Even though Zhao has left his post as spokesperson, the online communities dedicated to him are still lively.

Before Zhao’s rise to fame, China’s MFA spokespeople and other diplomats had already gained an online fanbase. Around 2017, the concept of China’s “diplomat dream team” (外交天团) started to be used more frequently by Chinese media and social media users.

This was around the same time when Hong Lei (洪磊), Geng Shuang (耿爽), Lu Kang (陆慷), and Hua Chunying (华春莹) served as spokespeople for the Foreign Ministry and when their remarks on diplomatic events carried a more assertive and confrontational tone of voice facing heightening tensions with the U.S. over trade, the South China Sea, and human rights.

For example, China Daily ran an article about the “wonderful responses” from China’s diplomat dream team in 2017 (link) and they ran another similar one in 2018 (link).

An early example of China’s “Diplomat Dream Team.” Left: China’s top diplomat Wang Yi, former spokesperson Hong Lei, spokesperson Hua Chunying, diplomat Lu Kang, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Qin Gang.

But it was not until 2020 when China’s top diplomats and the “spokesperson top team” (发言人天团) really garnered online attention as they were often featured in headlines and created a stir.

Not only was 2020 the year that ‘celebrity diplomat’ Zhao Lijian joined the spokesperson team, it was also a year of complex international developments including the Covid outbreak and worsening diplomatic relations between the U.S. and China driven by ‘eye for an eye’ strategies; one day after the Chinese consulate in Houston was forced to close, China also ordered the American consulate in Chengdu to shut its doors.

In July of 2020, Wang Wenbin joined the ‘top team’ of Chinese diplomats, which was praised online as China’s “strongest diplomatic mission.”

China’s “diplomat top team,” image via Zhihu blogger.

In 2021, the top-level US-China talks in Alaska further contributed to the social media frenzy surrounding China’s diplomatic corps. Foreign Minister Wang Yi, also nicknamed the ‘captain’ of the diplomatic team, traveled to Anchorage with Chinese top diplomat Yang Jiechi (杨洁篪) for the tough meeting. Before entering a session of the high-level talks, the diplomats were filmed walking together when Wang asked Yang if he had lunch, with Yang then answering: “Yes, I had instant noodles.”

‘Noodle gate’ blew up on Chinese socials, where many saw the incident as a sign of American inhospitality and rude treatment of the Chinese top diplomats. The incident also added to the popularity of Yang Jiechi and Wang Yi.

There are various reasons why Chinese diplomats and MFA representatives have become particularly popular over the past few years.

Some of the main causes related to the celebrity culture surrounding Chinese modern-day diplomats lies in (1) their new role in China’s (online) media environment, (2) the way they have become an example to ordinary people, and (3) the shift in Chinese diplomacy that has turned them into ‘wolf warrior’ heroes.



Chinese Diplomacy in the Age of Social Media


The growing fame of Chinese diplomats and spokespeople is very much an online phenomenon, and so their surge in popularity goes hand in hand with the rise of (China’s) social media.

The role of social media is crucial in three ways. First, Chinese official accounts and state media use social media as an important channel to spread official propaganda and narratives. Although China’s MFA spokespersons are meant to be the face of China to the world, their role is just important – and perhaps even more weighty – for the audiences at home as symbols of China’s foreign policies.

Second, social media is also increasingly used by Chinese diplomats individually as a platform to voice the stances they represent. In an article titled “China’s Internet Celebrity Diplomats” (2020), Christian Shepherd described how Zhao Lijian used social media to build “a personal brand that is rare for a Foreign Ministry spokesperson” as China’s most high-profile official on Twitter.

In our 2020 article about this topic, What’s on Weibo found that there was a significant surge in Chinese official accounts arriving on Twitter in 2019 and in early 2020. The first surge of Chinese diplomatic accounts happened in 2019 at the time of the Hong Kong Protests; a second peak in Chinese official accounts joining Twitter took place in the period of January to March 2020 during the international Covid-19 crisis.

At the time of writing, Zhao has over two million followers on Twitter (@zlj517). Zhao Lijian is also active on Weibo (@赵立坚个人微博), where he has over 8 million fans. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying is not active on Weibo, but she has two million followers on Twitter (@Hua Chunying 华春莹).

Wang Wenbin, Geng Shuang, Wang Yi, Hua Cunying, Zhao Lijian.

Third, social media platforms allow for communities to form around Chinese diplomats in a way that would be unthinkable in the pre-social media era.

There has been a lot of attention for celebrities taking on diplomatic roles, but less so for diplomats taking on celebrity roles. Studies about diplomats or politicians becoming internet celebrities often focus on those who are also active on social media themselves, making them more accessible and relatable.

But diplomats such as Wang Wenbin are an exception: Wang Wenbin does not have an official Twitter account, nor is he active on Weibo or any other popular social media platforms. Nevertheless, there are thriving online communities surrounding him that help bridge the divide between the top level diplomat and ordinary people, creating connections between diplomats and Chinese people in novel ways.

In the Chinese social media environment, the fan culture surrounding China’s top diplomats is fuelled by the dynamics of the official propaganda apparatus and state media campaigns disseminating hashtags and videos that underline the main messages of China’s Foreign Ministry. Although it often builds on official media content, the online fan culture itself is non-official and functions in similar ways as other idol fan communities do.



The Person Behind the Diplomat


There is another dimension to the online interaction between netizens and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokespersons and diplomats. They are not just being idolized, they are also being humanized.

Besides the more serious patriotic and nationalist videos, it is often the small flaws and funny interactions that go trending on social media and make China’s diplomats more likeable to the audience.

Fans of Wang Wenbin or Zhao Lijian like to create images or videos that highlight the moments in which the diplomats share a quick smile, make a little mistake, or are caught in a situation that is different from their usual role as spokesperson.

It might be as small as a strand of hair sticking out during a speech, a misunderstanding with a journalist, or how Wang Wenbin is fiddling with his translation headset during an international conference. These kind of moments are not highlighted to ridicule the diplomat; on the contrary, netizens treasure these moments in which diplomats become more likable and relatable.

Another way in which netizens like to catch a glimpse of the private person behind the public diplomat is by sharing old photos and getting to know more about them in their younger years.

Wang Wenbin in his younger years.

On Weibo, Bilibili, and Douyin, there are dozens of videos comparing photos of Chinese diplomats, including Wang, in their younger years versus now (e.g. 外交天团年轻的样子).

For many fans, Chinese diplomats also serve as an inspiration. “I love them, they’re my role models,” one Weibo blogger writes, posting photos of diplomats such as Wang Yi, Hua Chunying, Zhao Lijian, Hong Lei, Geng Shuang, and Lu Kang.

For many, Wang Wenbin especially is a role model because of his language skills. Wang speaks several foreign languages including English and French. He previously also attracted attention for sending out new year’s wishes in 11 different languages.

“I really like him because he encourages me to do well in my studies,” one fan account (@是汪叔和赵叔啊) writes.



Wolf Warrior Heroes


The widespread admiration for Chinese diplomats and MFA spokespersons has various social, cultural, and historical reasons, and nationalism also plays a big role in this, as their growing online popularity is accompanied by the rise of so-called “wolf-warrior diplomacy” and the soaring cyber nationalism that comes with it.

The term “wolf warrior diplomacy” (战狼外交) became a buzzword for China’s diplomacy since around 2020 (Dai & Luqiu 2022). It is a reference to the highly successful Chinese blockbusters Wolf Warrior (战狼, 2015) and Wolf Warrior II (战狼2, 2017), and basically means a style of diplomacy that uses a much harsher and more confrontational rhetoric – which poses a contrast to a more restrained and softer tactic in foreign diplomacy.

Hua Chunying and Zhao Lijian were among the most visible wolf warrior diplomats as they were the main MFA spokespersons in early 2020 and were both active on Twitter, where they also actively confronted external criticism of China.

Zhao Lijian also became known for tweeting out a photoshopped image of an Australian soldier murdering a child, alluding to a report on unlawful killings of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian troops. His controversial post led to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison demanding an apology from China (read more about this kind of political visuals in our article here).

In a 2022 article titled “Why Have Chinese Diplomats Become So Aggressive?,” author Nien-chung Chang-Liao argues that China’s more aggressive style of diplomacy is not just meant to persuade foreign audiences to accept Chinese narratives in international relations, but could also be viewed as a way to appeal to nationalist attitudes at home, while also demonstrating loyalty to the Party and Xi Jinping – who emphasizes the need for confidence in China’s new era.

The approach seems fruitful: over 70% of respondents to a survey by Global Times allegedly indicated that they thought a ‘wolf-warrior’ style diplomacy improves China’s global image. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying also indicated that she had no issue with the ‘wolf warrior’ label and even embraces it (Chang-liao 2022, 179-181).

While Zhao Lijian was known as the real ‘wolf warrior diplomat,’ Wang Wenbin’s style is perceived as being more “calm,” “scholarly,” and “refined,” even though he he still seen as critical and assertive.

Recently, it was Wang Wenbin who slammed U.S. claims that China might arm Russian troops in the war in Ukraine, saying “it is the United States and not China that is endlessly shipping weapons to the battlefield.” Wang also called the shootdown of the alleged Chinese spy balloon “100 percent hysteria,” and he recently urged the United States to give up its “hegemonic” approaches to international affairs.

For many Wang Wenbin fans, this style of assertive yet ‘refined’ foreign policy strikes a chord, as they support how Wang shapes China’s image abroad: “It’s the perfect interpretation of being a great and elegant great power.”

“Today’s problems are complex and manifold, but Uncle [Wang] is organized and clear and answers with a smile. From beginning to end, I always admire him,” one comment says.

One Weibo blogger writes to Wang: “You’re so busy, you must be tired. I hope you can also take some time to rest. I just wish you all the best.”

Another fan writes: “Uncle, you work so hard, you are not afraid of facing the ‘hail of bullets’ fired at you by foreign media in the blue room, you defend our country, you are our hero!”

By Manya Koetse 


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


Chang-Liao, Nien-chung. 2022. “Why Have Chinese Diplomats Become So
Aggressive?” Survival, 64:1: 179-190.

Dai, Yaoyao, and Luwei Rose Luqiu. 2022. “Wolf Warriors and Diplomacy in the New Era.” China Review 22 (2): 253-283.

Shepherd, Christian. 2020. “China’s Internet Celebrity Diplomats.” Australian Financial Review, Dec. 10, page 27.

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.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of 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 Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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China Insight

Modern-Day Yugong or Greedy Wolf? Critical Discussions after Ningxia Land Owner Goes Viral Begging for Water

Is Sun Guoyou the victim of bad coal mine practices or did he throw dust in netizens’ eyes? The viral Ningxia story is getting more complex.

Manya Koetse



As a video of him crying out and begging for water went super viral on March 29, Ningxia land owner Sun Guoyou suddenly became a public figure. But while Chinese netizens initially sympathized with the local landowner whose water was cut off by a big coal mine, he is now increasingly seen as a businessman who used social media to exploit his situation.

This week, the story of Ningxia land owner Sun Guoyou (孙国友) went completely viral on Chinese social media.

Various Chinese media outlets, from Sina News to Beijing News and The Paper all covered the story of the old man who was seeing his enormous land destroyed because a nearby coal mine had cut off water supplies. Although they had allegedly promised Guo to resume water supplies on March 27, they did not follow through.

A video of Sun kneeling on the ground and begging for water went viral on Douyin and Weibo, where dozens of hashtags relating to the story received millions of views (read our earlier story here).

One crucial aspect of the story is how Sun Guoyou allegedly has been combating desertification and improving the soil conditions of the barren land through afforestation, by planting trees and irrigating the land.

This is one of the various reasons why netizens initially felt sorry for Sun and wanted to help him out. People were rooting for the underdog, supporting the seemingly weaker Sun against the more powerful coal mine company and local authorities.

He was also called the ‘modern-day Yugong’ by some, referring to the old Chinese fable about an old man who was called foolish for persistently trying to move a mountain, yet finally succeeded in doing so. The Chinese idiom about “the foolish old man moving a mountain” (愚公移山 yúgōng yíshān) is often used as a figure of speech for persisting despite hardship.

But the more viral Sun’s story went since March 29, the more people started doubting his story and called into question whether Sun was genuinely an underdog or just a business owner exploiting his land and, through the help of social media, manipulating the circumstances to his benefit.

On March 30, Weibo knowledge blogger ‘PYGZ’ (@平原公子赵胜) was among many other netizens accusing Sun of planting the wrong species of trees and raising cattle and sheep on his land, causing more soil erosion instead of improving soil quality. Rather than controlling desertification (“治沙”), Sun’s practices are creating sand dunes (“造沙”) instead, the blogger argued.

Why would Sun do such a thing? According to PYGZ, the state subsidizes windbreak forests that help prevent desertification (“防沙林”): 500-800 yuan ($72-$116) per Chinese “mu” (亩), which is about 666 square meters / 0.165 acre. With a land as big as Sun’s, the annual subsidy would be millions of yuan (or more than $1M per year).

“This is what combating desertification in Ningxia actually looks like,” charity blogger Sui Jiao (@碎叫) wrote, sharing photos of desert control work: “If you are concerned about desertification control, you can donate money to the China Green Foundation (中国绿化基金会) to plant trees.”

Desert control work in Ningxia, image via Weibo @碎叫

Desert control work in Ningxia, image via Weibo @碎叫

Another thing that came up in critical discussions on Sun’s case is how he previously received over seven million yuan (more than $1M) in compensation from the Shenhua Ningxia Coal Industry Group (神华宁夏煤业集团) for economic losses caused by them occupying forest land (#孙国友此前727万判决书曝光#).

As more netizens are starting to dive deeper into the facts behind Sun’s desperate kneeling video, Sun’s family stated that they did not want to further escalate the issue and were just focused on saving their trees for now (#跪地求水林场主家属称不想事情升级#).

The nationalist Weibo blogger Ziwuxiashi (@子午侠士), who has over one million followers, posted an image of a wolf sneaking away, writing: “They want to get away, but I’m afraid it’s too late, the [wolf’s ] tail has already been exposed.” The blogger suggested that the Sun family might have enjoyed the spotlight, but do not want people to dig deeper.

Many others agreed, suggesting that Sun and his family staged the dramatic video to draw attention to their case, but now want to retreat before more details come out showing that Sun might not be the underdog he made himself out to be.

“Netizens are not like toilet paper that you can wipe your ass with and get rid of once no longer needed,” one Weibo user wrote.

Chinese political commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also commented on the issue – as he does whenever social stories go viral like this, – and wrote that he understood why netizens would doubt Guo’s sincerity or even say the entire video was staged.

At the same time, he reminded people that issues such as these are never black and white, arguing it is understandable that Guo earns income from his land and that it would only be right for the coal mine company to supply water to Guo if that is what they legally agreed on.

Hu suggested that, while many details in this story still have not come out, netizens might want to wait to make an absolute judgment in the case since issues such as these are usually not clear-cut and can be more complex than they initially seem.

More updates will follow.

By Manya Koetse 

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Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace: Three Major Problems Faced by Chinese Female Workers

Weibo discussions about a woman from Wuhan who was fired after sharing news of her pregnancy for “inability” to do her job.

Zilan Qian



Workplace pregnancy and maternity discrimination is a deep-rooted problem that has recently triggered online discussions in China, where netizens highlight common ways in which companies still try to avoid dealing with pregnant workers.

The official Weibo account of Legal Daily (法治日报), a Chinese state-owned newspaper, recently launched a social media hashtag about employers not being allowed to terminate female employees because they are pregnant (#不得因怀孕辞退女职工#).

Legal Daily reported that a female employee in Wuhan was fired from her job due to her pregnancy earlier this year (#武汉一女子怀孕后遭公司辞退#). After returning to work after the Spring Festival break, the woman informed the company about her pregnancy. In early February, the company asked her to accept a demotion and salary reduction, which she declined. Later that month, she received a termination letter from the company, stating that the employee was being terminated due to her “inability to do her job.”

A screenshot of a video posted on Weibo reporting the news about the female Wuhan employee terminated from her job because of her pregnancy. In the video, the woman disagreed with the company’s statement that she could not perform her duties.

Legal Daily‘s Weibo account cited Article 5 of the “Special Provisions on Labor Protection for Female Employees,” which prohibits employers from reducing the wages of female employees or terminating their employment contract due to them being pregnant, giving birth, or breastfeeding. It also stipulates a basic maternity leave of 98 days.

The female employee in question is currently suing the company for terminating her job. While this case may have a positive outcome, the issue of workplace discrimination against female employees due to pregnancy is more complicated than it appears, regardless of the Chinese laws designed to protect female workers.

Despite legal prohibitions against pregnancy discrimination in employment, some employers still circumvent the rules in various ways and in doing so, continue to engage in discrimination against female workers. This topic has recently also generated discussions on Chinese social media about the problems women face in the workplace.

Problem #1: Companies Not Hiring Female Workers At All

“It [the law] is not very useful,” one Weibo user wrote under the related hashtag: “Companies do not usually fire female workers who are pregnant. They will solve the problem from the beginning by not hiring female workers at all.”

Some smaller private companies do not want to take the risk of dealing with potentially prolonged maternity leave and pregnant workers that they cannot fire nor reduce their wages.

They also fear that workers who are pregnant or are taking care of young children will have reduced energy and might face challenges in the workplace. To avoid the presumed risk that comes with hiring a female worker, Weibo commenters discuss how many companies would “rather hire men directly” to evade the issue of dealing with pregnant workers altogether.

Weibo users commenting that small companies would rather hire men than afford the potential cost of female workers’ maternity leave.

Some voices note how female job-seekers are facing gender discrimination in hiring, regardless of their marital status or the number of children they have.

Another post under the same hashtag (#不得因怀孕辞退女职工#) mentioned:

It is so hard for females to find jobs. [From the company’s perspective:] 1. Unmarried female: they’re here for the marriage leave; 2. Married but no children yet: they’re here for the pregnancy leave; 3. Married and have one child: here to have their second child (and the maternity leave); 4. Married and have two children: here to have their third child (and the maternity leave); 5. Married and have three children: they have no time for work because need to take care of the family; 6. Do not want to marry: they are having problematic thoughts [思想有问题].”

Problem #2: Going to Extremes to Avoid Paying for Maternity Leave

Despite Chinse labor law prohibiting companies from reducing wages or terminating the contracts of pregnant employees, some companies still attempt to circumvent paying for maternity leave through various means, as was the case with the Wuhan company.

One extreme way to avoid dealing with maternity leave pay is to cancel the company’s registration altogether, which is also called “dying together” (“同归于尽”, also: “to perish together with one’s foe”).

A recent news story about a boss who canceled his company’s registration overnight due to a female employee’s pregnancy received widespread attention on the internet.

According to a March 5 report by Netease (网易), the woman informed her boss that she was three months pregnant right after signing her work contract. The boss was so afraid of the potential costs for maternity leave pay and other benefits that he decided to immediately cancel the company’s registration.

While the boss claimed that the cancellation was due to the fact that the company was operating at a loss for the past two years, he reportedly spoke with each employee and compensated them accordingly. However, the pregnant female employee in question refused to leave. After the cancellation, the boss formed a new company including all the former employees – except for the pregnant one.

While some netizens expressed concerns over the extreme actions of the company, others also blamed the woman for “blackmailing” the company into supporting her pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, many netizens argued that the woman’s actions also make it more difficult for other job-seeking females to find employment, especially with small companies that may become more cautious about hiring female workers.

Problem #3: Maternity Harassment on the Workfloor

“Dying together” is not the only way for companies to get rid of “troublesome” pregnant workers. There are many other low-cost ways to avoid dealing with pregnant employees and working mothers, such as making life in the workplace so difficult for them that they will voluntarily resign.

In Chinese, this kind of ‘maternity harassment’ is also called “chuān xiǎo xié” (穿小鞋), which literally means giving someone tight shoes to wear and making them uncomfortable. The phenomenon is also widespread in Japan, where the word ‘matahara‘ was coined as an abbreviated form of the words ‘maternity’ and ‘harassment’ to describe the unfair treatment of pregnant women and young mothers in the workforce.

Image showing Chinese comedian Papi Jiang talking about women in the workplace being afraid to get pregnant as it might cost them their career.

By pushing employees to resign voluntarily, the company not only saves on the costs of female workers’ maternity leave pay but also avoids paying for a severance package.

Under the report by Jingshi Live-Streaming (经视直播) about the woman in Wuhan who was fired from her job due to her pregnancy, one Weibo user commented that many companies fire female workers who are pregnant, but they usually do not state it upfront and instead secretly force them to leave.

This comment received over 1500 likes, with many sharing their own similar experiences. One person wrote: “I was in that situation. The company explicitly persuaded me to resign and covertly marginalized me.”

Weibo users sharing their experiences of being forced to “voluntarily resign.”

Another person shared: “After I announced my pregnancy, my year-end bonus was reduced by more than half, and my colleagues immediately treated me with coldness.” One woman mentioned that “companies overtly use polite language while covertly giving the lowest performance evaluation to force employees to resign.”

One Weibo user complained about how female workers first face nagging questions about their future plans to have children, then face criticism from employees and colleagues after announcing their pregnancy and then have to worry about getting fired or seeing their salary reduced after giving birth.

No Way Out?

Despite laws and regulations requiring companies to provide maternity leave for female employees, there are still loopholes that are used by businesses to avoid responsibility. This leaves women in a vulnerable position in the workplace and limits economic opportunities. Weibo users come up with several suggestions in recent online discussions on how to solve the problems female workers face.

Some suggest that women should “just be realistic” and settle for a second-best option (“退而求其次”). One Weibo post argued that since it is difficult for women to secure permanent positions in both government institutions and big private companies, they should consider becoming temporary workers in government departments as a secondary option.

Others disagreed with this hot take, stating that the average wages and benefits for temporary workers in government departments are not enough to make a living.

Another suggestion raised to combat pregnancy discrimination is to offer equal parental leave to both men and women. However, this proposal was also met with resistance from some who argued that it does not solve anything since fathers have the option to forgo paternity leave, but women do not have that choice. They also cited examples of male colleagues who voluntarily waived their 15-day paternity leave.

Some are skeptical about finding a solution to the problem of women facing pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, and also raise the issue of this problem decreasing women’s willingness to have babies at all. Some netizens jokingly comment: “Do women need to provide their certificate of sterilization from the hospitals?” or “I suggest females just remove the uterus [as a solution].”

Facing low fertility rates and a large aging population, boosting birthrates is a priority for Chinese authorities. While Chinese experts look for ways to motivate couples to have (more) children at an earlier age, combating pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is also more important than ever.

One Weibo user bitterly joked about the apparent contradiction of boosting national birth rates while also promoting equal positions in the workplace:

Women say: “If I get pregnant, I will face workplace discrimination.”
The government says: “How dare companies discriminate against women? I will fine them.”
Companies say: “You’re good at playing tricks. I won’t hire women anymore.”
Women say: “If I have a child, I can’t even find a job. I won’t have children in the future.”
Society says: “China is getting old before it gets rich. What should we do?”
The media says: “There is news every day. It’s great!

By Zilan Qian

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Relevant Vocabulary

◼︎ 同归于尽 Tóng guī yú jìn
Dying together; suffering a downfall together; perishing together with one’s foe

◼︎ 穿小鞋 Chuān xiǎo xié
Giving someone tight shoes to wear; making things hard for someone by abusing one’s power

◼︎ 退而求其次 Tuì ér qíu qí cì
To settle for the second best thing


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