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Chinese Blogger Addresses Weibo’s “Elephant in the Room”

A recent noteworthy Weibo post says intellectual discussions are dying on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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A recent popular post on Weibo suggests that intellectual discussions are dying on Weibo and that Chinese web users can no longer ignore ‘the elephant in the room,’ triggering discussions on the status quo of social media in China.

Recently, a post by one popular Weibo blogger has attracted the attention of Chinese netizens.

On June 6, blogger ‘V2’ [alias], who often changes Weibo accounts, wrote about censorship on Chinese social media and ‘the elephant in the room.’

The post started making its rounds this week shortly after a severe crackdown on Chinese social media during the 30th anniversary of Tiananmen, while protests in Hong Kong over the extradition bill were also taking off.

The poster, who has over 12270 fans on Weibo, wrote the following post [translation by What’s on Weibo]:

 

The intellectual density on Weibo is getting lower and lower. Scrolling through my timeline has already become somewhat worthless. One reason for that is temporary. This month they started to close down on overseas IP addresses, for example.

Another reason is more long term. Intellectuals around the world are increasingly focusing on China issues, from international relations scholars to economists to lawyers. There are already enough discussions about China to fill entire libraries with, and it’s rapidly increasing; this period is a happy time for China watchers, with new reports and comments coming out every day.

But all these hot issues (including the Belt & Road Initiative, the modernization of the army, the future of Taiwan, IP theft, and the China-US trade war) are like an elephant in the room on Weibo.

We can’t watch them, we can’t discuss them. But because this elephant is getting bigger and bigger, ignoring its presence in this room is getting increasingly strange.

This strange feeling reached a peak these days [addressing June 4th, the commemoration of Tiananmen]. The whole world was discussing China, but China was like a tranquil lake. The top trending topic here was Produce Camp 2019 [a Chinese reality show]. Some people, including me, were silenced, while the rest was excited to talk about celebrities smoking, getting married, getting divorced or cheating – pretending that these topics are really worth discussing.

The truth is, that these are the only topics that are allowed to be discussed.

Reviewing the parallel world of millions of people, Weibo has become a crowded place within a tiny snail shell.”

 

Since its publication on June 6th, this post received more than 22700 shares, 15500 likes, and hundreds of comments, with the post especially gaining traction since June 10.

 

I want to see more, I want to think more, I want to express more.

 

Among hundreds of commenters, many people agreed with ‘V2,’ writing: “Even the early rulers in Rome knew that if they’d give the people enough bread to eat and the entertainment of an arena, they wouldn’t be bothered about the rest.”

Others commented: “Actually, people do want to discuss these issues, but how can we when the news sources are blocked?”

“This has really become more of an entertainment app. It’s no longer a place to share news and knowledge, nor a place for open debate.”

“I want to go to a wider place, I want to access more information, I want to see more, I want to think more, I want to express more,” one commenter from Beijing writes.

“Not everything you read outside of the wall [Great Firewall] is true and Western media have been demonizing us for quite some time. But inside the wall, young people only pay attention to who is marrying who and who is divorcing now and this kind of entertainment news. They are numb; the intellect of the people is not developing.”

“We’re pretending everything is going well,” another person says: “and [we’re] creating a utopia that is isolated from the world.”

 

Just because it doesn’t exist on Weibo, doesn’t mean it’s not there.

 

But some also disagreed with the critical post.

“Why don’t you see that Weibo is just a small part of life?”, one commenter writes: “Just because it doesn’t exist on Weibo, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Don’t Chinese intellectuals pay attention to the issues you just mentioned? Weibo’s audience is really wide, but it is also quite narrow.”

Other commenters also suggest that the author’s expectations of Weibo are “too high”:

“Weibo was meant for entertainment, it’s not necessarily a news platform. The news about Hong Kong [protests] was reported on various websites. What is this blogger talking about, and then all these strange comments? As if we’re just foolishly spending our days on Weibo without having any other information channels; as if all the people in this country are locked in a dark room? Stupid.”

“It’s not the room that’s dark,” one person writes: “It’s the people who are blind.”

 

Viewing the sky from the bottom of the well.

 

There are also commenters who defend the strict control of Chinese social media, writing: “China has the largest population in the world. Think about it. Public opinion is really important. Isn’t a stable popular sentiment more important than confronting people with terrible incidents? If 1.3 billion people don’t trust their government, what kind of chaos do you think the country will end up in?”

Others jokingly say: “You can discuss these taboo topics all you want, I still am more interested in the latest celebrity divorce!”

One Weibo commenter uses a Chinese idiom to convey his thoughts, writing: “I’m just viewing the sky from the bottom of the well here.”

Despite the critique of the blogger on the decline of more intellectual discussions on Weibo, their post shows that there still seems to space for some deeper discussions on Weibo. At the time of writing, the post has attracted over 4000 comments and counting.

Update June 11, 2019:

As some commenters in the thread already feared, this post has now been deleted.

By Manya Koetse

Featured image by 广博郝. Featured image not related to the blogger in this article.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 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 Insight

‘Divorce Day’: Queuing Up to Get Divorced after Chinese Spring Festival Holiday

The first day after the Spring Festival holiday is a busy one at the Bureau of Civil Affairs as couples are lining up to register a divorce.

Manya Koetse

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On the first day after the Chinese Spring Festival holiday (Jan. 21-27), there are long lines at the Civil Affairs Bureau in several places across China.

In Jiangxi, one resident shared how couples were queuing up to file for divorce on the first day the local Bureau of Civil Affairs reopened its doors. The lines were allegedly so long that people had to wait outside. Another video showed similar scenes at a local bureau in Anhui province. A third video showed crowded scenes of people lining up to register a divorce in Henan.

Chinese media accounts such as Toutiao News (@头条新闻), Vista (@Vista看天下), and Phoenix News (@凤凰周刊) all posted about the long divorce lines on Jan. 29, with one post about the topic receiving 70,000 likes.

“I thought they were lining up to get married, then I watched the news and saw they were actually lining up to get divorced..,” one commenter wrote. Others wondered if the busy lines for the divorce registration office might have something to do with the Covid outbreak over the past weeks, with some couples finding out that their partner actually is not very sympathetic when they are sick (also read this article).

The Chinese media outlets posting about the divorce registration lines mentioned how the ones who suffer the most in a divorce are the children, but many commenters did not agree with this statement, arguing that children suffer the most when parents stay together for the sake of the children and then continue fighting.

The divorce trend after the Chinese Lunar New Year has also been discussed in Chinese media and on social media in previous years (“春节后离婚潮”).

In Western countries, it is a known fact that divorce rates increase after Christmas time; the Monday after Christmas break is also dubbed “Divorce Day.” Some sources claim this is often due to quarrels that occur during Christmas and the financial pressures that come with the festive season.

It is arguably not much different for the Chinese New Year, when incidents taking place during family gatherings could be the straw that broke the camel’s back.

“The Spring Festival is like a big marriage minefield,” one commenter wrote: “When you return to your family home, it doesn’t just mean reuniting with your close relatives, there are also various tests of human relations and etiquette. A careless moment can cause conflicts between a married couple, leading to quarrels or even divorce. Is your marriage good or not? You will know during the Chinese New Year. After the New Year, there will be a wave of divorces.”

But the pandemic situation of the past years, in including the lockdowns, mental stress and financial difficulties, inescapably also play a role in the recent divorce wave.

In December of 2022, this Chinese blog article already predicted that more people would file for divorce after the Chinese New Year since the end of the holiday would coincide with the end of the Covid peak. In times of lockdown, and especially in times of sickness, couples easily get annoyed with each other and their love is put to the test.

Earlier this month, some Chinese media also reported that three years after the pandemic began, cities were already seeing a “divorce wave” (#疫情后一线城市离婚预约爆满#).

Some netizens comment that the ‘cool-off’ period that was introduced to allow couples a month’s time to think and revoke their divorce does not seem to have much effect.

Some people sympathize with those standing in line: “Celebrating the New Year can bring about a war in some families. The divorce season has started.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China Insight

Less Education, More Babies? Discussions Surrounding China’s Falling Birth Rate

Another year, another drop in birth rates: according to the latest statistics, China’s 2022 saw more deaths than births.

Manya Koetse

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China’s falling birth rates have been a topic of discussion for years. With the latest statistics marking another record low in birth rates, Chinese experts look for ways to motivate couples to have (more) children at an earlier age.

Official yearbook data, released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics (国家统计局) on Jan. 17, 2023, shows that the total Chinese mainland population was 1.4118 billion by late 2022. Last year, 9.56 million people were born, while 10.41 million people died. The population in 2022 fell by 850,000 from 2021.

As reported by The New York Times, according to the latest data, 2022 was not just the first time deaths outnumbered births in China since the Great Leap Forward in 1960s, it was also one of the worst performance years for the Chinese economy since 1976.

China’s dropping birth rates have been a topic of discussion for years. The annual statistics that were published three years ago, in January 2020, showed that China’s birth rate in 2019 had fallen to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China. In that year, the birth rate was 10.48 per thousand, and 14.65 million babies were born in mainland China.

The data from later years showed that just 12 million babies were born in 2020 (8.5 births per thousand) and that only 10.6 million babies were born in 2021 – a rate of 7.52 births per thousand. The latest number is another record low.

Over recent years, various trends in Chinese (online) media have highlighted the social issues behind China’s dropping marriage and birth rates. The rising costs of living and the fact that Chinese younger generations “prefer to marry late,” are often mentioned as an explanation for China’s decline in marriage rates and the interrelated lowering birth rates.

But China’s so-called ‘leftover’ single men have also been pointed out as a “crisis,” with China having millions of more men than women of marriageable age – partly a consequence of the one-child policy combined with a traditional preference for baby boys.

For years, China’s ‘leftover women’ were also mentioned as a reason for the country’s declining marriage rates; China’s well-educated, career-oriented, urban single women were singled out for making it harder for China’s unmarried men to find a wife because of their ‘choice’ to postpone marriage and family life. This increased the pressure on China’s single women to get married, including facing an associated social stigma, which has become a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Chinese couples are allowed to have two children since 2015, three children since 2021, and it was later widely reported that parents with more than three children would also no longer receive fines according to a draft law amendment.

Celebrating the ‘three child policy’ (image via Weibo.com).

But the new regulations have not had the desired effect, with many couples simply not wanting a second child or being unable to afford it. The pandemic and zero Covid policy also haven’t exactly helped to boost China’s birth rates.

On social media, official media put out the two hashtags “9.56 Million People born in China in 2022” and “In 2022, China’s Population Decreased by 850,000 people” (#2022中国全年出生人口956万人#, #2022年中国人口减少85万人#). Among commenters, the latest data have led to various discussions.

Some are about the costs of living:

  • There’s so much to consider if you want to have a child, the costs are just too high, and I wouldn’t be able to support it.”

Others are about increasing social pressure:

  • These days there’s too much pressure on men to get married, they’re not confident and at ease anymore.”

And then there are those who see no problem in a population drop:

  • It’s only natural for the population to decline, how can you expect it to be like the old days when people would have five or six kids; the people like my grandma in my hometown all come from families with at least four kids.”
  • This country of 1,5 billion people is constantly worried about going extinct, people are crazy!
  • The Information Age doesn’t need so many people anyway.”

 

HOW TO BOOST BIRTH RATES?

 

But while netizens’ opinions on the matter vary, experts, politicians, and media outlets focus on the topic of how China’s birth rates can be boosted.

Various places across China have already announced policies to encourage families to raise more than one child, including prolonged maternity leave, increased maternity allowances, and support for home purchases.

One hashtag that was popular on Weibo this week was about a statement made by the billionaire businessman Zong Qinghou (宗庆后), CEO of leading beverage company Wahaha Group (哇哈哈).

Zong is a proponent of offering affordable housing to young people. In a video that has since gone viral – and which was a segment from a CCTV interview, – Zong talks about his low-cost housing project and also called on China’s young people to find a partner, get married earlier and have children sooner to “contribute” to the country’s birth rates (#宗庆后希望年轻人早点结婚生娃#).

The hashtag triggered many replies. Most of them criticized Zong’s remarks, and many commenters expressed that they did not like being told to marry and have kids. Some also remarked how Zong’s own forty-something daughter allegedly is not married herself.

It is not the first time for an opinion leader or expert to frame marriage and childbirth as a “contribution” to the country.  In 2015, the Chinese scholar Yang Zao (杨早) wrote an essay in which he explained China’s falling birth rates as “a clash between individualist and collectivist values.” At the time, he wrote: “For the country, for society, for parents, can’t you let go a bit of personal happiness? After all, isn’t marriage key to solving China’s present-day problems?”

Another hashtag that went viral this week is “Could Shortening Education Time Increase Birth Rates?” (#缩短教育时间能提高生育率吗#).

The topic relates to an article published by Zhejiang News on Jan. 16, 2023, about China’s Education and Population Report (中国教育和人口报告). In this report, James Jianzhang Liang (梁建章, a demographer who is better known as the Ctrip CEO) and other authors suggest that shortening the duration of education might help boost the country’s birth rates. The authors suggest that the middle and elementary education time could be cut down by two years by eliminating the Senior High School Entrance Examination (Zhongkao 中考).

There are two ways in which this idea might benefit China’s birth rates. On the one hand, the authors argue, China’s highly competitive education system puts a lot of pressure on children and financial strain on their parents, who struggle to invest as much time and money into their children’s education as they can. The pressure is real: the exam results during the last year of junior high school are of crucial importance regarding admission to the preferred senior high school, which also profoundly influences education after high school and students’ future careers. So the reasoning is that couples are more likely to have children if the financial burdens on parents are alleviated.

Should we have kids or not? Cartoon posted on Weibo.com.

On the other hand, the authors argue that when people finish school two years earlier, this will give them more time to start their life after graduation, making it more likely for women to have children at an earlier age.

One post about this topic, in which netizens were asked how they felt about the idea, received over 225,000 likes and nearly 13,000 comments.

A typical reply suggested that all these ‘experts’ should have more children themselves, reiterating a widespread criticism of opinion makers and experts who often do not practice what they preach.

Others expressed that they did not think that China’s lower birth rates were related to education, while others felt that a shortened education time would be a step back for China.

Some also criticized Zhejiang News. The media outlet itself indicated that the idea of shortening school years to boost fertility rates was like treating people as “tools.” But some commenters said: “The sad thing is not that people are treated as tools, the sad thing is that it took you this long to realize it.”

There are more Weibo bloggers and commenters suggesting that people paid a heavy price for the One Child policy that was implemented between 1980-2015, and that its effects will have a significant impact on society for a long time to come. After decades of only allowing couples to have one child, the shift to now introducing policies to encourage people to have more children is a strange reality.

One popular blogger (@峰哥亡命天涯) posted a photo that showed an old One Child Policy slogan on a building [少生优生,幸福一生 ‘Have fewer but healthier babies and a happier life‘], and he wrote: “The effects of family planning have contributed to contemporary times and bring benefits for future centuries!”

Another poster said they felt bad for the one-child generation born in the 1980s:

I really feel sorry for those born in the 1980s. They’ve always dealt with problems in attending school from young to old, then when they were all grown up faced problems with the job [market], then the issue of marrying and the bride price, and most importantly the high price of housing and caring for the elderly – the 1980s generation is carrying the burden. Those born in the 1970s can no longer have children, and those born after ’95 or 2000 are not giving birth. So we can only squeeze the post-1980s (..) Let them finally take a breather.”

By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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

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

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