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Chinese Media Coverage of China’s Rescue Efforts in Turkey-Syria Earthquake

Chinese state media have framed China’s rescue efforts in Turkey and Syria as being in line with the responsibilities of a great nation.

Manya Koetse

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After the devastating earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on February 6, killing over 25,000 36,000 people, rescue teams from all over the world have come to provide assistance in the quake-hit areas and dozens of countries have reached out to help in various ways.

On Chinese social media, China’s efforts to assist Turkey and Syria have become big topics in ongoing discussions about the earthquake.

Topics such as China sending cash aid to the disaster areas, along with rice and wheat and tents, blankets, etc., have been widely covered by online media this week (#中国220吨小麦将运抵叙利亚#), but it is the efforts of the Chinese rescue teams that have received the most attention when it comes to China’s assistance to the quake-hit areas.

State media outlets mostly drive the online attention for the Chinese rescue groups in Turkey and Syria. People’s Daily, Xinhua, China News Service, and CCTV all report about the rescue efforts of the teams from China.

Chinese Rescue Teams in Turkey and Syria

Several rescue teams from China have come to the quake-hit areas. Apart from the official China Search and Rescue Team, there are also Chinese civilian rescue teams, including the Blue Sky Rescue Team and Ram Rescue Team. The Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) also sent a rescue team to Syria on Thursday.

The official Chinese Rescue team – the China International Search and Rescue Team (CISAR/中国国际救援队)- consists of experienced members from, among others, the Beijing fire and rescue corps, the National Earthquake Response Support Service, and some of them are emergency hospital staff. They also brought four rescue dogs with them.

A first batch consisting of 82 rescuers dispatched by the Chinese government arrived at the disaster area on Wednesday (#中国救援队82人抵达土耳其#).

The Blue Sky Rescue Team (蓝天救援队) is a professional non-profit search-and-rescue organization with more than 30,000 registered volunteers. Founded in 2007, it is China’s largest nonprofit civil rescue organization.

China’s Blue Sky Rescue Teams arrived in Turkey on February 8 and 9, including the local Chongqing, Hainan, Fujian, Jiangsu, and Hunan teams. They also brought special earthquake rescue and alarm systems with them.

The ‘Ram Rescue Team’ or ‘Rescue Team of Ramunion’ (公羊救援队) is a professional volunteer team specializing in outdoor emergency rescue tasks. The team, founded in 2008, has participated in various rescue efforts. They previously also provided assistance during earthquake rescue situations in Nepal, Pakistan, Ecuador, Italy, and Indonesia on behalf of China’s civilian rescue forces.

Nine members of the Zhejiang Ram Rescue Team arrived in Turkey’s Adana on Wednesday, bringing a rescue dog. Seven more members arrived from Sichuan on Friday.

Rescue-Related Hashtags on Social Media

#蓝天救援队在机场遇到感人一幕# – Chinese state media outlet Xinhua News reported that some members of the Blue Sky Team ran into local people upon their arrival in Turkey, who were moved to see the teams coming in from China.

#公羊救援队救出1男子和1儿童# – At about 9 am local time on Feb. 9 in Turkey, China’s Ram Rescue Team rescued a man and a child.

#中国救援队救出第二名幸存者# – On Feb. 9, Chinese state media reported that a Chinese rescue team and a local rescue team managed to rescue a survivor in Turkey. The person, a pregnant woman, was taken to the hospital by ambulance for treatment.

#公羊救援队与土方合力救出一家5口# – The same day at 1:30 pm local time, the Chinese Ram Rescue Team, together with the Turkish Army urban search team, successfully rescued a family consisting of 2 adults and 3 children in Belen Town.

#公羊救援队成功救援一户家庭# – On Feb 9., Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily reported that the Chinese rescue workers joined forces with local rescue teams in rescuing a family of two adults and three children from the earthquake rubble on Thursday afternoon.

#中国救援队成功营救出第3名幸存者# – At 8pm local time on February 9, a Chinese rescue team and the local Turkish rescue force managed to rescue a female survivor from a collapsed 7-story building. At this time, over 80 hours had already passed since the earthquake.

#中国救援队连夜奋战拯救生命# – Xinhua News reported that Chinese teams continued to work throughout the night in order to try and rescue more people.

#中国救援队救出被埋100小时幸存者# – CCTV reported on Friday that, through the joint efforts of Chinese and Turkish rescue teams, a woman who was trapped inside a collapsed building was able to be rescued from the ruins after 100 hours.

#搜救犬Lucky上岗首日寻获1名幸存者# – On Feb 10. China’s Ram Rescue Team and the search and rescue dog Lucky provided assistance to Turkish rescue workers in rescuing one survivor.

#中国救援队成功救出第四人# – Around 3:40 pm on Friday, the Chinese rescue team managed to rescue another earthquake survivor trapped inside a collapsed building in Antakya.

#蓝天救援队第二梯队赴土救灾# – A second Blue Sky Team headed to Turkey on Saturday, Feb 11, to help disaster victims. Besides equipment, the team brings all kinds of food to the disaster area, including instant noodles, pickled mustard, and Laoganma.

#蓝天救援队有人借钱去土耳其# – China News Service reported that some members of China’s Blue Sky Rescue team had to borrow money to get to Turkey. Rescue members of the civilian rescue team pay for travel costs themselves, spending over 20,000 yuan ($2937) per member.

#官方呼吁尚未启程救援队取消行动# – On Saturday, Feb. 11, China’s Association for Disaster Prevention called on Chinese civilian rescue teams that had not yet left China to cancel or suspend their plans to go to the disaster area. As the rescue work had reached its fifth day, survival chances have greatly dropped and in order to let emergency relief aid workers do their work and not to add burden, the official advice is to suspend traveling to Turkey at this time.

‘Major Power’ Humanitarian Aid

Chinese state media have also framed China’s rescue efforts in Turkey and Syria as being in line with the responsibilities of a great nation (“大国风范,” “大国的担当,” “大国担当”), as providing international humanitarian assistance is generally seen as being part of the role of a major power.

Chinese media outlet Rednet reported how the speed and efficiency in which the Chinese government organized rescue teams to send to Turkey and Syria demonstrate China’s power to the rest of the world as a “Chinese miracle” (“中国奇迹”).

In recent years, China’s role in international rescue operations has become increasingly important. The experiences and lessons of China’s rescue teams during the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake in Sichuan have also contributed to the development of China’s disaster emergency rescue system in various ways, including inter-organizational coordination (Lin et al 2-17).

This week, China Daily provided an overview of some of the rescue efforts China has contributed to in recent years, including the 2019 Mozambique cyclone disaster, the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the 2011 Japan tsunami, the 2010 Haiti Earthquake, and the 2006 Yogyakarta earthquake.

On Weibo, the China Communist Youth League also initiated the hashtag “In 20 Years, China Has Participated in 12 International Rescue Operations” (#20年来中国共参与过12次国际救援#).

“Our motherland is powerful, they are taking responsibility,” one Weibo commenter wrote: “No matter if it is official teams or civilian ones, they embody the air of a great power. It’s moving.”

By Manya Koetse 

References

Lin, Xi, Ke-Jia Liu, Yong-Gui Zhang, Yang Dan, Dian-Guo Xing, Li Chen, Ding-Yuan Du. 2017. “China Medical Team: Medical rescue for “4.25” Nepal Earthquake.” Chinese Journal of Traumatology 20 (2017) 235-239.

 

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©2023 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 Media

The Beishan Park Stabbings: How the Story Unfolded and Was Censored on Weibo

A timeline of the censorship & reporting of the Jilin Beishan Park stabbing incident on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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The recent stabbing incident at Beishan Park in Jilin city, involving four American teachers, has made headlines worldwide. However, on the Chinese internet, the story was initially kept under wraps. This is a brief overview of how the incident was reported, censored, and discussed on Weibo.

On Monday, June 10, four Americans were stabbed while visiting Beishan park in Jilin.

Video footage of the victims lying on the ground in the park was viewed by millions of people outside the Chinese internet by Monday afternoon.

Despite the serious and unusual nature of such an attack on foreigners visiting China, it took about an entire day for the news to be reported by official Chinese channels.

 
How the Beishan Incident Unfolded Online
 

In the afternoon of June 10, news about four foreigners being stabbed in Jilin’s Beishan Park started circulating online.

Among the first online accounts to report this incident was the well-known Chinese-language X account ‘Li Laoshi’ (李老师不是你老师, @whyyoutouzhele), which has 1.5 million followers, along with the news account Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24), which has 1 million followers on X.

They both posted a video showing the incident’s aftermath, which soon went viral on X and beyond. It showed how three victims – one female and two male – were lying on the ground at the park, bleeding heavily while waiting for medical help. A police officer was already at the scene.

As soon as the video and tweets triggered discussions in the English-language social media sphere, it was clear that Chinese social media platforms were censoring and blocking mentions of the incident.

By Monday night, China local time, many Weibo commenters had started writing about what had happened in Beishan Park earlier that day, but their posts became unavailable.

Some bloggers wrote about receiving an automated message from Weibo management that their posts had been taken offline. Others started posting about “that thing in Jilin,” but even those messages disappeared. On other platforms, such as Douyin, the story was also being contained.

By 21:00-22:00 local time, a hashtag on Weibo, “Jilin Beishan Park Foreigners” (吉林北山外国人), briefly became the second most-searched topic before it was taken offline. Weibo stated: “According to relevant laws, regulations, and policies, the content of this topic is not shown.”

A hashtag about the Beishan stabbings soon became one of the hottest search queries before it disappeared.

While netizens came up with more creative words and other descriptions to talk about what had happened, the focus shifted from what had happened in Beishan Park to why the topic was being censored. “What’s this? Why can’t we talk about it?” one Weibo user wondered: “Not a single piece of news!”

Around 23:30 local time, another blogger posted: “It seems to be real that four foreigners were stabbed in Jilin’s Beishan Park this afternoon. We’ll have to see when it will formally be reported on Weibo.” Others questioned, “Why is the Jilin incident so tightly covered up on the internet?”

Around 04:00 local time on June 11, the first media outlet to really report on what had happened was Iowa Public Radio (IPR News). Before that time, one Iowan citizen had already commented on X that their sister-in-law was one of the victims involved.

One victim’s family had told IPR News that the individuals involved were four Cornell College instructors. All four survived and were recovering at a nearby hospital after being stabbed during a park visit in China.

The instructors were part of a partnership with Beihua University in Jilin. Cornell College and Beihua University have had an active partnership since 2018, with Beihua funding Cornell instructors to visit China, travel, and teach during a two-week period. Members from both institutions were visiting the public park in Jilin City when they were attacked. The visit was likely intended as a sightseeing and relaxation opportunity during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, when many people visit the park.

As reported by IPR News reporter Zachary Oren Smith (@ZacharyOS), U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks stated that her office was working with the U.S. Embassy to ensure the victims would receive care for their injuries and safely leave China.

 
Hu Xijin Post
 

Now that news of the attack on four Americans was all over X, soon picked up by dozens of international news outlets, the Chinese censorship of the story seemed unusual, considering the magnitude of the story.

Furthermore, there had still been no official statement from the Chinese side, nor any news reports on the suspect and whether or not he had been detained.

By the morning of June 11, an internal, unverified BOLO notice from the Jilin city Chuanying police office circulated online. It identified the suspect as 55-year-old Jilin resident Cui Dapeng (崔大鹏), who was still at large. The notice also clarified that there were not four but five victims in total.

At 11:33 local time, it seemed that the wall of censorship surrounding the incident was suddenly lifted when Chinese political and social commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进), who has nearly 25 million followers on Weibo, posted about what had happened.

He based his post on “Western media reports,” and commented that this is a time when Chinese and American sides are actually promoting exchange. He saw the incident as a “random” one, which, regardless of the attacker’s motive, does not reflect broader sentiment within Chinese society. He concluded, “I also hope and believe that this incident will not negatively affect the exchanges between China and the US.”

Hu’s post spurred a flurry of discussions about the Beishan Park incident, turning it into a top-searched topic once again. His comments sparked controversy, with many disagreeing with his suggestion that the incident could potentially affect Sino-American exchanges. Many argued that there are numerous examples of Chinese people being attacked or even murdered in the US without anyone suggesting it would harm US-China relations.

Within approximately two hours of posting, Hu’s post was no longer visible and had disappeared from his timeline. This sudden deletion or blocking of his post again triggered confusion: Was Hu being censored? Why?

Later, screenshots of Hu Xijin’s post shared on social media were also censored.

 
A “Collision”
 

By the early Tuesday evening, June 11, Chinese official accounts and state media accounts finally issued a report on what had happened in what was now dubbed the “Beishan Park Stabbing Incident” (#吉林公安通报北山公园伤人案#).

Jilin authorities issued a report on what happened in Beishan Park.

A notice from local public security authorities stated that the first emergency call about a stabbing incident at the park came in at 11:49 in the morning on Monday, June 10, and police and medical assistance soon arrived at the scene.

The 55-year-old Chinese suspect, referred to as ‘Cui’ (崔某某), reportedly stabbed one of the Americans after they bumped into each other at the park (described as “a collision” 发生碰撞). The suspect then attacked the American, his three American companions, and a Chinese visitor who tried to intervene. Reports indicated that the victims were all transported to the hospital and were not in critical condition.

It was also stated that the suspect was arrested on the “same day,” without specifying the time and location of the arrest.

Later on Tuesday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed the incident during their regular press conference. Spokesperson Lin Jian (林剑) stated that local police had initially judged the case to be a random incident and that they were conducting further investigation (#外交部回应吉林北山公园伤人案#).

 
Boxer Rebellion References
 

With the discussions about the incident on Chinese social media less controlled, various views emerged, commenting on issues such as public safety in China, US-China relations, and anti-Western sentiments.

One notable trend during the early discussions of the incident is how many commenters referenced to the ‘Boxer Rebellion’ (1899–1901), an anti-foreign, anti-Christian uprising that took place during the final years of the Qing Dynasty and led to large-scale massacres of foreign residents. Many commenters believed the attacker had nationalist motives targeting foreigners.

Anti-american, nationalist sentiments also surfaced online. Some commenters laughed about the incident or praised the attacker for doing a “good job.”

However, the majority argued that this event should not be seen as indicative of a broader trend of foreign-targeted violence in China. They emphasized that Asians in America are far more frequently targeted in hate crimes than any Westerner in China, underscoring that this incident is just an isolated case.

This idea of the event being “random” (“偶然事件”) was reiterated in official reports, Hu Xijin’s column, and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But there are also those who think this might be a conspiracy, calling it bizarre for such a rare incident to occur just when Chinese tourism was finally starting to flourish in the post-Covid era: “Now that our tourism industry is booming, foreigners are getting stabbed? How could it be such a coincidence? Is it possible that this was arranged by spies from other countries?”

On Tuesday, social commentator Hu Xijin made a second attempt at posting about the Beishan Park incident. This time, his post was shorter and less outspoken:

“This appears to be a public security incident,” he wrote: “But this time, four foreign nationals were attacked. In every place around the world, there are criminal and public security incidents where foreigners become victims. China is one of the relatively safest countries in the world, but this incident still occurred in broad daylight in a tourist area. This reminds us, that we need to always keep enhancing the effectiveness of security measures to protect the safety of all Chinese and foreign nationals.”

Again, his post triggered some controversy as some bloggers discovered that Hu had previously argued against extra security checks at Chinese parks, which he deemed unnecessary. They felt he was now contradicting himself.

The differing views on Hu’s posts and the incident at large perhaps explain why the news was initially controlled and censored. Although censorship and control are inherent parts of the Chinese social media apparatus, the level of control over this story was quite unusual. Whether it was due to the suspect still being on the loose, public safety concerns, fears of rising nationalist sentiments, or the need to understand the full details before the story blew up, we will likely never know.

Nevertheless, this time, Hu’s post stayed up.

The Beishan Park incident is reportedly still under investigation.

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Media

China’s Intensified Social Media Propaganda: “Taiwan Must Return to Motherland”

As ‘Taiwan’ is all over Chinese social media, the discourse is controlled and heavily influenced by Chinese official media accounts.

Manya Koetse

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Following the inauguration of Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te on Monday, Taiwan has been a trending topic on Chinese social media all week.

Chinese state media have launched an intensive social media propaganda campaign featuring strong language and clear visuals, reinforcing the message: Taiwan is not a country, Taiwan is part of China, and reunification with the motherland is inevitable.

On Friday, May 24, almost half of the trending topics on Chinese social media platform Weibo were related to Taiwan, its status, and China’s large-scale military drills around Taiwan that began on Thursday.

 

“Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country”

 

On Monday, Lai Ching-te, also known as William Lai, took office after winning the Taiwan elections in January of this year. He was handed over the leadership by Tsai Ing-wen, who served as Taiwan’s president for two four-year terms.

Before leaving office, Tsai spoke to the media and reiterated her stance that Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country. In his inaugural speech, Lai also echoed that sentiment, referring to Taiwan as a nation and urging its people not to “harbor any delusions” about China and cross-strait peace.

Although Chinese official sources did not say much about Lai’s inauguration on the day itself, Chinese state media outlet CCTV issued a strong statement on Wednesday that went viral on social media. They posted an online “propaganda poster” showing the word “unification” (统一) in red, accompanied by the sentence: “‘Taiwan Independence’ is a dead-end road, unification is unstoppable.

The hashtag posted with this image said, “Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country,” reiterating a statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi when Lai won the elections in early 2024.

The propaganda poster posted by CCTV on May 22 was all about “reunification.”

Within merely eight hours, that hashtag (“Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country” #台湾从来不是一个国家也永远不会成为一个国家#) received over 640 million views on Weibo, where it was top trending on Wednesday, accompanied by another hashtag saying “China will ultimately achieve complete reunification” (#中国终将实现完全统一#).

 

“With each provocation our countermeasures advance one step further, until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved”

 

Starting on Thursday, China’s military exercises in the Taiwan Strait became a major topic on the Chinese internet.

“Joint Sword-2024A” (联合利剑—2024A) is the overarching name for the land, sea, and air military exercises conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), designed to test the armed forces’ ability to “seize power” and control key areas of the island.

The political message behind these exercises, asserting China’s claim over Taiwan and showcasing its military power, is as visible online as it is offline.

On Weibo, People’s Daily live-blogged the latest details of the military exercises around Taiwan, including strong statements by the Ministry of Defense and experts asserting that the PLA has the capability to hit various crucial targets in Taiwan, including its southeastern air defense zone.

The Eastern Theater Command (东部战区) of the PLA also released a 3D animation to simulate the destruction of “Taiwan independence headquarters,” severing the “lifeline of Taiwan independence.”

CCTV Military (央视军事) posted that the ongoing PLA operation is aimed to break Taiwan’s “excessive arrogance.”

They quoted the spokesperson of the Ministry of Defense in saying: “With each provocation from [supporters of] ‘Taiwan independence,’ our countermeasures advance one step further until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved.”

 

“The motherland must unify, and it will inevitably unify”

 

One relatively new slogan used in the online propaganda campaign regarding Taiwan this week is “Táiwān dāngguī” (#台湾当归#), which means “Taiwan must return [to the motherland].

However, the slogan is also a play on words, as the term dāngguī (当归) refers to Angelica Sinensis, the Chinese Angelica root (“female ginseng”), a medicinal herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, native to China and cultivated in various East Asian countries.

In one poster disseminated by People’s Daily, Taiwan is depicted on the left – resembling a piece of the yellowish root – as a part of the character “归” (guī, to return, go back to). The remainder of the character consists of various slogans commonly used by Chinese official media to emphasize that Taiwan is part of China.

New poster by People’s Daily. ‘Taiwan’ on the left side resembles a piece of Chinese Angelica root (looks like ginseng).

These sentences include slogans like, “China can’t be one bit less” (“中国一点都不能少”) that has been used by state media to emphasize China’s one-China principle since the 2016 South China Sea dispute.

Accompanying the “Taiwan Must Return” hashtag, People’s Daily writes: “‘Taiwanese independence’ goes against history, it’s a dead end. The motherland must unify, and it will inevitably unify. #TaiwanMustReturn#.”

Within a single day, the hashtag received a staggering 2.4 billion views on Weibo.

Although ‘Taiwan’ is all over Chinese social media, the discourse is controlled and heavily influenced by Chinese official media accounts. The majority of comments from netizens echo official slogans on the issue, expressing sentiments such as “Taiwan will never be a country,” “I support the ‘One China’ principle,” and “Taiwan is part of China.”

A post by CCTV regarding reunification with Taiwan garnered over 100,000 comments, yet only a fraction of these discussions were visible at the time of writing.

Amidst all the slogans and official discourse, there are also some bloggers expressing a broader view on the issue.

One of them wrote: “In the current official media lineup regarding ‘Taiwan is a province of China’, there are no longer any “warnings” or “demands” to be found. The rhetoric has shifted towards reprimands, and towards an emphasis on the legal principles behind the reclamation of Taiwan. I am convinced that a reunification through military force is no longer a ‘Plan B’ – it is the definite direction we are moving towards.”

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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