Connect with us

China Society

Chinese Netizens Voice Concerns over Molly the Elephant, Call for Animal Performance Boycott

Molly the elephant has become a powerful symbol for hundreds of other performing elephants in China.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

The fate of Molly, an elephant born in the Kunming Zoo and separated from its mother at the age of 2, has become a topic of public debate in China. As viral photos show the elephant being forced to perform tricks, calls for an animal performance ban in China are growing louder.

A little elephant named Molly is a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media this week. There are various hashtags about Molly on Weibo, where the elephant also has several fan forums (‘supertopics’) dedicated to her.

There are Molly artworks, Molly videos, Molly gifs, Molly cartoons, but most of all, there are the calls from netizens to ‘rescue Molly the little elephant’ (#救救小象莫莉#).

Molly’s Chinese name is Mòlì (莫莉), an Asian elephant born on March 20 in 2016 in the Kunming Zoo in Yunnan. The baby elephant was initially nicknamed “Little Princess” (小公主). When she turned one year old, the Kunming Zoo invited the public to help come up with a name for her.

On her first birthday, the popular ‘Little Princess’ received her official name and a special big elephant birthday cake. The celebration was covered by local media at the time.

Although Kunming Zoo initially seemed to take pride in their baby Molly, they separated her from her mother at the age of two in April of 2018. Molly was then transferred from Kunming Zoo to Qinyang, Jiaozuo, in Henan in exchange for another elephant.

Over the past few years, Molly the elephant has allegedly been trained to do tricks and performances and to carry around tourists on her back at the Qinyang Swan Lake Ecological Garden (沁阳天鹅湖生态园), the Qinyang Hesheng Forest Zoo (沁阳和生森林动物园), the Jiaozuo Forestry Zoo (焦作森林动物园), and the Zhoukou Safari Park (周口野生动物世界).

Netizens started raising the alarm about Molly’s welfare when they spotted her chained up and seemingly unhappy, forced to do handstands or play harmonica, with Molly’s handlers using iron hooks to coerce her into performing.

Posts about Molly being abused started to gain more online attention in the summer of 2021, and photos showing the stark difference between Molly at the age of one and at the age of five years old circulated online.

After so many netizens expressed concerns about the elephant’s mistreatment, the local zoo and authorities issued a statement in September of 2021 saying Molly was not being maltreated. But because no further clarification was given, netizens kept pushing for the elephant to be rescued and reunited with its mother in Kunming.

One of the reasons why Molly became a big topic on social media again this week is because her case was pushed forward on the social media platform Xiaohongshu, after which it also gained renewed attention on Weibo due to various big accounts posting about ‘Save Molly’ and calling for an elephant performance ban in China.

One of these influentiual people expressing concerns over the elephant is Taiwanese actress Chen Qiao’en (陈乔恩), who posted about Molly on Weibo on April 24, using the #SaveMollytheElephant hashtag:

It’s heartbreaking to see Molly covered in wounds. She shouldn’t be treated like this. Please reject animal performances, please don’t abuse animals, please save Molly the elephant.”

Chen’s post received over 90,000 likes and a lot of attention, leading to more netizens voicing their concerns about the elephant and joining online groups about Molly’s case.

As voices speaking up for Molly grew louder, some of the groups and hashtags related to the ‘Save Molly’ movement were taken offline by Weibo censors.

“There are many ‘Molly’s’ in this world, the more you try to silence us, the louder we will get,” one Weibo commenter wrote.

A Maze of Conflicting Regulations

Beyond Molly’s situation, there is a somewhat confusing web of laws, regulations, and standards about wildlife protection and animal performances in China.

China’s Wildlife Protection Law (WPL), the national legislation for animal protection, was enacted in 1989. Throughout the decades, the law was widely criticized for not doing enough to actually protect animals and promoting the use of wildlife for human benefit. Although the law was revised in 2015, it still facilitated the commercial use of wildlife and there is no anti-cruelty legislation that might penalize cruelty to animals in zoos, wildlife parks, or other venues where wild animals are kept in captivity (Li 2021, p. 227).

When it comes to China’s zoos and safari parks, there are two regulatory bodies that play an important role: China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (住房城乡建设部, MHURD), and the Chinese State Forestry and Grassland Administration (国家林业和草原局, SFGA).

The Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MHURD) is the relevant organ overseeing Chinese zoos, which are usually owned and managed by municipal or regional governments. The MHURD also hosts the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (中国动物园协会, CAZG), which is an organization that most of China’s larger zoos are members of.

China’s Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development banned animal performances in China over a decade ago in 2011, although the rule excluded performances at aquariums and did not specify penalties (China Daily 2012). In 2013, the MHURD also issued the “National Zoo Development Outline” (“全国动物园发展纲要“) which strictly prohibited all animal performances in zoos.

Nevertheless, many zoos and wildlife parks have still continued shows featuring cycling bears, jumping tigers, and dancing elephants since then – and not necessarily illegally.

One of the reasons why there are conflicting regulatory regimes is because “zoos” and “wild animal parks” fall under different jurisdictions in China.

The MHURD 2011 administrative national ban on animal performance was unable to stop animal performances at China’s privately-owned wild animal parks, safari parks, or circuses, since they are administered by the Chinese State Forestry and Grassland Administration (SFGA), which also regulates the holding of all exotic species, including those in city zoos. The SFGA, however, does not consider the welfare of these animals its responsibility (see Arcus Foundation 2021, p. 99; Li 2021, p. 227).

City zoos can theoretically still subcontract animal performances to private companies within special areas of the zoo as long as their contract was signed before 2011, and can also still sell or trade animals with these parks. Dozens of zoos with performance programs have therefore continued animal performances, sometimes also in violation of policies in place (Arcus Foundation 2021, p. 99; Li 2021, p. 19).

In line with the WPL, the SFGA is able to provide permits that allow animal parks to hold animal “exhibition and performances.” The Qinyang Swan Lake Ecological Garden, where Molly is, also has a permit to “showcase wildlife” (展演野生动物), basically giving them a green light to put on performances.

Beyond Molly

On April 27, the Kunming Zoo responded to the online storm over Molly, claiming that the elephant is in good condition and that the zoo in question has since long stopped animal performances.

Chinese media outlet Phoenix News also published an article about Molly on April 30, aimed to uncover the truth about the conditions in which Molly is currently being kept at the Qinyang Hesheng Forest Zoo.

The report concluded that Molly was kept in good living conditions, and that the elephants at the park were not participating in any (circus) performances. The person in charge of the Qinyang Hesheng Forest Zoo, Shi Baodong (史保东) reportedly claims the park has stopped all animal performance activities as of April 2019, with Shi denying all claims of animal abuse taking place.

Staff members also said that some of the footage and images circulating online in relation to the Molly incident are not of Molly at all, instead showing elephant training in Thailand, India and other countries.

But many Chinese netizens believe the zoo is not speaking the truth, since social media users said they still saw Molly performing and carrying zoo visitors on her back in 2021. Even if Molly is not performing at this moment, many still think that media reports and statements cover up the truth of how the elephant is really doing.

For others, the ‘Save Molly’ hashtag is not just about Molly anymore, as the elephant has come to represent hundreds of other elephants who are living in captivity in China and are forced to perform. They hope the government can prohibit elephant performances entirely and introduce better laws and regulations to prohibit animal performances and mistreatment.

“One person doesn’t have a lot of power, but as a group we have more power,” the description for one Molly supertopic on Weibo says (小吉象莫莉).

Underneath one of the Weibo threads about Molly’s current situation, a top commenter replies: “This is not just about Molly anymore, we want to protect all of the ‘Molly’s’ out there.”

“Reject animal performances, don’t turn suffering into entertainment.”

This is not the first time netizens come into action to get justice for zoo animals that are suffering. In 2017, visitor photos of a mouth-foaming, lethargic-looking panda at Lanzhou Zoo also caused outrage on Weibo. In 2016, netizens also jumped to the aid of a polar bear by the name of Pizza after he was found living in deplorable conditions at an aquarium in the Grandview Mall in Guangzhou. He was later removed from the mall.

UPDATE MAY 17 2022: MOLLY RETURNS TO KUNMING ZOO

To follow more updates regarding Molly, check out Twitter user ‘Diving Paddler’ here. We thank them for their contributions to this article.

To read more about zoos and wildlife parks causing online commotion in China, check our articles here.

By Manya Koetse

References (other sources linked to within text)

Arcus Foundation (Ed.). 2021. State of the Apes: Killing, Capture, Trade and Ape Conservation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

China Daily. 2012. “Animal Rights Groups Seek Performance Ban.” China Daily, April 16 http://www.china.org.cn/environment/2012-04/16/content_25152066.htm [Accessed May 1 2022].

Li, Peter J. 2021. Animal Welfare in China: Culture, Politics and Crisis. Sydney: Sydney University Press.

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:

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 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.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

China and Covid19

Residents in Locked Down Lhasa Say Local Epidemic Situation is a “Giant Mess”

Manya Koetse

Published

on

They’ve been in lockdown for 42 days already, but according to some Lhasa-based bloggers, there have been no improvements in the local epidemic situation. They say there is a stark difference between what officials are reporting and the daily reality they are dealing with in Tibet.

“The epidemic situation is bad in Lhasa, please pay attention,” one netizen wrote on Weibo on September 15, pointing to many new posts surfacing on Chinese social media about the difficulties people are facing in Lhasa city in Tibet.

Over the past week, many Tibet-based bloggers have posted on social media about the local circumstances, and hundreds of Chinese social media posts talk about similar problems in the region. Despite the ongoing lockdown, they say, there are still a growing number of positive cases within Lhasa communities; buses are allegedly going back and forth to bring people to quarantine sites where those testing positive and negative are mixed; they claim that there is an absolute lack of management and control; and many locals suggest that the official reports do not reflect the actual number of Covid cases at all.

According to the official numbers, Tibet saw its peak in Covid cases on August 17 and has since reported fewer new cases, reporting a total of 118 new cases on Thursday.

“I am a bit shocked!” one local social media user wrote: “What I saw was a total of 28 buses lined up outside Lhasa Nagqu No. 2 Senior High School, and then still more [buses] were coming. One bus can fit around 50 people, so there must have been around 1400 positive cases. There was a blind man, there were elderly people in wheelchairs, there were swaddled-up babies, from getting on the bus at 9.30 pm up to now, we’ve been waiting for 5 hours and we’re still waiting now. It’s just pure chaos at the school entrance, there is no order. I won’t sleep tonight.”

On the 14th of September, another netizen wrote:

“In order to welcome central government leaders to Lhasa and to demonstrate the “excellent” epidemic prevention capabilities of the local government & the “outstanding” results of the fight against the epidemic to them, they moved citizens to the rural areas and let them all stay crowded together in unfinished concrete buildings, with all kinds of viruses having free reign.”

On a Lhasa community message board, one Weibo user wrote: “Lhasa has already been in lockdown for over a month, yet our little community has so many infected people that I’m wondering how effective a lockdown actually is? Has Tibet been forgotten? When other places in China have a few positive cases it becomes a hot topic. But what about Tibet? And what about Lhasa?”

Another anonymous poster writes: “Regarding the Lhasa epidemic situation, the numbers were already a bit fake before, but I can understand it was also to take the public sentiment into consideration. I personally don’t care how you report the data, as long as the epidemic prevention and control work is properly managed, then the lockdown can be lifted soon and nobody will say anything about it. But a month has passed already, and in a town with some hundred thousands of people, the epidemic work is increasingly getting worse. Many people around me have never even left the house and inexplicably turned out to test positive. Meanwhile those who tested positive are quarantined together with people who still tested negative, it’s a giant mess.”

 

“Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic.”

 

“It’s the 42nd day of lockdown,” another person wrote on Friday: “People are lining up to go to centralized isolation, Lhasa has been in lockdown longer than Chengdu, but it doesn’t make it to the hot topic lists. People who tested negative again and again suddenly turn out to be positive. Lhasa hasn’t had a Covid outbreak for the past three years, the city doesn’t have enough experience in controlling the epidemic. It’s going to be hard to restore tourism here before the end of the year. Before, big crowds would come to visit.

Over the past few days, following a heightened focus on the situation in Xinjiang, there has also been more attention for the epidemic situation in Tibet.

“Please pay more attention to the topic of the Lhasa epidemic,” one person wrote, repeating a similar message sent out by many others: “Lhasa doesn’t need your prayers, we need exposure.”

On Friday, one popular gamer with more than a million followers wrote on Weibo:

“Many have been reaching out to me via private messages, saying that the epidemic situation in Tibet’s Lhasa is very serious. If it’s really like this, I hope matters can be settled as soon as possible. I don’t know if this post can stay up or not, but I want to try my best to speak up and generate more attention to this epidemic trend. I experienced two months of lockdown in Shanghai myself and understand what it feels like. I have faith in our nation, and I believe the country will definitely take action. Everyone in Tibet, jiayou [come on].”

Many of the comments and posts coming from Lhasa are similar to those we saw last week, coming from Yining in Xinjiang. Social media users based in these places complain that many of their posts have been deleted and that it is very difficult for local residents to make their voices heard.

This is different from the previous lockdown situations in, for example, Xi’an, Shanghai, or Chengdu, where people posted videos, photos, and shared their lockdown experiences, either from home, from the Covid testing lines, or from the makeshift hospitals.

On the one hand, the reason why people in places such as Lhasa or Yining have more difficulties in making their stories heard in China’s hectic social media environment relates to the fact that these places have a relatively small population size – while Yining and Lhasa have approximately 542,00 and 465,000 inhabitants respectively, there are 21 million people in Chengdu and some 26 million in Shanghai.

But a bigger barrier to posting about their circumstances is formed by the social media censorship that is extra strict when it comes to Xinjiang and Tibet as these places are considered sensitive political subjects, which is why topics related to these regions see far more aggressive online censorship – even for seemingly innocuous posts.

One Weibo user with over 600,000 followers wrote: “In such a sensitive place as Tibet, I really needn’t worry about whether they’re gonna see my post or not. I posted to vent my anger and scolded the leadership for a bit and within 24 hours the police came to my hotel and asked me to delete my posts. Now that everyone is asking for help like this, they will definitely see it, but they are determined to do this and do so on purpose, it’s clear they don’t care about people’s lives.”

Meanwhile, Chinese official media reporting on the epidemic situation in Tibet stress the collective effort to fight the virus in Lhasa. On September 15, People’s Daily reported how 18 sister provinces and cities across China sent their best teams to Tibet to help with local anti-epidemic work and to bring supplies.

The Tibet-based military blogger ZhufengZhengrong (@珠峰峥嵘) writes: “It’s been over a month and my comrade-in-arms are still fighting on the front line (..). I just hope the epidemic will end soon, and that I will be able to meet my family and hold my children and weep.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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:

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 info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading

China Brands & Marketing

Chinese Actor and State Security Ambassador Li Yifeng Detained for Soliciting Prostitutes

Li Yifeng is not exactly living up to his role as spokesperson for the Ministry of State Security.

Manya Koetse

Published

on

Chinese actor and singer Li Yifeng (李易峰) went top trending on Chinese social media today. The actor, who previously starred as brand ambassador for the Ministry of State Security and played Mao Zedong in The Pioneer, has been detained for visiting prostitutes.

On January 10 of 2021, China celebrated its very first National Police Day to give full recognition to the police and national security staff for their efforts. For this special day, the Ministry of State Security launched a promo video starring Chinese actor Li Yifeng as the National Police Ambassador (#李易峰国安形象传片#). But today, it turned out that Li might not have been the best man for the job.

Chinese official media reported on September 11 that the 35-year-old actor has been detained for soliciting prostitutes. The hashtag “Li Yifeng Detained for Visiting Prostitutes” (#李易峰多次嫖娼被行政拘留#) received nearly two billion views on Weibo on Sunday; the hashtag “Beijing Police Informs that Li Yifeng Solicited Prostitutes” (#北京警方通报李易峰多次嫖娼#) received a staggering three billion views.

Shortly after the news was announced, various brands for which Li served as a brand ambassador announced that they were no longer working with the actor. Lukfook Jewellery, Mengniu Dairy, Honma Golf, Panerai, Prada, Sensodyne, King To Nin Jiom, and other brands declared that they had terminated their contract with Li (#多个品牌终止与李易峰合作#).

Li rose to fame in 2007 when he participated in the Chinese My Hero talent show. He later debuted as a singer and became a successful actor, starring in various Chinese TV dramas and films. Li became especially popular after starring in Swords of Legends and won an award for his role in the 2015 Chinese crime film Mr. Six (老炮儿). He would go on to win many more awards. One of his biggest roles was starring as Mao Zedong in the 2021 blockbuster The Pioneer (革命者).

According to Global Times, Li was previously announced as one of the celebrities attending the Mid-Autumn Festival Gala on CCTV on Saturday night, but his name was later deleted from the program.

“I had never expected my idol to collapse like this,” some disappointed fans wrote on Weibo.

In a ‘super topic’ community dedicated to the star, some fans would not give up on their idol yet: “Where is the proof? Besides the Beijing police statement, where is the actual proof?”

On Li Yifeng’s Weibo page, where the actor has over 60 million fans, nothing has been posted since September 5.

The Huading Awards, a famous entertainment award in China, announced that they cancelled Li Yifeng’s title of “Best Actor in China” (#华鼎奖取消李易峰中国最佳男主角等称号#).

“He lost all he had overnight,” some commenters wrote. “Celebrities generally get cancelled for two things: one is evading taxes, the other is sleeping around,” one popular comment said: “So in a nutshell, pay your taxes and don’t sleep around.*”

“Why do you even need to see a prostitute when you’re so good-looking?” others wondered.

One Weibo user (@大漠叔叔) wrote: “Have a good head on your shoulders and just remember one thing. It does not matter how good your reputation is, or how many titles you have, how much the audience loves you, how much the fans embrace you, how many awards you get, it won’t protect you. Stay clear-headed, merit does not outweigh faults! You can’t cross the moral bottomline nor cross the boundaries of the law. You can be canceled just like that.”

By Manya Koetse 

* This comment is loosely translated here, but the Chinese is quite funny because the words ‘taxes’ and ‘sleeping’ sound similar. “明星塌房的两个主要原因:一个睡,一个税。 简而言之:该税的税,不该睡的别睡.”

 

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:

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 info@whatsonweibo.com.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Facebook

Contribute

Got any tips? Or want to become a contributor or intern at What's on Weibo? Email us as at info@whatsonweibo.com.
Advertisement

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