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Chinese Online Responses to the ‘TikTok Problem’

Manya Koetse

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Trump’s TikTok and WeChat bans have been all the talk over the past weeks. These are the main viewpoints on the issue as recently discussed on Chinese social media.

News of US President Trump signing executive orders on August 6th to prohibit transactions with TikTok and WeChat parent companies Bytedance and Tencent remains a hot topic of discussion on social media.

Both apps have been described as posing a threat to America’s national security, with President Trump claiming that the app’s use in the United States heightens the risk of potential espionage and blackmailing practices. The apps are also accused of censoring content that is deemed politically sensitive to the Chinese government, and of being channels for disinformation campaigns.

Over the past three years, Bytedance’s Tik Tok app has become super popular in the United States, where it has approximately 100 million active users. Tencent’s WeChat has 19 million daily active users in the United States.

Until Trump’s executive orders go into effect (the September 20th deadline has been moved to November 12th), much is still unclear about the possible consequences of such a ban – and what the (vague) orders actually mean.

Will Tik Tok be sold to an American company? Will TikTok and WeChat be banned from Apple and Google app stores? How will the ban affect those for whom Wechat is an important communication tool in their everyday personal and business life? Will iPhone users in China still be able to use China’s number one app?

While news developments are still unfolding, the “TikTok problem” remains to be a hot topic on Chinese social media, with hashtags such as “How Do You See the TikTok Storm?” (#如何看待tiktok风波#) and “What’s the Main Goal of Trump Banning TikTok?” (#特朗普封禁TikTok的核心目标是什么#) receiving thousands of views and comments.

These are the main takes on the issue in the Chinese online media spheres recently.

 

“It’s all about US (technological) hegemony”

 

During a press conference on August 12, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) expressed that America was showing “bad table manners” for pressing down on “non-American companies,” and that the Tik Tok app had “nothing to do with national security.”

The fragment went viral on Chinese social media and was reposted many times by media accounts and Chinese web users.

Under the hashtag “Zhao Lijian Responds to the Tik Tok Problem” (#赵立坚回应涉TikTok问题#, 87 million views on Weibo), many Weibo users noted how Zhao did not say that the US was pressing down on ‘Chinese’ companies, but that it is suppressing ‘non-American’ companies (“非美国企业”), suggesting that it is all about American power and hegemony.

A few days earlier, Chinese state media outlet Global Times also published an article stating that, according to legal experts, the US government will be able to order Apple and Google to remove all products owned by ByteDance from app stores around the world based on the recent executive orders.

Illustration by Liu Rui published in a Global Times article on US technological hegemony.

Similar to the statement issued by China’s MOFA, Global Times also writes that the Trump administration “has displayed its ugly face that prevents any non-US company to break the US technological hegemony.” The issue of Chinese apps threatening US “national security” is called “a shameless excuse” that is used to “destroy China’s most successful globalized internet company.”

The phrase ‘non-American companies’ was probably also used by Zhao to emphasize that Bytedance has stepped up efforts over the past year to separate its international Tik Tok business from its China-based operations.

The company took on Disney’s head of streaming efforts Kevin Mayer to become its CEO of TikTok, an app that is different from its Chinese version, Douyin (抖音).  TikTok claims that all US user data is stored in the United States, with backup redundancy in Singapore, and that their data is not subject to Chinese law.

Other media outlets, such as Sina Tech, also stress the fact that any claims of TikTok or WeChat posing a risk to US national security are completely unsubstantiated and are merely another excuse to target Chinese products.

“The success of TikTok undermines the absolute American influence on the internet,” one Weibo commenter (@财务琳姐) writes: “They’ve nothing left to do but to discredit China.” Others say: “They’re beating down on China’s entire internet business to contain China’s developments.”

The same sentiments were reiterated by Zhao Lijian in a press conference on August 18, where he said that the US is engaging in a deliberate attempt to “discredit and suppress” Chinese companies.

 

“Shooting themselves in the foot”

 

A recurring way of responding to executive orders on WeChat and Tik Tok in Chinese online media, is that a possible ban on these Chinese apps would only have negative consequences for the United States.

Directly after news came out on Trump’s executive orders, the question “Apple or WeChat” started trending on Chinese social media, with many assuming that a possible ban would mean that Apple phones will no longer allow WeChat on its phones.

For the majority of people, the question is not a difficult one. As a messaging, social media, payment app and more, WeChat has become virtually indispensable for Chinese web users – they would simply stop buying iPhones.

The hashtag “US Shutting Down WeChat Will Affect iPhone Sales” (#美国封杀微信将影响iphone出货量#) discusses the stance of analyst expert Guo Mingji (郭明錤), who recently said that the ban on WeChat will have major impact on iPhone sales and could possibly lead to a drop of 25-30% in its sales volume.

One Weibo user (@赵皓阳) commented: “For the Chinese market, not using an iPhone could have some impact, but not using WeChat would mean cutting yourself off from society.”

“Ban it, just ban it, Chinese people will just switch to the high-end Huawei phones, and it will beat down Apple – great,” another netizen (@黄多多成长记) wrote.

 

“Shifting public attention away from COVID19 crisis”

 

The COVID19 crisis in the US has been receiving a lot of attention in Chinese media recently, and the American struggle to contain the virus is often linked to Trump’s mission to crack down on Tik Tok, WeChat, and Huawei.

“Focus on your own COVID19 epidemic, instead of trying to divert the attention all the time,” one Weibo user (@凯MrsL) writes. Similar comments surface all over Chinese social media, suggesting that the ‘anti-China’ strategy is just a way to distract the attention from the continuing spread of the coronavirus in the US.

Others write that Trump has made “a terrible mess,” and that “beating China” is the only card he has left to play. “This all about the upcoming elections,” some suggest.

The People’s Daily wrote on August 18 that, since the US is confronted with the severest situation of COVID-19, it should make “greater efforts than any country in the world to cope with the pandemic,” adding: “Surprisingly, it seems that such normal logic doesn’t exist in the minds of certain U.S. politicians.”

 

“An eye for an eye”

 

Amid all different perspectives in which the recent Tik Tok/WeChat ban developments are discussed, there is also one other recurring sentiment that stands out.

Reflecting on the Chinese online environment, there are also multiple Weibo users who argue that China virtually blocked so many American companies from thriving in the Chinese digital market (unless they would be willing to transform their products to comply with China’s strict cyber regulations), that it is not surprising that the US would also strike back to make sure Chinese companies cannot thrive in the American digital environment.

China has already banned so many American products, from Google to Facebook, from Instagram to Pinterest and Twitter, that “there is nothing left to ban” for China: “We have few countermeasures left to take.”

 

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Food & Drinks

Clean Your Plate, Waste No Food – China’s Anti Food Waste Campaign Is Sweeping the Nation

These are the main trends and topics in the context of China’s nationwide ‘Clean Plate campaign.’

Manya Koetse

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Empty plates, small orders, stop promoting excessive eating – China’s anti-food waste campaign is alive and kicking all across the country. These are some of the main social media topics and trends in the context of the ‘Clean Plate campaign.’

Since the call by President Xi Jinping to fight against food waste earlier this month, new regulations, initiatives and trends are popping up all over the nation to curb the problem of food loss.

Following China’s COVID-19 crisis, the ongoing trade war with the US, and mass flooding, President Xi called the issue of food waste “shocking and distressing,” as he stressed that the country needs to “maintain a sense of crisis about food security.”

According to numbers posted in online information sheets by state media, some 38% of the food at Chinese banquets goes to waste. In 2015 alone, an estimated 17 million to 18 million tons of food was wasted.

This is the second time in a decade for China to launch a ‘Clean Plate’ campaign (光盘行动). There was a previous campaign in 2013 that used the slogan “I’m proud of my clear plate.” The estimated annual wastage of grain in China at the time was estimated to be 50 million tons.

On Chinese social media, the 2020 “Operation Clean Plate” is receiving a lot of attention. These are some of the trending topics we have seen on Weibo in relation to the anti-food waste campaign.

 

RESTAURANTS

“N-1” Is the Way to Order, the “Waste Prevention Supervisor” Will Help You

One way restaurants are now addressing the problem of food waste is implementing the “N-1 ordering mode” (N-1点餐模式) which basically means that instead of a group of ten people ordering eleven dishes (N+1), they are advised to only order nine.

Famous Peking roast duck restaurant company Quanjude (全聚德) now advises groups of, for example, seven people to either take their set meal or to order no more than five or six dishes from the menu to avoid wasting food.

They have even appointed a “Waste Prevention Supervisor” (制止浪费监督员) in their restaurants to oversee customers’ orders.

The “N-1” idea is now being implemented in various cities across China.

Earlier this month, Sixth Tone reported that the Wuhan Catering Industry Association (武汉餐饮行业协会) was taking measures to limit the number of portions restaurant patrons can order. Now, the same measures are also being taken in other cities, like in Shijiazhuang (Hebei), Xianning (Hubei), Xinyang (Henan), Guangzhou (Guangdong), Quanzhou (Fujian), and other places.

One restaurant in Changsha got a bit too carried away recently, as it encouraged customers to weigh themselves and order food accordingly. The restaurant apologized after causing some controversy on social media.

 

TRAINS

Smaller Portions on the Gaotie

In line with the country’s anti-food waste campaign, some Chinese highspeed railway trains have also started introducing smaller portions for their in-train food services.

Instead of larger portioned rice meals or noodles, the Nanchang Highspeed Train now offers customers different small size portions in ‘blue and white porcelain’ bowls.

The initiative became a topic of discussion on Weibo (#南昌高铁推出青花瓷小碗菜#), where some applauded it while others complained that the meals were still relatively expensive while being small.

 

SCHOOLS

Be an “Empty Plate Hero”

China’s anti-food waste campaign is also actively promoted in schools across the country. Hundred primary schools in Jinan, for example, teach their students about combating food waste with a slogan along the lines of “Don’t leave food behind, be a ‘clean plate’ hero” (*the original slogan “不做“必剩客”,争做“光盘侠”” also has some word jokes in it).

The schools have also set up various activities to raise awareness of food waste.

 

ONLINE MEDIA

Operation Clean Plate: Empty Plates Snapshot

“Operation Clean Plate” is not just actively promoted in Chinese restaurants and in schools; Chinese state media and official (government) accounts are also promoting the campaign through social media.

The Weibo hashtag “Operation Clean Plate” (#光盘行动#), initiated by the Chinese Communist Youth League, had over 610 million views by August 21st, promoting the idea of “treasuring food, and refusing to waste it.”

Besides the Communist Youth League, other official accounts including China Youth Daily and People’s Daily also actively promote awareness on wasting food and encourage people to empty their plates. China Youth Daily even initiated the online trend of posting a pic of your own empty plate under the hashtag “Clean Plate Snapshots” (#光盘随手拍#)

Another hashtag, the Big Clean Plate Challenge (#光盘挑战大赛#), initiated by People’s Daily, had 290 million views by August 21, with hundreds of netizens posting photos of their before and after dinner plates.

Using the “clean plate” hashtags, many netizens are posting evidence that they are not squandering food.

 

EATING INFLUENCERS

Big Stomach Stars Need to Turn it Down a Notch

In 2018, we wrote about the trend of China’s “big stomach stars” (大胃王) or “eating vloggers’ (吃播女博主), an online video genre in which hosts will consume extremely large amounts of food (also known as the ‘mukbang‘ phenomenon in South Korea).

Since attempting to eat 17 kg (35 pounds) of meat by oneself – something that is actually done on camera by these kinds of vloggers – does not exactly fit the idea of China’s anti-food waste campaign, these eating vloggers are now being criticized in Chinese media.

Social media platforms such as Douyin (the Chinese Tiktok) have also taken action against the ‘big stomach stars.’ On August 12, the Douyin Safety Center published a video saying the app will not allow any behavior on its platform showing food-wasting or otherwise promoting activities that lead to food loss.

For now, popular Chinese eating influencers will have to adjust the content of their videos. Little Pigs Can Eat (逛吃小猪猪) is one of these influencers who recently has showed smaller portions and more empty plates in her videos.

 

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Backgrounder

“Fake” and “Hypocritical” – Western Anti-Racism Movements Criticized on Weibo

Chinese social media responses to the Western anti-racism movement after Floyd’s death.

Manya Koetse

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George Floyd and the global anti-racism movements have not just dominated headlines in the US and other western countries – in China, they have also become a major news topic. This is an overview of the general Chinese online media discussions of these global news developments, including all the big hashtags, from the George Floyd killing to global companies changing their policies amid concerns over racial stereotyping.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China (forthcoming), see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

George Floyd – it is a name that the entire world has come to know since the 46-year-old black man was killed during an arrest in May of this year.

The death of Floyd has sparked major Black Lives Matter protests around the world, inspiring international movements fighting against racism. The incident also led to unrest, riots, and the defacement of controversial statues in America and other countries.

In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against systemic racism, many organizations and companies in western countries have also made various anti-racist statements and announced policy changes.

Minneapolis graffiti mural honoring George Floyd, photo by Munshots, Unsplash.

In China, the case of George Floyd (transcribed as 乔治•弗洛伊德 Qiáozhì Fúluòyīdé) and its ongoing aftermath have also made headlines in the media and have become big news topics on social media sites such as Weibo.

In a year of COVID-19 crisis and geopolitical tensions – including escalating China-US tensions and the passing of the national security law for Hong Kong -, many of the recent news stories do not stand alone.

The way the news is reported and discussed in China by state media and web users is often part of larger narratives about China and its current relations within the international community. But it’s not just politics; cultural context also greatly matters when it comes to how the anti-racism movement in the Floyd aftermath is perceived in the PRC.

 

“Oh, How Free America Is” – Floyd’s Killing

 

As now widely known, the George Floyd incident took place in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, when police responded to a shopkeeper’s call about someone potentially using a counterfeit bill. Floyd was sitting in his car when officers arrived at the scene and was asked to step out of his vehicle.

Even though Floyd was compliant and unarmed, a bystander video shows how he was held face-down on the ground, the officer pressing his knee into the side of his neck, while Floyd was begging for air, uttering the sentence: “I can’t breathe.”

While the officer knelt on Floyd’s neck for over seven minutes, the 46-year-old could be seen losing consciousness and going limp.

The video of the fatal arrest went viral on social media overnight, and soon led to people protesting in Minneapolis and elsewhere across the US, demanding justice over the fatal arrest.

Black Lives Matter public demonstration in Cincinnati, photo by Julian Wan, Unsplash.

The four officers involved in George Floyd’s death have since been fired from the Minneapolis Police Department and have been criminally charged. Tensions in Minnesota reached a boiling point and protests escalated to riots and lootings, with Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey declaring a state of emergency on May 29.

On that same day, CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez, a reporter of color, was arrested and handcuffed on live television together with his cameraman and producer while reporting on the situation in Minneapolis. Although the CNN crew was released shortly after, the incident also further intensified the debate on discrimination and racism in America.

On Weibo, news of the George Floyd incident and the American protests soon went trending with various related hashtags.

By late May and early June, some of the top Weibo hashtags regarding the protests were “CNN Crew Arrested by Police” (#CNN报道团队被警方逮捕#, 170 million views), “Minneapolis Enters State of Emergency” (#美国明尼阿波利斯市进入紧急状态#, 370 million views),  “Protests Erupt over Case of Black Man Dying after American Police Applies Pressure on Neck” (#美警察压颈致黑人死亡引发抗议#, 7+ million views),  “American Anti-Racist Demonstrations” (#美国反种族歧视游行#, 3+ million views) and many more.

The hashtag “U.S. Riots” (#美国暴乱#) garnered over 5,3 billion views and triggered thousands of reactions on Chinese social media.

Many of the Weibo responses to the killing of George Floyd and its direct aftermath incorporated these developments into a bigger framework of strained US-China relations, pointing out the supposed American hypocrisy for criticizing China regarding freedom and human rights, especially in light of the COVID19-crisis and the Hong Kong situation.

“Oh how free America is,” one popular comment on Weibo said (“多么自由的米国”), with others saying things such as: “Are these the human rights you are advocating?”

Commenters expressed their disgust at the brutality of the policemen, calling the police officers “ruthless” and “sadistic,” with some – not without sarcasm – wondering if China should introduce an “anti-racism law” against US officials responsible for racial abuse.

News of CNN reporter Jimenez being arrested by the American state patrol was also shared on Weibo by the Communist Youth League official account, leading to many reactions criticizing America’s “freedom of press.”

“So this is so-called equality? Freedom? Democracy?” Another user writes: “So this is the freedom I’m yearning for? Is this called freedom?”

Some Weibo users shared compilations showing American officers using excessive force and violence while beating and shooting down people during their work.

Although criticism of the US-dominated Chinese online discussions of Floyd’s killing, there were also social media users showing support for the protesters: “I fully support the movement of Black Americans fighting for the rule of law, equality, and freedom,” one popular comment, receiving over 14,000 likes, said.

One blogger with over 123,000 followers wrote: “The riots erupting in the US will surely have a negative impact on society. But looking at it from another perspective, it still makes me envious because they have the guts to speak up, the courage to resist. If such a thing would happen in China, would you stand up?”

 

“Fake Anti-Racism” – From The Simpsons to Darlie Toothpaste  

 

As George Floyd protests have now ignited a wave of anti-racism efforts across the globe, there are also new hashtags popping up on Chinese social media that are generating a lot of discussion.

Although the protesters denouncing racism and police brutality directly after the Floyd killing were often praised on Chinese social media, some of the latest efforts by companies and brands – showing wider consideration of racism in media, fashion, and entertainment – met less sympathy among Chinese web users.

One example is the news-related hashtag “The Simpsons Cartoon Stops Using White People to Dub the Voices of Non-White Roles” (#动画辛普森不再用白人为非白人配音#), which had over 90 million views on Weibo at time of writing. In late June, producers of The Simpsons announced that they will no longer let white actors do the voices of characters of color.

“Bloody hell, [as if] you can hear by the voices if they are white or not?!”, a typical comment said, with other recurring comments saying: “This is crazy! Voices aren’t black or white.”

“Just make them all blue,” others suggested, with one person writing: “They [the Simpsons] all have yellow skin, why don’t they use actors of Asian descent to do their voices? This is fake so-called anti-racism.”

Others also argue that these kinds of initiatives only stress racial differences, instead of combating racism: “The more it’s like this, the more they stress the importance of racial distinction. Why?”

Other anti-discrimination initiatives, such as that of Unilever and beauty brand L’Oréal Paris to stop using words like “whitening” and “fair” in describing their products, together with other brands’ initiatives to remove some skin-whitening products altogether, also received a lot of attention on Weibo (hashtag #欧莱雅停用美白宣传语#, 110 million views).

“This goes too far,” “Unbelievable,” “How unnecessary,” many commenters wrote, adding: “What does this have to do with racial discrimination?” “Isn’t this just another form of discrimination?”

“Why do I feel that it’s Asians who are being discriminated against here,” some users said: “Different ethnicities have different beauty standards, different people also have different tastes in beauty. For many Asians, they just happen to think fair skin is pretty.“

Noteworthy enough, the critical stances that are ubiquitous on Weibo toward this kind of initiatives are not just visible from the most general comments; the news sources posting these news articles, from Xinhua to Sina Top Trending, also use ‘thinking face’ or ‘surprised’ emoji in their posts that suggest a certain reproachful attitude towards these kinds of developments.

Chinese media often use pensive/surprised emoji when reporting on western brands’ anti-racism policies (image: screenshot of Xinhua reporting on L’Oréal).

Another notable brand response to the anti-racism movement also ignited online discussions: Colgate announced a review of its Chinese toothpaste brand “Darlie”[1], once known as “Darkie” (literally “Black Man Toothpaste” 黑人牙膏 in Chinese), for featuring a man in blackface.

Some of the hashtags used in discussing this news are “Black Man Toothpaste is the Latest Brand Affected by American Anti-Racism” (#黑人牙膏成美反种族歧视受影响最新品牌#) and “Colgate Considers Changing the Name of the Chinese Market ‘Black Man Toothpaste’” (#高露洁考虑将中国市场黑人牙膏改名#, 110 million views).

Darlie toothpaste is a household name for many Chinese (image via Sina Weibo).

Darlie toothpaste is originally a Chinese brand, under the umbrella of the 87-year-old Shanghai company Hawley & Hazel, and is a household name for many Chinese. The overall sentiment in response to this news is that many do not understand how changing the brand is helpful in the battle against social injustice.

“I just don’t see how this is racial discrimination,” one person comments: “How is this stereotyping [black men]?”

News that America’s biggest bank JPMorgan Chase is dropping the terms “master,” “slave,” and “blacklist” from its technology material and programming code was also met with criticism on Weibo (#摩根大通停用黑名单等术语#), where some wondered if they had “gone mad” and whether this way some sort of “literary inquisition.”

In a recent blog article on Weibo discussing these latest developments, blogger Captain Wuya (@乌鸦校尉) wrote about the brands and companies involved that “they are waving their big stick of political correctness at anyone they can hit.“

“What really needs to change here, is American big brands exaggerating the facts,” another popular comment said.

 

“Excessive Political Correctness” – Rejection of Western Anti-Racist Policies

 

The latest anti-racism movement in western countries is clearly discussed in a very different way in the Chinese social media context than it is in the English-language social media sphere.

Although many of the latest anti-racism initiatives by brands and companies also draw a mix of praise and criticism on Twitter or Facebook, the general view on Weibo seems to be that they are “fake,” “overdoing it,” are “unnecessary” and “non-sensical,” and that they stress racial differences rather than equality. Another recurring sentiment is that anti-black racism is prioritized over racism against Asians.

The different views among Chinese social media users on what is deemed racist or not has attracted wide attention before. One noteworthy example is that of the 2016 Qiaobi laundry detergent commercial that shows a black man turning into a Chinese man after being ‘washed.’ The commercial was taken down after causing controversy outside of China.

The Chinese Qiaobi commercial drew much controversy for being racist in 2016.

A typical comment on Chinese social media, at the time, was: “Western media have just taken their concept of ‘racism’ and applied it [to this commercial]. In reality, the great majority of Chinese people have no notion of ‘white’ versus ‘black’ or ‘Asian’, and any supposed inferiority in this.”

Similar responses also came up when the 2018 CCTV Gala caused consternation in foreign media for featuring a Chinese actress wearing blackface in a segment emphasizing Sino-African relations.

The controversial skit included a Chinese actress in blackface (CCTV).

These attitudes and general comments seem to suggest that racism or discrimination is just less of an issue in China, or that it is soon trivialized. Is this the case?

Issues of racism and discrimination are certainly not trivialized in China when it is about anti-Asian racism. Throughout modern history, the Chinese have been victims of racism. Over recent years, there are myriad examples of collective anger and boycott campaigns because Chinese feel discriminated against.

For example, when Italian luxury brand Dolce & Gabbana launched a promotional video in which a Chinese-looking woman clumsily attempted to eat a large cannoli bread with chopsticks, many netizens on Chinese social media called it racist. After screenshots went viral of a China-bashing online conversation with the alleged Stefano Gabbana, the issue became one of the largest trending topics on Weibo in 2018.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also led to an increase in racism in the US and other countries directed at those of Asian descent, something that has recently become a hot topic on Chinese social media, triggering anger and calls for equal treatment of Asians.

Is it, then, perhaps that discrimination and racial inequality within mainland China are not so much of an issue? This certainly is also not the case. Besides the many different shapes and forms of discrimination – regional discrimination being one of them –, there are many examples of anti-black racism in China. Online racism against Africans has been an ongoing issue on Weibo ever since the platform was first launched in 2009 (example, example).

A notice at a Guangzhou McDonald’s restaurant saying “black people cannot come in” sparked international outrage earlier this year.

Voices against the discriminatory treatment of Africans in China have only grown louder during the coronavirus outbreak, when hundreds of Guangzhou-based Africans were evicted from hotels and apartments after local authorities began a campaign to forcibly test them for the coronavirus. A notice at a Guangzhou McDonald’s restaurant saying “black people cannot come in” sparked international outrage earlier this year.

All in all, it is not about racism being non-existent in China, nor is it trivialized. The fact that the latest western developments are discussed in such a different light on Chinese social media has much more to do with how American and European anti-racist policies, and the grip they hold on media, politics, and the corporate world, are rejected by Chinese netizens.

This does not mean that the Floyd incident is deemed any less horrific in China than elsewhere in the world. Social injustice and inequality are recurring topics on Chinese social media, and it is something that greatly matters to many Chinese web users, with these kinds of stories going trending all the time.

It does mean, however, that western approaches to anti-racism, with the racial etiquette that comes with it and a focus on what is correct or incorrect when it comes to language, imagery and behavior, are often deemed excessive (“矫枉过正”) by Chinese web users – or useless in actually combating social inequality.

These responses have a lot to do with current geopolitical developments and the position of China within the international community, but more so with the fact that China has a very different historical, cultural, and societal context when it comes to (anti-black) racism compared to the US or other western countries.

In a lengthy article posted on Weibo in early July by Chinese commentator and academic Guo Songmin (郭松民), who has been actively posting about the Black Lives Matter movement, the prominent leftist author explains that this also has a lot to do with the fact that, different from most western countries, “China has neither a history of slavery nor a history of colonizing Africa,” and that, at the same time, China is also not a country of immigrants.

In the end, some say that they do understand the latest anti-racist initiatives by American and European companies in their home markets, but also argue that they should not impose their political correctness upon the Chinese market.

A recent Weibo blog, reiterating the views of many on Weibo, argues that Darlie Toothpaste should still be ‘Black Man Toothpaste’ in China, and that cosmetic brands should continue to cater their ‘whitening’ products to the Chinese market. According to the author, these colors, words, and imageries mean something different in the PRC than in the West. “If European and American cosmetic companies truly respect the cultural and ethnic diversities across the world,” they write: “they should also respect the culture and aesthetics of East Asians.”

To what extent the anti-racist movement will eventually affect the Chinese market, and how -and if- this will change existing views on racism remains to be seen. Meanwhile, heated discussions continue on social media. For some Weibo commenters, the situation at hand seems clear enough: “American-style political correctness just makes no sense here.”

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

For COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

[1] Darlie is a toothpaste brand of Colgate partner Hawley & Hazel, that was established in Shanghai in 1933, and was originally marketed as a parody of American performer Al Jolson. He became popular for his blackface performances, and the whiteness of his teeth made him the face of the toothpaste brand.

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.

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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