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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 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

Press Conference on Chinese Student’s Death: Hu Xinyu Left Message on Voice Recorder

These are the most important details shared during the 2.2.23 press conference on the disappearance and death of Hu Xinyu.

Manya Koetse

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The disappearance and death of the Chinese 15-year-old Hu Xinyu has become one of the biggest topics on Chinese social media recently, with dozens of hashtags related to the story receiving millions – sometimes even billions – of views.

Hu Xinyu went missing from school on Oct. 14, 2022. The boy’s whereabouts were a mystery for 106 days, during which family, friends, police, and dedicated search teams searched for the student all across the Yanshan County region in Jiangxi Province and beyond.

On Jan 28., 2023, Hu’s remains were found by a local guard on the premises of a grain warehouse not far from the school. For a full timeline of Hu’s disappearance and the details surrounding his death, see our previous article here.

A voice recorder was also found near Hu’s remains, but the data on the small 4GB recorder initially seemed to be unretrievable, and it was sent back to the manufacturer for analysis.

On the morning of Feb. 2, 2023, local authorities and the dedicated task force organized a live-broadcasted press conference on the case and the latest findings.

The most important pieces of information provided in the press conference on February 2nd are as follows:

◼︎ Hu Xinyu’s death has been ruled a suicide by hanging. Hu used shoelaces, which were removed from the shoes found near Hu’s remains.

◼︎ As previously reported, Hu was found at a nearby grain warehouse. It has now been clarified that the area where Hu’s remains were found is a grain reserve depot area. The grain reserve depot area is prohibited to enter and is guarded 24/7. It is a very large plot of land that includes a zone (over 8000 square meters) with twenty buildings on it – including warehouses and living quarters, – and a forest area of approximately 9300 square meters. Although the area is encircled by a wall, some parts of the wall are lower due to uneven ground. Hu’s body was found in the wooded area, hanging from a tree near the wall, close to one of the spots where the wall height was significantly lower.

School area (top circle) and the grain reserve depot area (lower circle).

◼︎ The location where Hu’s remains were found is just 226 meters away from the Zhiyuan Middle School and it had been searched before, not only through the use of thermal drones, but also by search teams on four different occasions in October and November of 2022. Although all the buildings in the area were searched along with other parts of the zone, the specific wooded area where Hu was later found was not searched. There were also no clues that led search teams to believe Hu Xinyu had walked a specific route through dense vegetation surrounding the grain depot area.

People’s Daily released a 3D video visualising the situation in the area where Hu’s remains were found. Due to uneven ground / piled-up mud, the high wall is relatively easy to jump over from outside. Inside the wall (which is on the grain reserve depot grounds) there is a wooded area.

Hu Xinyu’s body was found hanging from a tree at the interior of the wall, in a place that was not clearly visible.

◼︎ The voice recorder plays a major role in this case. It was previously known that Hu Xinyu had purchased a voice recorder and that it could not be located after Hu Xinyu went missing. Although earlier reports stated that the data on the recorder could not be retrieved as the device had been exposed to sun, rain, moist, etc., it has now been announced that the audio files have been retrieved and that Hu Xinyu recorded two messages on Oct. 14, 2022, at 17:40 and 23:08, in which he expressed the will to commit suicide.

◼︎ The involved experts in this case have also concluded that through analysis and based on Hu’s own notes and other evidence, the 15-year-old boy was struggling with his mental health and emotional disorders related to loneliness, insecurity, and lack of communication. Hu also experienced additional stress when he was getting lower grades, and he suffered from insomnia, difficulty concentrating, abnormal eating patterns, and an overall sense of hopelessness.

During the press conference, reporters were allowed to ask questions related to the case. In response to a question related to the many rumors the Hu Xinyu case has attracted over the past months, one official declared that at least two persons have been arrested for fabricating videos and purposely spreading false rumors about the case.

After Thursday’s press conference, it has once again become clear just how big the social media attention is for this case. The hashtag “Content of Hu Xinyu Voice Recorder” (#胡鑫宇录音笔内容#) received over 390 million views on Weibo; the hashtag “Hu Xinyu Expressed Will to Commit Suicide on Voice Recorder” (#胡鑫宇录音笔中音频表达自杀意愿#) received over 640 million views; the hashtag “Hu Xinyu Died due to Self-Hanging” (#胡鑫宇系自缢死亡#) received over 950 million views.

Among the many responses, there are those who argue that schools should offer more channels to provide support to students dealing with mental health issues. Others hope that Hu Xinyu can now finally rest in peace.

 
For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
 

By Manya Koetse 

 

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What Happened to Hu Xinyu? Disappearance and Death of 15-Year-Old Student Attracts Widespread Attention in China

Although Hu Xinyu’s school had 119 cameras, his disappearance remained a mystery for 106 days. Near Hu’s remains, a voice recorder was found.

Manya Koetse

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After 106 days of searching, Hu Xinyu’s parents now know their son has passed away. The student’s remains were found at a grain warehouse near his school, but questions still linger on what happened to the 15-year-old and why it took so long to find him.

The case of a Chinese 15-year-old student named Hu Xinyu (胡鑫宇) has been trending on Chinese social media over the past few days. Ever since October of 2022, Hu Xinyu’s case has been a much-discussed topic.

The young man from Jiangxi was missing for 106 days before his body was discovered, leaving many unanswered questions surrounding his death and why search teams were unable to find Hu in the months before.

One of the reasons why Hu Xinyu’s disappearance has been attracting widespread attention is because many people believe there are some details or occurrences surrounding Hu’s case that are purposely being hidden or not revealed to the public.

 
Hu Goes Missing: A Timeline

The story begins on Oct. 14, 2022, when Hu Xinyu, a student at the Zhiyuan Middle School (致远中学), first went missing in Yanshan County, Shangrao City. The Zhiyuan Middle School is a private school where students live in the dorms, only going home to their families on days off. Hu allegedly had good grades as a student at Zhiyuan.

The incident attracted attention due to the peculiar circumstances surrounding it. It was first reported that security cameras allegedly had not recorded the student leaving the school’s premises and that Hu’s family suspected that the security camera system had been tampered with. The school reportedly has a total of 119 cameras installed on its premises.

Later reports claimed that security cameras did in fact capture how Hu left the dorms at 17:51 that day, but there was no footage of him actually leaving the school premises.

On Oct. 15, after unsuccessful attempts by friends and family to locate Hu Xinyu, he was reported as a missing person at the local police office.

On Nov. 20, when Hu had already been missing for over a month, local authorities set up a joint task force to try and speed up efforts to find Hu and further investigate his disappearance. Hu’s social media and bank accounts reportedly had zero activity since he went missing.

On Nov. 22, 2022, Chinese media reported that rescue and search teams still had not found a single clue about where Hu might be. Meanwhile, his parents were gradually losing hope of finding their son back alive.

Missing person posters for Hu Xinyu (via 163.com).

On Nov. 29, 2022, 46 days since Hu went missing, a chemistry teacher by the name of Wang was called in for questioning but he was later released. Weeks later, on Jan. 1, the police informed Hu’s relatives that – despite rumors – they ruled out the possibility of school staff being involved in Hu’s disappearance.

On Dec. 25, 2022, Hu Xinyu’s mother shared some more information via social media about some contents in her son’s old notebooks, in which Hu allegedly had noted how he felt that it was not easy for him to adapt to his living environment at the school and that he felt hindered by his introvert personality. These contents were later deleted again.

After Jan. 7, 2023, the search for Hu continued, including teams with search dogs, and thousands of people volunteered to join.

On Jan. 28, 2023, a body was found hanging near the woods in the Jinji mountain area in the town of Hekou. A voice recorder was also found at the scene.

The body was reportedly found by a local guard who was near the premises with his dog to look for a chicken that had wandered off. The dog started barking at something, and the guard then discovered the remains, which were not immediately clearly visible.

One day later, on Jan. 29, Chinese media reported that DNA research confirmed that the remains belonged to Hu Xinyu. He was wearing his school uniform when his remains were found. Hu’s parents decided to have a post-mortem examination of the body to determine the cause of death. The voice recorder found near Hu’s body was sent for analysis.

The hashtag “Hu Xinyu’s Remains Found” (#胡鑫宇遗体被发现#) was viewed over two billion times on Weibo.

 
The Latest Details Surrounding Hu Xinyu’s Death

Chinese news outlet The Paper reported that the location where Hu’s remains were discovered is a large grain warehouse area just about 300 meters or a 5-minute walk southeast of the Zhiyuan Middle School.

According to a spokesperson of the search & rescue team, the area where Hu was found had been previously included in search efforts (#搜救队曾去胡鑫宇被发现地周围搜寻#).

The biggest questions that remain and that are asked by so many on Chinese social media are: how is it possible that search teams previously did not find Hu if this is where he was all along? Is the place where Hu was found a crime scene or not? How is it possible that security cameras did not capture Hu beyond the dorms?

Some details that surfaced over the past few days provide further information on the case.

On Jan. 31, Chinese media reported that one of Hu’s teachers had discovered something written down by Hu Xinyu on the last page of his notebook: “What would it be like if I’m not longer here?” (#胡鑫宇曾写如果我不活了将会变得怎么样#).

It has also become known that Hu Xinyu purchased the voice recorder that was found with his remains. He purchased the 4GB-capacity recorder on October 4, 2022.

At the time of writing, the data on the recorder was not able to be retrieved (#胡鑫宇购买录音笔数据删除后无法恢复#). A recording device such as the one found near Hu’s body might become damaged due very low or high temperatures or by moist and liquid (#胡鑫宇录音笔已送深圳检测#).

A recording device that allegedly is similar to the one found near Hu Xinyu.

If the original manufacturer would be able to get the data on the recorder, Hu’s relatives finally might get some of the answers they have been waiting for for so long.

According to Hu Xinyu’s father, search and rescue staff previously had in fact been inside the grain warehouse premises, but apparently did not come to the exact location within the warehouse area where Hu was later found (#胡鑫宇父亲称未到达遗体发现点#).

On February 2nd, 2023, a press conference on the latest developments is planned to take place in Yanshan county in Shangrao at 10:00 AM. (Update: read about the press conference here).

 
Societal Distrust, Armchair Detectives, and Social Media

There are multiple reasons why the Hu Xinyu case is attracting such wide attention, and in some ways, the case is similar to the 2021 ‘Chengdu 49 Middle School Incident.’

At the time, the death of 16-year-old Lin Weiqi (林唯麒) also attracted nationwide attention and led to a wave of online rumors and theories on what might have happened to him.

Although Lin never went missing – he fell to his death from the school building, – there was also online speculation about corporal punishment and abuse taking place in the school, with one theory suggesting Lin had been hurt by a chemistry teacher. Just as in the Hu Xinyu case, netizens speculated that the school was trying to cover up the incident.

According to a joint statement later issued by the local propaganda department, police, and the Education Bureau said that they had come to the conclusion that the student had taken his own life due to personal problems.

The Lin Weiqi story sparked concerns at a time when security cameras had become a part of everyday lives. The fact that there were blind spots in the surveillance footage and that cameras never captured how and if Lin actually took his own life triggered doubts among Lin’s relatives and netizens alike.

The case surrounding Lin’s death also attracted nationwide attention in May of 2021.

Many reasoned that since there are security cameras all over the school, there must be a cover-up going on if the incident was not captured on camera. A similar thing happened in the case of the Tangshan BBQ Restaurant Incident in which female customers were assaulted and beaten by a group of men. Although the beating incident was captured by security cameras, the last part of the incident occurred at a nearby alley and was not captured by the outdoor security cameras. This led to a lot of speculation on what happened there and if local government officials were covering something up.

Another factor that plays a role is that there have actually been stories about schools or other institutes covering up scandals in recent years, such as in the RYB Education incident of 2017 that shocked the nation and did not help in improving trust in educational institutes.

Social media also plays an important role in how and why the Hu Xinyu case received so much attention. For some online communities of armchair detectives, identifying suspects and uncovering clues becomes like solving a puzzle, while following the latest details in these high-profile cases also becomes like a form of infotainment for others – comparable to the online sleuthing and major attention for the case of Gabby Petito in the U.S.

Furthermore, those who are closely related to the case also use social media to attract more attention. In Hu Xinyu’s case, his family members personally turned to social media and media reporters to ask for help or update with information. This also makes social media users more involved since they get the feeling they know the family, and sympathize with them. Very different from just reading a headline in the local newspaper, social media users feel involved and get involved.

For now, many social media users would like to see some clarity in this case and a conclusion so that Hu’s family can finally get some of their questions answered.

While many think it is highly likely that local authorities will soon come out with a statement that Hu committed suicide, others think there might still be other outcomes.

“It’s lasted long enough now,” some Weibo commenters write: “What is most important now is to finally know the truth.”

READ UPDATE TO THIS STORY HERE.

By Manya Koetse 

with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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

 
For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
 

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

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

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