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Chinese State Media Features German Twitterer “Defamed by Evil Western Forces”

European media call the 21-year-old Heyden a CCP propagandist, Chinese media call her a victim of the Western media agenda.

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The German influencer Navina Heyden has been labeled “a propagandist for the Chinese government” by European media outlets. She is now featured by Global Times for preparing a lawsuit against German newspaper Die Welt for “defaming” her.

A 21-year-old woman from Germany has been attracting attention on Chinese social media this week after state media outlet Global Times published an article about her battle against “biased journalism” in Europe.

She is known by her Chinese name of Hǎiwénnà 海雯娜 on Weibo, but also by her German name, Navina Heyden. On Twitter (@NavinaHeyden) she has around 34K followers, on Weibo (@海雯娜NavinaHeyden) she has over 15800 fans.

According to the Global Times story, which is titled “21-year-old German Girl Debunking China’s Defamation Is Tragically Strangled by Evil Western Forces” [“21岁德国女孩驳斥对中国抹黑,惨遭西方恶势力绞杀”], Heyden has been on a mission to “refute Western media’s smear campaign against China” for the past year.

The same article was also published by other Chinese state media outlets this week, including Xinhua, Xinmin, and Beijing Times.

Recently, various European news outlets reporting about Heyden’s online activities described her as a Twitter influencer acting as an advocate for “pro-CCP narratives.”

It started with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag publishing an article on June 15 of 2021 titled “China’s Secret Propagandists” [“Chinas Heimliche Propagandisten”], in which Heyden was accused of being a propagandist. That same story was translated into French and published by Le Soir on June 23.

An article by London-based think tank ISD (Institute for Strategic Dialogue) dated June 10, titled “How a Pro-CCP Twitter Network is Boosting the Popularity of Western Influencers” (link), also featured Heyden and her alleged role in a coordinated Chinese online propaganda campaign.

The article focuses on Heyden’s Twitter activity and her supposedly inorganic follower growth, using data research to support the claim that she is more than just a young woman siding with Chinese official views.

Heyden claims that she agreed to do the initial interview with Die Welt about her views on China and the online harassment she experienced by anti-China activists, but that the reporters eventually published something that was very different from the actual interview content, describing Heyden as a Chinese government propagandist and disclosing names and locations without her consent.

Heyden says she is now preparing a lawsuit against the newspaper and its three journalists for violating her rights. In order to do so, she started a crowdfunding campaign to help her fight media defamation. That ‘Go Fund Me’ campaign was also promoted on Weibo on July 5th, and she soon reached over 13,000 euros in donations.

The main take-away of the Global Times story is that Heyden is an active social media user who has bravely refuted Western bias on China and exposed the supposed media hysteria regarding the rise of China, and that she has been purposely targeted by European media outlets for doing so.

Heyden joined Twitter in March of 2020 with her bio describing her as a “German amateur manga drawer, studying business economy, grown up within Chinese community since age 15.”

Since then, she has tweeted over 1000 times and has spoken out about many issues involving China, including the Covid-19 pandemic, the situation in Xinjiang, the national security law in Hong Kong, the India-China border conflict, and the status of Taiwan. She sometimes also tweets out more personal information, such as the time when she shared photos of herself and her Chinese partner.

Her very first tweet on the platform – one about China not falsifying Covid-19 numbers – was sent out on April 1st of 2020 and received 52 likes. Over the past year, her account has only gained more likes and followers.

A later tweet in which Heyden wrote “I can testify that Chinese Muslims are not persecuted like what western media claimed” (link) received over 870 likes.

In another tweet, Heyden wrote: “China is unfairly treated because she’s always put in a trial without chances to defend. Her words must be propaganda, her people must be brainwashed. After confirmation with Chinese sources and my experiences, I’m enraged about how wrong our media is. This is harmful to us all.” That tweet received over 1.4K likes.

Besides the fact that Heyden’s tweets are often retweeted by the Twitter accounts of Chinese diplomats and other prominent Chinese channels – sometimes within just a few seconds of one another, – the aforementioned ISD article claims that Heyden’s account has grown in a relatively short time due to sudden spikes in followership by accounts that were created in batches at specific times and in short sequence.

For a Twitter post of August 2020, Heyden recorded a video in which she explained why she wanted to open up her Twitter account in the first place and counter those accusing her of being a “CCP agent” or a “fake account”. She said:

I’m not getting paid by anyone so stop wasting your time on proving something which I am not. A lot of people may wonder why I say so many positive things about China in the first place. The reason is that when I was around 15 years old I was introduced into the Chinese community and I got to learn a lot of Chinese people, what they think about China, and also what they think about their government. And I found that the China I visited is so much different from the China that the media is describing. It’s almost as if the media is describing a whole different country. Now, it wouldn’t be so bad if only people would not buy those false narratives, and I’m having a problem with it, because a lot of my close friends and also my family are believing all those false narratives. And this is causing me to have some conflicts with them from time to time. So I’ve decided to open this Twitter account to debunk all those false narratives.”

At this time, Heyden describes her own Twitter account as “one of the most influential ones to show people what real China is like.”

The story about Heyden’s online activities seems to suit some ongoing narratives in both European and Chinese newspapers. For the first, it upholds the idea of China secretly attempting to infiltrate and influence democratic societies in new ways; for the latter, it confirms the belief that biased Western media will do anything to defile China while serving the interests of their political parties.

Meanwhile, on Weibo, hundreds of netizens have praised Heyden for defending China and standing up against Western media.

“China has 1.4 billion people, Germany just has [tens] millions, of course, you’re gonna get a lot of fans if you support China,” one popular comment on Weibo said.

One influential Weibo blogger (@文创客) wrote about Heyden, calling her a victim of a “deranged” situation where Western media outlets have used her for their anti-China narratives.

“When will you come and live in China,” some people on Weibo ask, with various other commenters saying: “Just come to China!”

Plans to move to China seem to be on the horizon for the German influencer. In an earlier tweet, she confirmed: “We are already on the path to live in China PERMANENTLY. Really feel much safer there.”

Despite sharing her strong support for China on Twitter, the 21-year-old recently also expressed some frustrations with the Chinese social media climate when she encountered censorship on Sina Weibo and experienced some difficulties posting on Bilibili and Toutiao.

On Twitter, she wrote: “To CPC, you can’t lock your citizens in an information greenhouse forever.”

Sharing some of her frustrations regarding the Chinese social media sphere on Weibo, where she even admitted to missing Twitter, some Weibo users offered their support: “We’re on your side.”

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

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.

©2021 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 Insight

100 Years Communist Party Celebrations: Xi’s Speech on Weibo

The Party’s centennial anniversary speech by Xi Jinping was one of the main topics propagated in the Chinese online media sphere.

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This week marked the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China (CCP), an important moment for the Party to highlight its historic experiences and “glorious achievements” over the past century.

All over the country, the centennial celebrations have been in full swing. Light shows, exhibitions, ceremonies, and concerts were taking place from Beijing to Shanghai, from Harbin to Xi’an. Virtually every region, city, and village in the country was doing something to pay tribute to the Party. At the Gansu Dunhuang Solar Park, they even mobilized over 3700 solar panels to move simultaneously to wish the Communist Party a happy 100th (see tweet thread below).

Although the Communist Party’s birthday is July 1st, the entire week leading up to this was filled with events and Party-related news. In Chinese media and on social media, the anniversary was a major topic, with state media and official accounts continuously publishing all kinds of content related to the Communist Party centenary celebrations.

Chinese social media platform Weibo was completely themed around the 100-year anniversary during the celebration week. A special ‘100 Year CPC’ discovery button, specially dedicated labels for posts about the Party, and a Party-themed color palette for the platform – it was all there.

Hashtags such as “100 Years of CPC” (#中国共产党100周年#), “Tribute to the 100th Anniversary of the Founding of the Party” (#献礼建党一百周年#), “100 Years of Struggle” (#百年奋斗#), “Celebrating the 100th Party-Founding Anniversary” (#庆祝建党100周年#), “The Centenary of Party Founding” (#建党百年#), “Why They Founded the Party” (#他们为什么建党#), and “Which Scene of the Party’s 100th-anniversary Celebration Impressed You the Most” (#建党100周年庆祝大会哪一幕令你印象深刻#) were all major topics.

On July 1st, the top six trending topics according to the site’s hotlist were all Party-related.

One of the highlights of the (online) celebrations was the July 1st hour-long speech from Tiananmen Square by President Xi Jinping, in which he spoke about the Party leadership, Chinese history, and the journey ahead.

One of the main themes that was highlighted throughout the celebrations, and also in Xi’s speech, is the idea of the “glorious journey” or the “glorious history” (光辉历程) of the Communist Party of China over the past century.

The most-used words in this speech, in English translation, are the ‘Party’, the ‘people,’ and the ‘Chinese nation.’ These three terms are the overarching theme of the centennial celebrations, during which the Party, the Chinese people, and national identity are continuously tied together in one narrative.

Wordcloud of Xi Jinping’s July 1st speech (by whatsonweibo/wordart).

China Youth Daily even dedicated a hashtag page to the fact that Xi mentioned ‘the People’ a total of 83 times (#习近平近万字讲话83次提到人民#). During one point in the speech, Xi said that “the people are the true heroes, for it is they who create history.”

Various parts of the speech were turned into digital posters by state media outlets and shared all over social media.

Parts of Xi’s speech were turned into digital images and spread across social media by state media outlets.

One of the most noteworthy moments in Xi’s speech was when he used strong language saying the Chinese will never allow foreign influences to bully or oppress them again.

Xinhua translated this part of the speech as:

We Chinese are a people who uphold justice and are not intimidated by threats of force. As a nation, we have a strong sense of pride and confidence. We have never bullied, oppressed, or subjugated the people of any other country, and we never will. By the same token, we will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate us. Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

One of the idioms used by Xi Jinping was that of “tóupòxiěliú” (“头破血流”). Although the Xinhua translation uses the English “find themselves on a collision course,” the Chinese wording is stronger than that and led to many discussions on Twitter on how the words were translated and misinterpreted in English. Its literal translation would be ‘head broken and blood flowing,’ but its actual meaning arguably is more like ‘suffer a crushing.’

On Weibo, that segment of Xi’s speech was highlighted by the social media account of People’s Daily, receiving more than 700,000 likes, and by the CCTV Weibo account, where the video received over 2.2 million likes.

Some parts of that segment even became hashtags, namely “The Chinese People Will Never Allow Foreign Forces to Bully Them” and “Whoever Tries to Bully China Will be Crushed” (#中国人民绝不允许任何外来势力欺负# and #谁妄想欺负中国必将碰得头破血流#). Those hashtag pages received 290 million and 1.1 billion views, respectively.

As the online censorship apparatus was running at full speed this week, critical comments on the speech were hard to find, but there were thousands of Weibo users praising Xi’s words.

“My eyes just teared up, my love for this country is so deep. I love you China!”

“When we heard the Chairman say this, our entire office just spontaneously stood up and clapped, I couldn’t help but feel like crying!”

There were also those who applied the sentence “Whoever Tries to Bully China Will be Crushed” to real-life examples. Fashion brand H&M was mentioned for its boycott of Xinjiang cotton (read here), after which the company saw its sales in China slump.

Some called Xi’s speech “a declaration of the people.” The idea of a confident China that will not put up with foreign interference in its internal affairs was clearly visible on Chinese social media, reiterated by state media, during the 100-year Party celebrations, and in the months leading up to this event.

“As a Chinese person, [this speech] made me really proud and confident,” one Weibo commenter wrote, with another person commenting: “I was applauding in my head the whole time.”

In some Weibo threads, only a selected number of comments were available to read, while virtually all comments were censored on other posts. The online censorship showed how comments that, perhaps, were less positive about the speech, were not welcome for the celebrations of the Party anniversary.

The full text of Xi Jinping’s July 1st speech is available via Xinhua here.

You might also be interested to read:

 

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Insight

“Support Xinjiang MianHua!” – China’s Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton Ban

The hashtag “Wo Zhichi Xinjiang Mianhua” – “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” – received over 6 billion views on Weibo.

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Western brands faced heavy criticism in China this week when a social media storm erupted over the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and its brand members for no longer sourcing from China’s Xinjiang region. The ‘Xinjiang cotton ban’ led to a major ‘Xinjiang cotton support’ campaign on Weibo, and a boycott for those brands siding with BCI.

In 2019, an extensive brand ‘witch hunt’ took place on Weibo and other Chinese social media networks in light of the protests in Hong Kong, with international fashion and luxury brands, from Versace to Swarovski, getting caught in the crossfire for listing Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as separate countries or regions – not part of China – on their official websites or brand T-shirts.

Now, another brand ‘witch hunt’ is taking place on Chinese social media. This time, it is not about Hong Kong, but about Xinjiang and its cotton industry.

H&M, Uniqlo, Nike, Adidas and other international brands have caused public outrage for the stand they’ve taken against the alleged use of forced labor involving the Muslim Uyghur minority to produce cotton in China’s western region of Xinjiang.

The social media storm started earlier this week on Wednesday, March 24, and is linked to H&M and the ‘BCI’ (Better Cotton Initiative), a Swiss NGO that aims to promote better standards in cotton farming.

In October 2020, H&M shared a statement on its site in which the Swedish retailer said it was “deeply concerned” over reports of forced labor in the production of cotton in Xinjiang, officially Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

H&M stated that it would no longer source cotton from Xinjiang, following the BCI decision to suspend licensing of BCI cotton in the region.

 

BCI and its Suspension of Activities in Xinjiang

 

The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) is the largest cotton sustainability program in the world. It practices across 23 countries and accounts for 22% of global cotton production. The governance group was established in 2005 in cooperation with WWF and leading retailers, with the aim of promoting the widespread use of improved farm practices.

While H&M is a ‘top member’ of the Better Cotton Initiative (link), many others brands such as IKEA, Gap, Adidas, Nike, Levi’s, and C&A are also brand members.

January 2020
In January of 2020, the BCI was slammed by Dr Adrian Zenz, a senior fellow with the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation in Washington DC, for its refusal to pull out of the Xinjiang region. At the time, 20 percent of its ‘better cotton’ was sourced from Xinjiang, which is China’s largest cotton growing area.

According to a 2020 report by EcoTextile, the BCI maintained that its implicated council member, the yarn producer Huafu, denied the allegations and that an independent audit of the company’s Aksu facility in Xinjiang had failed to identify any instances of forced labor. An earlier report by Adidas from 2019 also stated that their independent investigations found no evidence of forced labor.

March 2020
In late March of 2020, the BCI reportedly did suspend activities with licensed farmers in the Xinjiang region for the 2020/21 cotton season while also contracting a global expert to conduct an external review of the Xinjiang situation. Chinese state media Global Times later reported that despite suspending its licensing activities, the BCI would remain committed to cotton farming communities in Xinjiang and would continue to engage in activities in the region.

July 2020
The pressure on BCI and other brands to stop sourcing from Xinjiang was heightened when a coalition of civil society groups raised concerns over the treatment of the Uyghur Muslim minority in China and the “grave risk of forced labor.” Reuters reported that more than 180 organizations urged brands from Adidas to Amazon to end sourcing of cotton and clothing from the region and cut ties with any suppliers in China that would benefit from the alleged forced labour of Uyghur other Muslim groups.

October 2020
In October of 2020, the Better Cotton Initiative announced it would cease all field-level activities in Xinjiang with immediate effect because the region had reportedly become “an increasingly untenable operating environment.” The aforementioned statement by H&M came out in the same month.

March 2021
By late March 2021, various Chinese state media reported on the BCI suspension. These reports came days after a coordinated effort by the United States, the European Union, Britain and Canada to impose sanctions on Chinese officials over China’s alleged human rights violations and abuses in Xinjiang, something which was called a “concerted effort to slander China’s policies in its Xinjiang region” by Global Times. The news outlet linked these “anti-China forces’ efforts” to the BCI decision to suspend its Xinjiang activities.

 

A Social Media Storm over Xinjiang Cotton

 

The news developments were followed by a wave of social media boycott movements and Chinese brand ambassadors cutting ties with international brands, with H&M being the main target over its Xinjiang statement.

Chinese e-commerce platforms Taobao, JD.com, Pinduoduo, Suning.com, and Meituan’s Dianping on Thursday all removed H&M from their platforms, with Chinese Android app stores also removing H&M. On Thursday, a search for “H&M” came up with no results on these sites (see images below).

Two of China’s largest online maps also removed H&M from its systems.

No H&M on these maps.

On Thursday, virtually all topics in Weibo’s top trending lists related to the Xinjiang cotton ban (see image below), with Chinese famous influencers and celebrities one by one announcing they would terminate their contracts with international brands related to the Xinjiang cotton ban.

The storm became so big this week that some people on social media even commented that “if you’re a Chinese celebrity and you don’t have any contracts to terminate now, you’re not doing so well.”

After H&M, an entire list of brands was targeted, including Adidas, Nike, Calvin Klein, New Balance, Tommy Hilfiger, Uniqlo, Converse, Puma, Burberry, and Lacoste.

In light of the heated discussions and calls for boycotts, there was also another hashtag that popped up on Weibo, namely that of “don’t make it hard for the workers” (不要为难打工人). The hashtag came up after some Chinese staff members at Nike and Adidas stores were scolded on a live stream, with netizens calling on people to stay rational and not let the boycott turn into personal attacks on people. But another popular video showed a man in Chongqing calling customers out in an H&M store for buying their “trash.”

Another hashtag gaining many views, 520 million in total, was that of two ‘girls from Xinjiang dancing outside H&M’ (#新疆小姐姐在HM门店外跳新疆舞#) – it was linked to a video that showed two women performing outside of a H&M store in Chongqing.

Meanwhile, some brands, including Chinese company Anta Sports and the Japanese Asics, reportedly announced they would leave the Better Cotton Initiative in order to continue sourcing cotton from Xinjiang.

The discussions on Xinjiang as Weibo saw this week are unprecedented, as ‘Xinjiang’ was previously a sensitive topic on Chinese social media and was barely discussed in political contexts. The last time Xinjiang became a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media was in 2018, when CCTV aired a program on the region’s “vocational education programs” in Xinjiang. That media moment triggered mixed reactions on Weibo, with some commenters wondering what the difference between a ‘re-education center’ and a ‘prison’ is.

 

Chinese State Media and the ‘Xinjiang Cotton Ban’

 

While Chinese netizens and celebrities play a major role in the storm that erupted over BCI, H&M, and Xinjiang cotton, the role of Chinese state media is pivotal.

Over the past week, various state media outlets posted strong messages regarding the ban in various ways, the most noteworthy one being People’s Daily‘s “I Support Xinjiang Cotton” (#我支持新疆棉花#) hashtag, which had garnered six billion views by the weekend. “The H&M Group released a statement that sparked outrage among netizens. Let’s pass it on together: Support Xinjiang Cotton,” the tagline of the hashtag page said.

The message came with an image saying “Xinjiang Mianhua” (Xinjiang cotton) in a similar font to the H&M logo, the “H” and “M” within ‘mianhua‘ being identical to the H&M letters.

The image and post by People’s Daily was shared over 36 million times.

A message by People’s Daily: those who slander China are not welcome.

Another image by People’s Daily published on March 25 said that the Chinese market does not welcome those who slander China.

The Communist Youth League also contributed to the online storm by posting about H&M, writing: “On the one hand they are starting rumors and boycotting Xinjiang cotton, on the other hand they want to make money in China. Dream on, H&M!” That post received around 430,000 likes.

Various official media, including Global Times and China Daily, posted about cotton production in Xinjiang. Besides refuting the forced labor accusations and accusing Western players of hypocrisy and ulterior motives, a recurring issue stressed is how 42 percent of Xinjiang’s cotton is harvested by machines. Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng was quoted as saying that “the so-called forced labor in Xinjiang is nonexistent and entirely imaginary. The spotless white Xinjiang cotton brooks no slander.”

This image was posted by China Daily USA.

On March 27, People’s Daily posted a rap video by ‘Xinjiang Youth’ (新疆青年) on its official Weibo channel (video below) that included some tough lines attacking Western powers, companies, and media.

Also noteworthy in this propaganda campaign is how the Canadian YouTuber Daniel Dumbrill got caught up, as what he said in one of his videos was quoted by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) on March 27 during a press conference, with his video being screened before the conference.

In this video, that was part of a larger panel on Xinjiang, Dumbrill responded to the decision-making process on how China’s treatment of Uyghurs is called a “genocide.”

Recently, a number of countries and parliaments including the U.S., Canada and the Netherlands have declared that China’s crackdown on the Muslim minorities amounts to “genocide” in violation of the U.N. Genocide Convention. Dumbrill talks about why the Xinjiang narratives matter to both the foreign and domestic politics of the US and other Western countries, with Dumbril claiming it “isn’t really about human rights and a care for overseas Muslims” but about other political goals. Dumbrill’s video was praised by authorities, state media, and by Chinese netizens.

“We have to push for the truth to come out,” some netizens commented. Others wrote: “But we’re only allowed to discuss it from within [the country].”

Meanwhile, while many companies are seeing sales falling, there are also many who are benefiting from the current developments. Some sellers on Taobao have found another way to attract customers, promoting their products as being made with “100% Xinjiang Cotton!”

As this is an ongoing topic, we will report more later. Meanwhile, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter.

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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