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Chinese Views on Europe’s Migrant Crisis: “The Road to Ruin”

The European migrant crisis is dominating headlines and social media posts around the globe, and lead Chinese netizens to discuss the issue on Sina Weibo: “As long as you don’t come to China it’s fine by me.”

Manya Koetse

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The migrant crisis in Europe is dominating headlines and social media posts around the globe. Chinese media are also reporting on Europe’s “migrant wave” (“欧洲难民潮”), leading netizens to discuss the issue on Sina Weibo.

It is the biggest influx of migrants the European Union has ever seen. Hundreds of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers are fleeing the turmoil in Africa and the Middle East. They mostly come from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2015, Europe has seen more than   350,000 migrants – a sharp increase from the 219,000 people crossing the Mediterranean in 2014 (UNHCR).

The numbers do not include the estimated 6000 people who have died or went missing in their attempt to reach Europe in 2014 and 2015. Over the past week, the picture of the dead body of a 3-year-old boy has become a symbol for all these people never making it to their destination. The picture has also made its rounds on Sina Weibo in all sorts of forms, sometimes as a drawing with angel wings.

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Chinese news portal Guancha writes that the UK, Austria, Canada, Argentina and others have indicated that they will allow more refugees to enter their country. Hungary, Czech, Poland and Slovakia have declined to partake in the EU plan to distribute 120,000 immigrants across different European countries. Both the EU and the United Nations have called on other countries to share the burden of hosting refugees. Many Syrians have sought refuge in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq or Egypt. And, as stated by political economy researcher Dalibor Rohac: “(..) some of the wealthier states of the region, most conspicuously Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, have shown very little willingness to let refugees in.”

 

“It seems like paradise to Syrian refugees, but how much longer will Germany be able to keep this up?”

 

As hundreds protested outside Hungary station last week, Austria and Germany have taken in thousands of migrants who crossed the border. Over 4000 arrived in mainland Greece – a country that already saw the arrival of 23,000 migrants in the last week alone. The junior interior minister stated that “the situation is on the verge of explosion.”

On September 7, the official Sina News Weibo account reported on Germany: “Thousands of refugees are streaming in, can Merkel handle it? Taking care of accommodation, food, medical care, as well as 300 euros per month for living expenses – Germany seems like paradise to Syrian refugees, but dealing with the largest influx of migrants since WWII, how much longer will Germany be able to keep this up?”

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Netizens on Sina Weibo, China’s biggest social media platform, discuss the news. Many users are surprised with the high cost of living in Europe, finding 300 euros (±2100 Chinese Yuan) a high amount to give out. In response to this, one joke is making its rounds on Weibo:

“A beggar comes to a house to ask for money, and the man of the house gives him 10 yuan. The next day, the beggar comes again, and the man gives him 10 yuan again. The next day, it is the same, and this goes on for two years. Then, one day, two years later, the man only gives him 5 yuan. Ten days later, the beggar can no longer contain himself and asks: ‘You used to give me 10 yuan, why do you give me 5 yuan now?!’ The man says: ‘Because I got married.’ The beggar angrily slaps the man and says: ‘Well damn it, you can’t just go and give out my money to other people like that!'”

 

“European countries deprive people of their basic human rights if they do not welcome them.”

 

The overall views on the situation are diverse, with some expressing that Europe should take in all migrants, while others foresee big problems. There are also others with less black-and-white views on the issue: “When Yugoslavia was in war, Europe was also in a difficult position, and had to turn to the US for help. This time, the US does nothing, and Europe is up to one’s ears. Blocking the refugees won’t help, they can only dispatch troops to their [the refugees’] countries and remove the chaos of war that is at the root of the problem. The refugee problem can only be solved through maintaining peace and stability.”

One author from KDnet states that human rights are more important than a nation’s sovereignty. European countries deprive people of their basic human rights if they do not welcome them, the author says. Since the Cold War, Europe has posed as a supporter for human rights, criticizing other countries under the banner of human rights – is that not hypocritical?

 

“In China we can say they have to take in refugees, but that is easier said than done.”

 

Not everybody agrees with him. “Europe is almost completely taken over by muslims, in China we can say they have to take in the refugees, but that is easier said than done”, one user says. There are many other users that bring up the subject of religion, with one saying: “I love Germany for this, but it’s a pity the refugees will eventually thank Allah instead.”

User Bat Bear says: “Germany is so left-wing now, that it is pressuring a rightist revival.”

 

“The immigrant wave is catastrophic to Europe’s economical and political climate.”

 

“Europe is becoming a Third World Country!” one Weibo user responds. Others also worry that the immigrant stream is bringing “catastrophic consequences to Europe’s economical and political climate.” As blogger Red Fox says: “I admire Germany’s courage, but the consequences will be bad. How will your economy handle this? How will your people react? What about your safety? Well, never mind, it’s your business…”

One blogger called ‘Motionless Mountain‘ says: “To counter Europe’s refugee problem: if they are really refugees, they should go to the nearby safety zones, instead of going to the wealthy areas – that makes them illegal immigrants and not refugees. The UN and EU should not give them refugee status.”

Weibo user Mona simply gives thumbs up to Germany for taking in the refugees: “This is what a great country does!”

 

“Coming from a country where you even need a permit to enter Beijing, I suddenly feel quite at ease.”

 

Some netizens use the current migration crisis to reflect on the immigration system in their own country. China’s immigration policy has not been set to handle a huge influx of foreigners who come to settle down in China, and the requirements for granting permanent residence are so strict, that China has only given out an estimated 7000 since the rules went into place. Although international migration to China has increased since the early 1980s, the country still has a very low rate of international migrants compared to other countries.

Domestic migration, on the other hand, is an everyday issue in China. Last year, Sina News reported that China’s annual urbanization is equivalent to the entire Dutch population; that the yearly migration from rural areas to the the cities equals the Netherlands in terms of people – a migration of 16 million people. These large numbers make Europe’s migration problems seem small to some netizens: “These are just 2000 people in one day [at the Hungary train station], in China, over 4 million people go by train every 24 hours.”

There are also those who now appreciate China’s strict immigration policies or residence permit system: “Coming from a country where you even need a permit to enter Beijing [进京证], I suddenly feel quite at ease”, one user says.

Another blogger writes: “Europe is on the road to ruin. But as long as you don’t come to China, it’s fine by me.”

By Manya Koetse

©2015 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 History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

 

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