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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.”

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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 and Covid19

The Curious Case of the Henan Bank Depositors and the Changing Health QR Codes

“It must be American hackers who did this, right?”, some Weibo commenters wrote in light of the miraculously changing Health Codes.

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Where can people turn to once their money seems to have gone up in flames? How could Health Codes randomly turn from green to red? And who will stand up for justice? These are the questions asked by Chinese netizens in the Henan bank depositors case that is making headlines this week.

This week, the story of a Henan banking scandal and depositors’ Health Codes suddenly turning red triggered online discussions in China and even made international headlines.

In between online deposit products, financial platforms, regional banks, and Health Code systems, the story is a bit messy. Here, we’ll explain the story and its latest developments.

 

DUPED DEPOSITORS

 

The story starts in April of this year when people discovered that they were unable to withdraw money they had invested in online deposit products offered by various smaller regional banks.

Some people had deposited money via the Baidu money app (Du Xiaoman Financial 度小满), others had used another third-party platform, intermediaries, or one of the mini-programs run by the banks themselves.

By early May, it had become clear that dozens of depositors who once thought they had invested their money wisely had actually been duped. Four of the banks involved are located in Henan province, namely: the Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank (禹州新民生村镇银行), Shangcai Huimin County Bank (上蔡惠民村镇银行), Zhecheng Huanghuai Community Bank (柘城黄淮村镇银行), and the Kaifeng New Oriental Country Bank (开封新东方村镇银行).

But there are also other smaller banks involved, including Guzhen Xinhuaihe Rural Bank (固镇新淮河村镇银行) and Yixian Xinhuaihe Rural Bank (黟县新淮河村镇银行) in Anhui.

As reported by South China Morning Post by late May, multiple customers had confirmed that they had not been able to withdraw funds either online or in person.

The sudden apparent closure of their withdrawal channels set off a wave of panic among depositors, who then protested in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou on May 23rd, demanding the return of their money.

Yang Huajun (杨华军), deputy director of the Henan branch of China’s Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission (CBIRC), arrived at the scene of the protests and – speaking through a megaphone – promised the demonstrators that as long as their funds were “legally” deposited, they would be protected by law.

Many depositers, however, were unsure of whether or not their deposits were actually made in a “legal” way and what the definition of “legal” entailed in this case.

Over the past years, Chinese smaller rural banks have partnered with online platforms, often offering relatively high returns, in order to boost their deposit-reliant funding base.

In December of 2020, platforms Alipay, Du Xiaoman Financial, JD.com and Tencent Wealth Management all suspended the sale of online deposit products via their financial apps in light of heightened scrutiny from regulators concerning funds raised by unstable smaller lenders.

The smaller banks that are now at the center of the recent financial scandal then (illegally) reached out to their existing customers directly after December 2020 and convinced them to download the banks’ apps in order to deposit even more money.

One of the persons duped is Mr. Sun from Shenzhen. As reported by Sina Finance, it was in 2020 when Sun came across a seemingly attractive online saving product via the Du Xiaoman Financial app. Although Sun was not familiar with the banks in question, namely the Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank and Shangcai Huimin County Bank, he could not resist the deposit interest rate of 4.6%, which was much better than what the big banks were offering at the time.

In early 2021, Mr. Sun received a text message from Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank saying that although the financial products had been taken offline, users would still be able to deposit through the bank’s own online application. Mr. Sun ended up depositing his entire savings into the Henan-based rural bank, thousands of miles away from his own home.

And then, earlier this year, Sun came across the news that Henan New Wealth Group, the primary shareholder of all banks involved, was under investigation for fraudulous practices. When he opened up his online financial application, there was nothing to see but a notice that the system was under maintenance. Sun could no longer access his funds. Hundreds of other customers were seeing the same empty screens.

According to media reports, the current suspected scam case affects some 400,000 customers of seven local banks and involves a money sum of 40 billion yuan ($5,6 billion).

 

IN THE RED

 

As thousands of depositors have been fighting to recover their savings over the past two months, they were duped a second time earlier this week. Dozens of affected depositors claimed they had seen their Health Codes turn red without any logical reason on June 13 or June 14 – the day of a planned protest.

In China’s Covid era, the Health Code system has become a pivotal tool in the country’s battle to contain the spread of the virus. The Health Code system is embedded in various apps, most importantly in Wechat and Alipay, and uses various data to assess an individual’s exposure risk. There is not one unified national Health Code application; they are developed by different actors and their management is different across Chinese provinces and cities.

If there is no detected risk, an individual is assigned a Green QR Code and is allowed access into any venue or location where a QR code scan is mandatory. With a Yellow Code, you should stay home for a week, and Red Code means you are high risk and need to quarantine for 14 days – this severely limits your freedom to move around and travel.

On June 13th, many affected investors saw their Health Code turn red when arriving in Zhengzhou, where they were allegedly coming to retrieve their savings and protest the injustice they suffered. The QR code color change was unexpected and strange, considering that there were no new reported Covid cases in their vicinity and also considering the fact that accompanying family members who made the exact same journey did not see their Health Codes change.

This raised suspicions that the duped depositors were specifically targeted, and that their Health Codes were being manipulated by authorities.

CNN reported that many distributors who had come to Zhengzhou were taken to a guarded quarantine hotel before being sent back to their hometowns via train the next day. According to a Chinese media report by Nanfang Daily, the depositors were not even asked to do nucleic acid testing and were told by local staff that they would get their Green Code back as soon as they left Henan.

Various media report that minimally 200 depositors saw their Health Code change from Green to Red earlier this week.

 

“OPERATION CODE RED”

 

The curious case of the Henan depositors scandal and the changing Health Code colors has become a trending topic on Chinese social media this week.

The topic of the duped depositors was also discussed online before this week, and it brought back memories of earlier financial scandals, such as the P2P chaos that occurred back in 2018.

But the topic of depositors’ Health Codes changing to Red is something that attracted much wider discussions on the apparent abuse of a system that has now become a part of everyday life for people in China’s Covid era.

The main proof for people that the Henan depositors were targeted in this apparent “Operation Code Red” is that, as mentioned before, the family members that were traveling together with the duped depositors never saw a change in their Health Code: those people who were listed on the affected regional banks’ depositors list were seemingly singled out and purposely targeted.

“Who is in charge of changing the Health Code colors?” became a much-asked question on Weibo, with many blaming local Henan authorities for abusing their powers to try and stop protesters from raising their voices in Zhengzhou. One Weibo post on this issue received over 1,6 million views. Meanwhile, Henan authorities still said they did “not understand” what had happened.

“It must be American hackers who did this, right?”, some Weibo commenters wrote, putting in a sarcastically smiling emoji, with others adding: “No, the aliens did this – it must have been the aliens!”

Others wrote that the situation at hand should be simple to figure out: “There is no way that this is an oversight or a data error. If you want to know who did this, look at who or which department has the authority to manage both epidemic prevention measures as well as finance affairs.”

Many comments also showed a sense of disillusionment with how China’s Covid management affects the people: “After seeing the chaos during the Shanghai lockdown, this does not even surprise me anymore,” one person wrote on Weibo: “All we can do is pray that it won’t happen to us.”

“Why is Henan’s “messy Red Code” incident so extremely vile and scary? Because once a person or institution holding public power looks at you in a bad light, they can give you a Red Code and take you away, in the name of legality. This is the evil that comes from unmonitored power,” one blogger from Anhui wrote.

Other people also worried about foreign media reporting on this issue, saying this incident is being used to cast China in a bad light while local authorities are to blame: “We should unify the Health Code system into a national system in order to avoid this from happening again.”

According to Chinese state media reports, the case has now been forwarded to the Health Commission of Henan Province for further investigation.

We will keep tracking upcoming developments. Meanwhile, check out our other reports on trending topics relating to China’s banking and finance here. For more about Covid-related trending topics, check here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Image via Weibo

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References (all other sources included in hyperlinks)

Lee, Amanda. 2022. “Rural Banks Freeze Customers’ Accounts.” South China Morning Post, May 31.

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

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

From Teacher to Livestreamer: Ecommerce Move is Game Changer for China’s New Oriental Education

New Oriental is going from classroom to e-commerce. Online shopping has never been more educational.

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After laying off 60,000 staff last year, Chinese private education company New Oriental is now offering unexpected new employment opportunities for teachers in the livestream market. Changing e-commerce channels into virtual classrooms, New Oriental has hit the sweet spot with Chinese netizens.

Last year, an unprecedented crackdown on China’s private education sector left many teachers unemployed and worried about their future.

China’s so-called ‘double reduction’ (双减) policy was announced in August of 2021 and targeted “excessive homework” and off-campus tutoring for students in the mandatory nine-year education system. The new regulations imposed strict sanctions on existing private education institutions, forcing them to register as non-profit organizations. Foreign investment in the private tutoring sector was also banned.

One of the companies that was hit particularly hard by this policy is New Oriental (新东方), the largest provider of private educational services in China. Following the crackdown, the company suffered huge losses and dismissed 60,000 employees.

Facing the new regulations, including the ban on for-profit tutoring in subjects on the school curriculum, New Oriental tried to keep its head above water by exploring new markets and ideas within the private education sector. For example, the company launched a special program to train parents on how to tutor their K-12 children themselves. New Oriental called it their “excellent parenting” (优质父母) training class.

Now, nearly a year later, another initiative by New Oriental has become an online hit. Inspired by the success of livestream e-commerce in China, the tutoring company started its own livestream channels. Although New Oriental already introduced its e-commerce business in late 2021, with founder Yu Minhong (俞敏洪) sometimes hosting the sessions himself, it had not been as much of an online success until it recently introduced bilingual livestream e-commerce sessions.

Now, tutors-turned-sellers are teaching viewers English – or sometimes other subjects – while selling (agricultural) products via the Douyin app. Whether they are selling fruit, rice, or even shrimp, New Oriental’s livestream hosts are grabbing every opportunity to teach their viewers a new word or concept, often using a whiteboard to introduce new vocabulary.

Whatever they’re selling, New Oriental’s livestream hosts make sure it’s educational.

One reason for New Oriental becoming a viral hit is because of Dong Yuhui (董宇辉), who is one of the experienced teachers now selling products online. Dong’s bilingual livestreams are particularly successful among viewers because of his enthusiasm, fluency in English, witty jokes, personal stories, and talent for singing.

Teacher Dong recently had a breakthrough moment with his June 10th livestream, during which he sold bags of rice using English. He has since attracted over nine million viewers. While thanking all viewers for their support in a recent Weibo post, Dong described himself as a “ordinary peasant boy.”

Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) is one of the livestreamers that have turned New Oriental’s e-commerce into a viral hit.

Besides Dong, there are also other popular hosts. English teachers Ming Ming, Yoyo, and Dun Dun are all loved by viewers for their charm and wit.

Although various kinds of social e-commerce categories are particularly popular in China, this new phenomenon of combining education + e-commerce + livestream is appreciated by many netizens who like to learn something while being entertained and perhaps also buying something. “I don’t know whether to place an order or to make notes,” has become a popular comment. Another commenter said: “As a kid I took your class, and now I buy your goods.”

Others say that they like the calm way in which the livestreams are presented, posing a stark contrast to other livestreams where the hosts are hyping up products and urging people to buy fast and buy more.

On June 15th, news came out that New Oriental’s stocks had surged by more than 25% following its livestreaming success.

Although some Weibo users predict that this is just a temporary trend, others think that the educational livestream model is here to stay: “New Oriental really started a new business venture, and I’m learning a lot through their livestream sessions.”

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Image via Weibo

Read related article: China’s Crackdown on Tutoring Schools: Concerned Parents and Teachers on Weibo

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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