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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 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

Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang

Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.

Manya Koetse

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Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.

The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.

People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.

The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.

Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.

Mobile phone sidewalk in Chonqgqing. Source https://tech.qq.com

As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.

In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.

“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”

“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”

For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”

Also read: The ‘Bowed Head Clan’ (低头族): Mother Watches Phone While Son Drowns in Pool

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Jialing Xie.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

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©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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