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From Gold Mine to Land Mine – The Chinese in Ghana

150 Chinese immigrants in Ghana have been detained whilst the crackdown continues. What is the problem behind the large-scale arrests?

Manya Koetse

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READING TIME: 9 MINUTES

 

Topic Summary

During the first week of June 2013, the Chinese in Ghana instantly became a hot topic over China’s Internet as 124 Chinese civilians were captured by Ghanaian soldiers for alleged illegal gold mining. As local media reported that Chinese residents were being looted by villagers, disturbing pictures of the situation in Ghana started to spread across Weibo- they depicted wounded Chinese civilians and their houses amidst blazing fire.

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Weibo Commenters

Weibo user Duzhifu (43.752 fans) says: “The Chinese in Ghana are in a state of emergency! As exposed on the Internet, Ghana has dispatched military troops to slaughter and loot Chinese citizens. Chinese in Ghana have sent pictures taken with their mobile phones of the ‘crackdown’. In these pictures you can see the flames lighting up the sky, a completely looted supermarket and even a wounded Chinese man lying on the ground waiting for help.”

Duzhifu comment:Ghana

 

A user who calls himself ‘Speaking in Whispers’ (Laonie tan zhanlue) (11538 followers), says: “I haven’t followed the situation of Chinese in Africa too much, but the past few days Weibo is flooded by news of Chinese being killed in Africa. After looking at this post [see the following post] I understand why the Chinese are hated so much. Perhaps it’s a people that naturally only respects those who act as slaves – I am not referring to Ghanaians or to the black people of Africa.”

The post that the last user is referring to is one that originally surfaced on a forum on June 6th – its screenshot was then shared by netizens. It supposedly is written by a Chinese man who calls himself “Washed, but not Brainwashed” (只洗头不洗脑)and who lives and works in Ghana himself. Here’s a translation of part of the text:

“The denigration and discrimination of black people is spreading like an epidemic.

When the day comes that large-scale anti-Chinese incidents erupt in Ghana, it surely cannot be taken as an unlucky accident. Thousands of Shanglin people in Ghana display abusive and discriminatory behavior towards black people on a daily basis, in various degrees. Other Chinese, with whom I share the same cultural genes, are not much different. They are robbing away the food provisions of the black people every day. They spend hundreds of cedi on some Fujian hookers in Kumasi, but can’t even give black people one rotten grain of pepper. The black people work the hardest and are the most tired, but end up getting the worst food. There are about ten dogs at the construction site, and they get fed better than the black people, who only get half a fish per person every day, whilst the dogs can eat unlimited amounts of fish. (…) The Chinese buy eggs and then just let them stand there go rotten. They’d rather throw them away than give them to the black people. Black people like to flavor their food with some hot pepper, but they never get it when they ask for it. One time a man who asked for pepper was even threatened with a gun by a Chinese guy. The Chinese like to give the black men insulting nicknames. Even though they cannot understand it, they understand its ill meaning because of the laughter and facial expressions of the Chinese.

 100% of the Chinese men have had sex with a black maid. Groping a girl’s bosom in a public place has become just one way to entertain themselves- they never grow tired of it.  A large part of black maids have slept with Chinese men. They can get some money for it afterwards, and although it seems like the majority is not forced into sex, the ones who are will never admit it since they’re too afraid to lose their well-paid job.  And so they have no other option than to cater to the Chinese man’s wishes. Even if they sell their bodies, the Chinese men will replace them after a month or two because the fun has worn out and they want to have a new one.

Whether it’s a boss or a worker- they all take pleasure in making fun of black people. Especially when they’re dissatisfied with something, they like to take out their anger on the black people. (..) I once asked why they would not treat black people with humanity, but the question was evaded and they just said that it would take me a long time to understand. Maybe I haven’t been here long enough, because I still don’t understand the malicious behavior of the Chinese people (…).

PS: When someone gropes a new maid in her bed in the middle of the night and satisfies himself, isn’t he doing exactly the same as what the Japanese did in those years? (…) A month ago, when a black man was struck with the gun of a Chinese man, the latter only remarked: “It’s a pity he didn’t die”. (…) What do you think- will it be long before Chinese will be killed?”

 

BACKGROUND ARTICLE: From Gold Mine to Land Mine – The Chinese in Ghana

 

Tensions between Chinese immigrants and Ghanaians reached their zenith in the first week of June as authorities started raiding camps, mines and hotels in search of Chinese nationals that were trespassing the law by overstaying their visa or undertaking illegal mining. Over 150 Chinese were detained. According to Chinese reports, the crackdown was violent and driven by popular resentment towards Chinese immigrants. Some Chinese were allegedly beaten and robbed by the military police before taken into custody (Nossiter&Sun 2013). Pictures of the situation in Ghana flooded across Weibo (see selection below). What is the background of these Chinese immigrants in Ghana, and how can we explain the resentment towards them? This article construes how the golden story of the Chinese in Ghana could turn into a nightmare for many of them.

ChinainGhanaWeibo

China declared 2006 as the national “Year of Africa” when the China-Africa summit took place in Beijing. China has had long-term political and economical relations with Africa since the 1960s and started to conduct a more active African policy in the 1990s. The continent offered China the energy resources it needed and formed a strategic ally for China as an upcoming global power in the international community. The China-Africa relationship started off as the ideal love affair; China was willing to ignore Africa’s political, environmental or humanitarian misbehavior in exchange for energy resources, as Africa was willing to give this in return for China’s investment in technology, infrastructure and other sectors that urgently needed improvement for Africa’s long-term growth (Cornelissen&Taylor 2000; Rotberg 2008, 83). As one African official noted: “(..)the Western world is never prepared to transfer technology- but the Chinese do,[and] while China’s technology may not be as sophisticated as some Western governments’, it is better to have Chinese technology than to have none at all” (Sautman&Hairong 2007, 80).

Since the beginning of the millennium Chinese immigrants flooded into Ghana, Africa’s second-largest gold producer. A great part of the Chinese immigrants in Ghana come from Shanglin county, a place in Guangxi province with a long history of gold mining.  There are about 50,000 Shanglin locals in Ghana, also referred to as the “Shanglin Gang”. Their plans in Africa follow a three-year scheme: in the first year they build the mines and earn back their invested money, in the second year they generate profits and in the third year they return back to China (Hille 2013; Kalman 2013; Song 2013). Although Ghana’s law states that areas under 25 acres can only be mined by nationals, the Shanglin Gang actively mines these areas as well: “As long as you enter into an agreement with Ghanaian landowners, you can mine,” says one Chinese immigrant (Song 2013): “It’s their land and their mining permit. I’m just helping him mine.”

GHANA

Existing tensions and conflicts between Chinese immigrants and Ghanaians cannot only be explained by Shanglin’s people illegal gold mining or overstay of visa. The roots of the problem can be found in the fundamental relationship between Chinese and Ghanaian workers. Conflicts within these employment relations have existed since the first Chinese immigrants started hiring Ghanaians to work for them and derive from “culturally grounded expectations”, as explained in an insightful article by Giese and Thiel (2012). As netizens on Weibo condemn the large-scale discrimination of black people amongst Chinese in Africa, Giese and Thiel argue that the problem does not so much lie in racial prejudices that Ghanaians have of Chinese and vice versa, but within the situations that occur during work and the expectations the Ghanaians and Chinese have of each other in their respective functions.

The vulnerability of both Chinese employers and Ghanian employees is central to the problem. The Chinese are vulnerable because they are in a foreign and possibly hostile environment with a different language and culture, while there is a lot at stake for them in terms of financial investment. They expect honesty, proactivity and dedication from their workers in order for their mutual relation to be successful (Giese&Thiel 2012, 16). In exchange, they pay Ghanaians wages that often exceed the local average (2012, 6). The Ghanaians that work for the Chinese, on the other hand, are vulnerable because they are overall economically marginalized and uneducated young men. They come from a cultural background where one’s employer is also supposed to be one’s guardian and protector. Employment relationships are characterized by the employer taking care of his workers in terms of fees or gifts in order to build on long-term loyalty; the employment relation, in this way, somewhat resembles a family relationship. The Chinese employers do not get what they want from their Ghanaian workers (hard work and loyalty) because they do not give them what they want (symbolic gifts or extra fees) (Giese&Thiel 2012: 6,16). This results in structural dissatisfaction; a derailed relationship where discrimination and violence eventually emerges as the consequence of complete mutual misunderstanding.

The Chinese in Ghana have created a dangerous situation for themselves as anti-Chinese sentiments are spiraling out of control. There are still many people who have fled and are hiding on cocoa farms or within Chinese owned companies, afraid of the military police (Nossiter&Sun 2013). The Chinese immigrants who are currently detained will be released and send back to their country (Hille 2013). This, however, does not solve the problem. As long as Chinese entrepreneurs do not work out their frustrated attitude towards local workers, the situation will keep on escalating and more blood will be shed on both sides. One thing is for sure; the happy end of the China-African fairytale relationship still needs a lot of work- if it’s possible at all. For the people of Shanglin, at least, the gold rush seems to have come to an end.     

 

What do you think about this situation? Do the problems of the Chinese immigrants in Ghana indeed lie within fundamental problems in the working relationship, or is it perhaps part of deeply rooted racist prejudice amongst Chinese? Share you thoughts and ‘like’ my page on the What’s on Weibo Facebook page.

 

– Manya Koetse, 2013.

 

References:  

Cornellisen, Scarlett and Ian Taylor. 2000. “The political economy of China and Japan’s relationship with Africa: a comparative perspective.” The Pacific Review 13, no. 4: 615-633.

Giese, Karsten and Alena Thiel. 2012. “The Vulnerable Other- distorted equity in Chinese-Ghanaian employment relations.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 1:20.

Kaiman, Jonathan.2013.”Ghana arrests 124 Chinese citizens for illegal gold mining.” The Guardian, June 6. Accessed June 11. http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/ghana-arrest-chinese-illegal-gold-mining.

Nossiter, Adam and Yiting Sun. 2013. “Chasing a Golden Dream, Chinese Miners are on the Run in Ghana.” New York Times, June 10. Accessed June 12, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/11/world/africa/ghana-cracks-down-on-chinese-gold-miners.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Rotberg, Robert. 2008. China into Africa: Trade, Aid and Influence. Cambridge: World Peace Foundation.

Sautman, Barry and Yan Hairong. 2007. “Friends and Interests: China’s Distinctive Links with Africa.” African Studies Review 50(3):75-114.

Song, Sophie. 2013. “A Modern Day Gold Rush.” International Business Times, May 15.  Accessed June 6. http://www.ibtimes.com/modern-day-gold-rush-how-people-one-county-china-are-making-millions-ghana-1260801.

 

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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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    J

    May 23, 2016 at 4:31 am

    Years ago when black people here in the US used to tell me that the Chinese will be helping Africa when the White Man wouldn’t, I would say to them “We will see.”
    Greed is greed no matter what the skin color or nationality. First, the Europeans raped Africa, now will be the Chinese’ turn.

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Backgrounder

These Are the Foreign Brands Apologizing to China amid Hong Kong Tensions

Who’s apologizing and why? An A-Z list of the foreign companies caught up in China’s online brand hunt.

Manya Koetse

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First published

Foreign luxury brands hoping to appease the Chinese market are walking on eggshells as the political crisis in Hong Kong is deepening. Chinese netizens and state media recently condemned foreign brands for showing any signs of disregarding the One-China Policy. An online witch hunt has begun: this is the list of brands.

While the political crisis in Hong Kong is deepening, the propaganda machine in mainland China is running at full speed to condemn anti-Beijing ‘rioters’ and promote the one-China principle.

As state media has been intensifying its news coverage on the situation in Hong Kong, with virtually all outlets using similar narratives, Chinese web users started to focus on foreign (luxury) brands and whether or not they list Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan as being part of China.

Starting on August 8, Chinese social media platform Weibo has seen dozens of hashtags taking over Chinese social media in relation to the big brand scandal; one foreign brand after the other was exposed as ‘ignoring’ China’s one-China principle on their website or products.

By the beginning of this week, the online brand hunt had almost become like an online contest, with thousands of netizens suggesting new brands that are allegedly not respecting China’s sovereignty.

Although the trend initially began with Chinese web users condemning brands -starting with Versace-, Chinese state media soon also reported about the online controversies and intensified the movement.

Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily wrote that Western brands are quick to apologize, but should also “learn from their mistakes” in the long run, and cannot disregard the One-China Policy if they want to do business in China.

“This is common knowledge, it’s the bottom line,” – online propaganda poster by People’s Daily shows foreign brands and a crack in the “One China” symbol.

State media outlet Global Times also published an illustration online, writing the slogan “China can’t be one bit less” (“中国一点都不能少”) that has been used by state media to emphasize China’s one-China principle since the 2016 South China Sea dispute.

Illustration by Global Times.

In response to the controversies, it has been raining apologies from foreign brands on Chinese social media the past days.

Who is mainly responsible for this online witch hunt? Although it first started with Chinese web users sharing images and screenshots of foreign brands and their ‘erroneous representation’ of China, state media and celebrities soon also started to play a major role in this issue and have contributed to the enormous snowball effect of the trend.

What’s the ‘correct’ way to list Hong Kong or Taiwan according to the one-China principle? Below is an image of the (adjusted) website of Valentino where it lists countries and lists Hong Kong and Taiwan as being part of China.

Here’s a list of the global brands have become tied up in controversy on the mainland this week (this list might still be updated):

 

● ASICS 亚瑟士

Japanese footwear brand

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/asicsofficial (240,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
“ASICS lists HK & Taiwan as Separate Countries” (#亚瑟士将香港与台湾列为国家#): 110 million views.

What’s the problem?
The ASICS website listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries.

Apology?
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “ASICS apologizes” hashtag (#亚瑟士致歉#), 6,5 million views on Weibo. The footwear brand emphasized that it abides by the one-China policy and that it will correct its “mistakes.”

Consequences:
Besides some netizens who vow not to buy any of the brands in this list disregarding the PRC’s one-China policy, there are no indications as of now that the brand is affected by the issue.

 

● CALVIN KLEIN

American fashion brand

Brand Weibo account:
https://weibo.com/calvinklein (303,000 fans)

Hashtag:
“CK Exposed for Insulting China” (##CK被曝辱华##): 1,5 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Calvin Klein faced criticism for listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries or regions on its website.

Apology?
Yes, statement on August 13, followed by “CK apologizes” hashtag (#ck道歉#), 15 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
Chinese actress Jelly Lin, Calvin Klein’s brand ambassador for the Asia-Pacific region, announced an immediate termination of collaboration with the American fashion house. The hashtag for this event (#林允终止与CK合作#) received no less than 510 million views. Zhang Yixing (Lay Zhang), a Chinese member of K-pop group Exo and a Calvin Klein model, warned the US clothing company to respect Beijing’s “one China” policy but did not stop working the brand (he did terminate collaborations with Samsung, also in this list).

 

● COACH 蔻驰

American luxury accessories company 

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/coachchina (4+ million fans)

Hashtag:
“Coach Lists HK, Macau, Taiwan as Countries” (#蔻驰将港澳台列为国家#): 6 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Less than 24 hours after Versace’s apology, Coach was among the second batch of brands, along with Givenchy, ASICS, and Fresh, to be exposed online for erroneous geographic listings. Coach got in trouble for a t-shirt displaying ‘Hong Kong’ as an independent region and listing ‘Taipei’ as belonging to ‘Taiwan,’ while Shanghai and Beijing are listed under China.

The tshirt that got Coach into trouble.

The brand was also found to have listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as independent countries under its website’s  “search country” option.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Coach apologizes” hashtag (#蔻驰道歉#), 300 million views on Weibo.

Consequences:
Coach’s China ambassador, supermodel Liu Wen, said on Weibo on Monday that she had cut off her endorsement deal with the fashion label (#刘雯终止与蔻驰合作#, 6 million views) as the brand “seriously impacted the national sentiment of the Chinese people.” State media outlet Global Times suggested the brand faced “potential boycott in China.”

 

● FRESH 馥蕾诗

American beauty brand 

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/freshbeauty (339,500 milion fans)

Hashtag:
No separate hashtag for this incident.

What’s the problem?:
Fresh faced backlash for listing ‘Hong Kong’ as a separate region on its official (English) website.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Fresh apologizes” hashtag (#fresh道歉#,) 8 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
No known direct consequences.

 

● GIVENCHY 纪梵希

French luxury fashion and perfume house

Brand Weibo account:
https://weibo.com/officialgivenchy (1.5 milion fans)

Hashtag:
The topic ‘Givenchy T-Shirt’ (#纪梵希t恤#) became big on Weibo. The hashtag page has over 500 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Like Coach, Givenchy also got in trouble for a t-shirt displaying ‘Hong Kong’ as an independent region and listing ‘Taipei’ as belonging to ‘Taiwan.’

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Givenchy apologizes” hashtag (#纪梵希道歉#,) 290 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
Chinese singer Jackson Yee terminated his brand partnerships with Givenchy (#易烊千玺与纪梵希解约# 680 million views).

 

● POCARI SWEAT 宝矿力水特

Japanese sport’s drink

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/pocarisweat (15400 fans)

Hashtag:
“Pocari Sweat Get Out of China”(#宝矿力水特滚出中国#) is one of the early hashtags associated with the Pocari controversy. With just over 300,000 views, it did not gain huge traction on Weibo.

What’s the problem?
Pocari Sweat is among the earliest brands – if not the earliest- to be caught up in the brand controversy relating to the protests in Hong Kong. As described by Japan Times, pro-democracy demonstrators praised Pocari after it pulled advertising from Hong Kong television station TVB, which protesters accuse of pro-Beijing coverage. Pocari became a popular drink among Hong Kong protesters.

Apology?:
The mainland China office of the brand issued two apology statements on July 11 and 21 in which it emphasized that it operates separately from the Hong Kong division and that it respects China’s “one country, two systems” policy.

Consequence:
Pocari Sweat was condemned by Chinese state media, but it is not clear if people in mainland China are drinking less Pocari because of the issue.

 

● VALENTINO 

Italian fashion house

Brand Weibo account:
www.weibo.com/valentinoofficial (413,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
No particular hashtag.

What’s the problem?:
Valentino listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries in the region/language menu on its foreign website.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 13, in which Valentino apologizes for making “a mistake” on its website. The website has since been changed.

Consequence:
No known consequences, the website seemed to be quickly adjusted, and many netizens expressed their praise for that and for the fact that the recent trend seems to make foreign brands more aware of the importance of respecting the One-China Policy.

 

● VERSACE 范思哲 

Italian fashion house

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/versacechina (850,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
“Versace Suspected of [Supporting] Hong Kong and Macau Independence” (#范思哲涉嫌港独澳独#): 3.2 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Versace is the first brand to be targeted in this week’s brand-hunting trend. An image of a T-shirt that listed Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries was first posted on Weibo by a female netizen on August 8, who wrote: “I discovered this recently, and wondered if the design of this t-shirt means that Versace is supporting Hong Kong independence?” Three days later, the image had circulated so much that it became a trending topic. Commenters called out the brand for being “two-faced” and for profiting from Chinese money while disregarding Chinese sovereignty.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 11, followed by “Versace apologizes” hashtag (#范思哲道歉#,) 860 million views on Weibo. In its statement, Versace stated that the t-shirts had already been recalled and destroyed in late July, and that the fashion house “deeply apologized for the controversy” that was caused by an “error in its t-shirt design.” Versace further stated that the brand “loves China” and “resolutely respects China’s territorial sovereignty.”

Donatella Versace, the designer and chief creative officer of Versace, also issued a personal apology through Instagram, writing: “Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s National Sovereignty and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it may have caused.”

Consequence:
Chinese celebrity Yang Mi ended her relationship with Versace. The announcement received a lot of attention on Chinese social media (#杨幂终止与Versace合作# 1.1 billion views).

 

● SWAROVSKI 施华洛世奇

Austrian jewelry company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/swarovskicom (500,00+ fans)

Hashtag:
Swarovski, together with Calvin Klein, was one of the brands that popped up in the general ‘luxury brand scandal’ after the Versace controversy had snowballed and had moved to Coach, Givenchy, ASICS, and Fresh. The Swarovski issue was exposed just a bit later and had no separate hashtag on Weibo.

What’s the problem?
Swarovski went trending on Chinese social media for classifying Hong Kong as a country on its website.

Apology?
Swarovski issued an apology statement on August 13. The hashtag “Swarovski Apologizes” received over 750 million views on Weibo (#施华洛世奇道歉#).

Consequence:
Chinese actress Jiang Shuying, also known as Maggie Jiang, announced on Tuesday (August 13) that she would be ending her cooperation with Swarovski (#江疏影与施华洛世奇解约#, 410 million views).

 

CURRENTLY UNDER SCRUTINY BUT NO APOLOGIES:

 

● AMAZON 亚马逊

American e-commerce company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/amazonchina (4.4 million fans)

Hashtag:
“Amazon T-shirts” (#亚马逊t恤#), 140 million views; “Amazon Sells Hong Kong Independence Shirts” (#亚马逊售卖港独T恤#), 18 million views.

What’s the problem?
Amazon is one of the latest brands to be added to the virtual PRC wall of shame of international brands going against Beijing’s “One China” principle. On August 14, screenshots of the Amazon e-commerce platform selling t-shirts promoting an independent Hong Kong and displaying anti-China slogans went viral on Weibo.

Reaction
Amazon did not apologize for the merchandise sold on its platforms, but the company did respond to ChinaNews (#亚马逊回应T恤事件#), emphasizing that Amazon always has and will respect China’s one-China principle, and abide by local laws of the countries Amazon is active in. There were also netizens on Weibo saying they understood that Amazon cannot be responsible for all the merchandise sold by its online shops around the world.

 

● SAMSUNG 三星 

South Korean Tech Company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/samsung (2.8+ million fans)

Hashtag:
No separate hashtag for this issue, although the announcement that Zhang Yixing would terminate his contract with Samsung did receive over 980 million views, making it one of the bigger hashtags in this brand scandal.

What’s the problem?:
Samsung faced criticism on August 14 for damaging China’s “territorial integrity” by displaying choices Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan as “countries” on its website.

Consequence:
Chinese celebrity and K-Pop star Zhang Yixing (Lay Zhang) announced on August 13 that he would no longer work together with Samsung as a brand ambassador for “hurting the national feelings of Chinese compatriots” (#张艺兴与三星解约#, 980 million views!).

 

By Manya Koetse

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Backgrounder

How the Hong Kong Protests Are Discussed on Chinese Social Media

“Hong Kong, the Pearl of the Orient, is no longer blooming, but covered in cuts and bruises.”

Manya Koetse

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Although discussions on the Hong Kong protests were initially silenced on Chinese social media, the demonstrations are now trending all over Weibo, with state media propagating hashtags and illustrations in favor of Hong Kong government and in support of the Hong Kong Police Force.

The political crisis in Hong Kong shows no signs of de-escalating after another series of mass demonstrations and violent clashes between police and protesters.

This week marks the ninth consecutive week of protests in Hong Kong. The first demonstrations started in March and April of this year against an extradition bill that would allow local authorities to detain and extradite people wanted in mainland China.

After demonstrations escalated in June, the bill was declared “dead” and suspended by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, but it was not formally withdrawn.

Protests have since continued throughout June, July, and into August, and are now about much more than the extradition bill alone – they are, amongst others, about greater freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, and about less political influence from the Beijing government.

Protesters are calling for Lam’s resignation and for democratic elections, and have denounced violent tactics and “abuse of power” used by the Hong Kong Police Force.

The absence of the police during an attack on residents by suspected gang members dressed in white shirts at the Yuen Long station on July 21 is one of the incidents protesters mention as police misconduct.

But there is also a division between demonstrators, and not necessarily one unified voice. There are also those, for example, who support Hong Kong police. And those who denounce the actions of angry protesters.

 

China’s Central Government Condemns Protests

 

Although authorities in mainland China initially remained quiet on the topic of the Hong Kong protests, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, China’s top agency for handling Hong Kong affairs, held its first press conference on its stance regarding Hong Kong demonstrations on July 29.

Yang Guang, the office’s spokesperson, condemned the actions of protesters over recent weeks, saying that they “exceeded the boundaries of acceptable protest.”

On August 6, there was another press briefing where Yang Guang used stronger language to denounce the protests, saying that the “radical protests (..) severely impacted Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, pushing it into a dangerous abyss” and that those behind the demonstrations should not “misjudge” the situation and “mistake our restraint for weakness.”

 

Main Stances on Chinese Social Media

 

On Chinese social media sites, news and discussions on the Hong Kong protest were initially silenced (also see this article), but that has changed now.

Although discussions are still heavily controlled, the topic of the Hong Kong demonstrations has been dominating the trending streams over the past days on China’s popular social media platforms.

On Douyin, one of the most popular short video / social media apps in mainland China, there are dozens of different videos of violent incidents in Hong Kong that are being reposted and liked thousands of times.

On news app Toutiao, articles relating to the Hong Kong protests are in the recommended and ‘hot’ sections, while bloggers and news accounts on WeChat are also posting and reposting Hong Kong related content.

For the scope of this article, we will solely focus on Weibo – the narratives that are spread in daily discussions on the platform are comparable to those on other platforms.

Although the ensuing examples are the main types of posts on Hong Kong that are most popular on Chinese social media now, and definitely receive a lot of support, there are also posts with other views and ideas that might be blocked before ever making it to Weibo or other apps/platforms.

But the restrictions on free discussions on social media do not only relate to platform censorship.

Recently, there are also instances in which Chinese netizens speak out in support of the protesters in Hong Kong who then become a victim of the so-called “human flesh search engine.”

One female Weibo user, responding to the demonstrations in Hong Kong, wrote on August 5th: “Respect to every person out there striking and protesting!” Other Weibo users then made screenshots of her comment and revealed personal details about the woman (a 26-year-old Chinese citizen), labeling her a traitor.

One blogger reposting the woman’s photo and Weibo profile has 1,3 million followers, making this incident quite big and serving as a warning to other Weibo users not to spread their ‘politically incorrect’ views on the Hong Kong protests.

 

“Protect Hong Kong, Support the Police Force”

 

With over 5 billion views, the hashtag “Protect Hong Kong” (#守护香港#) is very popular on Weibo these days.

The hashtag is promoted by Party newspaper People’s Daily, that also launched another viral hashtag, namely “Officers, We Support You” (#阿sir我们挺你#, 300 million views).  The word for ‘officer’ used in this hashtag is “Ah Sir” or “阿Sir”, a uniquely Hong Kong form of address used for policemen and teachers.

Using the “Protect Hong Kong” and “Officers, We Support You” slogans, People’s Daily has also issued an illustration that shows three police officers carrying weapons and protective screens. Behind them are protesters, and above them is China’s Five-starred Red Flag.

Illustration by People’s Daily, issued on Weibo and other social media.

Online propaganda poster issued by China Daily on Weibo.

The main idea behind these hashtags/illustrations is that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) firmly supports the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong Police Force in dealing with so-called “thugs” or “bandits”  (“暴徒”).

A common stance expressed by Chinese netizens is that pro-democracy protesters are “damaging public security” in Hong Kong and are “dividing the nation.”

“Talk about democracy and freedom in a fair and reasonable way,” one commenter writes: “Don’t talk about freedom and democracy while breaking the law and acting outrageous.”

“It’s horrible to see,” another person says: “The Pearl of the Orient is no longer blooming, but is now covered with cuts and bruises.”

Many stories of violence used against the police force are circulating on Chinese social media. Some videos show protesters using potentially dangerous laser pointers to shine directly in faces of police officers. Last Tuesday, student leader Keith Fong was arrested for possession of such lasers.

One particular trending story concerns a bald police officer named ‘Liu Sir’ (刘sir) who was violently attacked by a group of protesters on July 31st. The mob allegedly punched and kicked him, and assaulted him with sticks and objects before he pulled out his gun.

Photo by People’s Daily, shared on Weibo.

Officer Liu, who has sustained some minor injuries from the incident, responded to the incident writing in a text: “[I] just hate the fact that they are also Chinese – it feels wrong to hit them and also wrong not to. It really pains me!”

Officer Liu has become somewhat of a hero on Chinese social media, as his image is propagated by Chinese state media through photos and illustrations.

Image of Officer Liu shared on Weibo by netizen @李里言子.

The idea of ‘protecting’ Hong Kong and supporting its police force goes hand in hand with the idea that Hong Kong is, and “always will be,” a “part of China.”

Many commenters in the comment sections express their anger about Hong Kong protesters attacking police and throwing the Chinese flag into the water. “If you do not want to be Chinese, then don’t live on Chinese territory,” some write.

 

“Hong Kong’s Colonial Mentality” 

 

A post by an economics blogger (@同行中的我, 14674 fans) that received more than 6500 ‘likes’ on Weibo argues that one problem behind the protests is that Hong Kong youth are stuck in a “colonial mentality.”

The blogger says that Hong Kong people have a lack of patriotic education and have no “sense of belonging.” It is this Hong Kong mentality, the writer argues, that prevents the region from blooming. Without mainland China, Hong Kong is nothing, the post says.

This sentiment is reiterated by many commenters on Weibo, who write things such as “Without a country, you have no home.”

Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain in 1842 as part of the Treaty of Nanjing. July 1st of 1997 marked Hong Kong’s return to China, and the moment it became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC, based on the principle of “one country, two systems.”

Those who are protesting for Hong Kong independence are also called “Pro HK Independence ‘Poison’” on Weibo (港毒分子, a wordplay with characters meaning ‘Hong Kong-independence/poison-members’: a derogatory term for those supporting Hong Kong independence).

“The Pro HK Independence Poison comes from Hong Kong education. Its education comes from its system. So to get rid of this poison, you first need to replace the system, and then change education in Hong Kong,” one person suggests.

 

“Biased Media Representations”

 

“Western media only use pictures that are taken out of context -they have an ulterior motive,” Weibo news blogger Jianhua (@建华Wei业) writes: “They fabricate news about Hong Kong police power abuse and violence.”

The accusation of Western media representing the Hong Kong protesters as the ‘good guys’ and the Hong Kong police as the ‘bad guys’ is repeated on Chinese social media quite a lot these days.

One major example is the aforementioned case of Sir Liu, as many media allegedly only forwarded those images or footage of the police pulling his gun, leaving out the part where he was attacked by protesters first.

Since there is a clear pro-Hong Kong Police Force dominant narrative on Weibo, many netizens defend the police and describe the protesters as violent and unreasonable rioters.

 

“US Meddling in Hong Kong Affairs”

 

Besides criticism on supposed biased media representations of the situation in Hong Kong, there is also criticism on the role of the United States in the Hong Kong protests.

One photo of American diplomat Julie Eadeh meeting up with student leaders involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement circulated on Chinese social media this week, with state media accusing the US of playing a role in “creating disorder” in Hong Kong.

Image posted on Weibo by CCTV.

“What Is America Up To?”(#美国居心何在#) is one of the hashtags related to the incident that is shared on Chinese social media, promoted by CCTV.

“What is America up to?” online poster designed and shared by CCTV.

“America has no right to meddle in Hong Kong affairs,” commenters on Weibo respond: “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong.”

Adding fuel to this discussion is the fact that some Hong Kong protesters have recently started waving American flags at demonstrations (read more about that here).

Trending on August 9 is an incident in which a woman angrily pulled the American flags from protesters’ hands at Hong Kong airport. Many people on Weibo praise the woman for being so “courageous” to stand up to the demonstrators. “We just want Hong Kong to be stable and peaceful,” the woman stated to the media.

Others on Weibo call on protesters in Hong Kong to be reasonable. “I feel that the situation in Hong Kong is getting more and more complicated,” one commenter writes: “I hope the protesters can rationally overthink why they are participating in these demonstrations; they shouldn’t let themselves be used by others.”

“I just cannot make sense of what these angry youth are doing,” another commenter writes: “They are waving the American flag. But when they leave [Hong Kong], people won’t see them as Hong Kongnese – foreigners will all think they are Chinese. I just don’t get where they’re going.”

 
Keep an eye on What’s on Weibo for more related stories in the time to come. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and subscribe to notifications via the bell in this screen (Chrome/Firefox/Android).
 

By Manya Koetse

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