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Courage, Camaraderie, and Criticism: The 2022 Sichuan Earthquake on Chinese Social Media

Hashtags and online stories shared on Chinese social media in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan.

Manya Koetse

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These are the hashtags and online stories that are shared on Chinese social media this week during the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in China’s Sichuan.

On Monday September 5, at 12:52 local time, a strong earthquake struck southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. The 6.8-magnitude earthquake jolted Luding County, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, and killed at least 88 people.

The tremor could be felt miles away from the epicenter, including in the provincial capital Chengdu, which is about 220 kilometers from Luding. The earthquake injured more than 270 people, while 30 persons are still missing.

As many netizens shared videos of how they experienced the earthquake, dozens of hashtags went trending on Chinese social media relating to the earthquake and its aftermath, including the 2.9 magnitude aftershock Luding experienced on Wednesday.

There were many stories shared on Weibo relating to the extensive damage and devastation caused by the earthquake. But besides the solidarity statements expressed online, there was also criticism coming from netizens about local authorities prioritising the battle against Covid-19 at such a critical moment.

 
Sharing Stories of Compassion and Camaraderie after Earthquake
 

Bad times sometimes bring out the best in people, and this was shown in the many stories circulating online this week.

The 56-year-old Ms. Gao, who runs a local chicken noodle soup restaurant in the town of Moxi in Luding county, was not at her restaurant when the earthquake hit. But she soon rushed to the disaster area and used all she had left to provide free soup and noodles to local residents and rescue workers, even though Gao, who suffers from breast cancer, is struggling herself (#患癌女子用仅剩一罐气为震区居民做汤面#).

Another Luding country resident, a local farmer named Chen, reportedly spent 12,000 yuan ($1730) out of his own pocket to buy and butcher three giant pigs in order to provide the local residents and fire fighters with roast pork. Chen’s brother additionally donated 1000 kilos of rice so that people in the disaster zone could have some warm meals (#四川兄弟给震区捐3头猪2000斤米#).

On September 9, one Chinese TV reporter who was working in the disaster zone rescued a young child who was separated from his parents during the chaos. Videos showed how the reporter, determined to find the child’s parents, prioritized the child over his work. The little boy was eventually reunited with his mother, who had not slept for 48 hours (#记者受人之托紧抱孩子不撒手#).

Chinese TV reporter deterined to reunite this child with its mother.

These kind gestures and efforts were much needed for those dealing with grief and loss after the earthquake. One man in Luding smiled when a reporter approached him, but he broke down in tears the moment he started talking about losing his sister in the earthquake (#大哥微笑接受采访一开口泪崩了#).

Chinese media outlet Fengmian reported that the 26-year-old rescue worker Qin Xiaoqiang (秦晓强) worked around the clock to rescue and dig out three people who were trapped under the rubble. Afterward, he learned that his own father and sister were killed in the earthquake (#痛失家人特警说要让更多家庭团圆#).

Some families lost all they had in the earthquake. On Weibo, many people donated to various earthquake-related causes via the Weibo Public Good platform (微公益).

Besides the aid charities raising funds thanks to Weibo and Wechat users, there are also dozens of Chinese celebrities who stepped up and donated money to help rescue work in the region. Among them were Chinese actor Leo Wu (Wu Lei, 吴磊) and Chinese actress Rosy (Zhao Lusi, 赵露思) – both made headlines for their contributions to the rescue operation (#吴磊为四川震区捐赠物资#, #赵露思向四川泸定捐赠物资#).

There were also other celebrities, including names such as Zhang Tian’ai and Wang Yibo, who donated money to help fund five Sichuan rescue teams to go to the front lines and to transport basic necessities to Luding County and other affected regions (#王一博为四川震区捐赠物资#).

 
Official Media Accounts Highlight Compassionate & Courageous Rescue Efforts
 

Over the past week, Chinese official state media outlets such as People’s Daily, Xinhua, and CCTV published countless posts on Weibo relating to the earthquake. In covering the earthquake on social media, Chinese state media have a clear human interest angle and make a strong appeal to emotion as many of these posts specifically focus on the rescue and relief efforts and the bravery, compassion, and humanity shown by Chinese rescue workers (#消防武警民兵公安奔赴震区救援#).

On September 8, People’s Daily highlighted the moment an armed officer evacuated a baby from the disaster zone, the small child calmy drinking their milk while safely strapped on the soldier’s back (#震区宝宝在武警背上乖乖喝奶#).

People’s Daily also reported about several firefighters carrying an old lady and getting her out of the earthquake zone.

Global Times published a story and video about a firefighter whose feet were completely blistered and battered after working in the earthquake-hit zones (#震区消防员脚底被磨破#).

Official media published various propaganda posters showing emergency workers, including firefighters, paramedics, and police officers, during the rescue operations. One poster compared the ongoing relief efforts in Luding to those during the 2008 Great Sichuan earthquake or Wenchuan earthquake, during which a devastating 69,000 people lost their lives.

The China Fire and Rescue account shared a “Pray for Luding” poster on Weibo showing emergency workers carrying a special rescue stretcher with the help of volunteers. The hashtag “Pray for Luding” (#为泸定祈福#) received over 280 million clicks within four days time.

State media outlet Xinhua emphasized the bravery shown by young workers operating excavators on dangerously steep hills to clear roads of debris (#震区绝壁上的挖掘机手是90后# and #泸定地震中打通生命通道的孤勇者#).

The story of a team of 24 rescue workers who got stranded in the Hailuogou Scenic Area near Moxi Town also was covered a lot; the rescue workers were at the scene shortly after the earthquake hit but then were unable to get back to due to changing weather conditions. Their safe return was celebrated by various Chinese state media on September 10 (#24名滞留震区孤岛特警全部平安#).

 
Online Grassroots Criticism on Prioritizing Anti-Epidemic Efforts
 

But amid all the online stories and Chinese media narratives focusing on courage, compassion, and camaraderie, there was also criticism, as the strong earthquake put things into perspective regarding China’s ongoing fight against COVID-19 and the zero-Covid policy.

After local health authorities in the disaster area announced a strengthening of epidemic prevention and control measures on September 7, including daily nucleic acid testing for rescue workers and a stop on volunteer rescue workers coming into the area, many people showed little understanding.

“The earthquake is not as important as epidemic prevention,” some wrote.

“People’s lives are at stake and we’re still all about epidemic prevention. The earthquake [apparently] is not as powerful as the ‘big flu’ – it’s really hopeless.”

“Trivia. During the few years of epidemic in Sichuan, a total of three people died. During a few minutes of the earthquake, more than 70 died.” “By now, the mortality rate of this virus is less than the flu,” one person responded.

“The epidemic prevention comes first, people’s lives come second,” others wrote. “What happened to ‘putting people and life first?'” some wondered, mentioning the famous quote by Xi Jinping.

One Weibo user posted a photo of a dog getting tested for Covid, writing: “[China’s] major nucleic acid testing companies allegedly made $16 billion in the first half of this year, so it’s certainly wouldn’t be excessive if they donated some money to the earthquake area, right?”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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©2022 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 Arts & Entertainment

Chinese Social Media Reactions to The New York Times Bad Review of ‘Wandering Earth 2’

A New York Times bad review of ‘Wandering Earth II’ has triggered online discussions: “China’s gonna save the world, the US can’t stand it.”

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This Chinese Spring Festival, it’s all about going to the movies. After sluggish years for China’s movie market during the pandemic, Chinese cinemas welcomed millions of visitors back to the theaters during the weeklong Spring Festival holiday.

Much-anticipated new movies attracted Chinese moviegoers this festive season, including Full River Red by Zhang Yimou, the suspenseful Hidden Blade, or the animated Deep Sea by Tian Xiaopeng.

But the undisputed Spring Festival box office champion of 2023 is Frant Gwo’s Wandering Earth II (流浪地球II), the sequel to China’s all-time highest-grossing sci-fi epic Wandering Earth (2019), which also became the fifth highest-grossing non-English film of all time.

The narrative of the follow-up movie Wandering Earth II actually takes place before the events of the first film and focuses on the efforts by the United Earth Government (UEG) to propel the Earth out of the solar system to avoid planetary disaster. This so-called Moving Mountain Project – which later becomes the Wandering Earth Project – is not just met with protest (the majority of Americans don’t believe in it), it also bans the Digital Life Project, which supports the idea that the future of humanity can be saved by preserving human consciousness on computers (backed by an American majority). The film is all about hope and resilience, human destiny, and geopolitics at a time of apocalyptic chaos.

Outside of China, the sequel was also released in, among others, North American, Australian, and UK cinemas.

Although the film, featuring movie stars Wu Jing and Andy Lau, received an 8.2 on the Chinese rating & review platform Douban, a 9.4 on movie ticketing app Maoyan, dozens of positive reviews on Bilibili, and was overall very well-received among Chinese viewers, a bad review by The New York Times triggered discussions on Chinese social media this weekend.

Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) initiated a Weibo hashtag about “The New York Times‘s completely sour review of Wandering Earth II” (#纽约时报酸味拉满差评流浪地球2#).

The New York Times review of Wandering Earth II, titled “‘The Wandering Earth II Review: It Wanders Too Far,” was written by Brandon Yu and published in print on January 27, 2023.

Yu does not have a lot of good things to say about China’s latest blockbuster. Although he calls the 2019 The Wandering Earth “entertaining enough,” he writes that the sequel is a movie that is “audaciously messy” and has lost “all of the glee” its predecessor had:

“(..) the movie instead offers nearly three hours of convoluted storylines, undercooked themes and a tangle of confused, glaringly state-approved political subtext.”

The topic was discussed on Chinese social media using various hashtags, including “The New York Times Gave Wandering Earth II a 3″ (#纽约时报给流浪地球打30分#, #纽约时报给流浪地球2打30分#).

Instead of triggering anger, the bad review actually instilled a sense of pride among many Chinese, who argued that the review showed the impact the movie has made. Some commenters pointed out that the movie is a new milestone in Chinese cinema, not just threatening America’s domination of the movie industry but also setting a narrative in which China leads the way.

“We’re gonna save the world, and America just can’t stand it,” one commenter replied.

That same view was also reiterated by other bloggers. The author and history blogger Zhang Yi’an (@张忆安-龙战于野) argued that The New York Times review was not necessarily bad; it actually shows that Americans feel threatened by the idea of China’s important role in a new international world order, and by the fact that China actually will have the capacity to lead the way when it comes to, for example, space technology innovation, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Zhang argues that if a similar movie had been made by India as a Bollywood blockbuster – including exploding suns and wandering earths – The New York Times would have been more forgiving and might have even called it cute or silly.

But because this is China, the film’s success and its narrative plays into existing fears over China’s rise, and it clashes with American values about what the international community should look like.

Zhang writes: “The China in the movie doesn’t boast itself as the savior of the world, but in reality, China really is capable of saving the world. The United States is no longer able to do so (电影里的中国没有把自己吹嘘成救世主,现实中的中国真的有能力做救世主。而美国却已经不能了).”

One popular Film & TV account (@影视综艺君) also summarized the general online reaction to the bad review in the American newspaper: “Whenever the enemy gets scared, it must mean we’re doing it right. Our cultural export has succeeded.” That post received over 120,000 likes.

Meanwhile, another state media-initiated hashtag on Weibo claimed on January 28 that Wandering Earth II has actually “captured the hearts of many overseas audiences” (#流浪地球2海外上映获好评#), and that the film’s “imaginative” and “wonderful” visuals combined with its strong storyline were being praised by critics.

On IMDB, the movie has received 5.9/10; it has gotten a 70% Rotten Tomatoes score. The Guardian gave it 2/5. Meanwhile, on Weibo, one reviewer after the other gives the film 5/5 stars.

Weibo blogger Lang Yanzhi (@郎言志) writes: “Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attacks and slander directed at the China-made science fiction movie Wandering Earth 2, especially coming from Western media and pro-Western forces, because the film’s “Chinese salvation” narrative made them uncomfortable. This was already the case when the first film in the series was released. It is very clear that Wandering Earth is not just a movie: it is a symbol of great influence.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Zilan Qian

 

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China Arts & Entertainment

Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala

The first-ever ‘mini film’ of the Spring Festival Gala struck a chord with viewers for its strong storytelling and authentic production.

Manya Koetse

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This precious and powerful short film by Zhang Dapeng has touched the hearts of Spring Festival Gala viewers. But there is more to the short film than meets the eye. Here’s the noteworthy story behind the 7-minute Spring Festival Mini Film.

On January 21, 2023, China’s Spring Festival Gala, hosted by China Media Group, kicked off the Year of the Rabbit. The annual show, which featured forty different acts and performances, lasted over four hours and attracted millions of viewers worldwide (see our liveblog here, and see a top 5 highlight of the show here).

Traditionally, the Spring Festival Gala always shows several short public service ad films in between the performances, but this year was the first time the Gala featured a “mini-film” or “micro film” (微电影).

Titled Me and My Spring Festival Night (“我和我的春晚”), the 7-minute film was praised among viewers. On Weibo, one hashtag dedicated to the short film received over nine million clicks (#我和我的春晚#).

The film was directed by the Beijing director Zhang Dapeng (张大鹏). Born in 1984, Zhang is a Beijing Film Academy graduate who previously attracted wide attention for directing the Peppa Pig Celebrates Chinese New Year movie and the brilliant ad campaign that came with it. Titled What Is Peppa, that short ad film featured a grandfather living in rural China who goes on a quest to find out what ‘Peppa’ is. The promotional video became an absolute viral hit back in 2019 (see/read more here).

Still from ‘What is Peppa.’ 2019.

This time, Zhang’s latest Chinese New Year film is about a hard-working former military man from China’s countryside named Zhang Jianguo (张建国), for whom coming on the show to play the trumpet has been a dream for many years. By featuring his story, the film takes us from the Chinese 1980s, 90s, 00s – as we see him change jobs, move around, and start a family – up to the present.

The main idea behind the film was to honor all the ordinary viewers who have written – and are still writing – to the Gala ever since it first aired in the early 1980s, and to tell a story inspired by these personal letters and ordinary viewers.

Short Summary of “Me and My Chunwan”

At the start of the film, we see Zhang Jianguo dusting off his military honorary awards (光荣军属), putting on his jacket, grabbing his thermos flask and trumpet, and setting out on a journey in the midst of winter.

Riding an electric tricycle in the icy cold, his driver (actor Huang Bo 黄渤) asks him where he is going. “Can you keep your mouth shut?” Zhang replies (“你嘴严实不严实”). “I can,” the driver says, and Zhang then says: “So can I.”

The voiceover narration, a first-person narrative by Zhang himself, explains that he has always been busy: “I never had time for the Spring Festival Gala. My Spring Festival fate is all because of something my captain said.”

The film jumps to a scene showing Zhang as a young military man during the Chinese New Year’s Eve, working outside while people are watching the Spring Festival Gala on a small black and white television inside. As his commander (played by Wu Jing 吴京) hands him his trumpet, he says: “Go and play your trumpet on the television.”

“If the leader asks me to go on the Spring Festival Gala, it’s a task I must complete,” the voice-over says.

But in the military scene itself, duty calls and Zhang has to blow the trumpet to announce dinner time.

In the years that follow, Zhang is always busy during the Spring Festival Gala. Working in the factory, getting married, working on a train, farming cattle, taking care of his family, and always cooking. His trumpet is still there with him, to announce dinner time or hanging on the wall as a memory of times past.

As the years pass by, Zhang realizes that he has gradually forgotten about his commander’s words. Time moves fast. First, he had a son, then his son grew taller than himself, and then his son had his own son. “And I still had never been to the Spring Festival Gala.”

With his captain’s words back on his mind, Zhang, now an older man, sets out on his journey without telling anyone. By foot, by electric tricycle, by bus, and by train, Zhang travels all the way to the famous Beijing Studio 1 to perform at the Spring Festival Gala after being “too busy” for forty years.

Backstage at the Spring Festival Gala, Zhang sits down with famous Chinese Spring Festival Gala performers (Ma Li 马丽 and Shen Teng 沈腾). While unpacking his lunchbox, he tells them he was finally not too busy to come on the show: “I wrote a letter and here I am.” “It’s that simple?” Ma Li wonders.

The producer then rushes to come and get Zhang, who bravely walks towards the stage with his old little trumpet.

A female voice-over then reads out a message, while we see various scenes throughout the years showing Zhang – from young to old – writing letters to CCTV from wherever he is.

The female narrator says: “Dear Uncle Zhang, we’ve received your letter regarding your hopes to realize your cherished stage dream. In this age of emailing, and knowing that you’ve been writing us for 39 years, we’re moved and feel guilty. Our reply may be late, but not our sincerity..

Meanwhile, we see a flashback to a mailman pulling up to old Zhang’s home (the mailman is the actor Wang Baoqiang), and the old Zhang finally receives that much-anticipated letter from CCTV at his remote rural home.

The female narrator continues: “This year, we proudly invite you to be a guest at the Spring Festival Gala and to “ring the dinner bell” [play the sound announcing dinner]. Sincerely, the Spring Festival Director Committee.

In the final shot, we see Zhang blowing the trumpet at the Gala, with flashbacks showing him blowing that trumpet in all those decades before. He has finally made it to the big stage.

A Noteworthy Story

While Me and My Spring Festival Night received a lot of praise on Chinese social media, the story behind the film was not immediately clear to many viewers celebrating the Chinese New Year, but it was explained in several articles and interviews with director Zhang Dapeng.

During the live-televised Spring Festival Gala itself, the airing of Me and My Spring Festival Night was directly followed up by a shot featuring a person (a veteran) in the audience standing up and actually playing the trumpet.

Directly after, the song “Goodmorning Sunshine” began, representing multiple people from all kinds of professions and social groups. About one minute into the song, the camera turns to another audience member: the person who plays ‘Uncle Zhang’ in the mini-film. Later in the song, we can see he is wiping away tears, visibly moved.

Why was he so moved? The older man in the audience, the main ‘Uncle Zhang’ actor in the film, is Jin Changyong (金长勇), and he actually is not a professional actor.

Somewhat similar to the character Zhang Jianguo, Jin Changyong or “Uncle Jin” (金叔) is a hardworking veteran from Hebei’s Huailai County in Zhangjiakou.

Jin Changyong is a 63-year-old farmer who is also active at the Hebei Tianmo Film and TV Park doing security and logistics-related jobs. He served in the army for four years from the age of 19, as, among others, a military chef.

Director Zhang Dapdeng came across ‘Uncle Jin’ one day while shooting another film at the studio. While Jin was busy doing kitchen work, director Zhang saw him and, as he later recounts, was struck by his face that showed he had “lived through many changes” (“这种饱经沧桑的脸”).

Zhang later invited Uncle Jin to star in the movie, and he also made sure Jin’s own story played a role in the script.

Director Zhang Dapeng, image via CCTV.

This makes this short movie all the more special, something which has since been discussed on Chinese social media (#春晚微电影的主演是普通农民#).

The surprising twist in the story is how Zhang Jianguo tells other people he has just always been “too busy” to attend the Gala, while he had in fact already written to the show for 39 years with the hope of one day being invited.

Another noteworthy aspect of the film is how Zhang Dapeng chose to cast some of China’s most celebrated actors as supporting roles to lift up the main character and actor, Jin, who was inexperienced and learnt from his fellow players.

In an interview, Jin expressed that the entire experience of playing in this short film left his overcome with emotion. After the filming had ended, he told reporters that he had sleepless nights because he had not received an actual invitation to the Spring Festival Gala yet, something which he so very much hoped for. Just one week before the show, that invitation finally came.

The fact that Jin, in a way, played a man like himself in the short movie has added to the film’s popularity.

“I was sincerely moved by this film,” one commenter wrote, with others saying: “This was the best program I’ve seen on the Gala over the past decade.”

While some people also remarked that the short film seemed to have been influenced by The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, others praised it for its originality.

“This was just the best part of the night,” several commenters said: “It made me cry.”

“Zhang Pengda – a name to remember,” others wrote.

You can watch the short film on Youtube here.

By Manya Koetse 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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