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Digital Diplomacy: These Foreign Embassies Are Most (Un)Popular on Weibo

‘Weiplomacy’ is here; Weibo and other social media platforms are a tool for government public diplomacy purposes. What’s on Weibo gives an overview of Weibo’s most (un)popular foreign embassies.

Manya Koetse

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As social media has become an increasingly common tool for government public diplomacy purposes, a large number of foreign embassies in China now has a presence on Sina Weibo to engage with local audiences. As Weibo diplomacy a.k.a. ‘Weiplomacy’ is becoming more important, What’s on Weibo gives an overview of Weibo’s most (un)popular foreign embassies.

Digital diplomacy is a hot topic. Embassies all over the world increasingly use social media as a low-cost and convenient tool to promote their countries, inform people about their latest activities and engage with their followers.

Many embassies can be found on Facebook, Twitter or Youtube, but also on China’s Sina Weibo or WeChat, changing the way foreign embassies engage with with local audiences in China.

E-Diplomacy: Up & Downsides

Foreign embassies on Weibo have recently been getting more scholarly attention. In “Social Media and E-Diplomacy: Scanning Embassies on Weibo” (2017), Ying Jiang writes that social media is an effective way for embassies to communicate to target groups, more so than conventional (offline) public diplomacy.

However, Jiang also points out that the presence of foreign embassies on Weibo has its downsides, as web users can vent their anger and post negative comments to embassy pages if they are against the policies of those countries.

This is especially apparent on embassy pages such as that of the Japanese embassy in China, where people often leave anti-Japanese comments and pictures related to the Sino-Japanese war.

Comments on the page of the Japanese embassy in China related to WWII.

Comments on the page of the Japanese embassy in China related to WWII.

But there are also countless negative comments on pages of other embassies. On the Weibo page of the German embassy in China, for example, Weibo users have posted many critiques on the country’s refugee policies after a post about new visa announcements. One netizen says: “If Germany doesn’t solve its refugee problem, the country has zero attractiveness anymore.”

On the USA embassy page, netizens leave comments such as: “The US truly is an evil country. You’re the world’s biggest terrorist organization.”

But visitors also often leave words of praise to embassy accounts. On the Danish embassy’s account, for example, some call Denmark “a magical place”, with the “land of fairytales” seemingly captivating the minds of many Chinese netizens.

When Thailand’s king passed away in October 2016, the Thai embassy page on Weibo was filled with condolences from Chinese expressing their grief and stressing the friendship between the Chinese and Thai.

Ying Jiang’s research calculated the number of reactions to every post on Weibo’s embassies with the most followers and found that even if an embassy had the most followers, it was not necessarily most influential based on their received comments and amount of post shares.

According to Ying Jiang’s data, which was collected in the first half of 2015, the Canadian embassy had the largest following on Sina Weibo, followed by the USA, Cuba, UK and South Korea, with the latter being most influential based on its interactions with its followers.

It seems that things have changed over the past two years, as the following list of foreign embassies collected and compiled by What’s on Weibo shows a different order of popularity.

Weibo’s Top 5 Embassies

Although the Canadian, Cuban, US and South Korean embassies are still popular in terms of followers on Weibo, the Brazilian, Japanese, and especially Israeli embassies now have the highest number of fans on Weibo.

The popularity of the Canadian embassy on Weibo can undoubtedly partly be attributed to the strong promotion of China-Canada friendship, the popularity of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and perhaps even the great popularity of the Canadian doctor Norman Bethune, who is honored in China for his role as a battleground surgeon during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

But most importantly, Canada’s success on Weibo is a result of its own endeavors on Chinese social media. In a DiploFoundation interview with Mark McDowell, Counsellor of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing, McDowell stresses the importance of the so-called ‘weiplomacy’ (微郊外 Weibo diplomacy) to the Canadian embassy, that has boosted its efforts in using social media as an efficient form of public diplomacy.

McDowell says the Canadian embassy in China posts about 20 to 30 Weibo messages per week, on topics varying from business news to visa issues, the ways Canada measures air pollution, or information about studying in Canada – all topics that interest their large group of followers on Weibo.*

But the current most popular embassy on Weibo is not Canada, nor Cuba or any of the biggest embassies mentioned in Ying Jiang’s 2015 research; it is the Embassy of Israel, that currently has over 1.9 million fans on its Weibo page, where it has posted a total of 3590 posts at the time of writing (in comparison: the Canadian embassy had posted 6979 posts at this time).

Top five according to What’s on Weibo, December 2016:

1. Israeli embassy (@以色列驻华使馆) – 1.913.384 followers
2. Canadian embassy (@加拿大大使馆官方微博)
– 1.131.700+ followers
3. US embassy (@美国驻华大使馆) – 1.035.300+ followers
4. Brazilian embassy (@巴西驻华大使馆) – 522.310+ followers
5. Japanese embassy (@日本国驻华大使馆) – 480.500+ followers

Why is Israel so popular on Weibo?

What makes the Embassy of Israel so popular on Weibo? Overall, Chinese netizens seem to have a positive attitude towards the country. It is, among others, shared memories of the history of WWII that have contributed to the present strong relations between China and Israel.

In 2015, the Consulate General of Israel in Shanghai published a video that featured hundreds of Israelis holding “Thank you” signs in Chinese as a sign of gratitude for Shanghai helping the Jews during WWII. It also included a message from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing thanks to the Chinese people.

Shimon Peres, former President of Israel.

Shimon Peres, former President of Israel.

In 2014, late Israeli president Shimon Peres became a trending topic on Weibo when he registered for an account and met with Chinese president Xi Jinping. The “handsome old president” was warmly welcomed by Weibo users. One netizen said: “Israel really has been very good to China. During World War II, China took in a lot of Jewish refugees helping them avoid the disaster of war, and now this ethnicity truly knows how to be thankful. This is the kind of country that China should foster good relations with, and whether it be Israel or Pakistan, these are the true brothers of China. Anyway, this president is truly so adorable, and I just love adorable uncles [older men]” (China Smack 2014).

In 2014, the Australian reported that Israeli president Shimon Peres was one of the few Western leaders maintaining a social media presence in China, and that he had over 450,000 followers. When Peres passed away in September 2016, many web users visited the Israeli embassy account to share their condolences, praising the former president as a friend of China.

Web users lighting digital candles for Peres and posting their condoleances on the Israeli Embassy Weibo site.

Web users lighting digital candles for Peres and posting their condoleances on the Israeli Embassy Weibo site.

According to Robert Lakin (@LakinTLV), founder of Analytika Research, Israel’s popularity on Weibo is a case of cause and effect.

“The Israel Foreign Ministry has really stepped up its game on social media,” Lakin tells What’s on Weibo: “The Israel Defense Force’s has also boosted its use of social media. As the country puts out more buzz-worthy content, the effect is a jump in social followers. This includes lots of peripheral, one-off activity, too.” Lakin also mentions the influence of the Times of Israel‘s Chinese language website, which might have contributed to the Israeli success on Weibo.

What About the ‘Unpopular’ Foreign Embassies?

With countries such as Israel and Canada having a relatively positive image among Chinese people – which also reflects in their popularity on social media – does this mean that the lowest-ranking foreign embassies on Weibo also are of those nations that have a less positive reputation in China?

Not necessarily so. According to What’s on Weibo, the embassies of Estonia, Monaco and Indonesia have the lowest number of followers on Weibo, but this also has to do with the low activity on the concerning accounts; Estonia last posted in 2012, Indonesia in 2014, whereas Monaco has just posted its 75 first posts on the social media platform.

List of Foreign Embassies on Weibo

This is the list of foreign embassies currently present on Sina Weibo, from most popular to less popular in terms of followers. The great majority of these accounts have all been verified by Sina Weibo as the official embassy of their country (‘V’ status); if not, it has been noted.

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1. Israeli embassy (@以色列驻华使馆) 1.913.384 followers

2. Canadian embassy (@加拿大大使馆官方微博) 1.131.700+ followers

3. US embassy (@美国驻华大使馆) 1.035.300+ followers

4. Brazilian embassy (@巴西驻华大使馆) 522.310+ followers

5. Japanese embassy (@日本国驻华大使馆) 480.500+ followers

6. South-Korean embassy (@韩国驻华大使馆) 396.960+ followers

7. Cuban embassy (@古巴驻华大使馆) 358.950+ followers

8. British embassy (@英国大使馆文化教育处) 289.280+ followers

9. French embassy (@法国驻华使馆) 255.240+ followers

10. Russian embassy (@俄罗斯驻华大使馆) 167.539+ followers

11. Australian embassy (@澳大利亚驻华使领馆) 165.240+ followers

12. German embassy (@德国驻华大使馆) 147.230+ followers

13. Embassy of Myanmar (@中缅胞波兄弟情) 146.000 followers

14. Danish embassy (@中缅胞波兄弟情) 丹麦驻华大使馆) 139.760+ followers

15. Thai embassy (@泰国驻华大使馆) 104.570+ followers

16. Swiss embassy (@瑞士驻华大使馆) 99.190+ followers

17. Swedish embassy (@瑞典驻华大使馆微博) 68.310+ followers

18. Dutch embassy (@荷兰驻华大使馆) 68.070+ followers

19. Mexican embassy (@墨西哥驻华大使馆) 50.160+ followers

20. Belgian embassy (@比利时驻华使馆) 49585+ followers

21. Italian embassy (@意大利驻华使馆) 46.330+ followers

22. Polish embassy (@波兰使馆文化处) 39185+ followers

23. Nepal embassy (@尼泊尔大使馆官方微博) 37.177+ followers

24. New Zealand embassy (@新西兰驻华大使馆) 37.140+ followers

25. Mauritanian embassy (@毛里塔尼亚驻华大使馆) 36.545+ followers

26. Zimbabwean embassy (@中国驻津巴布韦大使馆) 35.450+ followers

27. Costa Rican embassy (@哥斯达黎加驻华大使馆) 34.930+ followers

28. Peruvian Embassy (@秘鲁驻华使馆) 33.507 followers

29. Portugese embassy (@葡萄牙驻华大使馆) 28.380+ followers

30. Maldives embassy (@马尔代夫驻华大使馆) 22.460+ followers

31. Indian embassy (@印度使馆文化处) 22.225+ followers

32. Irish embassy (@爱尔兰驻华大使馆) 20.191+ followers

33. Spanish embassy (@西班牙驻华大使馆官方微博) 16.030+ followers

34. Austrian embassy (@奥地利驻华使馆) 15.960+ followers

35. Norwegian embassy (@挪威驻华大使馆) 11.800+ followers

36. Turkish embassy / official tourism board (@土耳其旅游局) 67.430+ followers

37. Kazakhstan embassy (@哈萨克斯坦驻华大使馆) 12.670+ followers

38. Ukranian embassy (@乌克兰信使) 9960+ followers

39. Iranian Embassy (@伊朗驻华大使馆) 6166 followers [not verified]

40. Rwandan embassy (@卢旺达驻华大使馆) 5480+ followers

41. Lithuanian embassy (@立陶宛驻华大使馆商务处) 3170+ followers

42. Chilean embassy (@智利驻中国大使馆) 2540+ followers

43. Sri Lankan embassy (@中国驻斯里兰卡大使馆) 2109 followers

44. Egyptian embassy (@埃及驻华大使馆) [account not verified] 910+ followers (Note: the account of the official Egypt tourism board on Weibo has 28392 followers).

45. Estonian Embassy (@爱沙尼亚驻华大使馆) [account not verified] 540+ followers

46. Embassy of Monaco (@摩纳哥公国大使馆) 450+ followers

47. Indonesian Embassy (@印度尼西亚驻华大使馆) [account not verified] 350+ followers

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With Sina Weibo currently seeing a revival and WeChat being China’s number one app, the use of these social media platforms in digital diplomacy is essential for foreign embassies wanting to engage with millions of Chinese – not just for the sake of providing information about traveling, arranging visas, or studying abroad, but also for the mere purpose of boosting their nation’s image in China.

With China’s online population growing as we write, and its social media features getting more versatile by the day, this might just be the beginning of China’s digital platforms being used as a diplomatic tool for foreign embassies.

Please follow us to stay up-to-date on more articles on this topic in the near future.

– By Manya Koetse
Follow on Twitter or Like on Facebook

*According to Globe and Mail, not all of the Canadian embassy’s followers are actually ‘real’; in a 2014 article, the website alleged that nearly 87% of the Canadian embassy account fans are ‘zombies’; fake accounts that do not represent actual persons. The Canadian government, however, stated it had never paid for the alleged fake followers and that it does not know where they come from. Note that for this article, we have not done any research into ‘fake followers’ and do not know if the top-ranking embassies have fake followers, and if so, how many there would be.

References

Bjola, Corneliu and Marcus Holmes (ed). 2015. Digital Diplomacy: Theory and Practice. Routledge: London and New York.

Cai, Peter. 2014. “How Israel is winning the social media war in China.” The Australian, September 2 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/business-spectator/how-israel-is-winning-the-social-media-war-in-china/news-story/08fb25d94b34b3036616c0334531ddc6 [20.12.16].

Jiang, Ying. 2017. “Social Media and E-Diplomacy: Scanning Embassies on Weibo.” In: Naren Chitty, Li Ji, Gary D. Rawnsley, Craig Hayden (ed), The Routledge Handbook of Soft Power. New york: Routledge: New York.

Rugh, William A. 2014. Front Line Public Diplomacy: How US Embassies Communicate with Foreign Publics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

What’s on Weibo is an independently run news blog. We accept donations to help us keep the site going. Donating is possible via www.paypal.me/whatsonweibo.

©2016 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.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Bjorn

    December 21, 2016 at 1:32 pm

    You forgot to add the EU Delegation to China to the list: 150 000+ followers 😀

  2. Avatar

    James

    December 24, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Is the Chinese 微郊外 correct? Should be 微外交 no?

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China Digital

From Tea Farmer to Online Influencer: Uncle Huang and China’s Rural Live Streamers

‘Cunbo’ aka ‘rural livestreaming’ is all the rage. A win-win situation for farmers, viewers, and Alibaba.

Manya Koetse

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This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “VOM TEEBAUERN ZUM INFLUENCER: ONKEL HUANG UND CHINAS LÄNDLICHE LIVESTREAMER.” 

The past year has been super tumultuous when it comes to the topics that have been dominating Chinese social media. The Coronavirus crisis was preceded by other big issues that were all the talk online, from the US-China trade war to the protests in Hong-Kong, the swine flu, and heightened censorship and surveillance.

Despite the darker side to China’s online environment, however, there were also positive developments. One of the online trends that became popular this year comes with a term of its own, namely cūnbō (村播): rural livestreaming.  Chinese farmers using livestreaming as a way to sell their products and promote their business have become a more common occurrence on China’s e-commerce and social media platforms. 

mage via Phoenix News (iFeng Finance).

The social media + e-commerce mix, also called ‘social shopping,’ is booming in the PRC. Online platforms where the lines between social media and e-commerce have disappeared are now more popular than ever. There’s the thriving Xiaohongshu (小红书Little Red Book) platform, for example, but apps such as TikTok (known as Douyin in China) also integrate shopping in the social media experience.

Over recent years, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has contributed to the rising popularity of ‘social shopping.’ Its Taobao Live unit (also a separate app), which falls under the umbrella of China’s biggest online marketplace Taobao, is solely dedicated to shopping + social media, mainly mobile-centered. It’s a recipe for success: Chinese mobile users spend over six hours online per day, approximately 72% of them shop online, and nearly 65% of mobile internet users watch livestreaming.

Every minute of every day, thousands of online shoppers tune in to dozens of different channels where sellers promote anything from food products to makeup or pet accessories. The sellers, also called ‘hosts’ or ‘presenters,’ make their channels attractive by incorporating makeup tutorials, cooking classes, giving tips and tricks, chatting away and joking, and promising their buyers the best deal or extra presents when purchasing their products.                

Livestreaming on Taobao goes on 24/7 (screenshots from Taobao app by author).

Sometimes thousands of viewers tune in to one channel at the same. They can ‘follow’ their favorite hosts and can interact with them directly by leaving comments on the livestreams. They can compliment the hosts (“You’re so funny!”), ask questions about products (“Does this also come in red?”), or leave practical advice (“You should zoom in when demonstrating this product!”). The product promoted in the livestreams can be directly purchased through the Taobao system.

Over the past year, Alibaba has increased its focus on rural sellers within the livestreaming e-commerce business. Countryside sellers even have their own category highlighted on the Taobao Live app. Chinese tech giant Alibaba launched its ‘cūnbō project’ in the spring of 2019 to promote the use of its Taobao Live app amongst farmers. The most influential livestreaming farmers get signed by Alibaba to elevate Taobao Live’s rural business to a higher level.

One of these influential Chinese farmers who has made a name for himself through livestreaming is Huang Wensheng, a tea farmer from the mountainous Lichuan area in Hunan Province.

Uncle Huang livestreaming from the tea fields (image via Sohu.com)

Huang, who is nicknamed ‘Uncle Farmer,’ sells tea through his channel, where he shows viewers his work and shares stories and songs from his village. He is also known to talk about what he learned throughout his life and will say things such as: “It is important to work hard; not necessarily so much to change the world , but to make sure the world does not change you.”

With just three to five livestreaming sessions per week, ‘Uncle’ Huang reaches up to twenty million viewers per month, and, according to Chinese media reports, has seen a significant increase in his income, earning some 10,000 yuan (€1300) per week.

Huang is not the only farmer from his hometown using Taobao Live to increase their income; there are some hundred rural livestreamers in Lichuan doing the same.

Some random screenshots by author from rural livestreaming channels, where online shoppers get a glimpse of countryside life

The rural livestreaming category is significantly different from the urban fashionistas selling brand makeup and the latest must-haves: these hosts do not have the polished look, glamorous clothes, or stylish backgrounds. They usually film outside while doing their work or offer a glimpse into their often humble rooms or kitchens.

Viewers get to see the source of the products sold by these rural sellers; they often literally go to the fields to show where their agricultural products grow, or film themselves getting the eggs from their chickens or the oranges from the trees. From fruits to potatoes and flowers, and from fresh tea to home-made chili sauce – a wide range of products is promoted and sold through Taobao Live these days.

Some rural livestreamers are trying to stay ahead of their competition by coming up with novel concepts. A young farmer from Sichuan, for example, recently offered viewers the opportunity to “adopt” a rooster from his farm, allowing them to interact with ‘their’ rooster through social media and even throwing the occasional birthday party for some lucky roosters.

Image via sina.com.

Examples such as these show that although the countryside livestreamers usually lack glitter and glam, they can be just as entertaining – or perhaps even more so – than their urban counterparts.

Who benefits from the recent ‘cūnbōboom? One could argue that the rising popularity of livestreaming farmers is a win-win situation from which all participants can profit in some way. The commercial interests are big for Alibaba. The company has been targeting China’s countryside for years, as it’s where China’s biggest consumption growth will happen while mobile internet penetration is still on the rise. Alibaba earns profits from an increasing number of rural e-commerce buyers, as well as e-commerce sellers.

Alibaba’s early focus on the countryside as a new home for e-commerce has previously also led to the phenomenon of so-called ‘Taobao Villages,’ where a certain percentage of rural residents are selling local specialties, farm products or other things via the Taobao platform with relatively little transaction costs.

Many Chinese villages and farmers are profiting from the further spread of Taobao in the countryside. Not only does Alibaba invest in logistics and e-commerce trainings in rural areas, these e-commerce channels are also a way to directly boost sales and income for struggling farmers.

Chinese media predict that the rural livestreaming trend will only become more popular in the years to come, bringing forth many more influential farmers like Huang.

But besides the commercial and financial gains that come from the rising popularity of rural livestreamers, there is also a significant and noteworthy social impact.  At  a time in which China’s rapidly changing society sees a widening gap between urban and rural areas, these rural channels serve as a digital bridge between countryside sellers and urban consumers, offering netizens a real and unpolished look into the lives of farmers in others parts of the country, and gives online buyers more insight and understanding of where their online products came from.

Taobao Live is actually like a traditional “farmers’ market,” but now it is digital, open 24/7, and accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. It’s the Chinese farmers’ market of the 21st century.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

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.

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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China Digital

WeChat’s New Emoji Are Here (Including a Watermelon-Eating and Doge One)

WeChat’s new emoji are based on popular memes.

Manya Koetse

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On January 14, Tencent’s Wechat introduced new emoji to its existing emoji set. The new emoji include, among others, a watermelon-eating emoji and a smiling Shiba Inu.

On Weibo, the new emoji have become a topic of discussion under the hashtags “WeChat’s New Emoji” (#微信上线新表情#), “WeChat’s Watermelon Eating Emoji” (#微信上线吃瓜表情#), and “WeChat’s Dog Emoji” (#微信上线狗头表情#).

Different from the Unicode emoji (see Emojipedia), WeChat and Weibo have their own sets of emoji, although there is overlap.

The reason why especially the watermelon-eating and dog emoji are being discussed on social media, is because these emoji are based on popular internet memes.

“Eating watermelon” (吃瓜 chī guā) is an online expression that comes from “watermelon-eating masses” (吃瓜群众 chī guā qúnzhòng), which describes a common mentality of Internet users who have no idea what is actually going on but are still commenting or following online stories for their enjoyment – perhaps comparable to the “popcorn memes” that are ubiquitous on Western social media platforms.

The smiling dog has been around since 2013 and is known as the doge meme, based on a photo of a Shiba inu. The meme was originally spread on social media platforms such as Reddit, but then also became hugely popular in China, where it became a symbol of sarcasm (also read this Abacus article on this topic).

Other new emoji are the “wow” emoji, and others to express “ok,” “add oil,” “emm,” “oh!”

There’s also a “shehui shehui” (社会社会, lit. “society society”) emoji, which also comes from online culture and is a way among friends to (self-mockingly) talk about being ‘gangsters,’ ‘brothers.’ or ‘scoundrels.’

As the new emoji are still in their testing phase, not all WeChat users can use the new emoji yet, so you might have to wait a bit before being able to try them out.

By Manya Koetse, with thanks to @caaatchina
Follow @whatsonweibo

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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