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“One Step Forward for Germany, One Step Back for China” – Weibo Discussions on Homosexuality

On June 30, two important moments happened for gay emancipation – one is called “a step forward”, the other “a step backward.”

Manya Koetse

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The June 30 concurrence of Germany legislating same-sex marriage and China banning “displays of homosexuality” in online videos, has triggered heated discussions on Chinese social media. Many Chinese express bittersweet feelings, saying that Germany’s ‘step forward’ makes it clear that China is going ‘backward’ when it comes to societal attitudes toward homosexuality.

On the same day that same-sex marriage was legalized in Germany, Chinese regulators issued new criteria for online programs that classify homosexuality as an “abnormal sexual relationship.”

According to the new regulations that were released on Friday, online videos in mainland China can no longer portray “abnormal sexual relations,” listing homosexuality together with incest and sexual abuse.

 

“It won’t be long before our voice will be gone from Weibo. If we disappear, we hope you won’t give up.”

 

The new criteria drew a lot of criticism on social media. Many Chinese LGBT groups, including Comrade’s Voice (@同志之声: ‘comrade’- tóngzhì – is a common way to refer to gays), denounced how Chinese regulators represented homosexuality. Comrade’s Voice even made a public plea, asking the regulators to correct their “errors,” as they are “harmful to China’s LGBT community.”

Their Weibo post received over 23330 comments and 90000 shares within 24 hours. The post has since been locked for further comments.

LGBT group “Comrade’s Voice” denounced the new rules on Weibo.

On July 1st, Comrade’s Voice wrote that their options for posting and commenting on Weibo had become limited, and that there were indications their account, which has over 160670 followers, might soon be closed by online regulators.

“We want to thank everyone for making Comrade’s Voice such a powerful voice since it came into being in 2009. Our [recent] post received over 80.000 shares (..), we thank you for your courageous voices. The post has now been disabled for commenting and sharing. As we’ve seen with others, it won’t be long before our voice will be gone from Weibo. If we disappear, we hope you will not give up on any opportunity to let your voices be heard. Equal rights don’t come dropping from the sky. Please be kind-hearted and loving, please stay positive about the future. Our work won’t stop (..). Our existence is in your hands.”

Many commenters showed their support. One woman wrote: “As a mother, I won’t stop fighting – my child has the right to choose whoever she wants to love when she grows up.”

 

“I love men! I am guilty! I am at fault! I am inhumane!”

 

As news of the new criteria went viral on Chinese social media, news of the legalization of gay marriage in Germany also made headlines – only adding more fuel to the fire.

“I just don’t know how to respond to this,” one female netizen wrote: “I see both of these news items together in the list of trending topics,.. one about Germany’s gay marriage legalization, and the other about Chinese censorship of displays of homosexuality,..”

Caijing about the German legalization of same-sex marriage on Weibo – soon attracting thousands of comments.

“The opposite of this progress is what is happening in China,” one person responded with a broken heart emoticon.

Others also pointed out that while Germany is going a step forward, China is going a step backwards (“一个在进步 一个在倒退”), especially now that online censorship has been sharpened. One person wrote:

“Why don’t we just go back to dynastic rule?1 (..) Love for the country and love for the Party is not the same thing. I love China dearly. But now I can’t do anything but helplessly look how she is being pestered. The 404 error pages just keep coming. The Hou Liang Ping case2, the Chinese table tennis team3, the Shanghai Nanjing West street incident4, etc etc. Is 2017 the year that things are going downhill? It is not that we do not love our country, but our country does not love us.”

Another male netizen wrote:

“I love men! I am guilty! I am at fault! I am inhumane! I will wear the dunce cap (高帽子) and the horizontal banner, so that all the people can criticize and humiliate me!”5

In large numbers, Weibo netizens applauded Germany’s new law and expressed their support for China’s gay community. “I am not gay, but I am rooting for you,” many said.

“Thank you all for raising your voices for the gay community. I know that the majority of people are heterosexual, but the fact that you are supportive gives us great courage,” one 21-year-old netizen wrote.

 

“In reality, there are still many people in society who cannot accept gays.”

 

“In Taiwan, gay marriage is legalized. In Germany , gay marriage is legalized. In China, homosexuality is ‘abonormal sexual behavior’,” some commenters wrote.

Many jokingly said that China might as well go back to the times when men wore a braided queue and women had their feet bound.

Although the vast majority of people on Weibo speak out in support of the LGBT community, there are also people who point out that these supportive voices on social media do not necessarily reflect the reality. He writes: “Online, you see how the majority of people here feel about homosexuality, but in reality, there are still many people in society who cannot accept gays. As for me, I would already be very happy if my family could accept my sexual orientation.”

But today, rainbow flags are ubiquitous on Weibo and anti-gay comments are difficult to find. Virtually all commenters seem to agree that defining homosexuality as an “abnormality” along with incest and perversity, on the same day that Germany becomes the 23rd country to legalise gay maririage, is a step back for China.

One Weibo blogger by the name of TangTang posted on July 1st:

“I oppose the new online regulations.
1. Please tell me what freedom of speech is, because is this what it’s supposed to be?
2. I am not homosexual, but I will defend to the death the rights of gay people.
3. I will wait and see when this post gets deleted.”

By Manya Koetse

1*”现在的中国 要不把辫子留起来吧” Freely translated. Commenter literally says “how about we bring back the braids,” referring to the common hairstyle of the Qing dynasty. The braided queue was also a sign of repression.
2 This is about allegations of sexual abuse at Beijing Film Academy: https://www.hongkongfp.com/2017/06/13/social-media-users-fight-back-weibo-censors-allegations-sexual-abuse-beijing-film-academy/
3 About the turmoil in the national table tennis team: https://chinadigitaltimes.net/2017/06/minitrue-quiet-top-players-ping-pong-protest/
4 East Nanjing Road protest over housing crackdown: http://shanghaiist.com/2017/06/12/shanghai-property-protest.php
5Practice during Cultural Revolution: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-19807561

©2017 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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    Amy Yu

    March 16, 2018 at 6:57 am

    I find the grip of censorship and influence that Chinese Communist Party can have over the media of our country to be quite shocking, and this is evidence that we have not come as far as we have thought for our freedom and rights of expression. Just as propaganda has served this party for centuries in maintain a strong grip on power in our country, this form of censorship is undermining intellect and freedom of the people of China by limiting one of the truest forms of expression in the 21st century – social media. This should be a place for people to be themselves and express what they believe in, not opportunity for powers in our country to show control over us. It is ironic that this occur on same day that Germany joined 22 other countries in legalising gay marriage and if you ask me, this is strong evidence that China is not only moving backwards, but is afraid of moving forwards. To try and stop LGBTQ movement in China, they have used the tool that has manipulated people of this country for such a long time – censorship.
    To me, this whole incident makes one thing clear. Sure, there is more information and expression available for Chinese people through social media than there had been before. On the surface, this seems like large leap forward for our people and freedom of choice and expression that we hold. However, when we look deeper, it become clear that this information and the freedom that people think they have for exploring it simply makes it easier to sensor and guide what people know. More information does not always mean we receive fair account of information or even detailed account of events of happenings in the world. It simply makes it easier for government and powers of censorship to have big influence and manipulation on what we know and also they can manage the information that we receive.
    I see this as sad time for Chinese media because this incident show that we do not have any control of our media and anything can be taken away from us in an instant. Evidence of this is not just in banning of homosexual images and videos, but also in locking and closing of accounts that argue against this act. For all work that has happened to allow freedom of expression in China since at least 1980s, this incident is very sad reminder for us that freedom of expression and choice we hold is only useful if government allows it.

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China Media

Online Outrage over Gansu Female Medical Workers Required to Shave Their Heads

Heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of visual propaganda? A video showing female medical workers having their heads shaved has triggered controversy.

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A Chinese media post praising female nurses for having their heads shaved has sparked outrage on Weibo and WeChat. Are these women heroes of the coronavirus crisis or victims of gendered visual propaganda?

A video showing tearful female medical workers having their head shaved before going to COVID-19 epicenter city Wuhan has sparked outrage on Chinese social media.

The video, originally posted by Gansu Daily (每日甘肃网) on February 15, shows how a group of female nurses is standing in line to have their hair shaved off in preparation of their mission to Hubei to assist during the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

In the short segment that has since gone viral on Weibo and WeChat, some women can be seen crying while having all of their hair shaved off.

According to Gansu Daily and other Chinese media, the fifteen nurses, including one man, are part of a medical aid group that was sent out to Wuhan this weekend. Their hair was reportedly shaved off “in accordance with requirements” to make their work more efficient and reduce the risk of infection.

The original news post praises the women as “the epidemic’s heroes in harm’s way” (“疫情中最美的逆行者”) – a term also used to describe brave firefighters during the 2015 Tianjin explosions (for more background on this term in Chinese, also see Xinhua and Zhihu).

Although the story praises the female medical workers as heroes and was soon reposted and promoted by many other (state) media, it was not just met with positive reactions from Chinese netizens.

On the contrary: it triggered waves of criticism over the medical team’s supervisors requiring the women to shave off their hair, with many deeming the measures unnecessary, humiliating, and sexist.

“Why do they need to shave all of their hair, the men don’t even need to do that?!”, some Weibo commenters wonder.

Many Weibo users wonder how necessary it actually is for the women to go completely bold for medical work purposes, wondering why the male workers do not need to shave their heads and why the women could not just opt for a shorter hairstyle instead – suggesting the media circus surrounding the shaving of the heads is more about visual propaganda than actually being a necessity.

“I am a medical worker myself,” one Weibo user writes: “I consulted an infection control doctor [on this matter] and they said it is not necessary at all to have a bald head. Short hair is convenient enough, and hair has a protective function too to reduce [skin] irritation from the friction of wearing hats and masks. It furthermore also has a function of catching sweat, preventing it from dripping to your eyes. A shaven head does more harm than good.”

“Why do people need to bleed and cry in order for them to become heroes?”, others say: “This is just cruel.”

Adding to the online fury was a photo showing the group of medical workers after their heads were shaved, as the one male nurse in the group not only seemed to wear a better quality face mask, but also appeared to have much more hair left than the female nurses.

The original Gansu Daily post has since been deleted from social media.

On WeChat account Epoch Story (“epochstory2017″/Epoch故事小馆), author Chen Mashu (陈麻薯) posted a critique on February 17th titled “Please Stop Using Female Bodies as Propaganda Tools” (“请停止用女性的身体,作为宣传的工具“).

Recent online Chinese visual propaganda in times of the coronavirus crisis has seen a strong focus on Wuhan medical workers.

This kind of visual propaganda often highlights the idea of “sacrificing,” especially when it comes to women as pretty girls, loving mothers, or good wives.

In the WeChat article, author Chen argues that Chinese state media always uses women’s bodies as a tool for propaganda, and argues that it should not be necessary for women to endure extra hardship or suffering (in this case, sacrifice their hair) in order to make them admirable ‘model workers.’ The fact that they are fighting on the front line should be more than enough reason to praise them, Chen writes.

While these women’s tears were “used to try to impress the audience” and become an example of some “collectivist spirit,” Chen argues, this kind of propaganda backfired because the individual needs and wishes of these women were completely ignored during the process.

Although the original story and visuals may have meant to be empowering in times of coronacrisis, they are actually counterproductive to female empowerment at large.

This is not the first time the role of women in Chinese state media propaganda become a big topic of discussion online.

In 2016, a photo series titled “100.000 soldier-loving girls” (十万恋军女孩) posted by China’s Military Web during the Wuhan flood also caused controversy. In the online media campaign, Chinese state media paid a ‘tribute’ to rescue workers by sharing pictures of girls holding the message “I wish to wash your uniform for you”. It triggered online discussions on the submissive female image propagated by Chinese state media.

At time of writing, various posts about the shaved heads of the Gansu medical workers have been taken offline.

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan) and Bobby Fung (@bobbyfungmr), with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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

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China Sex & Gender

Girls’ Charity Project Funds Boys Instead: Online Anger over ‘Spring Buds Program’

The ‘Spring Buds’ charity supposedly only focused on helping girls, but it turns out this is not the case.

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A charity fund that was supposedly dedicated to girls’ education in rural China has been found to fund the education of boys, triggering anger online.

The Chinese charity “Spring Buds Program” (春蕾计划), a project meant to advance girls’ education launched by the CCTF (China Children and Teenagers’ Fund 中国儿童少年基金) has come under fire for providing financial aid to schoolboys in China.

The “Spring Buds” project, which falls under the All-China Women’s Federation, has received the China Charity Award in the past for its efforts to promote girls’ education. The program was launched in 1989 to help girls in China’s impoverished rural areas to go to school, improve literacy rates among China’s young girls and women, and empower girls to strengthen their influence in their local communities.

This week, the charity’s focus has come under scrutiny after it became known that of the 1267 students receiving financial aid as part of one of ‘Spring Buds’ scholarship programs, there were 453 male students.

The topic triggered wider online discussions on Chinese social media on gender inequality in China.

Some commenters argued that boys, even in impoverished areas, are generally still better off than girls due to a persisting gender preference for boy children.

Weibo users also pointed out how there are multiple non-gender specific charity programs in China, and that ‘Spring Buds’ is one of the few focused on girls only – arguing that it should thus also really be assisting solely girls.

As the news about ‘Spring Buds’ coincided with this week’s launch of the Global Gender Gap Index report, some Weibo users also wondered why Chinese official media would quote this report and mention Japan’s worsening gender equality, while not mentioning anything about the status quo of gender equality in China.

The CCTF responded to the controversy via their official Weibo account on December 17th, stating that although its program was initially focused solely on girls, this year’s project funding was also allocated to impoverished male students who needed “urgent help.”

The organization further noted that they will be more transparent to charity donors in the future about how their funds are allocated.

Although the hashtag “Anger over Spring Bud Project Subsidizing School Boys” (#春蕾计划资助男生引质疑#) was used on social media by several Chinese media outlets to report the issue, the hashtag page is no longer accessible on Weibo at time of writing.

By Manya Koetse and Miranda Barnes
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Featured image photo by Ray Chan.

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.

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

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