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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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Photo by Peter Hershey/Unsplash.

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 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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    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 Insight

Press Conference on Chinese Student’s Death: Hu Xinyu Left Message on Voice Recorder

These are the most important details shared during the 2.2.23 press conference on the disappearance and death of Hu Xinyu.

Manya Koetse

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The disappearance and death of the Chinese 15-year-old Hu Xinyu has become one of the biggest topics on Chinese social media recently, with dozens of hashtags related to the story receiving millions – sometimes even billions – of views.

Hu Xinyu went missing from school on Oct. 14, 2022. The boy’s whereabouts were a mystery for 106 days, during which family, friends, police, and dedicated search teams searched for the student all across the Yanshan County region in Jiangxi Province and beyond.

On Jan 28., 2023, Hu’s remains were found by a local guard on the premises of a grain warehouse not far from the school. For a full timeline of Hu’s disappearance and the details surrounding his death, see our previous article here.

A voice recorder was also found near Hu’s remains, but the data on the small 4GB recorder initially seemed to be unretrievable, and it was sent back to the manufacturer for analysis.

On the morning of Feb. 2, 2023, local authorities and the dedicated task force organized a live-broadcasted press conference on the case and the latest findings.

The most important pieces of information provided in the press conference on February 2nd are as follows:

◼︎ Hu Xinyu’s death has been ruled a suicide by hanging. Hu used shoelaces, which were removed from the shoes found near Hu’s remains.

◼︎ As previously reported, Hu was found at a nearby grain warehouse. It has now been clarified that the area where Hu’s remains were found is a grain reserve depot area. The grain reserve depot area is prohibited to enter and is guarded 24/7. It is a very large plot of land that includes a zone (over 8000 square meters) with twenty buildings on it – including warehouses and living quarters, – and a forest area of approximately 9300 square meters. Although the area is encircled by a wall, some parts of the wall are lower due to uneven ground. Hu’s body was found in the wooded area, hanging from a tree near the wall, close to one of the spots where the wall height was significantly lower.

School area (top circle) and the grain reserve depot area (lower circle).

◼︎ The location where Hu’s remains were found is just 226 meters away from the Zhiyuan Middle School and it had been searched before, not only through the use of thermal drones, but also by search teams on four different occasions in October and November of 2022. Although all the buildings in the area were searched along with other parts of the zone, the specific wooded area where Hu was later found was not searched. There were also no clues that led search teams to believe Hu Xinyu had walked a specific route through dense vegetation surrounding the grain depot area.

People’s Daily released a 3D video visualising the situation in the area where Hu’s remains were found. Due to uneven ground / piled-up mud, the high wall is relatively easy to jump over from outside. Inside the wall (which is on the grain reserve depot grounds) there is a wooded area.

Hu Xinyu’s body was found hanging from a tree at the interior of the wall, in a place that was not clearly visible.

◼︎ The voice recorder plays a major role in this case. It was previously known that Hu Xinyu had purchased a voice recorder and that it could not be located after Hu Xinyu went missing. Although earlier reports stated that the data on the recorder could not be retrieved as the device had been exposed to sun, rain, moist, etc., it has now been announced that the audio files have been retrieved and that Hu Xinyu recorded two messages on Oct. 14, 2022, at 17:40 and 23:08, in which he expressed the will to commit suicide.

◼︎ The involved experts in this case have also concluded that through analysis and based on Hu’s own notes and other evidence, the 15-year-old boy was struggling with his mental health and emotional disorders related to loneliness, insecurity, and lack of communication. Hu also experienced additional stress when he was getting lower grades, and he suffered from insomnia, difficulty concentrating, abnormal eating patterns, and an overall sense of hopelessness.

During the press conference, reporters were allowed to ask questions related to the case. In response to a question related to the many rumors the Hu Xinyu case has attracted over the past months, one official declared that at least two persons have been arrested for fabricating videos and purposely spreading false rumors about the case.

After Thursday’s press conference, it has once again become clear just how big the social media attention is for this case. The hashtag “Content of Hu Xinyu Voice Recorder” (#胡鑫宇录音笔内容#) received over 390 million views on Weibo; the hashtag “Hu Xinyu Expressed Will to Commit Suicide on Voice Recorder” (#胡鑫宇录音笔中音频表达自杀意愿#) received over 640 million views; the hashtag “Hu Xinyu Died due to Self-Hanging” (#胡鑫宇系自缢死亡#) received over 950 million views.

Among the many responses, there are those who argue that schools should offer more channels to provide support to students dealing with mental health issues. Others hope that Hu Xinyu can now finally rest in peace.

 
For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
 

By Manya Koetse 

 

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

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China Insight

What Happened to Hu Xinyu? Disappearance and Death of 15-Year-Old Student Attracts Widespread Attention in China

Although Hu Xinyu’s school had 119 cameras, his disappearance remained a mystery for 106 days. Near Hu’s remains, a voice recorder was found.

Manya Koetse

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After 106 days of searching, Hu Xinyu’s parents now know their son has passed away. The student’s remains were found at a grain warehouse near his school, but questions still linger on what happened to the 15-year-old and why it took so long to find him.

The case of a Chinese 15-year-old student named Hu Xinyu (胡鑫宇) has been trending on Chinese social media over the past few days. Ever since October of 2022, Hu Xinyu’s case has been a much-discussed topic.

The young man from Jiangxi was missing for 106 days before his body was discovered, leaving many unanswered questions surrounding his death and why search teams were unable to find Hu in the months before.

One of the reasons why Hu Xinyu’s disappearance has been attracting widespread attention is because many people believe there are some details or occurrences surrounding Hu’s case that are purposely being hidden or not revealed to the public.

 
Hu Goes Missing: A Timeline

The story begins on Oct. 14, 2022, when Hu Xinyu, a student at the Zhiyuan Middle School (致远中学), first went missing in Yanshan County, Shangrao City. The Zhiyuan Middle School is a private school where students live in the dorms, only going home to their families on days off. Hu allegedly had good grades as a student at Zhiyuan.

The incident attracted attention due to the peculiar circumstances surrounding it. It was first reported that security cameras allegedly had not recorded the student leaving the school’s premises and that Hu’s family suspected that the security camera system had been tampered with. The school reportedly has a total of 119 cameras installed on its premises.

Later reports claimed that security cameras did in fact capture how Hu left the dorms at 17:51 that day, but there was no footage of him actually leaving the school premises.

On Oct. 15, after unsuccessful attempts by friends and family to locate Hu Xinyu, he was reported as a missing person at the local police office.

On Nov. 20, when Hu had already been missing for over a month, local authorities set up a joint task force to try and speed up efforts to find Hu and further investigate his disappearance. Hu’s social media and bank accounts reportedly had zero activity since he went missing.

On Nov. 22, 2022, Chinese media reported that rescue and search teams still had not found a single clue about where Hu might be. Meanwhile, his parents were gradually losing hope of finding their son back alive.

Missing person posters for Hu Xinyu (via 163.com).

On Nov. 29, 2022, 46 days since Hu went missing, a chemistry teacher by the name of Wang was called in for questioning but he was later released. Weeks later, on Jan. 1, the police informed Hu’s relatives that – despite rumors – they ruled out the possibility of school staff being involved in Hu’s disappearance.

On Dec. 25, 2022, Hu Xinyu’s mother shared some more information via social media about some contents in her son’s old notebooks, in which Hu allegedly had noted how he felt that it was not easy for him to adapt to his living environment at the school and that he felt hindered by his introvert personality. These contents were later deleted again.

After Jan. 7, 2023, the search for Hu continued, including teams with search dogs, and thousands of people volunteered to join.

On Jan. 28, 2023, a body was found hanging near the woods in the Jinji mountain area in the town of Hekou. A voice recorder was also found at the scene.

The body was reportedly found by a local guard who was near the premises with his dog to look for a chicken that had wandered off. The dog started barking at something, and the guard then discovered the remains, which were not immediately clearly visible.

One day later, on Jan. 29, Chinese media reported that DNA research confirmed that the remains belonged to Hu Xinyu. He was wearing his school uniform when his remains were found. Hu’s parents decided to have a post-mortem examination of the body to determine the cause of death. The voice recorder found near Hu’s body was sent for analysis.

The hashtag “Hu Xinyu’s Remains Found” (#胡鑫宇遗体被发现#) was viewed over two billion times on Weibo.

 
The Latest Details Surrounding Hu Xinyu’s Death

Chinese news outlet The Paper reported that the location where Hu’s remains were discovered is a large grain warehouse area just about 300 meters or a 5-minute walk southeast of the Zhiyuan Middle School.

According to a spokesperson of the search & rescue team, the area where Hu was found had been previously included in search efforts (#搜救队曾去胡鑫宇被发现地周围搜寻#).

The biggest questions that remain and that are asked by so many on Chinese social media are: how is it possible that search teams previously did not find Hu if this is where he was all along? Is the place where Hu was found a crime scene or not? How is it possible that security cameras did not capture Hu beyond the dorms?

Some details that surfaced over the past few days provide further information on the case.

On Jan. 31, Chinese media reported that one of Hu’s teachers had discovered something written down by Hu Xinyu on the last page of his notebook: “What would it be like if I’m not longer here?” (#胡鑫宇曾写如果我不活了将会变得怎么样#).

It has also become known that Hu Xinyu purchased the voice recorder that was found with his remains. He purchased the 4GB-capacity recorder on October 4, 2022.

At the time of writing, the data on the recorder was not able to be retrieved (#胡鑫宇购买录音笔数据删除后无法恢复#). A recording device such as the one found near Hu’s body might become damaged due very low or high temperatures or by moist and liquid (#胡鑫宇录音笔已送深圳检测#).

A recording device that allegedly is similar to the one found near Hu Xinyu.

If the original manufacturer would be able to get the data on the recorder, Hu’s relatives finally might get some of the answers they have been waiting for for so long.

According to Hu Xinyu’s father, search and rescue staff previously had in fact been inside the grain warehouse premises, but apparently did not come to the exact location within the warehouse area where Hu was later found (#胡鑫宇父亲称未到达遗体发现点#).

On February 2nd, 2023, a press conference on the latest developments is planned to take place in Yanshan county in Shangrao at 10:00 AM. (Update: read about the press conference here).

 
Societal Distrust, Armchair Detectives, and Social Media

There are multiple reasons why the Hu Xinyu case is attracting such wide attention, and in some ways, the case is similar to the 2021 ‘Chengdu 49 Middle School Incident.’

At the time, the death of 16-year-old Lin Weiqi (林唯麒) also attracted nationwide attention and led to a wave of online rumors and theories on what might have happened to him.

Although Lin never went missing – he fell to his death from the school building, – there was also online speculation about corporal punishment and abuse taking place in the school, with one theory suggesting Lin had been hurt by a chemistry teacher. Just as in the Hu Xinyu case, netizens speculated that the school was trying to cover up the incident.

According to a joint statement later issued by the local propaganda department, police, and the Education Bureau said that they had come to the conclusion that the student had taken his own life due to personal problems.

The Lin Weiqi story sparked concerns at a time when security cameras had become a part of everyday lives. The fact that there were blind spots in the surveillance footage and that cameras never captured how and if Lin actually took his own life triggered doubts among Lin’s relatives and netizens alike.

The case surrounding Lin’s death also attracted nationwide attention in May of 2021.

Many reasoned that since there are security cameras all over the school, there must be a cover-up going on if the incident was not captured on camera. A similar thing happened in the case of the Tangshan BBQ Restaurant Incident in which female customers were assaulted and beaten by a group of men. Although the beating incident was captured by security cameras, the last part of the incident occurred at a nearby alley and was not captured by the outdoor security cameras. This led to a lot of speculation on what happened there and if local government officials were covering something up.

Another factor that plays a role is that there have actually been stories about schools or other institutes covering up scandals in recent years, such as in the RYB Education incident of 2017 that shocked the nation and did not help in improving trust in educational institutes.

Social media also plays an important role in how and why the Hu Xinyu case received so much attention. For some online communities of armchair detectives, identifying suspects and uncovering clues becomes like solving a puzzle, while following the latest details in these high-profile cases also becomes like a form of infotainment for others – comparable to the online sleuthing and major attention for the case of Gabby Petito in the U.S.

Furthermore, those who are closely related to the case also use social media to attract more attention. In Hu Xinyu’s case, his family members personally turned to social media and media reporters to ask for help or update with information. This also makes social media users more involved since they get the feeling they know the family, and sympathize with them. Very different from just reading a headline in the local newspaper, social media users feel involved and get involved.

For now, many social media users would like to see some clarity in this case and a conclusion so that Hu’s family can finally get some of their questions answered.

While many think it is highly likely that local authorities will soon come out with a statement that Hu committed suicide, others think there might still be other outcomes.

“It’s lasted long enough now,” some Weibo commenters write: “What is most important now is to finally know the truth.”

READ UPDATE TO THIS STORY HERE.

By Manya Koetse 

with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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

 
For information and support on mental health and suicide, international helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org.
 

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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