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Dutch Newspaper Responds to Controversy over China Correspondent (Updated)

Oscar Garschagen has responded to the allegations that were made against him by his former assistant, which were republished by Chinese state media yesterday. “Pure nonsense,” Garschagen says in a NRC newspaper article – it allegedly is Zhang who is making up stories here. The recent article suggests that there was a lack of communication and trust between Garschagen and Zhang.

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Oscar Garschagen has responded to the allegations that were made against him by his former assistant, which were republished by Chinese state media yesterday. “Pure nonsense,” Garschagen says in a detailed reaction in the NRC – it is Zhang who is “making up stories” here. The article suggests that there was a lack of communication and trust between Garschagen and Zhang.

Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad, whose China correspondent became a topic of controversy yesterday when his former assistant published a post online that accused him of creating “fake news,” has now responded to the issue.

The story became a hot topic when Zhang published his allegations on several social media platforms. An article about the issue by Beijing Time received nearly 12,5 million views yesterday.

In “About the journalistic integrity of our correspondent in China“, NRC’s Peter Vandermeersch writes that the allegations of Oscar Garschagen’s ex-assistant Zhang Chaoqun have deeply affected the China reporter and the editorial team.

The article states:

What’s going on? In the period leading to Oscar Garschagen’s holiday, some tensions arose at the NRC-office in Shanghai between him and his news-assistant Zhang Chaoqun concerning his research, and his lack of input.”

 

“He was unsure of whether or not Zhang had any connections to State Security.”

 

“Garschagen pointed out to Zhang that he had to improve his work. He found it especially problematical that Zhang was clearly unwilling to join Oscar to the upcoming 19th Party Congress, and that he lacked ideas.”

Vandermeersch writes that Zhang was initially recommended to Garschagen through a colleague at the American radio outlet NPR, but that he did not have any experiences as a reporter. This became a source of irritation, miscommunication, and mistrust between the Dutchman and his assistant.

The article claims that this was a reason for Oscar to often go out by himself without his assistant, “also because he was unsure of whether or not Zhang had any connections to State Security.”

This work situation made the Dutch reporter decide to change assistants during his holiday, Garschagen says, but Zhang apparently had already prepared an attack on his employer in the form of his post on Weibo and WeChat.

The NRC also quotes Garschagen when he says:

“The fact that the Party media encourages Zhang and is all too willing to republish his accusations is noteworthy to me- it suits the current media climate, that makes it increasingly difficult for foreign journalists to work here. I’ve been followed and stopped for a chat countless times.”

 

“It is just pure nonsense.”

 

The article addresses the separate allegations of Garschagen creating “fake news” one by one. Garschagen denies he has made up any stories and says that some names in his reports have only been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

About the 2015 NPR story that showed great similarities with Garschagen’s own 2016 report, he says that he did, in fact, visit the factory and that his former colleague who worked at NPR allowed their assistants to exchange information on places and persons to interview. Garschagen does not further address the similarities between the persons of “Gao” and “Lei” in their stories.

He says that there had been miscommunication about certain reports mentioned by Zhang, and that he might have had to be more detailed in how he formulated certain things.

About another allegation, one involving Garschagen allegedly reporting about a golf club which he never visited, the reporter says it is just “pure nonsense.”

 

“It leaves many questions unanswered.”

 

The Dutch detailed response to the allegations against Garschagen have not made headlines in Chinese media. On Twitter, however, not everyone is convinced with the explanations given for the “fake news” accusations.

China Reuters Consumer Correspondent Pei Li calls the article a “laughable response” that leaves “many questions unanswered.”

Zhang, who has reported his case to the NRC Ombudsman yesterday, has not yet responded to Garschagen’s denial of his accusations on his social media pages on Twitter or Weibo.

Garschagen says he has now contacted the Dutch foreign ministry in Shanghai about the claims made against him, and about the circumstances that make it increasingly difficult for him to do his job as a China correspondent.

Update September 6:

Zhang has posted a statement on Twitter in both Chinese and English, in which he expresses his hopes that NRC will still let a neutral third party investigate this case. (See embedded tweet below):

By Manya Koetse

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, Sino-Japanese relations and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Arts & Entertainment

China’s Online ‘Baoman’ Community Shut Down: Behind Rage Comics (Baozou Manhua)

Why have China’s most popular Rage Comics (Baozou Manhua) channels been shut down?

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Rage Comics, known as Baozou Manhua in Chinese, have become a widespread phenomenon on Chinese social media over the past decade. Online censors are now targeting channels spreading these popular webcomics, which serve as a humorous weapon to China’s younger generations. What’s on Weibo explains.

Sixteen Weibo accounts relating to Rage Comics (暴走漫画) were shut down by Sina Weibo administrators this week for allegedly “insulting” and “slandering” the names of Chinese heroes and martyrs.

The official Weibo administrator account (@微博管理员) issued a statement in the evening of May 17, writing:

“In accordance with the Law on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs (英雄烈士保护法), the Cybersecurity Law (网络安全法), and other legal guidelines, Weibo has fulfilled its corporate responsibility (..) and has focused on disposing of harmful information that insults, slanders, or in any other way infringes on the name, portrayal, or reputation of heroes.”

Among the banned Weibo accounts are @Baozoumanhua (@暴走漫画), @Baozoudashijian (@暴走大事件), @HuangJiguang (@黄继光砸缸) and @DongCunRuiattheoffice (@办公室的董存瑞) – all very popular channels through which China’s so-called ‘Rage Comics’ are created and spread.

The ban also goes beyond Weibo, affecting Rage Comics accounts on Q&A platform Zhihu.com, video-streaming sites Youku and iQIYI, and official Baozou Manhua websites.

 
China’s Online ‘Baoman’ Community
 

What are Rage Comics? Many internet users will be familiar with the online crude and simple online comics featuring various characters, often created with simple drawing software such as MS Paint, telling stories about everyday annoyances or personal embarrassments, and ending with a punchline. The jokes are often straightforward and politically incorrect (MacDonald 2016).

Random example of ‘rage comics’ genre.

Another random example of Rage Comics by ragebuilder.com

This genre of webcomics first surfaced in North America on the English-language website 4chan, after which it became more widespread in online communities such as Tumblr, Reddit, and beyond.

The Chinese translation of ‘Rage Comics’ is Bàozǒu Mànhuà (暴走漫画), with ‘baozou’ literally meaning ‘out of control’, and ‘manhua’ meaning ‘sketches’, popularized through the Japanese manga term. The term baozou manhua is also abbreviated as Baoman (暴漫).

Baoman became more popular in mainland China when ‘Wang Nima’ (@王尼玛 on Weibo) launched the website baozoumanhua.com (now offline) in 2008, inspired by the success of the webcomics on English-language online communities (Chen 2014, 690).

Screenshot of the baozou manhua website’s front page in 2018 (What’s on Weibo).

The website baozoumanhua.com became a thriving online community and media platform – allowing users to create their own Baoman through the creator’s tool (制作器), and to browse the popular comics of the day through its many channels, the ‘Baozou Daily’, an online forum, videos, and gif collection.

Various Baoman apps (source: https://36kr.com/p/5041049.html)

In 2012, the website officially registered the copyright of their Baoman products, as baozoumanhua.com started receiving 5000 to 8000 daily submissions of new comics (Chen 2014, 692-695); Chinese ‘rage comics’ then also became more widespread on platforms such as Weibo or Wechat, where these ‘rage faces’ are commonly sent as emoticon-like stickers during chat conversations.

Some of the popular Baoman characters are the same in China as in the US, such as ‘rage guy’ or ‘troll face’, or the ‘B*tch please’ meme – which is actually the face of Chinese retired professional basketball player Yao Ming responding to a journalist’s question during a post-game press conference.

The Yao Ming image is typically used as a ‘reaction face’ to convey a dismissive attitude towards comments in online discussions (Knowyourmeme 2018).

But there are also typically Chinese characters or biaoqing (表情 ‘expressions’), for example, those based on Chinese celebrities or referencing to Chinese pop culture (Chen 2014, 695; Xu 2016).

Chinese ‘biaoqing’ (via Motherboard).

As described by Christina Xu in the Field Guide to China’s Most Indispensible Meme; although Chinese ‘Baoman’ and/or ‘biaoqing’ all started as a Chinese response to the American Rage Comics, and still use some original characters, an “entirely separate pantheon has emerged” in the PRC (Xu 2016), in which Chinese netizens have collectively built a uniquely Chinese online ‘subculture’ and Baoman community.

A Baoman making fun of the challenges and ‘mindf*cks’ during multiple choice exams.

Baoman have been especially functional in China for urban Chinese youth to “vent their frustration about the inequalities they face on a daily basis,” as Chen (2014) points out in “Baozou Manhua, Internet Humour and Everyday Life.”

These issues go from rising unemployment to the high cost of living, or the difficulty of entering Chinese universities through the gaokao (national entrance exam) system.

Self-mockery and self-satire is an important part of China’s so-called “diaosi tribe”: a huge group of Chinese youths who’ve labeled themselves ‘diaosi’ (屌丝), basically meaning “losers”, as they struggle with the hardships of everyday life and growing social inequality. The ugly, amateuristic graphics of the Baozou manhua suit this youth culture, meeting their need for expression in a culture that focuses on ‘keeping face’ (Ma 2016, 20).

According to baozoumanhua.com founder Wang Nima, the Baoman genre provides Chinese gao gen (grassroots) netizens “a ‘lance’ to express themselves” (Chen 20154, 693); meaning this kind of humour can also serve as a frivolous way of resistance, using humor as a weapon to talk about daily frustrations.

 
No Disrepect for Chinese Heroes: A ‘Ban’ on Baoman
 

The recent ban on Baoman directly relates to a 2015 image and a 2014 short Baozou manhua video clip, which was reposted to online news app Jinri Toutiao earlier this month. Both the image and the clip joked about some of China’s renowned heroes, including Chinese civil war figures Ye Ting (叶挺, military leader) and Dong Cunrui (董存瑞, PLA soldier who destroyed an enemy bunker in a suicide bombing) (Lin 2018).


(The clip in question; some commenters say the words have been taken out of context.)

In the clip, Sixth Tone reports, video host Wang Nima – wearing a ‘rage face’ mask as always – narrates: “Dong Cunrui stared at the enemy’s bunker, his eyes bursting with rays of hate. He said resolutely, ‘Commander, let me blow up the bunker. I am an eight-point youth, and this is my eight-point bunker.’” The script, Qiqing Lin writes, was meant as a pun on a KFC sandwich that was broadcasted in 2014.

Although sarcasm and crudeness are very much inherent in the Baoman humor, this does not mix well with the new law that has recently been implemented in mainland China to ‘protect’ its national heroes.

The Law on the Protection of Heroes and Martyrs (yīngxióng lièshì bǎohùfǎ, 英雄烈士保护法), has been introduced in March of 2018, as China Daily writes, “so that the country and the people forever remember the sacrifices made by the nation’s heroes and martyrs for the good of the country.”

It has thus become illegal to make fun of Chinese heroes, and people who “defame” them can now face criminal punishment.

But is this law really the only reason for the shutdown of Baoman channels? Or is it the fact that the all too popular Rage Comics are a representation of an online subculture that goes against the government’s view of “healthy developments” of Chinese youth and cultural industries?

Baozoumahua.com founder ‘Wang Nima’, who now has over 16.6 million followers on Weibo, responded to the ban on the Baoman channels on Thursday, saying he offered his “profound apologies” for bringing an “unhealthy influence” into society. The 40,000 comments to his post were not available to view at time of writing.

 
The Future of China’s Baozou Comics
 

Over the past few days, the ban on Baozou Manhua has been a huge topic of discussion on Chinese social media, although most comment threads have become publicly unavailable.

Current bans on China’s most important online webcomics channels do not necessarily predict their existence and survival in the future. Over the past few months, various online (announced) bans were overturned or denied after triggering controversy (e.g. the ban on gay content or the alleged Douyin targeting of Peppa Pig).

Although channels and hashtags are easy to take offline for censors, the actual creation and spread of new and existing Baoman is virtually impossible to combat. No sources thus far have pointed towards a current ban on the actual comics themselves (just their channels).

Besides the shutdown of the various social media channels, the closure of the baozoumanhua.com media empire is a huge blow to its fans and creators. The website’s founder Wang Nima’s net worth is estimated to be around 4 billion yuan (±US$628 million), according to Daily Economic News (每日经济新闻).

Netflix recently paid $30 million for the Chinese animated film ‘Next Gen’, which is also based on the original webcomic ‘7723’ by Wang Nima. Baozou financed and produced the film, which Chinese majors Alibaba and Wanda will reportedly release in China this summer (Amidi 2018).

Whether or not that will happen, and whether or not baozoumanhua.com will be allowed to go online again, is something to be seen.

For many netizens on Weibo, the fact that Baozuo Manhua has been punished for things in the past with a new law that has just been introduced, is something they find unjust. But there are also those who say it serves them right and that the names of Chinese heroes can not be slandered.

“Why Baozuo Manhua?”, one netizen says: “Why not other programs with vulgar content? (..) It’s unfair!”

Another Weibo commenter says: “China is a big country with many people, and since their education levels are unequal we need a level of control, but it doesn’t mean we should control absolutely everything. If there’s a problem it gets blocked and deleted, but problems do not get solved at their root.”

“Wang Nima I love you, I wait for your return,” one fan writes.

By Manya Koetse

References

Amidi, Amid. 2018. “Why Did Netflix Pay $30 Million At Cannes For The Chinese Animated Film ‘Next Gen’?” Cartoon Brew, May 13. https://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/why-did-netflix-pay-30-million-at-cannes-for-the-chinese-animated-film-next-gen-158348.html [20.5.18].

Chen, Shih-Wen. 2014. “Baozou manhua (rage comics), Internet humour and everyday life.” Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies 28(5): 690-708.

China Daily. 2018. “英雄烈士保护法(yīngxióng lièshì bǎohùfǎ): Law on the protection of heroes and martyrs.” China Daily, May 3. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201805/03/WS5aea50e6a3105cdcf651ba95.html [20.5.18]

Know Your Meme. 2018. “Yao Ming Face / Bitch Please.” Know your Meme. http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/yao-ming-face-bitch-please [20.5.18].

Lin, Qiqing. 2018. “Popular ‘Rage Comics’ Brand Gagged for Making Fun of Martyrs.” Sixth Tone, May 18. https://www.sixthtone.com/news/1002298/popular-rage-comics-brand-gagged-for-making-fun-of-martyrs [19.5.18].

Ma, Xiaojun. 2016. “From Internet Memes to Emoticon Engineering: Insights from the Baozou Comic Phenomenon in China.” HCI (3) 9733, Lecture Notes in Computer Science (Springer): 15-27.

Xu, Christina. 2016. “A Field Guide to China’s Most Indispensible Meme.” Motherboard, August 1. https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/bmvd74/china-meme-face-a-biaoqing-field-guide [20.5.18].

MacDonalds, Sean. 2016. Animation in China: History, Aesthetics, Media. London: Routledge.

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China Media

Big Teacher Is Watching You! Hangzhou High School Introduces Facial Recognition to Monitor Classroom Behavior

Now parents can monitor their children’s behavior in class.

Chauncey Jung

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A high school in Hangzhou recently introduced a classroom behavior management system. News of the facial recognition cameras has triggered controversy on Weibo.

On May 16, Chinese state media Xinhua News posted a short video produced by Zhejiang Daily on Weibo.

In the one-minute long video, school officials from Hangzhou No.11 High School introduce a recently developed classroom behavior management system that enables parents to monitor their kids’ performances at school.

With the help of in-class cameras, students’ attendances and facial expressions are captured and recorded. The system can identify key classroom behaviors, such as standing, writing, reading, listening, raising hands, and sleeping in class.

With the collected data, the system can then analyze the students’ attentiveness and generates a report to list all students who are not paying enough attention in class and can then send the report results to their parents.

“The system is advanced enough to capture the subtle facial expressions in class,” one of the school officials told Chinese media: “This data system can be used to analyze the behavior of the entire class. And of course, this is a very efficient way to check class attendance.”

The system can measure students’ emotions based on their expressions. These expressions include anger, sadness, surprise, and annoyance.

One of the students told reporters: “It is a way to monitor us. We see the cameras whenever we are about to fall asleep in class. And we are going to stay more alert because of that. It encourages us to behave well.”

Perhaps that one student was reluctant to highlight the more negative sides of the monitoring system to Chinese state media, but netizens on Weibo are certainly not afraid of speaking out: “This is so scary! I am glad that I graduated so early,” one commenter said.

“Technologies are supposed to serve people, not monitor people,” another commenter wrote.

One of the commenters who criticized the incentives of the school also received hundreds of likes.

“I will not enroll my kid into this school,” another person noted, expressing their disagreement towards the school’s decision to install such a system.

It is not the first time that Hangzhou No.11 High School introduces facial recognition. In 2017, the ‘innovative’ school already adapted a facial recognition system in its on-campus cafeteria. By registering students’ faces, the cafeteria system can process their information and give out their ordered meal in less than 8 seconds.

Additionally, the school cafeteria system can also send out weekly reports to students’ parents on their daily meal routines.

Mass Surveillance Becoming a Trend in China

Although the Hangzhou school’s sophisticated facial recognition system is shocking to many netizens, it is not the first time that China’s advanced facial recognition technology is triggering controversy.

In December 2017, Chinese media outlet The Paper reported on just how advanced China’s massive surveillance system had become. BBC correspondent John Sudworth was invited to test the facial recognition system in Guiyang, China. It took local police less than 7 minutes to locate Sudworth and to ‘arrest’ him on the spot.

Chinese authorities are now using facial recognition technologies in many areas. A Sina news story in March 2018 reported that police officers in Shenzhen are experimenting with advanced facial recognition technologies to identify the jaywalkers and show their faces on screens located at the city’s major intersections. According to Shenzhen police, the facial recognition technology successfully captured 13,390 ‘guilty’ jaywalkers within a period of six months.

The misbehaviors captured by these surveillance systems can also affect local citizen’s social credit scores; frequent offenders could be recognized as individuals with a low social-credit score, which may mean, for example, that someone will have difficulties in applying for loans in the future.

Researchers believe that there should be a balance between protecting individual’s privacy and punishing frequent offenders. For now, this balance is seemingly hard to find. Despite more surveillance devices being installed on Chinese streets, there has been little progress in passing relevant laws and policies to also protect the privacy of Chinese citizens.

By Chauncey Jung

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2017

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