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Explosion Near US Embassy in Beijing

Some Beijing residents say they could hear the explosion a kilometer away.

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On Thursday afternoon shortly after 13.30 (local time), news of an explosion near the US embassy in Beijing made its rounds on Chinese social media.

“It was an explosion- the sound was really loud,” some people on Weibo write: “This is big.”

“My work unit is about a kilometer from the US embassy, and we could hear it very loud,” one person says.

Various sources on Weibo say the sound of the explosion was very loud.

Chinese journalist Michael Anti wrote on Twitter: “Many sources have confirmed explosion just happened in American Beijing Embassy. Road blocked.”

The entire area around the embassy is currently cordoned off, with police and security present at the scene.

A video making its rounds on Weibo showed people running and big clouds of smoke, with the person filming it saying: “There’s been an explosion at the US embassy” (see below).

After 14:00 local time, various Chinese news sources, such as Phoenix News, but also TV news channels such as United Express (美联社), confirmed the explosion.

While it is still unclear what has caused the explosion and the smoke, some people on Weibo joke that it was just people having an outside BBQ.

At 15:00 local time, local police confirmed on Weibo that one man caused the explosion at one o’clock at the corner of Anjialou and Tianze Road (which is where the entrance of the US embassy is located). A suspected “firecracker installation” caused the explosion.

The man, a 26 year old male from Inner Mongolia, has injuries on his hand, but reportedly has suffered no serious injuries. He has first been taken to the hospital.

Police report on Weibo: one man caused the explosion.

Police also report that no other people were harmed in the explosion and that the situation is now under control. They do not make any statements about alleged motivations behind the explosion and whether or not it was intentional.

“He surely didn’t think it was Spring Festival,” some commenters say – Spring Festival is the usual time for setting off firecrackers.

“Firecrackers are supposed to be a happy sound,” others say.

At time of writing, various threads on Weibo relating to the US embassy explosion have been screened off, but sharing of photos and commenting still continues across Weibo, Wechat, and other platforms.

The BBC states that there were earlier reports today that police had taken away a woman who had tried to set herself on fire near the US embassy just two hours before the blast, although it has not been confirmed if the two incidents are linked in any way.

Update: Chinese authorities have come forward stating the explosion is an “isolated public security incident.”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes

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.

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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China Memes & Viral

UK Embassy Lights a Virtual Candle on Weibo on June 4th, Gesture Instantly Backfires

A virtual candle posted on the UK embassy account was meant to commemorate June 4, but Weibo users turned it into something else.

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The virtual candle was meant for the annual – heavily censored – commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, but Chinese netizens responded with ‘RIP the Queen’.

On June 3rd, What’s on Weibo reported that various Weibo emoji disappeared this week in light of the June 4 anniversary and heightened censorship.

One of the Weibo emoji to have been removed from the platform’s collection of frequently used emoticons is the candle [蜡烛], which is often used to commemorate, mourn, or pay respects to people and incidents on social media.

On Friday, June 4th, one of the times in the year when censorship on Chinese social media intensifies – June 4 marks the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student protests in 1989 – the official Weibo account of the UK Embassy in China (@英国驻华使馆) published a noteworthy image, namely that of a burning candle.

The Weibo account of the UK Embassy in Beijing has over 1.8 million followers. On Twitter, the ‘UK in China’ account posted the same image.

In order to ‘justify’ the image of the candle posted by UK officials, the hashtag “The Queen of the United Kingdom Passed Away” started making its rounds on Chinese social media. By Friday night, local time, the hashtag page was viewed over 16 million times and the comments started to get wilder (#英国女王因病去世#).

Some people suggested the candle was lit because the Queen had passed away due to illness, others said the death was due to childbirth complications, and then some wrote it was after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Meanwhile, the original post by the Embassy has disappeared from Weibo at the time of writing. It is unclear if the post was removed by online censors, or if the UK Embassy deleted its own post soon after it backfired.

On Twitter, Christina Scott, Minister and Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Beijing, claimed that the image of the candle was “censored within 20 minutes.”

UK-China relations have seen major shifts in recent times, especially since the UK banned Huawei from British 5G networks and also stepped up its criticism of China’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Beijing’s national security law covering Hong Kong – which are seen as domestic matters in China.

In light of the various events that have hurt the ties between the UK and China, the British embassy’s virtual candle on June 4th was not necessarily perceived as a ‘friendly gesture’ by many.

Many Chinese netizens found the online stream of wild fabrications funny, although others were left confused and wanted to know if something had really happened to the Queen.

Hu Xijin (胡锡进), Chinese journalist and Global Times editor-in-chief, also responded to the ‘RIP the Queen’ trend on his Weibo account. In his post, Hu suggested that the very fact that Chinese netizens joked about Queen Elizabeth is the price the UK Embassy needs to pay for its ‘provocative’ post. He also warned the American and British embassies that they should learn from this incident to “thoroughly understand the actual feelings of the majority of Chinese people, and [to understand] how their perceptions have become so out of touch with China’s reality.”

Hu’s post received hundreds of replies, with some praising how Weibo users have found a way to “cure ills with poison” (以毒攻毒, ‘fight fire with fire’).

In the midst of all controversy, the ‘T-word,’ Tiananmen, was completely left out of the online discussions.

By Manya Koetse & Miranda Barnes

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Digital

The Disappearing Emoji on Weibo in Light of June 4

No candle or cake emoji on Weibo on June 4th.

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This week marks the anniversary of the Tiananmen student protests which started in April 1989 and ended with the violent crackdown on June 4th of that year.

It is the time of the year that censorship on Chinese social media intensifies, which is noticeable in various ways.

One noteworthy change is the disappearance of various Weibo emoji. Already in 2012, China Digital Times reported that the Sina Weibo platform quietly removed the candle icon from its collection of “frequently used emoticons” just before June 4. A year later, Shanghaiist also reported that the candle emoji had once again been removed, making the disappearing emoji a questionable annual Weibo tradition.

On Twitter, BBC reporter Kerry Allen (@kerrya11en) posted earlier that usually at this of year, it is not just the candle that disappears from Weibo’s list of emoji, but also the leaf, the cake, the ribbon, and the present.

A screenshot taken by What’s on Weibo on June 1st of this year showed that all emoji were still available.

But on June 3rd, three emoji had disappeared from the list, including the falling leaf (风吹叶落), candle (蜡烛), and cake (生日蛋糕).

Screenshot June 1 2021 (left) versus June 3 2021 (right).

The disappearance of the emoji means that Weibo posts that were previously made by official media using these emoji also no longer contain them – instead, only the emoji description shows up.

To circumvent censorship, social media users in China often use emoji, creative language, or images to get their message across. To keep discussions on the violent events of June 4 contained, online censors also crack down on sensitive words, numbers, photographs, and symbols.

At this time, the term ‘Tiananmen’ has not been banned on Weibo, but the only posts using the term are official ones about another anniversary, namely that of the Communist Party. The Communist Party of China will mark its 100th anniversary in July.

By Manya Koetse

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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