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Extreme Bullying Videos on Chinese Social Media: A Concerning Trend

So-called ‘campus violence videos’ (校园暴力视频) have become a concerning trend.

Manya Koetse

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A string of extremely violent videos have recently been posted on Chinese social media, showing multiple bullies beating up their victim on camera. These so-called ‘campus violence videos’ (校园暴力视频) expose the seriousness of China’s bullying problem.

Many netizens become angry when seeing violent school videos popping up on Chinese social media: “Ten girls holding a steel pipe in their hands, participating in an armed confrontation. This scum of the earth should be chopped to death!” – is one comment on March 22, in response to a video where a group of girls are captured on video beating other girls with steel pipes.

It is just one of many examples of violent videos that have surfaced on Chinese social media practically every day over the last year.

Weibo Violence (#微博曝料#)

According to Baike, China’s equivalent to Wikipedia, ‘Campus Violence’ (校园暴力) refers to any type of violence on schools and the campus, either between students, students and the teacher, or student’s vandalism on the school premises. Campus violence is no longer simply the problem of the school; it has become the focus of public attention, especially now that more and more cases are caught on tape and spread on social media.

Many bullying videos expose how young girls are beating on other girls. One video shared on March 23 shows how two girls are repeatedly hitting one girl in the face. But there are also other types of confrontations. Another video that was shared on March 22 was that of some high school students beating their teacher with a chair in the classroom.

According to one netizen called ‘Happy Warm Brother‘ (happy热哥) who posted the video of the classroom confrontation, the incident occurred at a middle school in Lianping county, Guangdong.

teacher

Many commenters react in shock: “These boys should be immediately expelled!” and “Such scum!”. By noon of March 23, the video was shared nearly 1000 times.

‘Weibo Violence’ (#微博曝料#), ‘Campus Violence’ (#校园暴力#) or ‘Exposing Campus Violence’ (#校园暴力曝光台#), have been recurring online topics over the past year. In November 2015, a video of a schoolgirl getting kicked in the stomach surfaced online and caused quite some controversy. Since then, this kind of violence has been a daily topic on Weibo, with one after the other video coming out. Some also include sexual assault, with girls tearing off the clothes of their victim and kicking on a naked girl.

girlsviolent

Sina Weibo recently described the phenomenon of bullying videos as follows: “Lately, videos and news of campus violence has appeared online again and again. They are a serious disturbance of school order and a pollution of student’s healthy studying environment. It’s bringing a bad influence to schools and society at large.”

Not another one!

China is dealing with a real epidemic of school violence. As CNN reported earlier, the emergence of these kinds of violence is connected to different factors, including peer pressure, broken families, feelings of insecurity and increased time spent online.

According to the NoBullying movement website, boys and girls act differently when bullying. Girls commonly form girl groups to gang up on their victim to show that they are in control or to gain popularity. They are also more inclined to make cruel jokes and pranks to embarrass or humiliate the victim. This might play a role in the fact that there seem to be more Weibo violence videos of girls bullying on girls than those of boys.

girlsviolent

Although the extreme bullying video’s have become a recurring topic of discussion, the online censorship on these kinds of video’s is weak to non-existent – they are freely shared on video platforms Youku or Miaopai and then shared through WeChat or Sina Weibo.

“Not another school violence video!” – a netizen called Zhong Yuejuan (钟学隽) responds when Weibo user Zhou Licheng (周李城), who focuses on school violence, posts another shocking violent video: “There’s another one every day, when will we come up with a way to deal with campus violence?”

Chinese netizens have started using the hashtag ‘Urgent action to implement laws’ (#迫切呼吁立法#) to address the problem of bullying in schools.

The anti-bullying shout outs of social media users have not gone unheard, as the prevention and punishment of this kind of violence has increasingly become a topic of focus for Chinese government and state media.

Stopping the Violence

Bullying videos and Weibo violence were a ‘hot topic’ during this year’s plenary sessions (lianghui), where committee members called for higher punishments and a better legal system to counter campus violence, Chongqing Evening News columnist Shi Heming (史鹤鸣) writes on March 22.

Part of the reason why bullying is such a big issue in China is that the perpetrators barely face legal consequences, and that the problem culturally is not seen as a serious one. As China Daily writes about bullying: “Few offenders receive proper punishment in China. In most of the cases that do not involve severe physical harm, the only “punishment” offenders receive is criticism from schools. As for parents, most of them consider bullying incidents as “small fights” between their children, and it is precisely because of such an attitude that bullying cases have not declined in China.”

In the Chongqing Evening News, Shi pleads for a better use of existing Chinese laws. Although children under 14 years of age cannot receive criminal penalties in China, minors from 14 to 16 years of age can be punished for theft, assault and manslaughter. From 16 years on, they can be punished like adults. According to the law, Shi pleads, there are ample possibilities to punish bullies for their violent deeds. Besides punishment, there should also more focus on the prevention of these kinds of violent acts.

In Phoenix News, author Xie Zhusheng (叶竹盛) also pleads for halting campus violence by making the culprits carry more responsibility for their deeds.

Chinese politician and Minister of Education Yuan Guiren recently made a statement about China’s school violence problem, saying that the laws will be adjusted so that bullies will be able to get stricter punishments.

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“They should’ve done this earlier,” one Weibo user responds: “The law should protect those children who need it the most.”

– By Manya Koetse

On this page we have listed some bullying videos that are written about in this article. They contain graphic content, that may be disturbing to some viewers.

©2016 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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China Insight

The Story of Li Jun & Liang Liang: How the Challenges of an Ordinary Chinese Couple Captivated China’s Internet

“Liang Liang and Li Jun are just the tip of the iceberg; there are thousands of couples facing similar challenges.”

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Two years after they first started sharing their story on Chinese social media, millions of netizens are engrossed in the struggles of the Chinese young parents Li Jun and Liang Liang, whose journey of starting a family and buying an apartment in the city at a time of economic downturn turned into an emotional rollercoaster.

The struggles faced by an ordinary young Chinese couple have recently become a major topic on Chinese social media.

For some, their story has unfolded like a compelling movie, “starring Li Jun and Liang Liang.” Others think they could be protagonists in a novel, perhaps one written by Victor Hugo or Lao She.

Here, we explain their story thus far and why it has become such a big topic of discussion on Chinese social media.

 

A PROMISING FUTURE

“Among tens and thousands of lights in the city, finally there’s a light that only shines for me.”


 

In 2022, the couple, Zhang Liliang (张艺亮, the husband, also called ‘Liang Liang’) and Dong Lijun (董丽君, the wife, referred to as Li Jun), first became popular on Chinese social media as they shared their journey of buying a property and building a life in Zhengzhou, Henan Province, on their account ‘The Couple Liang Liang & Li Jun’ (亮亮丽君夫妇).

Their first social media post had appeared in November of 2021. In this video, they shared their excitement about buying an apartment and starting their new life as home owners.

They previously put a deposit on an off-planned apartment, eagerly anticipating its delivery in 2024. They regularly updated their progress on Douyin, showcasing their savings efforts and monthly visits to the construction site. “Among tens and thousands of lights in the city, finally there’s a light that only shines for me,” they said (“从此万家灯火,终有一盏只为我而亮”).

The couple took out a mortgage amount of 1.02 million RMB ($143.660) for the Zhengzhou apartment, which had a total floor area of 1,055 sqft / 98 sqm. They made a downpayment of 450k RMB ($63.370), and agreed to a monthly – relatively high-interest rate – payment of 6293 RMB ($886), while also paying the monthly rent for their apartment (1500 RMB/$211). This meant the budget for other expenses was very tight already, since the couple had an approximate monthly combined income of only 9000 RMB ($1267).

They mainly paid for the downpayment with money that Liang Liang had been saving over the past five years, along with monetary gifts from their wedding and some support from their parents. In order to generate some extra income, Liang also became a taxi driver (Didi) at night.

As the couple gained more popularity online, mainly on Douyin and Bilibili, some Chinese media outlets also began taking notice. In July of 2022, Sanlian Life Weekly (三联生活周刊) featured an interview with the couple, bringing their story to the attention of a wider audience.

 

THE SPARK IS GONE

“This is our life now, the life of mortgage slaves.”


 

However, things did not go as planned. Months into the construction process, the developer, Sunac China Holdings Limited (融创中国), encountered financial difficulties. In May of 2022, Sunac made headlines as it didn’t meet its payment obligations on a dollar bond, making it one of the major Chinese property companies failing to fulfill its financial commitments.

Li Jun and Liang went to check on how the construction was going every month, and found that Sunac’s financial woes were causing a standstill in construction. Their apartment was located on the 22nd floor of a 33-story-building, but the construction was suspended from the 13th floor up.

Their daughter was also born during this tumultuous time, in October 2022, adding to the financial strain of rent and mortgage payments without a clear move-in date. “This is our life now, the life of mortgage slaves,” they said in one of their videos.

Adding to their challenges, Li Jun experienced a pay cut, reducing their monthly income by 2000 RMB ($282). With the cut leaving them with insufficient funds for essential expenses, they resorted to using their credit card.

In later Douyin videos, fans noticed how frustrated and disillusioned the couple now looked. Some made comparisons to their earlier videos, concluding that the “spark” they previously had in their eyes was gone.

Li Jun and Liang Liang feared that their house might join the ranks of millions of homes in China categorized as “烂尾楼” (làn wěi lóu), referring to ‘rotting’ unfinished buildings. In such cases, apartments that have been sold are abandoned and are not delivered due to financial struggles or other challenges faced by the developers.

After the pay cut they desperately needed more money to get by. They started doing some e-commerce on Douyin and tried to get the rebate that was promised to them when purchasing their apartment-the initial contract included a 20,000 RMB ($2775) special rebate for buyers, which they qualified for.

But no matter how many times they went back and forth to the sales center, the couple faced rejection and insults when demanding their payment. Desperate, Li Jun and Liang Liang turned to their social media fans and livestream followers to put more pressure on the company, but the staff just shut down the lights, closed the doors, and refused to pay them the money that was promised to them.

 

SILENCED ON SOCIAL MEDIA

“Instead of pursuing justice, I’d rather have a peaceful life.”


 

In November 2023, the story of Li Jun and Liang Liang gained prominence as they shared dramatic details of their struggles to retrieve their money. On November 15, the couple claimed to have been physically assaulted by staff members of the sales center while demanding their money. Liang ended up in the hospital with minor injuries, and Li, attempting to record the incident, had her phone snatched and the livestream was cut off.

The couple later posted a video later explaining what happened, but that video was soon taken down. Strange things kept happening, and people suspected the couple might have been threatened and bribed.

Because two days later, Li Jun and Liang Liang suddenly shared that the police were now involved, stating that “everything was sorted” and that they were content with the solution provided. This claim of police involvement was confirmed on November 19 by local authorities, who announced penalties for those responsible for beating the couple.

Yet, the last video they posted suddenly became unavailable, and their Douyin account was blocked from updating. Additionally, their other social media accounts on Weibo and Bilibili were both banned from posting (@亮亮和丽君夫妇).

Li Jun still had her personal social media account, revealing on November 22 that the couple had chosen to return to their hometown with their daughter. Liang expressed his desire for justice, but Li Jun emphasized, “But now we have our daughter. I’d rather have a peaceful life.” (#亮亮丽君决定离开郑州回老家#)

One of the social media digital artworks dedicated to Li Jun and Liang Liang. By @泥巴-lau

The idea that Li Jun and Liang Liang felt defeated enough to (temporarily) give up their dream of building their life in the city saddened and angered many netizens, and their story went viral.

But through all their trials and tribulations, the story of Li Jun and Liang Liang may not conclude with an unhappy ending after all.

Their Zhengzhou apartment is apparently not destined to remain an ‘unfinished building’ — the government has intervened to ensure the delivery of the building. In November of 2023, news also came out that Sunac had met conditions for a long-awaited debt restructuring deal, reportedly reducing its total debt by $4.5 billion. The construction of the building has resumed.

In late November, the story of Li Jun and Liang took another unexpected turn when a new video surfaced, suggesting that the couple – despite saying they would relocate to their rural hometown – would give it another shot in Zhengzhou by starting their own business.

Many online users found this twist confusing, suspecting that local authorities might have intervened to reshape the couple’s narrative, possibly to ensure a positive outcome in the public eye (#亮亮丽君决定在郑州创业#).

“Perhaps I should become an internet sensation too,” one commenter responded. “Maybe then my unfinished three-room apartment will finally be delivered to me as well.”

 

ORDINARY CHINESE DUPED

“Three years of Covid did not break our spirit; it’s our unfinished property that brought us down.”


 

There are numerous reasons why so many people are invested in the story of Liang Liang and Li Jun. Their journey, documented on social media, deeply resonated with millions who are dealing with similar struggles or are finding it hard to start a life in the city, build a family and pay a mortgage.

Their Douyin videos reflected the emotional rollercoaster of an ordinary Chinese couple facing setbacks despite diligently following the conventional path of education, hard work, marriage, savings, property ownership, and family-building.

Many wondered if their lives would have taken a different turn if they had chosen to ‘lie flat’ or go against the norm. Who is responsible for the fact that, despite their hard work and dedication, their pursuit of the ‘Chinese dream’ seemed unattainable?

Beyond this issue of ordinary families struggling to get by and pay for a mortgage, a central issue in Li Jun and Liang’s story was also the problem with their unfinished apartment.

Concerns about Chinese real estate developers grappling with substantial debts have have consistently dominated headlines in recent years, sparked by the difficulties faced by Evergrande Group and other Chinese property developers, such as Country Garden, Kaisa Group, Fantasia Holdings, Sinic Holdings, Modern Land, and Sunac – the property owner from whom Li and Liang purchased their apartment.

Regular people like Liang Liang and Li Jun are the ones most affected by this ongoing property crisis, often facing severe consequences. For many, this once hopeful young couple, now disillusioned, represents a larger social and economic problem within China’s real estate industry.

“Liang Liang and Li Jun are just the tip of the iceberg; there are thousands of couples facing similar challenges,” one Weibo blogger (@鸿蒙钊哥) wrote.

Another Weibo user wrote: “We all know the story of Liang Liang and Li Jun, and we want to help them because they represent numerous urban residents. Three years of Covid did not break our spirit; it’s our unfinished property that brought us down. So far I did not see official media speaking up for them, is it that they do not know or that they are worth helping? Or, perhaps, they feel ashamed?”

Despite this aspect of Li Jun and Liang’s story, which highlights both the trap of mortgage slavery and the problem of ordinary Chinese duped by the country’s property woes, the young couple has become a subject of public contention. Not everyone agrees with the choices they made.

Some bloggers, such as Lao Liang (老梁不郁闷), argue that their story was exaggerated for clout, and that their apartment actually never qualified as a ‘rotten’ unfinished building (烂尾楼 làn wěi lóu) since construction was only temporarily halted but never really abandoned.

While many express sympathy for the couple, others deem it unwise for them to have purchased an apartment with an already strained monthly budget, let alone to have a child under such uncertain circumstances. Critics suggest the couple lacked a proper life plan, didn’t assess risks, and ended up in this situation through their own fault.

These critics also view the couple’s recent change of plans as evidence that they may have fabricated parts of their story to garner attention and financial support.

However, there are widely different opinions on this issue. Some label these critics as proponents of Social Darwinism (社会达尔文主义), accusing them of being selfish and cold-hearted. They argue that the blame should not be on the couple, striving for a better life, but on the developer who breached the contract and made life so hard for them.

The couple’s chosen path, moving from small towns to study and work in big cities, reflects a common value not only in China but worldwide. They argue that society should appreciate those working hard despite facing challenges and insecurities, instead of condemning them for the bold choices they make.

Those supporting the young couple seemingly also do not care if their story has somehow become entwined with (local) propaganda efforts. As their narrative is now shifting from representing defeated Chinese youth in a complex economic situation to showcasing the strength of Chinese urban workers in a revitalized nation, many people simply wish them the best.

As one commenter writes: “If they want to start a business in Zhengzhou now, let them go for it. They’ve made positive use of the attention they’ve received. They don’t need to live up to the expectations that others have them. All the luck to you!”

By Manya Koetse & Miranda Barnes

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China Insight

Chinese Social Media Reactions to Israel-Hamas War: Pro-Palestinian Sentiments and Anti-Semitic Discourse

Chinese perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict are influenced by China’s historical context and perceptions of its role in the world today.

Manya Koetse

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The Israel-Hamas war has been dominating discussions on Weibo recently. Amid the different Chinese responses to what’s happening in Israel and Gaza, recurring trends and narratives highlight how social media reactions and their pro-Palestine stance are connected to China’s own historical context and perceived global role, as well as Chinese anti-Jewish prejudices.

After the Hamas attacks began on October 7, the Israel-Hamas war has been a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media.

Over the past two weeks, a series of critical events have unfolded since Palestinian militant group Hamas fired more than 5,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel and infiltrated Isreal. The attacks killed a large number of Israeli civilians, including the 260 deaths at the Supernova music festival massacre. As deadly fights continued, the Israeli government formally declared war and retaliated against Hamas.

Israel has since dropped some 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of Palestians. More than a million people have fled their homes in the Gaza Strip.

On October 17 and 18, various media reported that at least 500 people were killed in a devastating blast hitting the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City, a day before US President Biden arrived in Israel for a wartime diplomatic trip, marking a public show of support for Israel.

While Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the hospital blast, Israel asserts it was a rocket launched by an Islamist militant group that caused the explosion. This claim was later backed by American officials, who cited intelligence suggesting that the explosion was indeed caused by an armed Palestinian group.

On Chinese social media sites, various discussions related to the Israel-Hamas war and all the latest developments have attracted a lot of attention. From October 7 to October 19, the Weibo hashtag “Palestian-Israeli Conflict” (#巴以冲突#) received over 2 billion views. One hashtag related to the Gaza hospital explosion received over 320 million views in a day (#加沙地带一医院遭袭数百人死亡#).

Amid all of the hashtags, posts, videos, images, and discussions on Chinese social media, we have identified three prominent trends concerning the Israel-Hamas conflict: growing pro-Palestinian sentiments, a surge in anti-Jewish racism, and an increased focus on China’s role on the world stage and how its calls for peaceful resolutions contrast with U.S. policies.

 
1. Pro-Palestine Sentiments
 

There is a clear trend on Weibo, as well as on other Chinese social platforms like Douyin and even Xiaohongshu, that netizens are demonstrating greater support for the Palestinian side than for Israel.

Some posts (here, here) argue that if the recent attacks on civilians by Hamas militants are labeled as “extreme terrorism,” Israel’s actions against Palestinians over the years should be seen as a form of “mild terrorism.”

This view is repeated by many bloggers and regular netizens all over Chinese social media, where numerous videos depict bombings in Gaza, emphasizing heartbreaking scenes of severely injured children and their grieving parents and siblings.

In Weibo’s ‘hot’ section, which features currently popular posts, it’s evident that there’s a stronger emphasis on images and videos portraying the suffering in Palestine compared to those depicting hardships on the Israeli side.

These distressing videos evoke significant sympathy on Chinese social media, where some commenters suggest that the Hamas movement is becoming more prominent because of the suffering Palestians are enduring (“If my child were killed like that, I would immediately turn into a terrorist as well.”) Others argue that Hamas should be seen as guerrilla fighters rather than terrorists.

The pro-Palestinian sentiments go beyond netizens’ views alone, and are strengthened by Chinese media reports and official positions. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s initial response to the conflict focused on expressing concerns about the escalating tensions and voicing China’s stance that civilians should be protected and that further deterioration should be prevented.

They reiterated that the fundamental solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the path to peace, according to China, lies in the implementation of the “two-state solution” (两国方案) and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

Days later, on October 13, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Wang Yi stated that the “historical injustice suffered by the Palestinian people” lies at the root of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, emphasizing the “two-state solution” and the importance of realizing the dream of an independent State of Palestine.

Wang also stated on October 15 that Israel’s bombing campaign had gone “beyond the scope of self-defence” and that it “should stop collective punishment of the people of Gaza.”

One Weibo newsblogger called Creamy Banana (@Creamy蕉, 140k fans) writes:

“What many people do not understand is that when we support Palestine in the Israel-Palestine [conflict], is that we do not support a specific regional political group, that we do not support or oppose a specific racial group, and that we certainly do not support a particular religion. None of that. In this issue, supporting Palestine means supporting justice, supporting the weak, supporting the eggs resisting the high wall, it’s as simple as that.

For instance, during World War II, when Jews were massacred by the Nazis, we sympathized and supported the Jews because they were the weak ones and the victims at that time. Now, Israel is involved in genocide against Palestine, killing civilians, attacking hospitals, and it is the Palestinians who are the weak and the victims. Former victims—the Jews—have now become the perpetrators.

Good people and bad people, justice and evil, they are all relative and ever-changing. This may be the complexity of human nature. There is no absolute goodness, no absolute evil. You can be a victim and a villain hurting others at the same time.”

While the blogger argues that the pro-Palestine sentiment on Chinese social media is unrelated to politics or race, this isn’t exactly accurate. Many Chinese netizens’ support for the Palestinians is closely connected to current geopolitics, America’s pro-Israel stance, existing prejudice towards Jews, and China’s own historical context.

As suggested by Yiyi Chen in “The Basis of China’s Pro-Palestine Stance and the Current Status of Its Implementation” (2013), China leans towards supporting the Arab side because, in the Chinese perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Israel was established by aligning with the Imperial powers of its era. In this context, the Palestians are seen as sufferers of imperialism (p. 216).

This deeply resonates with many Chinese, who, both explicitly and implicitly, associate the current Palestinian issue with China’s historical scars of the “hundred years of national humiliation,” during which China also suffered from imperialism by Western powers and Japan from 1839 to the 1940s.

“The Gaza children shaken and trembling from Israeli bombardments experience scenes similar to what China went through during the War of Resitance against Japan,” one Weibo user wrote: “So don’t say that it has nothing to do with you.”

“We’re helping Palestine, but we’re helping ourselves from 70 years ago,” (“帮的是巴勒斯坦,也是七十几年前的自己”) one commenter (@
姜橙橙_捏唐冽大脸) wrote, receiving over 5500 likes. Others reiterated similar views, writing: “It’s because we endured hardship that we now hold the umbrella for others who are suffering.”

Another reason for the pro-Palestine stance, as detailed by Chen, is rooted in reciprocity. The Chinese tend to support the Palestinians as a way of reciprocating the solidarity shown by Arab countries during the 1960s and 1970s when China was isolated due to Western animosity (p. 216).

Furthermore, and this is particularly evident in the numerous posts and blogs within China’s online media landscape, support for Palestine also stems from opposition to the United States and a lack of trust in Israel due to the close alliance between the U.S. and Israel.

New York Times changing its headline, image posted and reposted on Weibo.

This distrust also extends to American media, which is seen as biased and untrustworthy on Chinese social media platforms. For instance, when the New York Times modified its headlines about the Gaza hospital blast to reflect new information indicating that Israel might not be responsible, many Chinese netizens viewed it as another instance of American media deliberately distorting facts and concealing the truth.

“They did it because of political correctness,” some suggested: “They were afraid to trigger the anger of the Jewish people.”

 
2. Anti-Semitic Sentiments
 

Apart from the general pro-Palestinian views on Weibo, there are also voices on Chinese social media denouncing Hamas and the people who support them. For instance, when a video captured students from New York University (NYU) tearing down posters depicting Israeli children held hostage by Hamas, many commenters condemned their actions and questioned why they didn’t go to Gaza themselves. Others comment general phrases such as, “The Hamas evil must be eradicated” (“消灭哈马斯恶魔”).

But despite some condemnation of Hamas, it is hard to find many strong pro-Israel voices on Weibo these days.1 Notably, the Israeli Embassy in Beijing, which is one of the most popular foreign embassy Weibo accounts with 2.4 million followers, is currently not only shadowbanned on the platform (it does not immediately show up in search results), it has also disabled comments on many of its posts or is showing only a limited number of replies.

The posts that do allow comments do not only show strong anti-Israeli sentiments, denouncing Israel as a state engaged in acts of terror and genocide in Gaza, but they also display instances of anti-Semitic racism.

For instance, when the Israeli Embassy posted about the Kutz family, murdered by Hamas terrorists in their home, some netizens commented: “Auschwitz misses you.”

References to the Holocaust, Hitler, Goebbels, and related topics are also evident in many other posts on Weibo. Some bloggers (@扫天下媒体, over 70,000 fans) write things such as “(..) the Germans have since long seen through the true nature and character of the Jewish people.”

Alongside openly anti-Semitic comments, there are anti-Semitic conspiracy theories circulating on Chinese social media. Some of these theories mention Hollywood actors or American political figures of Jewish descent, hinting that Jews control different parts of America’s political, entertainment, and business sectors.

The ubiquity of anti-Semitic comments in China’s online media sphere may be surprising, especially considering how bilateral relations between China and Israel have blossomed since the 2000s.

Not only did a 2019 Pew Research Center study discover that the Israeli public held a “very favorable” opinion of China, but a 2016 China Radio International feature also sought the views of Chinese people on Jews and Israelis. The responses were generally positive, with many respondents describing Jews and Israelis as “very smart” (Yellinek 2022, 185-192).

There are also those who generally express pity for Jews, considering them “stateless” or “oppressed,” and empathizing with their historical struggles. This is one of the reasons why the Holocaust, and Holocaust studies, have received relatively more attention in China than in other Asian countries (Haime 2020; Timmermans 2016).

In 2010, the animated film A Jewish Girl in Shanghai (犹太女孩在上海) was proudly described as “China’s first homegrown Jewish film” – it was part of a renewed remembrance of shared Jewish-Chinese history (read more). The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum was opened in 2007 to commemorate the Jewish refugees who lived in Shanghai during World War II, and the first musical themed around the Jews in Shanghai saw the light at the Shanghai International Arts Festival in 2015, the same year when a renewed Chinese translation of The Diary of Anne Frank was published.

Still from Jewish Girl in Shanghai, China’s first domestic Jewish film.

However, the perception of ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewishness’ in China is multifaceted and often conflicting, as shown by various studies. According to Zhou Xun (2016), Chinese attitudes towards Jews and Jewishness are often a mixture of curiosity and envy, yet Jews are primarily seen as a racialized ‘Other’ who differ significantly from social groups in China. Xun suggests that anti-Semitic language in China is frequently borrowed from Western sources, but that the racialized discourse itself is inherently rooted in Chinese society.

The many popular books that exist about Jews in China, ranging from What’s Behind Jewish Success to 16 Reasons for Jews Getting Wealthy, demonstrate that the authors’ perceptions of Jewishness are often riddled with misunderstandings and stereotypes. These books frequently highlight the perceived success of Jews in business and education to promote values highly cherished by the Chinese (Ross 2016, 25-30).

While many prevailing opinions and stereotypes about Jews in China today revolve around their perceived success, intelligence, and warmheartedness, there are also those who portray them as devious, dominating, and cruel.

The recent surge of anti-Semitism on Chinese social media underscores that ‘Othering’ and stereotyping of Jewish people can focus on their perceived admirable traits in times of flourishing Israel-China relations, but that this praise, exaggerated and rooted in prejudice, can just as swiftly turn into hatred in times of Israel-Palestine conflict escalation.

 
3. Sending Help: China as Responsible World Leader
 

Another key trend within Chinese online discussions about the Israel-Hamas conflict is the focus on China’s role as a geopolitical influencer: many see China as a promoter of global peace that is “mending the world.”

Within this context, the topic of China providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians gained traction on Weibo recently (#中国政府向巴勒斯坦提供紧急人道主义援助#, #中方向巴方提供紧急人道主义援助#), referring to China’s efforts to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

“We bring emergency relief, others bring bullets,” some commenters wrote.

This ubiquitous narrative of China as a responsible, fair, and peaceful global power, supported by Chinese state media reports, underscores a distinction between American and Chinese influence on the world stage. It implies that the U.S. frequently interferes and provokes conflicts, while China discreetly offers aid and works to reduce tensions.

In this context, reports of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi telling his U.S. counterpart, Anthony Blinken, that the United States should genuinely play a constructive role in the Israel-Hamas war and push for a political solution sparked hundreds of online comments praising China for being a responsible and peaceful leader (#中方呼吁召开巴以冲突国际和会#) .

On October 18, the United States vetoed a UN resolution calling for a humanitarian pause in the Israel-Hamas war, citing Israel’s right to self-defence. China was one of the countries voting in favor of the ‘humanitarian pauses’ resolution.

In response to the American decision to vote against the resolution, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, said: “We cannot help but doubt that some countries do not genuinely wish to resolve the issue” (#联合国巴以问题决议草案遭美一票否决#).

Among the comments are statements like: “This clearly indicates a lack of desire for peace.” “They’re the tumor of the world.” “The U.S. is lacking moral values.”

China as the rabbit in the Chinese webcomic series Year Hare Affair (那年那兔那些事儿).

One popular Weibo reply suggested that “the rabbit is quietly patching up [mending] the world” (“兔子总在默默为世界缝缝补补”). In this context, the ‘rabbit’ is ‘China’, referring the Chinese webcomic Year Hare Affair (那年那兔那些事儿) in which different animals represented different countries.

These phrases about China “mending the world” have been posted numerous times on Chinese social media (also: “世界破破烂烂,兔子缝缝补补”). Some of these posts also include a political cartoon showing Western media solely focusing on a crying baby in Israel while turning their backs to the bodies in Gaza.

Posted on Weibo (@粤港澳小小胖).

Meanwhile, there are also many commenters who simply express their hopes for a swift end to the war. “I hope for peace between Palestine and Israel. War is merciless.”

Some netizens also just share their appreciation for living in China. “We are not living in peaceful times, but at least we’re living in peaceful China.”

By Manya Koetse

1 Given the scope of this article and its time sensitivity, this comment exclusively focuses on online discussions on Weibo on October 16-19, and it does not reflect the period prior to the current Israel-Hamas conflict

References

Chen, Yiyi. 2013. “The Basis of China’s Pro-Palestine Stance and the Current Status of Its Implementation.” Digest of Middle East Studies 22 (2): 215-228.

Haime, Jordyn. 2020. “Chinese Philo-Semitism: Why China Admires the Jewish People.” Student Research Projects. 26. https://scholars.unh.edu/student_research/26

Ross, James R. 2016. “Images of Jews in Contemporary Books, Blogs, and Films”. The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, edited by James R. Ross and Song Lihong, Boston, USA: Academic Studies Press, pp. 24-36.

Timmermans, Glenn. 2016. “Holocaust Studies and Holocaust Education in China”. The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, edited by James R. Ross and Song Lihong, Boston, USA: Academic Studies Press, pp. 185-205.

Xun, Zhou. “Perceiving Jews in Modern China”. The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, edited by James R. Ross and Song Lihong, Boston, USA: Academic Studies Press, pp. 5-23.

Yellinek, Roie. 2022. “China’s Media Strategy Towards Israel.” Israel Affairs 28: 184-198.

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