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Fury and Loathing in Fengtai: How One Incident Sparked Chaos in Beijing Neighborhood

Fengtai chaos: this is what happens when a person from Dongbei offends Beijingers.

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When a video of a man from Northeast China scolding local Beijingers went viral this week, chaos ensued as angry locals went out on the streets of Fengtai district looking for revenge over “regional discrimination.”

Over the past few days, news of an incident involving a man scolding people while driving on a restricted traffic lane has spread across Chinese social media.

The incident occurred at Beijing’s Fengtai district outside of You’anmen (右安門) during the morning rush hour of August 2nd (Thursday), when a man driving a Mazda illegally entered the restricted traffic lane while honking and yelling at cyclists from his car.

When the man bumped into a person driving an e-bike, he came out of his car and scolded the male cyclist – a Beijinger speaking the local dialect – by allegedly saying things such as: “F*ck you Beijingers!” and “While us outsiders (外地人) are driving cars, you poor-ass Beijingers are still riding miserable e-bikes.”

When bystanders’ videos and photos of the incident quickly spread on social media (including photos of the man’s license plate), many Beijing residents apparently got so upset by the man’s behavior and insults that they initiated a man-hunt.

Some online sources claim that by Thursday night, there even were people waiting outside the man’s apartment to take revenge.

Chaos outside the police station

By August 3, the man, confirmed to be a 35-year-old from Liaoning (Northeast China aka ‘Dongbei’), then turned himself into the local police station, where he was detained – but the chaos did not stop there.

When news of the man’s detainment made its rounds through social media, a group of Beijingers came out to the police station in support of the biker, demanding apologies from the Liaoning driver. On one video that has spread online, the large group of people can be heard scanting “F*ck you!” and “Apologies! Apologies!” (“Daoqian! Daoqian!”).

Reports on what exactly happened, however, are a bit conflicting. According to Radio Free Asia Chinese, there was also a large group of people from Northeast China who gathered outside the police station to show their support for the driver.

One video captured from a higher level building looking down on the police station shows hundreds of people gathering before the gates around police cars (see embedded media below).

Videos of the chaos circulating on Wechat were censored by Friday night – a video of the incident sent by Miranda Barnes to Manya Koetse (authors) was automatically deleted on Wechat.

WECHAT. On the left: Miranda sends Manya video of the incident on Friday night. Right: screenshot of Manya, video automatically censored.

This video, at 1:50, shows how the situation turned violent, with angry people starting to attack the man as he exits the police station after processing the case.

Realising the situation could potentially be dangerous for the man, the police allegedly took him back in afterward to protect the man from the mob.

photo via dwnews.com.

On Weibo, the man’s detainment was officially confirmed through a public statement by the Fengtai police on Friday.

It is not the first time conflicts erupt within China based on tensions between locals and Chinese immigrants. Especially migrants from Northeast China or Dongbei (provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang) often suffer a bad reputation in other parts of China. (For more info on this, check out this insightful Quora thread).

Apologies over ‘Regional Discrimination’

There is widespread regional discrimination (地域歧視) across China, where people are often prejudiced based on the region they come from or their ethnicity. As the Fengtai incident shows, this discrimination can be directed both ways, from immigrants to locals and vice versa.

In response to the incident, anti-Dongbei sentiments also surfaced on Weibo, with thousands of people discussing the course of events. “I’m from Hebei, I’ll join my brothers from Beijing in the fight!”, some said.

But there were also those who said: “It doesn’t matter where the guy is from, he should be judged for his illegal actions, not his native place.”

Beijing blogger Jeremy Goldkorn (@goldkorn) noted that an apology statement from the man from Dongbei has been issued online on August 3rd (see thread including videos here).

In his apology letter, the man, who says his name is Cao Yuanhang (曹远航), writes that he deeply apologizes for his words and behavior and for igniting the anger of Beijingers. He also adds that he guilty of “regional discrimination,” and apologizes to his family and company because of the stress they suffered after the video clips of his behavior went viral.

Apology statement.

Some netizens, however, could not appreciate the apology, saying: “This kind of rotten person should get the f*ck out of Beijing.”

At time of writing, it is yet unclear if the man has been released and whether or not he has gone into hiding.

By Miranda Barnes and Manya Koetse

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.

Miranda Barnes is a Chinese blogger and part-time translator with a strong interest in Chinese media and culture. Born in Shenyang, she used to work and live in Beijing and is now based in London. On www.abearandapig.com she shares news of her travels around Europe and Asia with her husband.

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    Bruce Humes

    November 6, 2018 at 5:32 am

    By the way, Chinese citizens relocating within China are migrants, not immigrants. Your misuse of “immigrant” is particularly ironic in this context, since regional discrimination does reach xenophobic proportions at times in the Middle Kingdom…

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China Insight

Chairman Rabbit vs Hu Xijin: Divided Nationalists on Weibo

Hu’s personal opinions should not be mistaken for China’s official stance nor guide Chinese online public opinion, Chairman Rabbit argues.

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Political commentator Hu Xijin was an influential online voice in the days surrounding Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Chinese blogging account Chairman Rabbit lashed out against Hu, saying he misled public opinion at a time when his statements should have matched the official stance.

On August 3rd, a day after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, Chinese blogger Chairman Rabbit (兔主席) posted a long piece of text on Weibo rebuking political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) for his overdosed hawkish claims leading up to Pelosi’s controversial visit.

Following the post by Chairman Rabbit, grandson of a former CCP leader, Chinese social media saw many discussions and a wave of criticism against Hu and his overaggressive position.

In his since-deleted post, Chairman Rabbit demanded stricter regulation of Hu’s public statements due to his perceived ties with the Chinese government.

Hu Xijin is a Chinese journalist and the former editor-in-chief and party secretary of Global Times, a Chinese and English-language media outlet under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper.

Although he retired from his job, Hu is still a very active commentator on political affairs via social media. With nearly 25 million fans on Weibo and over half a million followers on Twitter, his posts and statements often go trending and influence public opinions.

Chairman Rabbit argued that Hu has built a credible reputation in his field, both within China and abroad, where he is generally perceived as having certain authority to speak about China’s political affairs – with some foreign media almost regarding him as some sort of spokesman for the Chinese government. Meanwhile, according to Chairman Rabbit, Hu uses this credibility to promote his own personal views.

“He was too loud. It would make the people think that [China’s] actions are not enough, bringing about disappointment and distrust. This is damaging to the morale of the people and also to the credibility of the government,” Chairman Rabbit wrote.

 

Two Political Commentators “Protecting China’s National Interests”

 

Chairman Rabbit is the alias of Ren Yi (任意), a Harvard-educated Chinese blogger who currently has over 1.8 million followers on Weibo, where he calls himself a ‘history blogger.’ He is also the grandson of former Chinese politician Ren Zhongyi (任仲夷), who was a leader in China’s reform period since the late 1970s. ‘Chairman Rabbit’ is known as a nationalist, conservative political commentator who often comments on US-related issues and current affairs (for more on his background, check out this article by Tianyi Xu).

The Chinese blogger’s post came after a week in which Hu Xijin recurringly went trending for his strong condemnation of a potential visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Pelosi.

Hu suggested that a Taiwan visit by Pelosi would be a clear provocation of China, giving the PLA “good reason” for “waging a war.” One of Hu’s tweets, in which he voiced the view that U.S. military planes escorting Pelosi to Taiwan could potentially be shot down, was deleted by Twitter on July 30. Afterward, Hu reiterated his views on Weibo and criticized Western censorship.

Hu Xijin tweet which was deleted by Twitter on July 30.

Chairman Rabbit wrote about Hu:

“(..) as we can see time and again, he lacks judgment and accurate sources of information on some major issues (..), and he represents only his personal views, which may be misdirected. If his views were perceived as being purely personal, they would not receive nearly as much attention – his “authority figure” status is the key to everything, and he is perceived as having a special channel to represent authorities.”

In the post, Chairman Rabbit accuses Hu of using his status to promote his own views and to influence the public debate and the international view of China to gain clout.

Hu Xijin responded to the post himself on his Weibo account, suggesting he felt betrayed and “deeply puzzled” to be attacked by someone he considered a “friend who worked together [with me] to defend China’s national interests,” writing: “I originally saw them as allies, yet right in the heat of the moment, I was surprised to find that that they suddenly turned their guns to aim it at me.”

In the same post, Hu still defended his own words, arguing that despite his “limited power” he still does what he can to “protect China’s national interests.”

 

“Frisbee Hu”

 

The Chairman Rabbit vs Hu Xijin dispute caught the attention of Chinese netizens, including the liberals and conservatives on Chinese social media.

With his muscle-flexing language, Hu seemingly regained popularity amongst die-hard nationalists on Weibo after long being suspected of being a “gongzhi” (公知), a derogatory use of the term “public intellectual.” The latest controversy shows that the interests of online nationalists do not always align with the official government stances.

It also shows a division between populist nationalists and the more elite or ‘establishment’ nationalists on Chinese social media. The former operate independently and are willing to pressure the government toward a more hostile foreign policy, while the latter follow the decisions of the government and respond to them.

Hu is known for commenting on political issues and tuning into official narratives, which even led to him being nicknamed “Frisbee Hu” (胡叼盘), suggesting he can catch the ‘frisbees’ thrown by the Communist Party like a dog catches his toy.

However, it seems he did not catch their ‘frisbee’ this time. For the CCP, it arguably would be not a wise choice to engage in any kind of military conflict at this time, knowing the unpredictable societal changes it may bring to its regime, especially ahead of Xi Jinping’s bid for a third term in office at the 20th party congress later this year.

Authorities did emphasize that China would not “idly sit by” if Pelosi would visit Taiwan. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned the U.S. on August 1st that if the U.S. House speaker would visit Taipei, “the Chinese side will respond resolutely and take strong countermeasures to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

But the aggressiveness of Hu Xijin’s posts perhaps went beyond what the authorities had in mind. According to Chairman Rabbit, Hu “influenced public opinion, and China’s international image as well. What he got in the end was traffic for his own account.”

 

Instruments to Govern the Public Sphere

 

On social media, Hu still received a lot of support while others agreed with Chairman Rabbit that Hu was chasing clout and that his words have consequences. Although that is not necessarily bad – as his influence can mobilize and channel public rage in a time of strict Covid measures and a declining economy, – it can also backfire and reflect negatively on the government when they fail to meet the public’s expectations.

Chairman Rabbit suggests that it might be better for Hu to put a disclaimer and clarification at the top of any statement to make it clear that his views are personal and do not represent the official view.

This is not the first time Hu gets caught up in a conflict between Chinese populist and establishment nationalists. In 2021, Hu had a public spat with Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University. When Shen Yi defended a controversial post by the CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission which put an image of the Chinese rocket launch besides that of a mass cremation in India, Hu argued that official accounts should not ridicule India’s Covid deaths but “express sympathy for India, and place Chinese society firmly on the moral high ground” (read here).

At that time, however, Hu sided with the so-called ‘establishment nationalists’ advocating for more decent public expressions from an official government account at a time when their neighboring country was mourning the victims of their Covid outbreak.

Disputes such as ‘Hu vs Shen’ and ‘Hu vs Chairman Rabbit’ could be seen as instruments to govern the public sphere, shifting the focus of attention amid online storms. The ‘Hu vs Shen’ public spat shifted the subject from whether it is moral to ridicule a neighboring country for its tragedy to whether it is good for an official government account to ridicule a neighboring country for its tragedy.

Similarly, the ‘Hu vs. Chairman Rabbit’ dispute shifted the subject from whether it is moral to wage a war over Pelosi’s visit to whether it would be in China’s best national interests to wage a war and to the influence of online public commentators within this matter.

Chairman Rabbit posted a second lengthy post regarding the dispute on August 4th, in which he again reiterated his stance that Hu Xijin’s tone on social media did not match the official stance, and that Hu, with limited diplomatic and military knowledge, miscalculated his response to the Pelosi issue and guided public opinion in the wrong direction.

The dispute between the two influential commentators triggered discussions, with some bloggers wondering when the next round of bickering is going to take place. In doing so, Chairman Rabbit has also been instrumental in channeling nationalist sentiments and creating some calm after the online storm following Pelosi’s visit.

“I think the Propaganda Department needs take responsibility, as they tacitly accepted Hu Xijin’s influence on public opinion. They can’t later shift all the blame to a person who’s already retired,” one popular comment said: “Those who are responsible should take responsibility! Our propaganda has always seen some problems, both internally as well as externally.”

Other commenters think Hu Xijin is getting too much credit for being held responsible for shifting public opinion. “My friends don’t even know who Hu Xijin is, yet they had also shifted in the ‘prepare for war’ direction,” one Weibo user writes, with another person adding: “He’s just saying out loud what I was thinking already. If everyone said it, it might be blocked, but he can speak for us.”

“Hindsight is 20/20,” others say: “And we might need hawkish expressions such as those published by Hu. I still support him.”

By Xiuyu Lian and Manya Koetse

 

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China Insight

Pelosi in Taiwan: “1.4 Billion People Do Not Agree with Interference in China’s Sovereignty Issues”

“The Old Witch has landed!”, many commenters wrote on Weibo when Pelosi arrived in Taiwan.

Manya Koetse

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August 2nd was a tumultuous day on Chinese social media, with millions of netizens closely following how Pelosi’s plane landed in Taiwan. Chinese state media propagate the message that not only Chinese authorities condemn the move, but that the Chinese people denounce it just as much.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is all the talk on Weibo, where netizens are closely following the latest developments and what they might mean for the near future of Taiwan and Sino-American relations.

“Today is a sensitive time, as it is said that Pelosi will fly into Taiwan tonight, challenging the one-China principle,” Global Times political commentator Hu Xijin wrote on Weibo on Tuesday afternoon, while Pelosi’s plane was still en route:

“At this time I’d like to tell everyone, that I firmly believe the Chinese government will definitely take a series of countermeasures, which include military actions. The Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of National Defense have repeatedly said they are “on the alert and combat-ready” and will not “sit and watch.” This is the country’s prestige, how could they not hit back? So let’s wait and see what will happen next.”

Tuesday was an extremely tumultuous day on Chinese social media as Taiwan- and Pelosi-related hashtags popped up one after the other, and news and videos kept flooding the platform, sometimes leading to a temporary overload of Weibo’s servers.

Around 20.30, an hour before Pelosi was expected to land in Taiwan at that time, more than half of all the trending search topics on Weibo related to Pelosi and Taiwan as virtually everyone was following the plane’s route and when it would land.

Not long before the expected landing of Pelosi’s plane, footage circulated on Weibo showing the iconic Taipei 101 building with a display of greetings to Pelosi, welcoming her to Taiwan and thanking her for her support.

By Tuesday night, Chinese official channels promoted the hashtags “The United States Plays With Fire & Will Burn Itself by Taiwan Involvement Provocation” (#美台勾连挑衅玩火必自焚#) along with the hashtag “1.4 Billion People Do Not Agree with Interference in China’s Sovereignty Issues” (​​#干涉中国主权问题14亿人不答应#).

Image posted by Communist Youth League on Weibo.

Millions of Chinese netizens followed flight radar livestreams, with one livestream by China.org receiving over 70 million viewers at one point.

On Tuesday night at 22:44 local time, after taking a detour, Pelosi’s plane finally landed in Taipei. About eight minutes later, Nancy Pelosi, wearing a pink suit, stepped out of the plane together with her delegation.

“The Old Witch has landed!”, many commenters wrote on Weibo, where Nancy Pelosi has been nicknamed ‘Old Witch’ recently.

Not long after, Hu Xijin posted on both on Twitter (in English) and on Weibo (in Chinese), writing that Pelosi’s landing in Taiwan opened an “era of high-intensity competition between China and US over Taiwan Strait.” Hu wrote that the PLA is announcing a series of actions, including military drill operations and live-fire exercises in zones surrounding Taiwan from August 4 to 7.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) also posted a series of tweets condemning the “wrong and dangerous path” the U.S. is allegedly heading down, reiterating the same ‘1.4 billion people do not agree’ narrative that was previously propagated on Weibo by official channels: “Making themselves an enemy of the 1.4 billion Chinese people will not end up well. Acting like a bully in front of the whole world will only make everyone see that the US is the biggest danger to world peace.”

Many netizens expressed frustrations over how seemingly easy it was for Pelosi to land in Taiwan despite repeated warnings. “It’s not like I want us to go to war,” one person wrote on Weibo: “But they are getting off too easy. For days we shouted about countermeasures, what kind of countermeasure is this?”

“Even our community guard who makes 1500 a month [$220] does a better job; if he says you can’t come in, you can’t come in,” another blogger wrote.

The majority of commenters do express their dissatisfaction and anger about Pelosi coming to Taiwan, some even writing: “I hope that Taiwan is liberated when I wake up” or “We must unify again, once the Old Witch is gone, we can do so.”

Passed midnight the hashtag “There Is But One China” (#只有一个中国#), initiated by CCTV, picked up on Weibo and received over 320 million views. The post by CCTV that only said “there is but one China” was forwarded on Weibo over 1,3 million times.

“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan,” many people commented.

“I don’t think I can sleep tonight,” some wrote.

Meanwhile, on FreeWeibo, a website monitoring censored posts on Chinese social media platform Weibo, there are some posts casting another light on the Taiwan issue.

“Regarding ‘Taiwan is China’s Taiwan.’ Every person can vote, there’s multi-party rule, and there can be democratic elections. Only then can we talk about a reunification,” one comment said. It was censored shortly after.

For our other articles relating to Pelosi and her Taiwan visit, click here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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