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Gamifying Propaganda: Everything You Need to Know about China’s ‘Study Xi’ App

Scoring points by doing Xi-focused quizzes and watching ‘Xi Time’ news: this app takes propaganda to a whole other level.

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A new app that encourages China’s online population to study Xi Jinping Thought has made headlines, both in and outside of China. Here’s everything you need to know about this new interactive propaganda tool. An overview by What’s on Weibo.

On January 1st, the Xué Xí Qiáng Guó app was launched on various Chinese app stores. The app is an initiative by the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and is linked to the xuexi.cn platform, which was first set up in 2018.

The app has been making headlines in Chinese and English-language media this week. The BBC referred to the app as a “little red book,” and reported that members of the ruling Communist Party, as well as state-owned company employees who are not Party members, have allegedly been required to download and use it on a daily basis (Feb 15).

The Guardian reported that government officials in Fujian province and Qingdao city held workshops last month stressing the political importance of the app, and directing local leaders to promote the app across government departments (Feb 15).

Although some reports claim that the app is making its way to top lists of most downloaded apps in China, it only scored a position 72 in the top 100 list of popular Chinese app store 360app at time of writing. The app store does state that the app has been downloaded 340000 times, with app users rating it with 2,5 stars out of 5. In the Tencent store, the app was downloaded 2,1 million times.

However, these numbers do not necessarily indicate much about the total number of downloads, since the app can be directly downloaded as an APK file from various locations. In the Chinese Apple store, the app is now the number one scoring app in the educational category. The app is only available in Chinese, and is not available from the Google Play store or Apple stores outside of China.

The app’s name (学习强国) is translated as the ‘Study Xi Strong Country’ app in various English-language media reports, but a more suitable translation would perhaps be ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China.’1 There’s a wordplay in the name, since the Mandarin word for ‘studying’ is ‘xuéxí’ which also incorporates the name of Xi, and in this context means both ‘Studying’ as well as ‘Study Xi.’

The main slogan of the ‘Study Xi’ app is one of Xi’s own sayings: “Dreams start with studying, careers start from doing” (“梦想从学习开始,事业从实践起步”, loose translation). Both the idea of ‘Dreams’ and of ‘Studying’ are concepts that are consistently promoted in the Xi era, with the idea that the common dream of the people is the ‘Chinese Dream’ of bringing about the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Within this Chinese dream, studying is generally promoted as a “secret weapon” that will strengthen the Party and the nation (Xiao 2016).

 

A Multi-Functional Propaganda Tool

 

So what is the ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ app? It basically is a multi-functional educational platform that offers users various ways to study Xi Jinping Thought, Party history, Chinese culture, history, and much more. Once people are registered on the app, they can also access the platform via PC.

An important part of the app is its news feed: its home page features “recommended” reads that all focus on Xi Jinping and the Party. Another major feature is its ‘quiz’ page: every week, there are different quizzes that users can do, relating to all sorts of things, from Party ideology to famous Chinese poems.

We’ve listed some of the app’s functions below. It is much more than a media app alone; it also has a social function, that allows users to connect with friends, message them, call them, and even send them ‘red envelopes’ (money presents).


The ‘red envelope’ function is made possible through Alipay, the online payment platform that is owned by Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate company of the Chinese Alibaba Group.

One way for users to verify their identity on the app is also by linking it to their Alipay account. Various media reports also claim that the app is linked to Alibaba’s Ding Ding platform, an enterprise chat app that has a multitude of functions, many of which are also incorparated in the ‘Study Xi’ app (for more about Ding Ding, see our article here).

Given the cooperation with Alibaba, it is perhaps not surprising that upon registering for the app with just my phone number, it already knew my nickname without me putting it in. The app also listed an old smartphone I used some two years ago as a “frequently used” device, although I had just downloaded the app the day before and had never registered for it before.

Twitter user @yanshitou12 also noted that, upon using a friend’s number to register for the app, her Ding Ding conversations were automatically loaded into the chat history, suggesting that Alibaba’s Ding Ding is indeed fully integrated with the app.

Like Ding Ding, the ‘Study Xi’ app also allows users to set up conference calls, send ‘self-deleting’ chats (like Snapchat), and use the app’s calendar function. Its many practical functions make this an app that is especially convenient for China’s 89,5 million Party members to stay close to the Party and its activities.

 

How to Score with Xi

 

The app’s most noteworthy and perhaps also most appealing feature is its scoring system, since it turns studying Party ideology and Xi Jinping Thought into a game.

Those who accumulate enough points can get an item from the app’s ‘prize shop.’ There are also contests which users can join to compete over a Huawei tablet or other items.

One Weibo user shared that she had just received her Modern Chinese Dictionary by mail through the app’s ‘gift shop,’ another person expressed her surprise that a delivery man came to deliver her prize at her door. “Thank you, Propaganda Department!”, she wrote.

The score system works as follows:

  • Upon registering for the app, you receive 1 point.
  • For every article or essay one reads, you get 1 point (one per article, does not work with articles that have already been viewed before).
  • For every video you watch you get 1 point (the same video won’t be credited with an extra point if you see it twice).
  • The time you spend on the app is also rewarded with points: for every 4 minutes of reading, you get 1 point (max 8 points per day).
  • For every 5 minutes of watching a video, you get 1 point (max 8 points per day).
  • You get 1 point for “subscribing” to a media account, which will then show up in your news feed.
  • If you share two articles with friends, you get 1 point.
  • You get 1 point for every two articles or essays you ‘save’ within the app.
  • If you score 100% on a quiz, you get 10 points.

What is quite remarkable about the app, is that it encourages users to ‘Study Xi’ at particular times of the day. The morning 6:00-8:30 timeframe, along with the 12:00-14:00 slot and evening 20:00-22:30 times, are designated as so-called “active time slots” during which users can score double points for their activities. Within these time slots, reading an article would, for example, grant a user 2 points instead of 1.

This signals that, in line with good working morale, people are supposed to look into the app during their morning commute, their lunch break, and before bedtime, and are indirectly discouraged from using it during (office) working hours.

The points that are scored on the app will be valid for two years.

On Weibo, some netizens are quite serious about the ‘gaming’ aspect of this app, and have already found ways to cheat the system. They share tips and tricks on how to score within the app: points are credited within 10 seconds of clicking an article, for example, and watching videos can be easily rewarded with a point if one immediately scrolls to the end.

Through the PC version of the app, it is easy to let certain videos play while scrolling the internet, basically earning points without actually watching the videos.

“Thanks,” many commenters reply to these cheating tricks: “Just what I was looking for.” “I already received 50 points in one day!”

 

A Library in Your Pocket: Media, Books, Movies

 

The ‘Study Xi’ app focuses on some dozen media outlets that users can subscribe to and which also show up in the ‘recommended’ homepage feed.

Incorporated in the app are state media outlets China Daily (中国日报网), People’s Daily (人民网), Xinhua (新华), Qiushi Journal (求是网), China Military Web (中国军网), Economic Daily (经济日报), and others.

The app also incorporates local ‘Study Xi’ platforms, from Hubei to Jiangxi, from Shandong to Fujian.

Besides these media, the app also has TV channels people can watch videos on, from CCTV News to a special ‘Xi Time’ news programme, to various TV dramas, including Turbulence of the Mu Clan (木府风云) and Romance of Our Parents (父母爱情).

“Xi Time” news clips focus on the activities of Xi Jinping.

There is also a movie section within the app, where users can watch classics such as The Long March (长征), The Founding Ceremony of the Nation (开国大典), films on Deng Xiaoping or Zhou Enlai, and various movies that focus on the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The ‘Study Xi’ library section grants users access to dozens of books. On the desktop version, the library is shown as an actual office, where you can click on the books that are displayed on the shelves and read them.

Some books are those by Xi Jinping, including The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政), but there are also books by the famous Chinese author Lu Xun, or the 20th-century classic Rickshaw Boy by Lao She, and various works on calligraphy and poetry.

There is also an entire section of books available from a whole range of topics varying from astronomy to maths, biology, and geography. The books are available for online reading in pdf.

In general, you could say that the selection of media, videos, and books all fall into the categories of Chinese traditional culture and canonical literature, historical themes, science and technology, and the political themes of Party ideology and the Xi Jinping Thought that focuses on ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ (中国特色社会主义).

Those who read enough state media and Party articles will easily be able to do the quizzes and weekly questions in the app. Besides the standard ideological questions, it also draws from popular culture; I came across a question that used a trailer of China’s latest sci-fi movie The Wandering Earth that needed to be watched in order to complete the question.

 

Propaganda in the Xi Era

 

So how popular is the app, really? If the headlines in Chinese and non-Chinese media are to be believed, the majority of Chinese internet users are getting hooked on the app. That picture is perhaps the rose-colored one the Party would like to envision, but judging from social media comments and app ratings, reactions have been somewhat lukewarm.

On Weibo, there are some commenters who are sharing their 1000-point status on the app, or who say they enjoy looking into the app right before sleeping.

Dozens of commenters indicate that they have to assist their parents in using the app, or that it is not them, but their parents who are ‘hooked’ on the app – the majority of Weibo users are in the 20-35 years age group.

There are local trainings on making (older) Party members more familiar with the app, how to download it and how to use it. A local Chongqing community Weibo account recently posted the pictures below of their ‘Study Xi’ gathering.

On social media, some commenters complain about the fact that the Chinese Apple store has turned off the review comment sections on the app, despite the fact that it allegedly scored a number one spot in its “educational app” section.

Then there are also dozens of commenters who say they often use the app: the score matters to them. In a time when everything is mobile, and online gaming is booming, it seems that ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ has made its app all the more relevant by adding the scoring element.

In doing so, the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party is continuing on the same route it has taken for the past couple of years, which shows a clear break with the propaganda machine before the Xi era.

Not only does the propaganda in the Xi era strengthen the idea of Xi as a political idol, it also fully embraces the Internet, the online media environment, and its related pop culture in doing so (also see Chang & Ren 2018).

Since 2017, various noteworthy propaganda moments, such as the 2017 Xi Clapping Game, the cartoonification of Xi, or the One Belt, One Road media publicity hype, all point in the same direction, namely that the Party propaganda will use the modes of communication and technology that are most popular among China’s (younger) online population to reach their audiences.

For now, I am still stuck below 50 points on the ‘Study Xi’ app. The scoring element is powerful: I feel triggered to get my score up. Maybe watch a few more videos, do better on the quiz, and read some more state media articles. I might just be tempted to go back for some more Xi-studies.

By Manya Koetse

1Translation suggested by Helen Wang @helanwanglondon.

References

Chang, J., & Ren, H. 2018. “The powerful image and the imagination of power: the ‘new visual turn’ of the CPC’s propaganda strategy since its 18th National Congress in 2012. Asian Journal of Communication, 28(1), 1–19.

Xiao Junhua 肖君华. 2016. “Dreams Start with Learning – Studying General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Important Discourse on Learning [梦想从学习开始——学习习近平总书记关于学习的重要论述]” Guangming Daily, via CPC News, 7 July http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2016/0707/c376186-28531506.html [18.1.19].


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©2019 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 Insight

Devastating Rain and Floods in Henan – A Hashtag Timeline

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The torrential rainfall and floodings in China’s Henan Province have completely overwhelmed the region, with dozens of cities and villages seeing massive disruption to everyday life. What’s on Weibo lists the main Chinese social media hashtags that went trending over the past week during the deadly floods.

Disastrous rain and floodings continue to plague China’s Henan province, where Zhengzhou city and surrounding towns and villages have been dealing with the strongest rainfall ever recorded.

Henan, home to 99 million residents, has seen extreme rain since Friday, July 16, leading to floods and critical situations in the region on July 20, when the city of Zhengzhou was hit especially hard.

According to reports on July 24, the death toll from the torrential rains has risen to 56. More than a million of people were relocated and over 7,5 million people are affected.

In this blog, we will list some of the main stories relating to the floods in Henan that have gone trending on the Chinese social media platform Weibo over the past week up to July 24.

 

TRENDING TIMELINE

 

July 20

 

PASSENGERS TRAPPED IN ZHENGZHOU SUBWAY (Hashtag: #郑州地铁5号线一车厢多人被困#)

On the late afternoon of July 20, a terrible flood occurred around the Wulongkou parking lot of Zhengzhou Metro Line 5. On Tuesday night, around 18:00, the water burst into the underground area between Shakou Road station and Haitansi station, trapping a train with approximately 500 passengers in it. The critical situation led to terrifying images and videos of passengers caught in the carriage, the water reaching up to their necks. Due to the lack oxygen in the carriage, many people fainted.

Image via Chinatimes.

After several hours, rescuers were able to get people out through the roof of the carriage. Although hundreds of people were saved, at least twelve did not survive. Footage that circulated on social media showed lifeless bodies lying on the floor of the station during the rescue operation.

The incident is one that kept generating online discussions after it happened, with survivors telling their stories and saying it felt “like the Titanic sinking.”

Around 20:00, twelve people were trapped in at the subway line 14 Olympic Sports Center station, with the water running up to two meters high. The fire department was able to rescue all twelve.

 

ZHENGZHOU HOSPITAL POWER OUTAGE (Hashtag: #暴雨中的郑州医院#)

The First Affiliated Hospital of Zhengzhou University, one of the biggest hospitals in the world, ran into major problems on July 20 when there was a power outage due to major flooding.

On social media, Weibo users cried out to request help for resources to rescue patients. This led to city residents coming in to bring electricity generators. The next day, on July 21st, the hospital’s critical patients were all evacuated to other medical facilities.

 

July 21

 

STRANDED PASSENGERS AT ZHENGZHOU EAST STATION (Hashtag: #郑州东站 音乐是有力量的#)

Hundreds of passengers were stranded at Zhengzhou East Station when all services were suspended after 2:00 AM on July 21st. A youth orchestra group decided to pull out their instruments and perform in the station’s main hall.

The kind gesture moved many Chinese social media users to tears.

 

CONTROVERSY OVER HENAN REAL ESTATE COMPANY ‘HIGHLAND’ ADVERTISEMENT (Hashtag: #康桥地产致歉#)

An ad by the local real estate company Kangqiao Real Estate promoting its ‘high lands’ properties led to online controversy. The Kangqiao Group poster highlighted the height advantage to its real estate locations, using the slogan: “Highland – live in the highland and only let the wind and rain be your scenery.”

The ad started making its rounds while Henan was in the midst of a huge rainstorm and flooding. Many deemed the timing of the ad insensitive, as well its wording. “Let the wind and rain just be your scenery” could also be understood as staying away from the hardships experienced by so many in Henan. Many felt the company was taking advantage of the disaster in Henan to promote its own real estate.

On July 21, Kangqiao Real Estate issued a statement of apology, saying that the advertising was canceled and that those responsible for its content would be removed from their position.

 

BABY RESCUED FROM DEBRIS (Hashtag: #三个月大婴儿被埋废墟一天一夜获救#)

A 3-month old baby was pulled from the ruins of a collapsed house in Xingyang, Zhengzhou. The infant reportedly was rescued a day after the building collapsed to landslides caused by the heavy rainfall. The child was sent to the hospital. The child’s mother was initially said to be still missing. BBC later reported that the mother died after bringing her baby to safety. The child is unharmed.

 

FIREFIGHTER COLLAPSES AFTER RESCUE (Hashtag: #郑州消防员救出最后一个孩子后累瘫#)

Around 14:30 in the afternoon, a fire erupted in a residential building in Zhengzhou, leaving 23 residents in a dangerous situation. Local firefighters managed to carry out all residents, mainly elderly and children. Due to the extreme weather conditions and high temperatures in the building, one firefighter collapsed at the scene. His colleagues immediately provided medical assistance.

 

ZHENGZHOU INSTALLS TEMPORARY PUBLIC WATER TAPS (Hashtag: #暴雨后郑州街头安装临时水龙头#)

As the majority of residential buildings in the city of Zhengzhou were cut off from water after the torrential rains and floodings, the city installed temporary water taps on July 21st.

 

July 22

 

WEIHUI AND HUIXIAN EMERGENCY SITUATION (Hashtag: #卫辉暴雨#, #辉县暴雨#)

In the early morning of July 22, the people in Weihui sounded the alarm over the situation in their town. Around 4.00 AM, water started flooding into people’s homes due to excessive rain and overflowing reservoirs.

As the rain still continued, water levels kept rising up to waist level and there was a lack of sandbags. A similar situation unfolded in the Huixian area.

Weihui is a county-level city with about 480,000 inhabitants, Huixian has approximately 790,000.

 

HUIXIAN HOSPITAL FLOODED (Hashtag:#辉县暴雨#)

Some 300 patients and staff at the local Gongji Hospital (辉县市共济医院) were trapped by the water. With power being cut off, not enough food available, and not enough manpower, the staff started reaching out for help via social media.

 

PASSENGERS GET OFF K206 TRAIN AFTER BEING STUCK FOR 45 HOURS (Hashtag: #滞留K206列车旅客回忆救援过程#)

After being stuck on the Qingdao-bound K206 train for 45 hours due to the floods, train passengers were finally able to get off their train.

The train departed from Chengdu on July 19 at 6pm. Caught by the severe weather conditions in Henan, the train was stranded and had no electricity, supplies, nor air conditioning for nearly two days. On July 22, the 1100 passengers were welcomed to stay at the Zhengzhou Business School until they could continue their journey.

 

ELECTRICITY TO BE RESTORED IN ZHENGZHOU (Hashtag: #郑州力争今晚恢复高层居民小区供电#)

The Zhengzhou local government held a press conference on the afternoon of July 22 that they expected electricity in the city to be partially restored on Thursday night.

 

ONLINE ANGER OVER COMPANIES USING “HENAN FLOOD MARKETING” (Hashtag: #多家地产公司借暴雨营销#)

After the online outrage over a local real estate company promoting its ‘highland’ property in light of the floodings, other companies also sparked controversy for using the Henan floods as a marketing strategy.

Two local companies selling parking space used the devastating floods, in which countless cars were flooded, as a way to promote their supposedly safe parking lot. The companies, Yongwei (永威) and Yaxing (亚星), were denounced for promoting their company in this way at a time when the entire country was still praying for Henan and going out to help those in need.

 

July 23

 

CRITICAL DAY FOR XINXIANG FLOODS (Hashtag: #新乡大块镇上万村民被洪水围困#)

Xinxiang, a city of 5.8 million people just 70 km north of Zhengzhou, also saw extreme rain and floods this week, leading to a critical situation on July 23. Efforts to block the Wei river from flooding villages near Hebi failed. Thousands of locals were trapped without water and electricity.

Global Times reported that reporters tried to get to the hardest-hit counties in Xinxiang on Thursday morning, but were informed that the situation was so severe that teams without boats could no longer get in. Firefighters and rescuers used forklift trucks and rubber boats to evacuate the residents from the flooded villages in Xinxiang.

 

HUNDREDS OF DRIVERS TRAPPED IN JINGGUANG TUNNEL, AT LEAST TWO DEAD (Hashtag: #京广隧道#)

Earlier in the week, hundreds of vehicles were trapped by the water at Jingguang Tunnel, a 2-km-long underpass in Zhengzhou. On Friday, Global Times reported that at least two people had died in the tunnel. Meanwhile, drainage and dredging work was still underway.

People became stuck in traffic at the underpass around 4 pm on Tuesday, July 20, when there was heavy rain. According to witness reports, the water level rose very rapidly and cars were soon flooded. One witness told Global Times that the water was completely over the car roofs within 20 minutes after the water levels started rising.

 

CHINESE SPORTSWEAR BRAND ERKE BECOMES ONLINE HIT AFTER DONATING 50 MILLION (Hashtag: #鸿星尔克的微博评论好心酸#)

The domestic sportswear brand named Erke (鸿星尔克) donated 50 million yuan ($7.7 million) to the Henan flood. This attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media, since Erke is a relatively small and low-profile brand that seemingly has not been doing too well over the past years.

After people found out that the company donated such a high amount of money to help the people in Henan despite its own losses, its online sales went through the roof – everyone wanted to support this generous ‘patriotic brand.’ While netizens rushed to the online shops selling Erke, the brand’s physical shops also ran out of products with so many people coming to buy their sportswear. One female sales assistant was moved to tears when the store suddenly filled up with so many customers.

 

ONE-LEGGED MAN COMES TO THE RESCUE IN XINXIANG (Hashtag: #独腿小哥自发驰援新乡转运老人孩子#)

A man with one leg attracted attention on Chinese social media when footage and images came out of the Puyang resident helping the elderly and children in Xinxiang get away from the water. The young man pulled a boat and made many trips to get people across the water. The man’s hometown of Puyang is about two to three hours from Xinxiang – he came down to Xinxiang to help locals out.

 

July 24

 

HELPING OUT FOR HENAN HASHTAG HITS 15 BILLION VIEWS (Hashtag: #河南暴雨互助#)

A special Weibo hashtag dedicated to seeking assistance and providing help during the Henan floods hit 15 billion views on Saturday, making it one of the most-viewed news-related hashtags of the year. The social media platform Weibo became an important communication tool during the Henan floods, with countless of posts using the hashtag to seek help and provide information. See our article dedicated to this topic here.

 

ENORMOUS LOSS OF CROPS AND LIVESTOCK (Hashtag: #暴雨后百余只羊仅找回一只#)

With ongoing rescue efforts in the region, more ‘after the rainstorm’ videos and social media posts came out on Saturday showing the devastating consequences of the heavy rainfall and floods. Many villagers have lost their homes, crops, livestock, and belongings.

People’s Daily reported that one family in Xingyang county that had more than a hundred sheep, only had one animal left after the floods.

 

THE FLOODS IN HEBI (Hashtag: #鹤壁暴雨#)

The Olympics have started, and many of the trending topics on Weibo were no longer related to the floods on Saturday. Many Weibo commenters were therefore calling out to generate more attention for the situations in Henan’s rural areas, particularly in Anyang, Xinxiang, and Hebi, which are still underwater and are seriously affected by the floods.

“We’ve been doing online volunteer work in the disaster area in Henan, and the reality is far more serious than we can even imagine,” one Weibo user commented.

Also see our articles on Henan here.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

With contributions by 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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How Social Media Is Speeding Up Zhengzhou Flooding Rescue Efforts

Chinese social media are speeding up local rescue efforts after Zhengzhou saw the heaviest rain in 1,000 years.

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Social media is utilized as a tool in the response to the floodings in Henan province. Once again, Weibo facilitates active public participation to provide immediate assistance to the people facing this natural disaster. 

On Tuesday, July 20, heavy rainfall caused major disruptions in the central province of Henan. The amount of rain over the last three days in Zhengzhou is reported to be the same as what it would usually receive in an entire year.

It is reported that Henan Province has initiated the highest-level emergency response to floods, and China’s State Flood Control and Drought Relief Bureau has dispatched a workgroup to Henan, initiating level III emergency response rescue work.

Since the evening of July 20, news and information streams on the heavy rains and floods have been dominating Chinese social media. In the midst of the disastrous events, Weibo has become an online space for people seeking help, those disseminating information on available resources, and for other related activities that help netizens engage in emergency management and accessing information.

The volume of such messages is huge, with thousands of netizens seeking ways to help speed up rescue work and actively contribute to the emergency relief efforts.

The organically improvised response protocol on social media includes the following guidelines:

  • Verify, summarize, highlight, and spread online help requests posted by people from different locations
  • Remind people to delete help-seeking posts once they have been rescued or have found assistance.
  • Disseminate relevant knowledge relating to emergency care and response, and public health information, such as how to deal with different disaster scenarios, warning people about the safety of drinking water during floods, etc.
  • Share information regarding mental health and psychosocial support during the different phases of the disaster.

 

When posts of people trapped by the heavy rain started to be published on Weibo, many online influencers, no matter what subject they usually focus on, participated in spreading help-request posts that were not getting a lot of online attention.

Erdi 耳帝, a music influencer with nearly 15 million fans on Weibo, has been retweeting the online posts of people asking for help since the night of July 20.

The social media influencer Erdi has been kept retweeting asking-for-help posts since the night of July 20.

An example of such an online emergency help request (求助贴) is the following post of July 21st, 17:15 local time:

Our entire neighborhood is cut off from water and electricity, the water level is rising to chest level, and we currently have no drinking water at the moment. Need help urgently.

Status: Verified, pending rescue.
Seeking help: Wu M**, phone 13*****27
Number of people to be rescued: five or six thousand
Location: Zhengzhou City, Henan Province, Zhengdong New District, Shangdu / Xuzhuang Street intersection, east courtyard of Shangdu Jiayuan Muzhuang district (we can’t exit the building, there is no water, no electricity, no supplies, and it’s been 24 hours)

Once people who have been trapped by the water are rescued, the user who published the post will delete the original post to make sure other emergency posts are also noticed and disseminated.

Some Weibo users engage in organizing scattered online information in one single post, e.g. posts regarding local electricity leakage, making this information more accessible and easier to understand.

One post that was among the top-shared ones this week, is a picture that includes contact information of rescue teams of both officials and civilians. When realizing that some people were unable to upload the picture due to poor internet connections caused by the heavy rain, an up-to-date and full-text version was quickly shared by netizens.

Some Weibo users listed various methods to get assistance for hearing-impaired and deaf-mute people affected by the floods, advising people to download various apps to help to communicate and translate.

Besides the more general practical advice and emergency action plans shared by Chinese social media users, there are also those who pay attention to the importance of personal hygiene during these times. Some are sending out information about menstrual hygiene needs during floods, reminding women to frequently change sanitary pads and try to keep the genital area clean and dry due to the risk of infection. A hashtag related to menstruation during the flooding momentarily ranked fifth in the top search lists (#河南暴雨 如果你出在经期<).

Information on mental health support is disseminated all across social media.

People also try to provide mental support in other ways. A student orchestra spontaneously performed at the Zhengzhou station, where dozens of passengers were left stranded in the night. The video clips of the performance went viral, with the young musicians playing two widely-known songs, “My People, My Country” (我和我的祖国) and “Ode to the Motherland” (歌唱祖国). Many social media users shared the clips and expressed how the performance moved them to tears.

Some video clips that show how ordinary people save ordinary people amid such a natural disaster have also been widely shared. One video shows citizens of Zhengzhou standing in a line and use a rope to pull people from an underground floor where they were trapped by the water flooded.

In all the aforementioned ways and many more, Weibo has become a public platform for Chinese people to respond to the Henan disaster, efficiently communicate and keep track of help requests, organize and disseminate related information, and provide access to timely knowledge and relevant advice.

With so many online influencers and ordinary netizens voluntarily joining in, the online information flows are quickly circulating, allowing for necessary public communication channels while other resources and communication methods are still overwhelmed or in the making. The last time Weibo was used as an efficient emergency communication tool was during the early days of the COVID19 outbreak in Wuhan.

“Please stand strong, Zhengzhou” and “Hang on, Henan,” many commenters write: “Help is underway!”

Also see our previous article on the situation in Zhengzhou here.

By Wendy Huang

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