In early February, a concerned Chinese netizen (@木Ei) posted photos and videos of a seemingly unhealthy and mouth-foaming panda at the Lanzhou Zoo (兰州五泉山动物园) in Gansu province, writing:
“Please help me forward this. Our ‘national treasures’ really receive unequal treatment. China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center, please get involved. The panda at Lanzhou Zoo is thin and filthy, with what looks like a skin condition on its back. It makes visitors really feel bad. Many zoos have no conditions to keep pandas, please take the pandas back and take good care of them. Don’t just use them to make a good picture while not treating all of our ‘national treasures’ as actual national treasures, it’s really heartbreaking!”
Photos of the panda went viral on February 13 after the female netizen forwarded her post to various media. Chinese state media outlet Global Times re-posted the woman’s post on their official account, saying: “We don’t understand, sending it forward to the experts at the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center and the State Forestry Administration.”
“Probably the most miserable panda in the world.”
The giant panda is China’s most beloved animal; it the cultural symbol of China and is generally called a ‘national treasure’ (国宝). Its well-being and protection, both in the wilderness as in captivity, has been a state priority since the 1960s, when China’s first wild animal protection reserve focused on panda protection was opened in northern Sichuan (Wanglang Reserve, 1965) (Songster 2004, 110).
Apart from the pandas that are kept at China’s various panda reserves, there are also pandas at zoos across China, from Beijing to Chongqing, and from Guilin to Guangzhou. The zoo in Lanzhou has been keeping pandas for years, during which it has caused controversy multiple times.
Previously in 2013, 2015, and 2016, netizens posted photos of the apparent unhealthy pandas at the Lanzhou Zoo and expressed their concerns over their well-being.
In 2013 and 2015, social media users criticized the zoo’s conditions and shared photos of the seemingly dirty and skinny giant panda ‘Lanzai.’ Some netizens called him “probably the most miserable panda in the world”. But the zoo’s authorities soon denied that Lanzai was being neglected.
In 2016, netizens also expressed concerns when the fur of panda ‘Shulan’ (蜀兰) was blood-stained and discolored. Zoo staff explained that the panda had been treated by veterinarians after suffering a cut from a piece of bamboo, and stated that any accusations of maltreatment were ungrounded.
As the zoo’s conditions are now sparking controversy for the umpteenth time, many people are outraged and say that the Lanzhou Zoo is harming them and is simply not equipped to take care of pandas.
Some netizens point out that other animals in the Lanzhou Zoo, such as the bears and the lions, are also neglected and that their living conditions are below the mark.
Pandas abroad: “The waterfall was deemed ‘too noisy’ for the pandas.”
The Lanzhou Zoo controversy is especially noteworthy because China maintains strict regulations over the conditions for the pandas it sends abroad. A recent ‘panda diplomacy’ agreement with a zoo in the Netherlands illustrates just how strict the rules are to guarantee the well-being and utmost comfort for the Chinese pandas.
After negotiating for years, the renowned Dutch Zoo Ouwehands reached an agreement with the Chinese Wildlife Conservation Association in 2015 that it would receive two giant pandas for a period of maximum 15 years. Besides the annual funding the Zoo will contribute to the Wolong Giant Panda Centre, it spent over 7 million euros (±7.4M$/51.2MRMB) to build a special 3400 m² residence for the pandas.
The residence was inspected two times by a special delegation from China. Because the panda habitat was initially disapproved by the delegation, the pandas’ arrival was postponed for six months. When they checked the panda residence again in January of 2017, they approved it but did demand the removal of a waterfall that was deemed “too noisy” for the pandas.
Zoo director Robert de Lange told Dutch news that it is of utmost importance that the pandas feel comfortable, and that the Chinese inspectors also take the volume of sounds into consideration.
“How could you treat our national treasures this way?”
As strict as the panda habitat regulations for foreign countries may be, it seems that China’s Lanzhou Zoo is not held to the same standard.
On Weibo, netizens’ anger over the apparent negligence of the animals in Gansu’s Lanzhou is directed at both the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center and the Lanzhou zoo staff: “The pandas are helping you make money, and this is how you treat them!”, one commenter writes: “I hope the authorities will see this on Weibo and rescue them.”
“I have been to the Lanzhou Zoo multiple times when I studied there, and the conditions are really terrible. How could you treat our national treasures this way?”, another person from Gansu writes.
Other netizens are now also posting more photos of the Lanzhou Zoo, writing: “I have been to Lanzhou Zoo today, and I saw the panda was skinny and had foam coming from its mouth – I first thought it were its fangs. I hope the relevant authorities can come and save this panda baby as soon as possible!”
Earlier this year, the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center also received criticism when the first giant panda born in Shanghai and her mother both died.
The Research Center (@中国大熊猫保护研究中心) addressed the criticism on Weibo in January, thanking China’s ‘Panda Lovers’ for their concerns and asking them to stop posting abusive comments towards them and their employees: “We understand your love for the giant pandas, everyone here at the China Giant Panda Conservation Research Center loves them, but we all have our own way of expressing it. For you it means you raise your concerns by posting blogs in the middle of the night, for us it means that our employees work night shifts taking care of the pandas, watching the monitors and keeping records.”
They also stated that the center does everything it can within their power for the good of their “black and white babies.”
For now, neither the Center nor the zoo has responded to the Lanzhou panda controversy yet.
Songster, Elena. 2004. “A Natural Place for Nationalism : the Wanglang Nature Reserve and the Emergence of the Giant Panda as a National Icon.” Thesis/dissertation, University of California, San Diego.
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Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang
Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.
Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.
The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.
People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.
The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.
Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.
As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.
In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.
“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”
“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”
For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”
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‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives
‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.
Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.
The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.
US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.
Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.
One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.
The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.
“American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”
One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”
The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后：时间，或许真的不在美国那边了“).
It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”
“American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”
Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”
The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.
Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”
“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”
Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.
Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你：将美国经济从中国分离，美国会破产“).
In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”
The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》：那些说出来的，和没有说的“).
The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”
In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.
Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”
“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”
Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.
In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”
Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.
Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”
Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”
Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”
Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.
Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”
“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”
“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”
Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.
Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.
According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”
More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”
American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.
The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”
Edited by Eduardo Baptista
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