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“His Name Was Mao Anying”: Renewed Remembrance of Mao Zedong’s Son on Chinese Social Media

There has been a renewed focus on Mao Zedong’s son Mao Anying, who died on the North Korean War battlefield at the age of 28.

Manya Koetse

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Hundreds of Chinese state media and government channels posted a tribute to Mao Zedong’s oldest son on social media this week, commemorating the anniversary of his 100th birthday. The widespread publicity campaign shows a broader renewed focus on Mao Anying in Chinese online media, where official voices communicate why – and in which way – Mao Anying needs to be remembered by the Chinese people.

72 years after his death, Mao Anying is trending on Weibo. “Remembering Comrade Mao Anying’s 100th Birthday” became a popular hashtag on Weibo on October 24. Various official Chinese channels, including Global Times and the Communist Youth League, promoted the hashtag in their posts and included videos showing old footage featuring Mao Anying (毛岸英, 1922-1950), the first-born son of Mao Zedong and his second wife, Yang Kaihui.

“Let’s remember! In 1950 on November 25, at just 28 years old, Mao Anying sacrificed his life on the North Korean battlefield, Peng Dehuai called him the number one soldier of the volunteer army,” the Communist Youth League wrote on Weibo.

During the Korean War, the Chinese government, led by Mao Zedong, sent troops to fight in the war, and Mao’s son Mao Anying joined the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army.

It is said that Chinese military leader Peng Dehuai did not want Mao Anying to join, thinking it was far too dangerous for him, but Mao allegedly disagreed: “Who will go if my son doesn’t?” (Davin, Ch. 4).

Mao Anying was killed in action by an American air strike a month after the start of this three-year war against US aggression in support of North Korea. He left behind his wife Liu Siqi (刘思齐), whom he had just married the year before his death.

Mao Anying with his wife Liu Siqi, who passed away in January of 2022 at the age of 92. #刘思齐同志逝世##毛岸英妻子刘思齐逝世#

Mao Anying’s short life was definitely not all roses. He was not in contact with his father for most of his younger years as Mao Zedong lost contact with his wife Yang Kaihui when little Anying was just around five years old.

Mao Anying had two brothers.* His younger brother Mao Anlong (毛岸龙, 1927-1931) died due to dysentery when he was still a toddler. A policeman badly beat his other brother Mao Anqing (毛岸青, 1924-2007) in the 1930s which is said to have contributed to him being diagnosed with schizophrenia later on in life.

In 1930, their mother was executed in Changsha by nationalist forces after allegedly refusing to denounce Mao and the Communist Party. After living on the streets in Shanghai for some years, Mao Anying and his brother Mao Anqing were located by the Party and sent to the Soviet Union to get an education (Davin 2013, Ch. 2).

Mao Anying became a Russian translator for Peng Dehuai during the Korean War and was placed at the Taeyudong headquarters in North Korea in the fall of 1950. As American bomb attacks started to come dangerously close to the headquarters, Mao Anying was made to go to a cave system that functioned as a bomb shelter but, for some reason, joined two others to a nearby hut the next day, which is where he was bombed.

After Mao Anying was killed, Mao Zedong allegedly said that “it was his misfortune to be Mao Zedong’s son” (Davin 2013, Ch. 4; Forbes 2010, 12).

In 1990, when staff was sorting through Mao Zedong’s belongings, they discovered that he had always kept a small collection of his son’s belongings with him: two neatly folded t-shirts, one pair of socks, a military cap, and a towel. This story was shared on social media by official channels on October 24 of 2021 (#毛泽东默默收藏多年的毛岸英遗物#).

 

The Forbidden Egg Fried Rice Meme


 

One part of Mao Anying’s death that has become an ongoing, urban-legend-kind-of online story is that he supposedly disobeyed army rules and cooked egg fried rice at the Chinese headquarters. The smoke of the fire supposedly alerted the enemy and led to the bombing in which he would lose his life.

Although losing his favorite son – and his potential successor – was a tragedy to Mao Zedong, some Chinese are less remorseful about the young Mao never making it home, arguing that he could have continued Mao Zedong’s ruthless reign after his death.

The anniversary of Mao Anying’s death has therefore come to be celebrated by some netizens as “Egg Fried Rice Day” (蛋炒饭节) or “Chinese Thanksgiving” (中国感恩节), since it’s close to the American Thanksgiving. China Digital Times has a ‘digital space’ page dedicated to the online protest and meme in one, writing that eating egg fried rice is one the day’s ‘traditions.’

A few years ago, the sensitive nature of this meme became clear when a Chinese celebrity chef with many social media followers uploaded a video on October 25 on how to prepare Yangzhou-style fried rice. As described by Dennis E. Yi (2020), the chef was accused of “humiliating China” due to the alleged – and probably unintentional – connection to the Mao Anying rumors.

Chef Wang (美食作家王刚) made fried rice on October 24, a sensitive dish for a sensitive day. Read more via The China Project.

In 2021, the social media account of a Jiangsu branch of China Unicom was shut down after it posted an egg fried rice recipe on October 24.

In the same year, China’s Cyberspace released an official list including “rumors and fake information” related to the history of the Communist Party of China, including “key facts on revolutionary leaders, heroes and historical events.”

This list was compiled and published in order to “establish a correct view of the history of the Party and oppose historical nihilism” (Global Times 2021). The claim that Mao Anying died because he exposed himself while he was preparing fried rice with eggs was included on this list and was officially declared a rumor.

When the Korean war-themed movie The Battle at Lake Changjin became a major hit in fall of 2021, one Weibo user wrote that “fried rice was the best thing to come out of the whole Korean War,” after which they were jailed for ten days for “impeaching the reputation of heroes and martyrs.”

 

“Why Do We Remember Mao Anying?”


 

The recent widespread state media campaign surrounding Mao Anying’s birthday is noteworthy. One Weibo post by Changjiang Daily (长江日报) says:

He is Mao Zedong’s son, he is the first soldier of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army, and he sacrificed his life with honor and glory on the North Korean battlefield. He is like his father and put his own flesh and blood into revolutionary work. His name was Mao Anying. Today, let us commemorate our comrade Mao Anying together.”

The same wording was also used in posts by other official channels, including by the Chinese police force, Wuhan City, Guangdong City, Ningxia, Nanchong Public Security, and many, many others.

State media outlet People’s Daily promoted the hashtag “Mao Anying Was the First Volunteer Soldier of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army” (#毛岸英是中国人民志愿军第一个志愿兵#), with other hashtags surrounding the commemoration of his birthday also circulating on Chinese social media, including “Why Do We Remember Mao Anying” (#我们为何纪念毛岸英#) and “Commemorating the 100th Birthday of Mao Anying” (#纪念毛岸英同志诞辰百年#).

The commemoration of Mao Anying’s 100th birthday went trending right after the ending of the 20th Party Congress and comes at a time when there is a renewed focus on remembering the Korean War (1950-1953).

The Korean War, referred to as ‘the War to Resist America and Aid Korea’ (抗美援朝战争), has become an important and recurring theme in multiple Chinese film productions, series, museums, and political events in recent years.

The 2020 movie The Sacrifice (金刚川), starring ‘Wolf Warrior’ actor Wu Jing, depicts the Korean War from different perspectives and focuses on the heroic role of ordinary soldiers. An exhibition at the Chinese Military Museum about the “glorious course and great achievements of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army” opened in 2020 as part of the 70th anniversary of the start of the war. In 2021, the Cemetery for Martyrs of the Chinese People’s Volunteers held a burial ceremony for 109 Chinese soldiers whose remains were returned by South Korea after seven decades (Conrad 2020; GT 2021).

But what has made the most impact on Chinese audiences is the 2021 blockbuster film The Battle at Lake Changjin, which provides a Chinese perspective on the start of the Korean War and the lead-up and unfolding of the battle of Chosin Reservoir, a massive ground attack of the Chinese 9th Army Group against American forces. The Chinese attack at Chosin is remembered as a glorious victory and strategic success for turning around the war situation in Korea and leading to a withdrawal of most of the UN forces by late 1950.

The movie’s narrative and script recurringly underline why this particular historical event should not be forgotten by the Chinese people. In one of the film’s earlier scenes, Mao Zedong talks to military leader Peng Dehuai in the days leading up to China’s decision to send out troops to North Korea, saying:

[Our] country is newly established and thousands of things are waiting to be done. If it’s for our current situation, I really don’t want to fight this war. But if it’s for the future, and the peaceful development of our country over a few decades or a century, we must fight this war. The foreigners look down on us. Pride can only be earned on the battlefield.”

It is a scene that is telling for the narrative the movie conveys about the Chosin battle and the war at large, during which the Chinese troops were severely underestimated by the well-equipped U.N. forces.

After the ‘Century of Humiliation,’ the time from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s during which China was attacked, weakened, and torn by foreign forces, the Korean War and Chosin battle showed that the military strength of the People’s Republic of China was a new force to be reckoned with. By showing this strength, China did not just save the North Korean regime but also defended its own borders and the nation’s prestige.

The determination and fighting spirit of the Chinese soldiers at Chosin as depicted in the movie – one impressive scene shows dozens of soldiers frozen into “ice sculptures” while still in battle posture – struck a chord with Chinese audiences.

As part of this ‘re-remembrance’ of the Korean War in China, Mao Anying has been placed more prominently in the media spotlight.

The award-winning Battle at Lake Changjing also includes a scene showing how Mao Anying expresses his wish to join the army. After Peng Dehuai shares his disagreement, Mao Zedong comes out and says: “Let him go.” (You can watch the scene including English subtitles here.)

Mao Anying in the Battle at Lake Chanjin, played by actor Huang Xuan.

Although there already was a Chinese 34-episode TV drama dedicated to Mao Anying in 2010, the same year in which a statue of him was revealed by the North Korean border, the series focused more on the “special bond between father and son” and Mao Anying’s marriage to Liu Siqi, as the script was also partly based on Liu’s memoirs (Beijing Entertainment News 2010; CNR 2010).

It was not until more recently that Mao Anying’s legacy was officially and explictly contextualized within the frame of the victorious Korean War, specifically emphasizing the sacrifice Mao Anying made for his country.

In 2020 and in 2021, official Chinese channels began to actively promote stories about Mao Anying and his legacy on social media. The Chinese Historical Research Institute published the hashtag “The 70th Anniversary of Mao Anying Sacrificing His Life” (#毛岸英牺牲70周年#) in 2020, the same year when Chinese media featured posts about the ‘egg fried rice’ stories being “pure fabrications” and the need to “restore historical truth about the sacrifice of the martyr Mao Anying,”

No more egg fried rice rumors surrounding Mao Anying’s legacy – image posted by Guanchazhe on Weibo in 2020.

People’s Daily, for example, launched the hashtag “Mao Anying Was Only 28 Years Old When He Sacrificed His Life” (#毛岸英牺牲时年仅28岁#) in 2021. In the same year, Communist Youth League promoted the hashtag “71 Years Since Mao Anying Sacrificed His Life” (#毛岸英牺牲71周年#) and that the hashtag “Martyr Mao Anying Sacrificed His Life 71 Years Ago” (#毛岸英烈士牺牲71周年#) was launched, along with the slogan “Mao Anying Was the First Soldier of the Chinese Volunteer Army” (#毛岸英是志愿军第一名战士#).

The increased interest in Mao Anying is also visible when looking up search query trends in the Chinese search engine Baidu via their Baidu Index tool. Over the past five years, there has been a gradual increase in people searching for the keyword ‘Mao Anying,’ with the absolute peak in popularity of the search engine coinciding with the release of the Battle at Lake Changjin film.

Screenshot of Baidu trend report, showing the frequence of search quary ‘Mao Anying’ on search engine Baidu from late October 2017 to late October 2022.

Baidu Index shows there is a correlation between the increased interest in the Korean War and the interest in Mao Anying.

The Baidu search engine tool also shows how there is a correlation between the terms ‘Korean War’ and ‘Mao Anying’, as they both see peaks in popularity at the same time (blue line is Mao, green line is Korean War).

 

Remembering Mao Anying, The Right Way at the Right Time


 

In remembering Mao Anying and incorporating his legacy into China’s collective memory in the context of the Korean War, several dynamics come together at the same time.

The ‘War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea’ or China’s overall participation in the Korean War is described as a “great victory” in fighting against the U.S. forces and as a “sound foundation” for China’s development as a newly established country “at a time when it was rather backward and in dire need of a full-scale reconstruction.” As state media outlet Global Times (2021) writes:

This success ensured a peaceful development environment for China and secured the international prestige of the Chinese military through the war. The spirit of all young men and women who sacrificed for the country during the war was inherited.”

This specific kind of remembrance, in which Mao Anying plays a special role as “the first soldier to sacrifice his life,” comes at a time when Party ideology is strong, and is especially emphasized in the 2020-2022 period during important events such as the 70th anniversary of start of the Korean War, the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China, and the 20th Party Congress.

In Xi Jinping’s thoughts on China’s New Era and the journey towards a rejuvenated nation, you see a more assertive China and more focus on the country’s military strength and Party ideology (also see here and here).

Within this context, Mao Anying’s sacrifice for China’s future during the Korean War is more important than even before, especially in light of escalating political tensions between the U.S. and China, accompanied by a rise of Chinese nationalism.

It is therefore perhaps no coincidence that all the aforementioned things, from the launch of the Battle at Lake Changjin film, to the new remembering of Mao Anying on social media and the official listing of Mao Anying-related rumors as fabrications, took place within the last two to three years.

It is the ‘right’ time to commemmorate Mao Anying for the ‘right’ reasons: not just because he was Mao Zedong’s son or Liu Siqi’s husband, but because he was a Party leader’s son who joined the Chinese Volunteer Army and dedicated his life to “defending the country, serving the people, and strengthening the army” (China Military Online 2021).

“I salute you, hero,” one recurring popular comment on Weibo says. “Remember every hero who worked for the happiness of people in a New China!”

“He was a hero of the people,” others write: “You will never be forgotten.”

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By Manya Koetse 

* Besides having three sons with his second wife Yang Kaihui, Mao Zedong would go on to have three daughters and three sons with He Zizhen, of which most either died young or were separated from their parents, and one daughter with his fourth wife Jiang Qing.

References (other primary sources included in text through hyperlinks)

Beijing Entertainment News 北京娱乐信报. 2010. “TV Series “Mao Anying” comes to CCTV, focusing on the love between father and son [电视剧《毛岸英》登陆央视 聚焦父子情]” (In Chinese). 北京娱乐信报, October 18 https://yule.sohu.com/20101018/n275860939.shtml [Oct 27, 2022].

China Military Online. 2021. “Mao Anying, forging ahead courageously and against all odds.” China Military, June 29 http://eng.chinamil.com.cn/2021special/2021-06/29/content_10056685.htm [Oct 27, 2022].

CNR (China National Radio) 中广网. 2010. “Liu Siqiu: The TV Series ‘Mao Anying’ Is My Gift to Him [刘思齐:电视剧《毛岸英》是我送岸英的礼物]” (In Chinese). 中广网, October 21 http://www.taiwan.cn/plzhx/zht/201010/t20101021_1569029.htm [Oct 27, 2022].

Conrad, Jennifer. 2020. “70 years on, how China sees the Korean War.” The China Project, Oct 14 https://thechinaproject.com/2020/10/14/70-years-on-how-china-sees-the-korean-war/ [Oct 27, 2022].

Davin, Delia. 2013. Mao: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Purchase here).

Forbes, Cameron. 2010. The Korean War – Australia in the Giants’ Playground. Sydney: MacMillan.

Global Times. 2021. “Sacrifices from CPC’s young heroes, past and present, continue to inspire new generations.” Global Times, July 8 https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202107/1228123.shtml [Oct 27, 2022].

Global Times. 2021. “China releases list of rumors on Party history, martyrs to fight historical nihilism.” Global Times, July 16 https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202107/1228819.shtml [Oct 27, 2022].

Global Times. 2021. “Remains of 109 Chinese People’s Volunteers soldiers return from South Korea to China.” Global Times, Sep 2 https://www.globaltimes.cn/page/202109/1233202.shtml [Oct 27, 2022].

Yi, Dennis E. 2020. “Fried rice backlash: Why Chinese internet users turned on a celebrity chef.” The China Project, November 11 https://thechinaproject.com/2020/11/11/fried-rice-backlash-why-chinese-internet-users-turned-on-a-celebrity-chef/ [Oct 27, 2022].

 

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©2022 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 History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China History

Noteworthy Weibo Post by Embassy of Germany in China About What Happened in 1989

A Weibo post by the Embassy of Germany in China focuses on what happened in both countries in 1989, but the China part is blacked-out.

Manya Koetse

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On October 28, the Weibo account of the Embassy of Germany in China posted the hashtag “50 Years of China-German Diplomatic Relations” (#德中建交五十周年#) accompanied by an image with photos and text.

Two photos next to each other showed on the left side the Fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and on the right side a blacked-out image.

The text says:

1989: In East Germany, the German Democratic Republic under socialist rule, more and more people protested for democracy and civil rights. This led to the peace draft of November 1989 and the Fall of the Berlin Wall at the border between the two German states.” [rest of the text fully blacked out]

Georg Fahrion, Beijing-based China correspondent at German news website Der Spiegel, wrote about the noteworthy post on Twitter:

The German embassy in Beijing Weibo account trolling China supreme: In 1989, this is what happened in our capital. What happened in yours in 1989, say, on June 4th?

“How peculiar,” some netizens responded. “What does this have to do with Sino-German diplomatic relations? I feel like you are purposely being ambiguous,” one top comment said.

“Did you think this was funny?” another person wrote.

This entire month, the Weibo account of the German Embassy in China (@德国驻华大使馆), which has over 375,000 followers, has been posting historical photos, highlighting important years and events during the past fifty years of Sino-German diplomatic relations.

On October 11, they made the first Weibo post within the “50 Years of Sino-German Diplomatic Relations” series, starting with the year 1972.

Looking back: 50 years, 50 moments. 50 years ago, on October 11, the Federal Republic of Germany and the People’s Republic of China officially established diplomatic relations. To commemorate this occasion, we are launching a series of Weibo posts: 50 moments in 50 years. For the next 50 days, we will take you through one event each day that has had a profound impact on German-Chinese relations.”

1972: The Federal Republic of Germany and the People’s Republic of China formally establish diplomatic relations. On October 11, Foreign Minister Scheel and Foreign Minister Ji Pengfei sign a joint communiqué in Beijing establishing diplomatic relations. Foreign Minister Ji Pengfei knew Germany very well: he had been the head of the diplomatic mission since the early 1950s and was appointed as China’s first ambassador to the GDR in 1953. Shortly after the establishment of diplomatic relations, the West German Embassy in Beijing was officially opened on December 1, 1972.”

In other following posts by the German Embassy in China, they commemmorate overall uncontroversial historical moments that have been important to the bilateral relations.

They include, among others, a 1974 Max Planck Society delegation to China led by then President Reimar Lüst; the 1975 Beijing visit by Chancellor Helmut Schmidt; the 1976 death of Mao Zedong and how his thinking had been influenced by the German socialist revolutionary Karl Marx; the 1978 opening of the German Embassy School in Beijing; the 1979 visit to Germany by Hua Guofeng; the 1980 arrival of the pandas BaoBao and TianTian to Berlin; the 1983 debut of Volkwagen Santana on the Chinese market; the 1984 China visit by Helmut Kohl; and the 1986 visit of East German leader Erich Honecker to Beijing.

Especially in light of this previous series of seemingly friendly, mild, and non-provocative posts, the October 28 post on the year 1989 stands out.

The post obviously means to point out the year 1989 as an important one for both China and Germany, as they both faced widespread pro-democracy demonstrations.

While the Tiananmen protests, which started in April, were forcibly suppressed on June 4th, the authorities in Germany eventually chose not to use military force against protesting citizens, eventually resulting in the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of that year.

There is a clear transnational connection between what happened in China and the GRD in 1989, which is something that the German Embassy in Beijing undoubtedly wanted to point out. (If you want to read more about this transnational connection between the Tiananmen and Leipzig demonstrations, you can read “Tiananmen Square, Leipzig, and the ‘Chinese Solution’: Revisiting the Wende from an Asian-German Perspective” here.)

But since the topic of the Tiananmen protests is commonly censored in China and is not something that can be freely discussed on Chinese social media, the post by the German Embassy was left partly, and explicitly, blacked out.

The move could be perceived as a statement against Chinese censorship by making the self-censorship explicit for everyone to see. It is unlikely that the post was censored by the Weibo platform: images that are censored by Weibo usually come up as blank spaces, and if a post is censored, it never comes up with blacked-out sentences but instead is removed altogether.

It is also possible that the German embassy in Beijing did not self-censor, but instead posted an image of a book or webpage that was already censored.

In either case, the move could be seen as a provocative one in a media environment where any mention regarding the June 4th protests, direct or indirect, is always censored. One popular Chinese book about everything that happened in China in the 1980s did not include a single mention of the protests.

Although this post was not censored, the comment section was limited and viewing new comments was “temporarily not possible” at time of writing.

The timing of this post is especially noteworthy because German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is scheduled to visit China next week as the first Western European leader to go to Beijing since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2021, the UK embassy in China posted a virtual candle on Weibo on June 4th to commemorate the Tiananmen protests. That gesture instantly backfired, as some people suggested the candle was lit because the Queen had passed away (read here).

The Germany post was discussed elsewhere on Weibo, although some had to be creative in their description, talking about that one post about “the year that follows after 1988.” “They’re being foolish,” others wrote.

For more articles about embassies on Weibo, check here. To read more of our articles related to Tiananmen on social media, read here.

By Manya Koetse 

 

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