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“History Won’t Forget”: Chinese Reactions to Japan’s Fukushima Water Release in 5 Trending Hashtags

Furious responses from Chinese media and netizens after Japan starts releasing Fukushima water into the Pacific: “The entire world will remember what the Japanese government did this day.”

Manya Koetse

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After Japan started to release the first batch of treated Fukushima water into the ocean, Chinese state media launched a strong condemnation campaign on social platforms, while netizens react with panic buying, boycotts, and waves of anti-Japanese sentiments.

Japan’s decision to commence the release of treated radioactive water from the ruined Fukushima nuclear plant on August 24 has taken center stage on Chinese social media this week.

These days, Weibo and other Chinese social media platforms saw a surge of state media slogans directed against Japan, as well as furious posts from well-known bloggers and regular netizens.

Japan will release the treated water stored in tanks at the site into the ocean over the duration of about 17 days, but that is only for this first batch. The release of all the wastewater is estimated to take about 30 years.

Japan’s plans to discharge wastewater from the Fukushima nuclear plant, which was severely damaged by the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on March 11 of 2011, were found to be consistent with international safety standards by the International Atomic Energy Agency earlier this year. Following the tsunami, over 1.3 million cubic meters of seawater were employed to cool the damaged reactor cores and prevent overheating.

Some scientists argue that the continued storage of cooling water in tanks, which are running out of storage, might pose a far greater risk compared to treating and diluting the water before releasing it into the ocean.

However, there is a significant range of opinions on this matter, and numerous voices oppose the intentional release of hazardous substances into the environment. Concerns are prevalent regarding the potential long-term effects on human health, wildlife, and the local fishing industry.

Foreign criticism, much seen on Twitter, that Chinese nuclear plants have allegedly released far more radiation into the sea, is ‘debunked’ by Chinese netizens by posting an image that is supposed to show the difference in the kind of water that is discharged: the ‘clean’ water (top) and the contaminated water (buttom). Instead of scientifically-backed information, the content that is mainly gaining traction these days is driven by emotions, anxiety, distrust, and nationalism.

Meme showing “normal” nuclear wastewater compared to the Fukushima wastewater.

Over the past two days, at least five out of the top ten trending topics on Baidu’s hot news lists and the Weibo platform are linked to the discharge from the nuclear plant and its potential direct and indirect consequences.

We explain the top 5 biggest hashtags on Chinese social media and what’s behind them.

 
ANTI-JAPANESE SENTIMENTS

1: History Will Remember #历史会记住日本政府这一笔#

 

Among the top trending topics related to Japan’s release of Fukushima water is that “History will remember this move by the Japanese government” (#历史会记住日本政府这一笔#).

This phrase, turned into a hashtag, was initiated by Chinese state media outlet CCTV and also propagated by other official media, including China News Service.

Post by CCTV, screenshot by What’s on Weibo.

“The people will remember, all the living creatures will remember,” one popular blogger’s post said, including various images of cute water animals. Other bloggers also followed with similar posts, writing things such as, “The sea otters will remember,” or “the entire world will remember what the Japanese government did this day [August 24].”

One post claimed that “the sea otters will also remember.”

While the expression pertains to the ecological consequences of the Fukushima water release, it also situates the incident within a broader historical framework where Japan assumes an aggressor role, with many online posts making direct or indirect references to the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) and WWII while voicing hate against Japan.

One Weibo user wrote: “History remembers, but the damned devils forget again. Do they remember the Anti-Japanese War? Are their brain cells telling them to destroy the earth?” Many other posts called Japan’s leadership “inhumane” and “evil.”

Online propaganda posters condeming Japan, by CCTV and Xinhua.

As is often done when there are major international clashes, Chinese state media outlets released online posters and slogans in relation to the event. In the Xinhua one, Japan was called a “destroyer” and “polluter.”

In an online media sphere where anti-Japanese voices are already ubiquitous in regular times, this ongoing event is another catalyst, igniting a resurgence of cybernationalism and intensified anti-Japanese rhetoric.

 
FOOD SAFETY & ANXIETY

2: China Suspends Import of Japanese Seafood #中方暂停进口日本水产品是完全必要的#

 

A second prominent subject of discussion is China’s decisive move to suspend the import of all Japanese aquatic products, which is deemed “absolutely necessary” (#中方暂停进口日本水产品是完全必要的#, 790 million views). Since the Fukushima disaster in 2011, China had already banned the import of almost all food products from prefectures near Fukushima.

China-based restaurants or online shops are also strictly prohibited from preparing and selling seafood products originating from Japan (#严禁采买日本水产品网络销售#, 85 million views).

While these news reports and related hashtags pages are initiated by state media outlets, like Global Times (环球网) and People’s Daily (人民日报), they also strike a chord with Chinese online users who harbor concerns about the potential direct repercussions of the Fukushima water release. The decision to entirely halt the import of Japanese aquatic products is decided by higher authorities, and reinforced by overwhelming public support.

This public support also arises from concerns about the implications of Japan’s decision for the well-being of Chinese citizens. These anxieties are intensified by reports in Chinese media, such as a recent one that highlighted “heavy rainfall in Osaka on the day of nuclear water discharge” (#日本核污染水排海当天大阪突降暴雨#, 230 million views). This report insinuated a direct link between the water discharge and the sudden rainstorm.

 
REPEATING PATTERNS

3: Panic Buying of Salt #中盐集团回应食盐抢购现象#

 

The commotion surrounding the news that Japan would start discharging the contaminated water into the ocean has led to people hoarding salt in supermarkets across the country. Online shops also ran out of salt.

Some online photos showed people leaving the supermarket with boxes filled with bags of salt.

The rush to hoard salt originates from worries about salt shortages, but it’s also driven by the belief that salt can act as an antidote for radiation poisoning. However, table salt is actually not advised to be used as a substitute for potassium iodide (KI) as it does not help with radiation poisoning, and eating large amounts could be harmful.

The surge in panic buying is tied to concerns about the repercussions of radioactive water in the sea. However, it also reflects a recurring pattern witnessed over the three years of dealing with Covid in China and pre-lockdown hoarding tendencies (see for example, or here), giving people a sense of control in a situation that is out of their control.

Meanwhile, salt industry associations and groups nationwide have appealed to the public not to engage in panic buying or hoarding of salt, stating that China has plenty of salt resources and that 90% of its salt production is not sea salt and remains completely unaffected by Japan’s nuclear pollution (#中盐集团回应食盐抢购现象#, 170 million views).

 
CONSUMER ACTIVISM

4: Consumer Boycott of Japanese Cosmetics #多家日妆品牌遭遇退货#

 

In the aftermath of the Japanese government’s formal announcement regarding the release of treated nuclear water into the sea, a substantial number of Chinese netizens have not only expressed their intent to abstain from consuming Japanese food, but have also committed to refraining from purchasing other Japanese products, including cosmetics.

Japanese cosmetic brands, including SK-II, Shiseido and Kose, are usually very popular among Chinese consumers. But since June 2023, when the tests began to discharge treated radioactive wastewater into the sea, consumers raised concerns about the safety of products originating from Japan.

According to Jing Daily, an online poll was conducted via social media app Xiaohongshu at the time. Out of 4,472 participants surveyed, approximately 79 percent conveyed their intention to discontinue the use of Japanese skincare and makeup products due to safety apprehensions.

This week, in a Weibo poll conducted by Sina News, more than 90 percent of respondents expressed their determination to stop buying Japanese cosmetics. Meanwhile, the hashtag “Several Japanese Cosmetic Brands See Items Returned” (#多家日妆品牌遭遇退货#, 120 million views), was among the top trending hashtags on Weibo.

This not only highlights their concerns about the safety of these products but also reflects a form of consumer nationalism, where boycotting Japanese goods becomes a manifestation of political activism.

The nationalistic intent behind this consumer behavior is emphasized by the state media outlet People’s Daily. They reported a news item about Chinese consumers purportedly returning Japanese cosmetics under the slogan: “We Endorse Made-in-China” (#我为国货代言#).

 
HIGHLIGHTING JAPANESE PROTEST AT HOME

5: The People Can’t Bear It #日本核污染水排海民众忍无可忍#

 

Other trending hashtags highlight how Japanese people themselves are also allegedly opposing their government’s decision to release Fukushima water.

One trending hashtag, “People Can’t Bear Japan Discharging Nuclear-Contaminated Water Into the Sea” (#日本核污染水排海民众忍无可忍#), has garnered over 710 million views on Weibo. It showcases how Fukushima residents expressed their concerns to Chinese reporters, criticizing the Japanese government and reiterating their opposition to the decision to release the radioactive water into the ocean.

Another popular hashtag is “Japan Scolded for Promoting Nuclear Contaminated Water to Students” (#日本向学生宣传核污水安全被骂#, 110 million views). Since 2021, the Japanese government allegedly distributed pamphlets at schools around the country to promote the “safety” and “lack of impact on health” of nuclear contaminated water.

Chinese media report how local educators have criticized these pamphlets for “deceiving innocent children.”

While there is an online inclination to distinguish between the Japanese government and the Japanese people, there are also online trends that criticize Japanese residents. For instance, there’s a story circulating about Japanese individuals swimming in the sea on August 25 (#核污水排海后日本人在海里游泳#). Some comments read, “You see, they just don’t care,” while many others exhibit clear anti-Japanese sentiments, saying, “Let them swim in it and drink their contaminated water.”

In light of the waves of anti-Japanese sentiments that China’s online media environment has seen over the past few days, the Japanese embassy in Beijing issued a warning to Japanese citizens in China on its website on August 25. They advise Japanese citizens to be careful when going out, and to refrain from “unnecessarily speaking Japanese loudly” (#日本大使馆提醒在华日本民众不要大声说日语#).

Meanwhile, at the time of writing, another Japan-related hashtag has surged to the number one spot on Weibo’s top trending lists, namely “Two Earthquakes In One Day” (#日本一天内两次地震#, 210 million views), about Japan experiencing two offshore earthquakes. “It’s karma,” many commenters write, with others also echoing a popular view: “It’s not a coincidence. The heavens are watching.”

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2023 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 Arts & Entertainment

Looking Back on the 2024 CMG Spring Festival Gala: Highs, Lows, and Noteworthy Moments

Reflecting on the highs and lows of this year’s China Media Group Spring Festival Gala, the world’s most-watched television program.

Manya Koetse

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The biggest media spectacle of the Chinese New Year is the annual CMG Spring Festival Gala. The entire week, this four-hour extravaganza featuring forty-six performances has dominated social media conversations.

The 42nd edition of The CMG Spring Festival Gala was broadcasted on February 9th, celebrating the start of the Dragon Year. This year, the show reportedly attracted 679 million viewers.

The annual Spring Festival Gala by the state-run China Media Group (CMG) has become an integral part of the Lunar New Year celebrations for Chinese people since its debut in 1983. As the world’s most-watched live-broadcasted entertainment program, the Gala is now aired across dozens of channels, both in China and abroad, both on television and online.

China’s Spring Festival Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会) is commonly abbreviated to Chūnwǎn (春晚) in Chinese. Over the past week, the Chūnwǎn became a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media and dominated all trending lists during the Chinese New Year’s Eve.

The Gala, which lasts a total of four hours, shows the very best of China’s mainstream entertainment and Party propaganda and is a mix of culture, commerce, and politics. Through music, dance, art, and comedy, the event serves as a significant platform for the Party to disseminate official ideology. It is also a chance to present the nation’s top performers while showcasing digital innovations.

 

A “No-Covid”, Traditional Gala


 

The phrase “There will never be a worse, just worse than last year [中央春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂]” has become a well-known saying among viewers about the Chūnwǎn, as complaining about the show is very much part of the tradition. However, was this year really worse than last year? Not at all.

This 2024 edition was directed by Yu Lei (于蕾), who also directed the 2023 Gala. The 45-year-old female director previously also served as the general scriptwriter and overall designer for the Gala.

Not only was the director the same as last year, but the five main hosts were also exactly the same. They include Ren Luyu (任鲁豫, 1978), the TV host from Henan who has now become one of the most familiar faces on the show; Sa Beining, also known as Benny Sa (撒贝宁, 1976), who is famous for his CCTV work and for hosting the Gala regularly over the past twelve years; Nëghmet Raxman (尼格买提, 1983), a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who has hosted the Gala seven times since 2015; Long Yang (龙洋, 1989), a CCTV host from Hunan who presented the Gala for the third time this year; and Ma Fanshu 马凡舒 (1993), who was the youngest and newest host during the 2022 Gala and has been presenting it since.

The choice of director and presenters suggests that continuity and consistency were important for this year’s Chūnwǎn. Although the Gala’s format is always more or less the same, including songs, dances, cross-talk, sketches, traditional opera, martial arts, magic, etc., this year’s Gala stood out for sticking to tradition.

Over the past few years during the pandemic, several elements of the show were altered to adapt to the new situation. From 2021 to 2023, the show was only broadcast from the Beijing Studio and focused less on big spectacular scenes. Since 2020, the battle against Covid has also been a theme in the show. In 2020, the Gala included a segment that was broadcast live from a Wuhan hospital to show how medical staff were spending their Lunar New Year taking care of Covid patients. That was the first time since 1983 for the Gala to include a segment that was not meticulously rehearsed.

From 2021 to 2023, the nation’s battle against Covid was also a theme in songs and other segments, reflecting on the daily lives of ordinary people. In 2021, for example, Jackie Chan sang “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好), which addressed the epidemic situation and honored all who joined in the fight against the virus.

However, the theme of Covid played no role at all anymore in this year’s Chūnwǎn, which focused entirely on celebrating the Year of the Dragon, the home, and the nation (龙行龘龘,欣欣家国). Similar to the pre-2020 Gala, this 42nd edition was broadcast not only from the Beijing venue but also included performances in four other locations: Shenyang, Changsha, Xi’an, and Kashgar. Continuity was also seen in the 46 acts of the night, as many familiar faces, such as Sun Nan (孙楠) and Han Hong (韩红), performed during the night.

 

Highlights of the 2024 Gala


 

The xiangsheng (相声) act “Director’s Worries” (“导演的心事”) was the most-watched act of the entire show according to the viewership ratings – this also relates to the time of the broadcasting. Xiangsheng is a traditional Chinese comedic performance that involves a dialogue between two performers, using rich language and many puns. This act was performed by comedians Jin Fei (金霏) and Chen Xi (陈曦). They were also joined by others, turning it into a “group xiangsheng” (群口相声) that humorously portrayed the mental strains faced by Chinese young people and served as a source for parodies and memes on social media.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Song “Dragon” (龙), performed by famous pop singers Zhang Jie aka Jason Zhang (张杰) and Sun Nan (孙楠) was particularly popular this Gala. The song encompassed the main theme of the Dragon Year, as they sang about how a dragon lies in every Chinese person, representing the spirit and strength of the Chinese nation over the past five thousand years. This song integrated popular entertainment with the essence of the Chinese New Year, cultural heritage, and national pride, making it the perfect anthem for the Spring Festival Gala. One Weibo post by Zhang Jie about his performance received nearly 167,000 comments and over 176,000 shares.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The performance of “Koi Carp” (锦鲤) featuring lead dancer Hua Xiaoyi (华宵一) and the Beijing Dance Academy (北京舞蹈学院) was another standout moment of the Gala. The ‘painting’ dance “Only This Green” (只此青绿) stole the spotlight in 2022, while the ’embroidery’ dance “Splendid” (锦绣) was one of the highlights of the show in 2023. Continuing the tradition of presenting top-notch, artistic dance that merges tradition with technology, the Koi Carp dance had a similar charm, with dancers suspended on spring ropes performing an exquisite aerial dance that made them look like graceful fish underwater.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The creative act “Start Something New” (别开生面) directed by the renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) was a highlight in the show for its originality. The act, which combined cooking, dancing, and singing, presented various Lunar New Year customs and food cultures from different regions in China. Besides directing films, Zhang Yimou also has a lot of experience as a creative director of major shows, including the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, and the outdoor night show Impression Sanjie Liu.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Xi’an special segment “Poem for the Landscape of Chang’an” (山河诗长安) performed by Zhang Ruoyun (张若昀), Tang Shiyi (唐诗逸), Zhu Tiexiong (朱铁雄) PACT (派克特), Yang Li (杨力) and conductor Sun Yifan (孙一凡), was among the most spectacular ones of the night. This was an ode to Xi’an and Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, Li Bai. Filled with lion and dragon performances, opera, rap, dance, and specially arranged music by the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra, the segment included a virtual version of Li Bai joining the spectacle. On social media, netizens praised the performance and posted many gifs of the Chinese actor Zhang Ruoyun together with the virtual version of the classical poet Li Bai.

Watch on Youtube here

 

The ‘Lows’ of the 2024 Gala


 

The various xiaopin (小品, skits) were not very well-received. Over the past few years, the Gala’s dance and song performances have actually become among the most beloved acts – far more popular than the xiaopin, which did not get much positive feedback this year at all. Some people said they just “didn’t get” the humor or that the sketches were just not entertaining enough.

 
The song “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵) was the least viewed part of the show according to viewership ratings, and it marked a departure from tradition in a significant way. Since the 1980s, the final song of the Spring Festival Gala has always been “Unforgettable Night,” sung by Li Guyi (李谷一). Li Guyi rose to fame with the song “Homeland Love” (乡恋) during China’s Reform and Opening Up era, and her songs evoke nostalgia for many viewers. She made her first appearance at the Gala in 1983 and became the most frequent performer at the event. Due to her recovery from Covid in the hospital, she was unable to perform at last year’s Chūnwǎn, and her absence from this year’s show was not only a significant disappointment for many but was also seen as the end of an era. Additionally, many people commented that they did not appreciate the new interpretation of the traditional song.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The PLA song “Decisive Victory” (决胜) drew attention from Taiwanese media outlets, highlighting it as a controversial moment of the Gala. The performance of this military song, delivered by artists from the PLA Cultural and Artistic Center, featured soldiers clad in combat gear marching and dancing on stage, while the backdrop displayed images of rockets, tanks, and other war-like scenes. Taiwanese media framed the song within the context of mainland China’s military threats against Taiwan. Some Weibo commentators also interpreted the performance in this light, particularly noting the sequence where singers from Taiwan and mainland China first sang the song “Etiquette” (礼序) together just before the People’s Liberation Army performed the military song. This was seen as a statement of “diplomacy comes before violence” (“先礼后兵”).

Watch on Youtube here

 

The Noteworthy


 

The magic show “Guarding the New Year Together” (守岁共此时) performed by Liu Qian (刘谦) created quite a buzz. During a card trick involving the audience and Gala host Nëghmet Raxman, it seemed like Raxman’s cards didn’t match as intended. Although everyone was supposed to have matching cards, Raxman’s expression revealed that his two cards did not match. This led to much banter online, and Nëghmet Raxman – and his nervous expression – became a trending topic.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The song “Climbing Spring Mountain” (上春山) performed by Wei Chen (魏晨), Wei Daxun (魏大勋), and Bai Jingting (白敬亭) became one of the most discussed acts in the week following the Gala after a rehearsal video was posted online and netizens noticed inconsistencies in the singers’ attire and positions on stage. It was rumored that Bai Jingting may have intentionally vied for a more prominent position to attract more attention on stage, resulting in choreographic asymmetry and some apparent confusion during the song. One important reason why the main rehearsal video triggered controversy is because a tape of the official rehearsal always runs concurrently with the live broadcast, allowing producers to seamlessly switch to the taped version in the event of a problem or disruption without TV audiences noticing. But because Bai changed his outfit, wearing black while the others wore white, and because he did not give up his main spot during the performance, it might have been impossible for producers to switch to a rehearsed version of the song (even though the lip-syncing during the performance was completely out of sync).

Watch on Youtube here

 
● The song “A Friend Like You” (像你这样的朋友) attracted a lot of attention on Weibo and beyond this week as it was performed by the so-called “0713 Super Boys,” including Wang Zhengliang (王铮亮), Chen Chusheng (陈楚生), Allen Su (苏醒), Zhang Yuan (张远), Lu Hu (陆虎), and Wang Yuexin (王栎鑫). In 2022, these once nearly ‘forgotten’ singers made a remarkable comeback through the reality TV hits Welcome to the Mushroom House (欢迎来到蘑菇屋) and Go for Happiness (快乐再出发). They initially gained fame in 2007 after participating in the singing contest Super Boy but gradually faded into obscurity in the years following their initial success. Their gala performance marks their ultimate comeback.

Watch on Youtube here

 
“Belle” (美人) from the French musical Notre Dame de Paris was performed at the Gala in French by various French and Chinese performers, including Angelo Del Vecchio and Liao Changyong. “Who would have ever expected for Notre Dame de Paris to be performed at the Chūnwǎn in French?” one commenter wrote. The Gala provided some subtitles during the song to convey the general idea of the song. Although the Gala usually incorporates an international element, this was the first time for a song to be fully sung in French. The song was presented in the context of China and France celebrating their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.

Watch on Youtube here

 
● Dilraba Dilmurat (丽热巴) in “Dances of Xinjiang” (舞乐新疆) was praised by commenters as the most beautiful performer of the night. The Chinese actress of Uyghur ethnicity showcased her dancing skills during the Kashgar segment of the evening. Not only was her performance notable for its beauty and grace, but it also garnered attention online due to a video recorded by an audience member showing Dilmurat slipping and falling on her bum during the show, after which she promptly got up and continued. After all, the show must go on!

Watch the full performance on Youtube here

Want to know more about the previous editions of the Spring Festival Gala? Also check out our articles below:

– 2023: Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Top 5: The Highlights of China’s 2023 CGM Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Watching ‘Chunwan’: Liveblog CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2022: Chunwan 2022: The CMG Spring Festival Gala Liveblog by What’s on Weibo
– 2021: Spring Festival Gala Draws Criticism for Gendered Jokes
– 2021: The Chunwan Liveblog: Watching the 2021 CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2020: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020
– 2019: The CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog
– 2018: About the CCTV Spring Festival Gala’s ‘Racist’ Africa Comedy Sketch
– 2018: CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)
– 2017: The Best and the Worst of CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017
– 2017: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017 Live Blog
– 2016: CCTV’s New Year’s Gala 2016 Liveblog

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China History

A Chinese Christmas Message: It’s Not Santa Bringing Peace, but the People’s Liberation Army

On social media, Chinese official channels are not celebrating a Merry Christmas but instead focus on a Military Christmas.

Manya Koetse

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It is not Santa bringing you peace and joy, it is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Chinese state media and other influential social media accounts have been pushing an alternative Christmas narrative this year, which makes it very clear that this ‘Merry Christmas’ is brought by China’s military forces, not by a Western legendary figure.

On December 24, Party newspaper People’s Daily published a video on Weibo featuring various young PLA soldiers, writing:

Thank you for your hard work! Thanks to their protection, we have a peaceful Christmas Eve. They come from all over the country, steadfastly guarding the front lines day and night. “With our youth, we defend our prosperous China!” Thank you, and salute!

People’s Daily post on Weibo, December 24 2023.

The main argument that is propagated, is that this time in China should not be about Christmas and Santa Claus, but about remembering the end of the Korean War and paying tribute to China’s soldiers.

This narrative is not just promoted on social media by Chinese official media channels, it is also propagated in various other ways.

One Weibo user shared a photo of a mall in Binzhou where big banners were hanging reminding people of the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War: “December 24 is not about Christmas Eve, but about the victory at Chosin Reservoir.”

Mall banners reminding Chinese that December 24 is about commemorating the end of the Second Phase Offensive (photo taken at 滨州吾悦广场/posted by 武汉潘唯杰).

Another blogger posted a video showing LED signs on taxis, allegedly in the Hinggan League in Inner Mongolia, with the words: “December 24 is NOT Christmas Eve, it is the military victory of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir” (“12.24不是平安夜,是长津湖战役胜利日”).

One social media video showed a teacher at a middle school in Chongqing also emphasizing to her students that “it’s not Father Christmas who brings us a happy and peaceful life, but our young soldiers!”

In the context of the Korean War (1950-1953), December 24 marks the conclusion of the Second Phase Offensive (1950), which was launched by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army against the United Nations Command forces–primarily U.S. and South Korean troops.

The Chinese divisions’ surprise attack countered the ‘Home-by-Christmas’ campaign. This name stemmed from the UN forces’ belief that they would soon prevail, end the conflict, and be home well in time to celebrate Christmas. Instead, they were forced into retreat and the Chinese reclaimed most of North Korea by December 24, 1950.

The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, also known as the the Battle at Lake Changjin, is part of this history. The battle began on November 27 of 1950, five months after the start of the Korean War. The 2021 movie Changjin Lake (长津湖/The Battle at Lake Changjin) provides a Chinese perspective on the lead-up and unfolding of this massive ground attack of the Chinese 9th Army Group, in which thousands of soldiers died.

Especially in recent years and in light of the launch of the blockbuster movie, there is an increased focus on the Chinese attack at Chosin as a glorious victory and strategic success for turning around the war situation in Korea and defending its own borders, underscoring the military strength of the People’s Republic of China as a new force to be reckoned with (read more here).

This Chinese Christmas narrative of honoring the PLA coincides with a series of popular social media posts from bloggers facing criticism for celebrating Christmas in China.

One of them is Liu Xiaoguang (刘晓光 @_恶魔奶爸_, 1.7 million followers), who wrote on December 25:

Some people are criticizing me for celebrating Christmas Eve, because, by celebrating a foreign festival, I would be unpatriotic and forgetful of our martyrs. What can I say, in our family Christmas must be a big deal, even if I don’t come home it must be celebrated, because my mom is a Christian, and she’s very devout (..) So you see, on one hand I should promote traditional Chinese virtues, and show filial piety, on the other hand I should be patriotic and not celebrate foreign festivals.”

Meanwhile, other popular bloggers stress the importance of remembering China’s military heroes during this time. Influential media blogger Zhang Xiaolei (@晓磊) posted: “It’s not Santa Claus who gives you peace, it’s the Chinese soldiers! #ChristmasEve” (“给你平安的不是圣诞老人,而是中国军人!🙏#平安夜#”). With his post, he added various pictures showing Chinese soldiers frozen in the snow as also depicted in the Battle at Lake Changjin movie.

Throughout the years, Christmas has become more popular in China, but as a predominantly atheist country with a small proportion of Christians, the festival is more about the commercial side of the holiday season including shopping and promotions, decorations, entertainment, etc.

Nevertheless, Christmas in China is generally perceived as “a foreign” or “Western” festival, and there have been consistent concerns that the festivities associated with Christmas clash with traditional Chinese culture.

In the past, these concerns have led to actual bans on Christmas celebrations. For instance, in 2017, officials in Hengyang were instructed not to partake in Christmas festivities and several universities throughout China have previously cautioned students against engaging in Christmas-related activities.

Chinese political and social commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also weighed in on the issue. In his December 24 social media column, the former Global Times editor-in-chief wrote that there is no problem with Christmas Eve and the Second Phase Offensive victory day both receiving attention on the same day. Even if the younger generations in China view Christmas more as a commercial event rather than a religious one, it’s understandable for businesses to capitalize on this period for additional revenue. He wrote:

In this era of globalization, holiday cultures inevitably influence each other. The Chinese government does not actively promote the rise of “Western holidays” for its own reasons, but they also have no intention to “suppress foreign holidays.” Some Chinese celebrate “Western holidays” and it is their right to do, they should not face criticism for it.”

Although many Chinese netizens post different viewpoints on this year’s Christmas debate, there are some who just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. “December 24 can be both Christmas Eve, and it can be Victory Day. It’s not like we need to pick one over the other. We are free to choose whatever.”

By Manya Koetse

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