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How Chinese State Media’s ‘America is Bad’ Hashtags Are Backfiring on Weibo

Chinese netizens are using hashtags propagated by state media to get critical posts to the front page of Weibo.

Manya Koetse



By Friday, April 15, a Weibo hashtag page about the U.S. being the worst country in the world when it comes to human rights (#美国就是全球最大的人权赤字国#) had received over 580 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

The hashtag, initiated by Chinese media outlet CCTV, was posted in the context of a video report issued by the state broadcaster on April 14 regarding the U.S. Department of State’s 2021 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, which was published on April 12 (see the China section here).

CCTV argued that the U.S. report, like previous years, attacks and slanders China without properly shining a light on the human rights situation in the U.S., claiming that America is failing when it comes to respecting and protecting human rights.

The Sichuan Communist Youth League added: “In the name of ‘anti-terrorism,’ nearly a million lives were taken; in the name of ‘sanctions,’ human rights are violated. Who is actually hindering world peace?”

Why this particular hashtag attracted so much attention online was recently explained on Twitter by Wen Hao (文灏), a reporter at Voice of America. Wen Hao suggested that this hashtag, along with the phrase ‘Call Me By Your Name,’ was used by Chinese netizens to express their anger about Chinese official channels often using the United States as a bad example to distract people’s attention from what is going on within mainland China.

Wen Hao reported how on April 14, in a time frame of some four to five hours, a flood of angry comments started criticizing the Chinese government for their handling of the Covid crisis and other issues under this hashtag, instead of actually attacking the U.S. according to the state media’s narrative.

Not long after, at around 4am, the only posts left using the hashtags were by verified and official accounts and the ‘Call Me by Your Name’ phrase no longer returned any results on the Weibo search function.

Chinese netizens then later jumped moved on to other hashtags, including one by state media outlet China Daily about how “Covid-19 is suspected of being related ot American bio companies” (#新冠病毒疑似与美国生物公司相关#), or one by Beijing Evening News about how “America’s murder rates are increasing at at an astonishing speed” (#美国的谋杀率正以惊人速度增长#).

Recently, Chinese state media also initiated another hashtag stating that an American company has created Covid19, which led to many netizens blaming Chinese official media for publishing misinformation (read more here).

Now, in the light of building frustrations and disbelief on how Shanghai has handled the Covid-19 outbreak, these state media-intiated hashtags are used to expose incidents in Shanghai and make critical views on China pop up on Weibo without immediately being censored.

Although the April 14 China Daily post about American companies being suspected of creating Covid-19 received over 20,000 replies, only a few comments were visible to Weibo users at the time of writing, but discussions continued in other threads and posts.

“Oh how scary America is,” some wrote, posting humorous memes.

“Are we doing another ‘Call Me By Your Name’ Campaign tonight?

The anti-American rhetoric propagated by Chinese media in hashtags – which make it to Weibo’s top trending lists – has kept attracting news posts voicing discontent on Chinese policies, with Weibo users mostly using sarcasm.

“The man-made virus is so scary, the America is responsible for everything,” one netizen wrote, posting various photos showing a community protest in Shanghai (read about that incident here)

“How horrible! We should let Ailing Gu come back before they use her for one of their experiments,” another netizen joked about the US-born Chinese Olympic star.

“Are we still doing another ‘Call Me By Your Name campaign’ tonight?” one Weibo commenter wondered in the early hours of April 16, referring to using state media hashtags calling out US to call out on China.

Call Me By Your Name (请以你的名字呼唤我) is, not coincidentally, also the title of an Oscar-winning movie featuring a homosexual relationship. In 2018, it was removed from the official program of the Beijing Film Festival after it did not get the approval from the censorship board. Despite the censorship, or perhaps also because of it, Call Me By Your Name reached somewhat of a cult classic status among some Chinese fan groups.

As explained by Wen Hao in this Voice of America article, the phrase has now become a catchphrase to voice dissent with how Chinese officials are often using ‘America is bad’ stories and hashtags to divert attention from things that are going on within their own country.

By now, hashtags such as #CallMeByYourName or #ChineseVersionCallMeByYourName (#中国版 Call Me By Your Name#) have all been removed from Weibo’s search results.

Discussions about La La Land (爱乐之城) were also censored on April 16 in light of the title being used to discuss sensitive topics.

Although many people say they appreciate the ‘Call Me By Your Name’ campaign, there are also some fans of the actual movies who aren’t happy about it: “Now we can’t even use these terms to discuss the actual films anymore!”

Chinese fans of the American movie Don’t Look Up (不要抬头) might be the next to find themselves unable to use the hashtag anymore, as some netizens are suggesting that will be the next title used for more discussions – until the next suitable state media hashtag comes along.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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

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©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of 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 Contact at, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Frank Willems

    April 19, 2022 at 11:12 pm

    Is Voice of America, an American propaganda medium a reliable source of information???

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China Digital

Meet Ren Xiaorong, People’s Daily AI Virtual News Anchor

Although their functions are still limited, AI news anchors such as Ren Xiaorong are a sign of the future.

Manya Koetse



Ren Xiaorong (任小融) joined the Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily as a virtual presenter/news anchor this week.

Ren Xiaorong is the AI-powered host of an app allowing users to ask questions related to the Two Sessions, the annual plenary sessions of the National People’s Congress and of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference that have been taking place this week.

Through the People’s Daily app, you can ask Ren Xiaorong to tell you more about various topics covered during the Two Sessions, including education, epidemic prevention, housing, employment, environmental protection, and many other issues.

According to the introduction video launched by People’s Daily, Ren is also available to discuss other news topics people would like to know more about.

Ren Xiaorong is interactive to a certain (very limited) extent; users can select the topics they want to learn more about, but the app does not yet allow to ask specific questions.

A related hashtag went viral on Weibo on Sunday (#人民日报AI虚拟主播#), triggering discussions on the use of virtual news presenters.

Ren Xiaorong is not the first People’s Daily virtual news anchor. In 2019, the very first AI-powered presenter was unveiled at the 2019 Big Data Expo (#人民日报首位AI虚拟主播#). Guo Guo (果果), aka Little Guo Guo (小果果), was based on the real-life Chinese reporter Guo Xinyu (果欣禹).

Guo Guo and Guo Xinyu

China’s state media outlets Xinhua, Beijing TV, Hunan TV, and CCTV previously also unveiled their own AI-powered virtual news anchors at a time when China’s virtual idol market started to explode.

During the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, there was also a virtual host and China’s first AI sign language presenter.

Although news media outlets have started experimenting with virtual presenters for some time now, some netizens are still not convinced about the actual purpose of having virtual TV hosts and news anchors, especially when their AI-driven interactive functions are still limited.

Weibo blogging account ‘Media People Online’ (@传媒人在线) writes: “I’ve never really understood this, is there a shortage of broadcasting talent, or are AI anchors better at it? Why would you use a robot to broadcast the news? Are you spending so much money on an AI presenter just to show technological progress?”

But other bloggers (@夏日之阳新闻传播考研) think that virtual anchors could improve the quality and availability of news, since they could broadcast around the clock while saving on manpower, alleviating the pressure on newsrooms.

Whether people approve of virtual news readers or not, most agree Ren Xiaorong, along with her virtual colleagues, is a harbinger of the digitalization of the media at a time when artificial intelligence has already come to play a pivotal role in everyday activities.

Want to see Ren Xiaorong at work? Click this link on mobile.

By Manya Koetse 


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

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China Digital

U.S. Embassy Launches WeChat Stickers Featuring Cartoon Eagle

A Weibo hashtag about the eagle stickers, that feature some phrases previously used by China’s Foreign Ministry, has now been taken offline.

Manya Koetse



On January 30, the American Embassy in China announced the launch of its very own series of social media gifs, a special ’emoticon collection’ (表情包), featuring a little, somewhat silly cartoon eagle.

The U.S. Embassy launched the eagle series on WeChat and also announced the series on their Weibo account, writing that the eagle made its first public appearance in light of the festivities surrounding the Chinese New Year.

The eagle is called “Xiaomei” or “Little Mei” (鹰小美). The ‘mei’ is part of 美国 Měiguó, Chinese for the ‘United States,’ but měi also means beautiful and pretty.

The American embassy issued a total of 16 different animated stickers, and they’re intended to be used on Tencent’s WeChat, where users can download all kinds of different emoticons or stickers to use in conversations.

WeChat users often use many different animated stickers in conversations to express emotions, make jokes, or increase the festive mood (by sending out celebratory New Year’s or birthday etc gifs). Users can download new and preferred sticker packages through the app’s sticker section.

One sticker shows Xiaomei with a festive decoration with 福 () for blessing and prosperity, wishing everyone a happy start to the Chinese Lunar New Year. There are also stickers showing the texts “happy winter,” “hi,” and “thank you.”

Another sticker in the series that has triggered some online responses is one that shows the eagle with a surprised look, wiping its eyes, with the words “wait and see” written above. The Chinese expression used is 拭目以待 shìmù yǐdài, to eagerly wait for something to happen, literally meaning to wipe one’s eyes and wait.

This same expression was often used by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) during press conferences, and he also used it in 2022 when responding to questions related to Nancy Pelosi’s controversial visit to Taiwan and how the Chinese military would respond (e.g. he first used “wait and see” in the context of waiting to see if Pelosi would actually dare to go to Taiwan or not). But Zhao also used “please wait and see” (请大家拭目以待) when foreign reporters asked him how China would respond to the announced U.S. boycott of the Winter Olympics in 2021.

The Little Mei emoji triggered the most responses as some netizens felt it was meant as a sneer to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

One of Little Mei’s quotes is also “remain calm” (保持冷静 bǎochí lěngjìng), which was – perhaps coincidentally – also often used by Zhao in the context of the war in Ukraine and to refer to other international conflicts or tensions (“all parties should remain calm”). The animated sticker also has olive branches growing behind the eagle.

It recently became known that Zhao, who became known as the ‘Wolf Warrior’ diplomat, was removed as the Foreign Ministry spokesperson and was moved to the Department of Boundary and Ocean Affairs.

Especially in the context of Zhao leaving his post, some wondered why the U.S. Embassy would use phrases related to his press conferences for their new emoticons.

Although some people suggested the WeChat stickers were not launched in China with good intentions, others appreciated the humorous visuals and felt it was funny. Some also joked that America was infiltrating Chinese social media with its cultural export (“文化输出”), and others wondered if they could not also introduce some other stickers with more Chinese Foreign Ministry popular phrases on them.

A hashtag related to the topic made its rounds on Weibo on Tuesday (#美驻华大使馆上线鹰小美表情包#), but the topic suddenly was taken offline on Tuesday evening local time, along with some of the media reports about the remarkable WeChat series.

The WeChat stickers are still available for downloading by scanning the QR code below through WeChat.

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

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