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Huawei Phone with Built-In Muslim Prayer Function Stirs Controversy

Huawei’s response to criticism over its Mate 10 Pro’s special alarm function for Muslim prayers has spiraled into a ‘PR crisis.’

Manya Koetse

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The built-in Muslim prayer reminder function on one of Huawei’s latest smartphone models has stirred controversy online. But Huawei’s response to the issue has now become a bigger controversy than the function itself.

A commercial for Huawei’s popular smartphone model the ‘Mate 10 Pro’ has been met with harsh criticism earlier this week.

Chinese English-language media outlet Sixth Tone reports on Friday that controversy around the Huawei phone started when a Chinese poster for the new model showed the Mate 10 Pro’s prayer reminder for Muslims alongside a function to locate nearby mosques. Author Lin Qiqing notes that “Chinese Islamophobes take issue with Huawei’s new smartphone” and that its prayer alarm feature “irks the irreligious and intolerant.” (The article has since been removed from the Sixth Tone website.)

Huawei, however, believed that netizens’ “vicious attack” on the company was the result of a targeted campaign by people who deliberately “distorted the facts.” They described the angry commenters as an “Internet water army” (shuijun 水军): a group of online ghostwriters paid to post comments to manipulate a company’s public relations. They also threatened to take legal actions against these commenters.

The company issued the statement on November 16, saying that the model with the alarm function would not be available on the Chinese market and that the alarm function is specifically designed for customers in overseas regions. They later removed the commercial from their website and from all other online platforms.

 

“Don’t discredit netizens by labeling us as a ‘water army.'”

 

Online commenters denied the criticism on Huawei was part of a larger conspiracy against the brand. “Don’t discredit netizens by labeling us as a ‘water army,'” one popular comment on Weibo by microblogger @Zhuzhou (@煮肘) says. The netizen, who received much backing, also writes that “companies should not contribute to spreading religion.”

Huawei is one of China’s most popular smartphone brands. Its model Huawei Mate 10, the follow-up to last year’s Mate 9 along with the Huawei Mate 10 Pro, became a trending topic on Weibo in October, with the hashtag #华为Mate10# receiving over 480 million views in some days time.

On Weibo, many commenters say that they feel that brands such as Huawei should maintain a neutral image.

One blogger wrote: “That Huawei has added a smartphone function to remind Muslims to pray is actually a small thing, causing a big wave [of controversy] online. Technology companies should indeed take a neutral position in their design, and should not build in this kind of special religious (..) functions. It is really easy to design an app for prayer reminder; Huawei is doing more than it should.”

 

“A recurring keyword in these online discussions is ‘halalification.'”

 

The latest Huawei controversy follows consecutive online controversies in China over the past years concerning companies or institutions adapting to the diet or lifestyle of Muslim communities.

Earlier this year, delivery app Meituan sparked online anger when it introduced separate boxes for its halal food deliveries. Many netizens said the measure discriminated against non-Muslims, or said that if there are special boxes for food for Muslims, there should also be special boxes for food for Buddhists, Daoists, atheists, etc.

In September last year, the introduction of special “Muslim-only” shower cabins at a Chinese university also provoked anger about alleged “Muslim privilege.”

A recurring keyword in these kinds of online discussions is “qīngzhēn fànhuà” (清真泛化). It basically means ‘halal-ification’ or ‘halal generalization,’ but because qīngzhēn also means ‘Islamic,’ it can also imply ‘Islamization.’

Those who oppose the spread of halal food or special services for Muslims in the PRC connect the normalization of Islamic dietary laws and lifestyle to an alleged greater societal shift towards Islam.

In response to heated discussions and growing online anti-Islamic sentiment, Chinese authorities blocked various online words that are considered demeaning to Muslims in September of this year for “undermining ethnic unity.”

 

“I do not understand why a customized service for Saudi Arabia would appear on the official Chinese Huawei website.”

 

On Weibo, the ‘Huawei incident’ or ‘Mate 10 Incident’ (mate10事件) has become a much-discussed topic, especially after Huawei issued its statement that the phone with the built-in prayer and mosque locator function was designed for overseas usage.

Many netizens are angry about Huawei’s response to the issue, not just because they took the criticism as an organized attempt to smear the brand’s image, but also because they did not explain why a function meant for overseas markets would be advertised within China.

“5:26: morning prayers.”

Netizen @GoogleMuqin (@google木沁) writes:

This is my attitude about the mate10 incident:
1. I do understand that Huawei releases customized products for Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, and I support that.
2. I do not understand why a customized service for Saudi Arabia would appear on the official Chinese Huawei website.
3. And I loathe the patronizing attitude of Huawei in responding to this issue
.”

The ‘alarm clock incident’ is triggering so much criticism online, that many people consider it a ‘PR crisis’ for Huawei.

“I think that people are not so much upset about whether or not the phone has this function or not, but they are more upset about Huawei’s reaction to this issue,” one commenter says: “If this function is not available in China, why did Huawei advertise it on so many platforms in China, is this not misleading conduct?”

There are also people who do not understand what all the fuss is about in the first place: “As a Huawei user, I am not offended at all by this function. I have many Muslim friends, and they respect my preferences and I respect their religion.”

It’s all just business, many also say: “There are 1.6 to 2.1 billion Muslims in this world. China also has some twenty million. As a commercial company, it is understandable that Huawei does this.”

One netizen (@夜光边) writes: “This is not a sign of Huawei’s friendly relations with Muslims (..), it is just a sign that they are targeting Muslims as their customers. If you’re not Muslim, then just don’t use this function. It won’t affect you at all.”

By Manya Koetse
@manyapan

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2017 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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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Sarfaraz

    November 24, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Good day!
    Basically, Muslims have time bounded pray within 24 hours a day. example:
    1. Morning: After Dawn till before sun rise
    2. Noon: When the sun on peak time
    3. Afternoon: Almost the shade of the person 2 times of his height
    4. Evening: After Sunset till before darkness.
    5. Night: The darkness of the night till before Dawn.
    So, we have offer pray within stipulated time. I think there is no religion who binds their follower to follow the pray within given time.
    I personally appreciate Huawei app, which is ease to perform the pray and none of any Muslim criticize to non-Muslim about their pray.

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China Brands & Marketing

The Price is Not Right: Corn Controversy Takes over Chinese Social Media

It’s corn! The “6 yuan corn” debate just keeps going.

Manya Koetse

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Recently there have been fierce discussions on Chinese social media about the price of corn after e-commerce platform Oriental Selection (东方甄选) started selling ears of corn for 6 yuan ($0.80) per piece.

The controversy caught the public’s attention when the famous Kuaishou livestreamer Simba (辛巴, real name Xin Youzhi), who has labeled himself as a ‘farmer’s son,’ criticized Oriental Selection for their corn prices.

Founded in 2021, Oriental Selection is an agricultural products e-commerce platform under New Oriental Online. In its company mission statement, Oriental Selection says its intention is to “help farmers” by providing the channels to sell their high-quality agricultural goods to online consumers.

Simba suggested that Oriental Selection was being deceitful by promising to help farmers while selling their corn for a relatively high price. According to Simba, they were just scamming ordinary people by selling an ear of corn that is worth 0.70 yuan ($0.10) for 6 yuan ($0.80), and also not really helping the farmers while taking 40% of their profits.

‘Sales king’ Xin Youzhi, aka Simba, was the one who started the current corn controversy.

During one of the following livestreams, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) – who also happens to be a farmer’s son – responded to the remarks and said there was a valid reason for their corn to be priced “on the high side.” Simba was talking about corn in general, including the kind being fed to animals, while this is high-quality corn that is already worth 2 yuan ($0.30) the moment it is harvested.

Despite the explanation, the issue only triggered more discussions on the right price for corn and about the fuzzy structure of the agricultural e-commerce livestreaming business.

Is it really too expensive to sell corn for 6 yuan via livestreaming?

The corn supplier, the Chinese ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂), is actually selling their own product for 3.6 yuan ($0.50) – is that an honest price? What amount of that price actually goes to the farmers themselves?

‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂).

One person responding to this issue via her Tiktok channel is the young farmer Liu Meina (刘美娜), who explained that Simba’s suggested “0.70 yuan per corn” was simply unrealistic, saying since it does not take the entire production process into account, including maintenance, packaging, transportation, and delivery.

Another factor mentioned by netizens is the entertainment value added to e-commerce by livestreaming channels. Earlier this year, Oriental Selection’s host Dong Yuhui and his colleagues became an online hit for adding an educational component to their livestreaming sessions.

These hosts were actually previously teachers at New Oriental. Facing a crackdown on China’s after-school tutoring, the company ventured into different business industries and let these former teachers go online to sell anything from peaches to shrimp via livestreaming, teaching some English while doing so (read more here). So this additional value of livestream hosts entertaining and educating their viewers should also be taken into account when debating the price of corn. Some call it “Dong Yuhui Premium” (“董宇辉溢价”).

Dong Yuhui (董宇辉) is one of the livestreamers that have turned New Oriental’s e-commerce into a viral hit.

In light of all the online discussions and controversy, netizens discovered that Oriental Selection is currently no longer selling corn (#东方甄选回应下架玉米#), which also became a trending topic on Weibo on September 29.

But the corn controversy does not end here. On September 28, Chinese netizens discovered that corn by the ‘Northeast Peasant Madame’ brand (东北农嫂) was being sold for no less than 8.5 yuan ($1.2) at the Pangdonglai supermarket chain (胖东来), going well beyond the price of Oriental Selection.

Trying to avoid a marketing crisis, the Pangdonglai chain quickly recalled its corn, stating there had been an issue with the supply price that led to its final store price becoming too high. That topic received over 160 million views on Weibo on Friday (#胖东来召回8.5元玉米#).

Behind all these online discussions are consumer frustrations about an untransparent market where the field of agricultural products has become more crowded and with more people taking a share, including retailers, e-commerce platforms, and livestreaming apps. Moreover, they often say they are “helping farmers” while they are actually just making money themselves.

One Weibo user commented: “Currently, ‘helping farmers’ is completely different from the original intention of ‘helping farmers.’ Right now, it’s not about helping farmers anymore, but about helping the companies who have made agricultural products their business.”

“I bought a corn at a street shop today for 4 yuan ($0.55),” one Weibo blogger wrote: “It was big, sweet, and juicy, the quality was good and it was tasty – and people are still making money off of it. So yes, 6 yuan for a corn is certainly too expensive.”

By Manya Koetse 

 

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China Brands & Marketing

How Made-in-China ‘Magical’ Winter Essentials Are Keeping Europeans Warm Amid Energy Crisis

Chinese manufacturers of heating equipment are the “invisible champions” of Europe’s energy crisis.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese companies are profiting from Europe’s energy crisis. Made-in-China electric blankets, electric kettles, sleeping bags, and hot water bottles are flying off the shelves and Chinese factories are working around the clock to meet the demand of European consumers.

“Chinese Electric Blankets Are the Magic Weapon Keeping Europeans Warm This Winter” (#中国电热毯成欧洲人今冬御寒神器#) and “Explosive Sales of Chinese Electric Blankets to Europeans” (#欧洲人买爆中国电热毯#) are among the popular hashtags discussed on Chinese social media this week in light of Europe’s ongoing energy crisis.

Chinese companies are seeing booming sales of winter essentials recently. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Europe is dealing with an energy crisis. Households and businesses across Europe are feeling the pinch: the shortage of natural gas has led to sky-high prices for heating and electricity. The explosions and subsequent gas leaks that occurred on the Nord Stream natural gas pipelines on September 26 have only made prospects bleaker.

Looking for creative ways to stay warm and reduce energy bills, made-in-China products are in high demand among European consumers, and Chinese factories are scaling up their production to meet the growing demand.

According to Toutiao News, some manufacturers in Dongguan are seeing the highest sales numbers in half a decade; sales volumes have tripled compared to the same period last year. This requires the factory workers to work in shifts of three so the production can continue around the clock.

Electric blankets are especially popular as they are relatively affordable and more cost-effective as they require less electricity to run compared to electric heaters. Chinese electric blankets are generally cheaper than local options.

Chinese media describe Chinese electric blankets as the ‘magical weapons to defend against the cold’ (“御寒神器”).

The word shénqì (神器), meaning ‘magical tool’ or ‘magical weapon’, is often used to refer to products or objects that provide a simple or smart solution to a pressing problem, such as these paint buckets that became a viral hit during Spring festival travel season; this ‘magical’ device to prevent grannies from dancing underneath your window; or this gadget to take revenge on a noisy neighbor.

 

“Now there’s even a joke saying the Yiwu electric blanket sellers are the ones who sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines.”

 

Besides electric blankets, other made-in-China ‘magical weapons’ that have become popular amongst European consumers include electric kettles, wearable sleeping bags, thermal underwear, and hot water bottles.

Electronic knee warmer.

As this topic of Chinese winter products “taking over Europe” recently became a hot topic on Chinese social media, some people commented on how the prices for these products were much higher in Europe than in China.

In Europe, a simple rubber hot water bottle is usually sold for around ten euros ($10) while the exact same products are sold for around five to ten yuan ($0.70-$1.5) in China.

In this way, the European energy crisis turns out to be a lucrative one for Chinese businesses. Some bigger companies also manufacturing electric blankets saw their stock prices rise.

One joke circulating on Chinese social media suggests that Chinese electric blanket sellers from manufacturing cities such as Yiwu are the ones who sabotaged the North Stream pipes.

“I never expected China to get part of the profits,” one popular comment said, with the following comment saying: “Thanks to the silly Europeans for making a contribution to our economy!”

“I heard they’re even looking [to buy] our Chinese birthday candles, they’ve gone mad,” one Weibo user wrote, while others jokingly wrote: “We’re the real winners.”

In light of the run on electric blankets, Chinese netizens also came up with some alternative suggestions to stay warm.

“It would be better if they’d wear long underwear pants,” one commenter suggests, while others say that people could just “make love to generate electricity.”

“Use a hot-water bottle and drink lots of hot water,” some write, while others recommend European consumers to buy more hand warmers.

Hand warmer sold on Taobao for 128 yuan ($18).

“I suggest them to buy our Xinjiang cotton quilts, they are sustainable and you can save on energy,” one Weibo user wrote in reference to last year’s Xinjiang cotton boycott.

One Weibo user drew their own conclusion in light of the current developments: “I think we could safely say that the world can do without Russians, but we’ll always need China.”

By Manya Koetse with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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