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Humans of Peking – Collecting Beijing’s Stories

Humans of Peking is collecting Beijing’s stories; it’s a website dedicated to the portraits, quotes and short stories from the people living in China’s capital. Personal anecdotes and disarming portraits put Beijing’s inhabitants in a new perspective; capturing unique intimate moments in a rushed city of millions.

Manya Koetse

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A homeless beggar talking about his future dreams, a young fashionista remembering her traumatic youth or an on-duty policeman boosting about his newborn baby – you might have seen the portraits and short stories of very diverse people as featured on the well-known blog Humans of New York. It inspired Daisy Sun and Katharina Qi to start a similar project in the city they love most: Beijing.

 

THE URBAN JUNGLE

“Beijing is predictably unpredictable.”

 

Humans of Peking is a website dedicated to collecting the portraits, quotes and short stories from the people living in China’s capital. Personal anecdotes and disarming portraits put a new perspective on Beijing’s inhabitants; capturing unique intimate moments in a rushed city of millions.

The city currently has over twenty million people inhabitants. The urban scenery is continuously changing. “Beijing is predictably unpredictable,” says Daisy Sun: “Buildings are erected as fast as they are demolished, businesses are opening and closing, people are coming and going. However, through all the hustle and bustle, you can still find that one small coffee shop or discover that one charming alley. Beijing is a city full of urban development, yet still holds on to and is filled with years of culture.” With Humans of Peking, Sun and Qi play with Beijing’s contradictions and versatility; spotlighting the individual within the masses of people. “There is already so much focus on everything that makes us different,” Katharina Qi explains: “whether it is in terms of sex, age, ethnicity, gender or religion. With Humans of Peking, we want to capture the moments that make us all human. It is a reminder that in this big city we are all really more alike than we are different.”

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Humans of Peking does not discriminate. Sun and Qi go out of their way to interview all types of people – especially the ones they see on a daily basis, but hardly interact with, such as the security guard at work or the dry cleaner in the street: “There are so many people we pass by everyday without ever really connecting.”

 

BEIJINGERS WITH A MISSION

“People don’t come here for a relaxed lifestyle”

 

Sun and Qi approach people by simply chatting to them. “People aren’t really shy to talk about themselves, and they love to talk about their families. We only later ask them if we can feature them and make a picture. By the time we make the picture, the initial awkwardness is already over.”

 

humans

 

A city with twenty million individuals, do they have anything in common? “People in Beijing have ambition,” Sun states: “So many of them are working towards something. Generally people don’t come to Beijing for a comfortable and relaxed lifestyle; they come because they’re driven. They’re here for personal growth or for setting up their businesses.” Now that housing prices have reached a new peak and the job market has become highly competitive, people struggle to make money, get a car, and buy a house, says Sun. Getting settled is important not just for individuals, but for their families too: “Family is always a priority within people’s lives here.” Instead of worrying about buying property, younger generations often come Beijing to follow their dreams.

 

CONNECTING PEOPLE

“Step in the Right Direction”

 

It’s also what brought Sun and Qi to Beijing: dreams of living in the big city and curiosity about what Peking life was all about. Qi, who originally is from Henan Province, and Seattle-born Sun met each other in a hutong bar. They both had aspirations to start a website on the people of Beijing. Although they have busy jobs and both volunteer at TEDxBeijing and BarCamp Beijing, they keep their eyes open in order to never miss an opportunity when they’re roaming the streets as they could come across someone who is willing to give them a snapshot into their life. “We just love talking to people,” they say.

Humans of Peking went live earlier this January (2015). Sun and Qi are determined to turn the site into a success. “We’re doing this for fun, but our mission is to connect as many people as possible,” Qi says: “We hope people will stop and take a moment to realize how easy it can be to communicate and learn about one another.” Since they want to involve as many people as possible with their work, Humans of Peking offers stories both in Mandarin and English. Sun adds: “Currently, a significant amount of our ‘humans’ are locals, but we would like to hear more stories from foreigners as well, since Beijing is such a diverse city. Hopefully, our blog can also serve as a way for foreigners and locals to better understand each other.”

Sun and Qi are positive-minded: “If our work helps bring even just a few more people together, then that’s a step in the right direction.” It is their ambition, and they are driven. Of course; they’re Beijingers now.

You can visit the site Humans of Peking, follow them on Instagram or like them and get connected on Facebook.

– by Manya Koetse

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©2014 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 and Covid19

“Why Is It Always the BBC That Has Problems?” – Chinese Response to Arrest of Foreign Reporter

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs blamed the BBC for distorting facts and painting China in a bad light.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese media reports about the official response to the arrest of a UK reporter during protests in Shanghai has gone viral on Chinese social media, without explicitly mentioning the circumstances in which the incident occurred. Chinese netizens are now demanding videos to ‘expose’ how the situation unfolded.

News about the arrest of BBC journalist Edward Lawrence while covering the second night of protests in Shanghai on November 27 has not only made headlines in English-language media, it also became a trending topic on Chinese social media.

On Tuesday, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian (赵立坚) responded to the incident in a regular press conference. A day earlier, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak denounced the arrest of the BBC journalist as “shocking and unacceptable.”

But according to Zhao, the incident has been distorted by Western media to paint China in a bad light. The Chinese side claims that Lawrence refused to cooperate with the police and failed to show his credentials. “There are many foreign media in China, why is it always the BBC that has problems at the scene? This is a question that must be seriously considered.”

Zhao’s comments went viral on Weibo in two hashtags, namely “Zhao Lijian Presents the Truth about the BBC Reporter Who Was Taken Away” (#赵立坚介绍BBC记者被带离真相#), and “Why Is It Always BBC That Has Problems at the Scene?”(#为什么每次都是BBC在现场出问题#).

Zhao Lijian on Tuesday.

A translation of the full statement by Zhao was also posted on the official website of the Chinese Embassy in the UK. Part of the statement said:

“On the night of November 27, to maintain public order, local police in Shanghai asked people who had gathered at a crossroads to leave. One of  those at the scene is a resident journalist from the BBC. Though the  police made it clear to the journalist and others that they needed to leave, the journalist refused to go and in the entire time did not identify himself as a journalist. The police then took him away from the scene. After verifying his identity and informing him of pertinent laws  and regulations, the police let him leave. Everything was conducted within legal procedures. This BBC journalist refused to cooperate with the police’s law enforcement efforts and then acted as if he were a victim. The BBC immediately twisted the story and massively propagated  the narrative that its journalist had been “arrested” and “beaten” by police while he was working, simply to try to paint China as the guilty party. This deliberate distortion of truth is all too familiar as part of the BBC’s distasteful playbook.”

On Weibo, the statement by Zhao, including video, was published by state media outlet Global Times (环球时报), which did not explicitly report that the incident happened during demonstrations in Shanghai. Instead, they reported about ‘the scene’ and that it allegedly happened “in the course of his work” “记者在工作中”).

One top comment on Weibo said: “The BBC is always making up rumors, there are engaged in an anti-Chinese campaign. They should be punished.” That comment received over 6700 likes.

“Are BBC reporters really reporting on the news, or are they making the news up?” another popular reply said.

The idea that Western mainstream media outlets are ‘creative’ in their reporting has been a long-standing one on Chinese social media. In a well-known example from 2017, social media users accused American broadcaster CNN of staging an anti-ISIS protest in London after a Twitter user uploaded a video that showed how police and TV producers directed a group of Muslim women to stand in line with their protest signs behind the TV anchor. The BBC was also widely criticized for using the allegedly “staged” CNN footage.

Although many netizens gave their thumbs up for Zhao’s remarks about the arrest of Lawrence, there were also some who wanted to know more about the incident.

One popular comment said: “Was there just one BBC reporter at the scene? Why would take away a hard-working journalist? What was the BBC reporter recording? Were there also Chinese reporters? If so, can you give us the real recordings of what was happening at the scene?”

“Domestic reporters wouldn’t dare to post it,” someone replied: “The scene was too electrifying.”

There were also those who made sarcastic comments relating to the ‘outside force’ narrative that became ubiquitous in China’s online media sphere in response to the (censored) protests that have been taking place across China.

“Give us the irrefutable evidence to expose these ‘outside forces,'” some said.

The idea that “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) had something to do with the protests first started increasingly popping up in social media discussions on late Sunday night, and it was also raised in an online column by the political commentator Hu Xijin (read here).

Zhao Lijian also reiterated this idea in Monday’s press conference in by talking about “forces with ulterior motives” who had connected the Urumqi fire, which initially triggered the unrest, with the local response to Covid-19.

“Thousands of people are protesting, they must all be foreigners. CNN and BBC are fully responsible. Except for us and North Korea, the whole world is watching these news channels. The entire world – except for us – is wrong,” one commenter wrote.

Many commenters kept asking for video proof of the incident: “I demand you make the video public so we can all denounce them, we will resolutely denounce them” one person wrote, adding a melon-eating emoji (吃瓜 ‘eating melon’ is frequently used as a humorous reference to standing by and watching the scene unfold).

“We firmly denounce disturbing editing, give us the original video!”

Despite the banter, there were also some more serious comments. One Weibo user wrote: “Foreign reporters often do not have good intentions, they are often distorting the facts, and I hate that. But domestic reporters do not dare to face the epidemic situation and only report on the good news.”

“So who can actually give us the truth?” others wondered.

Read more about the “11.24” unrest or “white blank paper protests” in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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

Featured image via Zhejiang Daily.

 

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