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How ‘Chinese’ are China’s Muslims? Islam in China: An Overview

An overview of Islam in China and China’s relation to its Muslim minority.

Manya Koetse

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As Muslim extremist attacks have ignited discussions on Islam in Europe, Chinese leaders increasingly expand restrictions on the Muslims within their borders. What’s on Weibo brings you an overview of Islam in China and China’s relation to its Muslim minorities.

The January attacks on the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in Paris by Muslim extremists have ignited heated discussions on radical Islam across Europe. From a distance, Chinese leaders watch Europe’s Islam debate and increasingly expand restrictions on the Muslims within their borders. Since this month, the burqa is banned, along with other garments that ‘promote religious extremist ideology’. “They see themselves as Muslim, we see them as Chinese,” says one Weibo netizen. What is the connection between Islam and China? What’s on Weibo brings you an overview of Islam in China and China’s relation to its Muslim minorities.

French Muslims: not ‘French’ enough?

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that France was now at war with “radical Islamism” (Economist 2015). In France, and Europe at large, hard questions have been emerging on Islam-inspired terrorism and the recruitment of people within European countries by radical groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS. France has the biggest Muslim minority in Europe, and the country’s relationship with them is not easy (Economist/Colchester 2015, 215). In response to the extremist attacks, U.S. President Obama stated that Europe has failed to integrate its Muslims (Francis 2015). About the U.S. he says: “Our biggest advantage is that our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans.” Europe has not had the same process of assimilation and immigration, according to Obama, suggesting that the identification of Muslims with their nation is crucial in combating radical Islam: French Muslims are simply not ‘French’ enough.

As Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed his sympathy for the victims of the Paris attacks, he said that terrorism was also an enemy to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (SCMP 2015). China has a history of extremist terrorist attacks, linked to its Uyghur Muslim minority. What is the situation on Muslim integration in China? How ‘Chinese’ are China’s Muslims?

Islam in China: an overview

No burqa in Urumqi, no fasting for Ramadan, no niqabs, hijabs or large beards in buses. Since 2014, China has implemented several measures to keep religious expressions to a minimum after a string of attacks allegedly committed by Chinese Muslim extremists. In March 2014, a knife attack at the Kunming railway station left 29 civilians dead. In May, 43 were killed when a Urumqi market was bombed. On June 22, attackers drove into a Kashgar police building and set off explosives. The list continues. The government responded to the increasing violence in 2014 with a crackdown that resulted in more than 380 arrests within one month and public controls on religious expression (Tang 2014). The restrictions continued in 2015, when a ban on wearing burqa’s, or ‘face masking veils’ (面罩袍), was legally approved and went into effect on February 1st. The prohibition on burqa’s and other clothing ‘promoting religious extremism’ applies specifically to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which is home to the majority of China’s Muslims.

Few people in the West are aware of China’s large Muslim community. Yet Muslims are part of China’s history: they have lived in China from as early as the eighth century (Lipman 1997, xvii). Many Muslims came to China as soldiers, giving military aid to the Tang dynasty government during a rebellion uprise and then settling down afterwards. They also came as traders and diplomats along the Silk Road, setting up compact communities that maintained their own religion and lifestyle. Since intercultural marriages with local Chinese often occurred, the Muslim population increased, as non-Muslims had to convert to Islam before marrying (Mi & You 2004, 3-7). Although Muslims live all over China, the majority lives in the northwestern regions of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu and the Qinghai provinces.

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Is there such a thing as a ‘Chinese Muslim’? Within the PRC, Muslims are not defined as a specific category. Chinese citizens are divided into 56 different ‘minzu’ or ethnic groups; a categorization that is separated from religion. The vast majority of Chinese belong to the ‘Han’, which is considered a ‘culturally Chinese’ group. Within the other 55 minzu, there are ten that take Islam as their faith: the Huis, Uyghurs, Kazaks, Dongxiangs, Khalkas, Salas, Tajiks, Uzbeks, Bao’ans and Tatars (Mi & You 2004). About half of China’s Muslims belong to the Hui, the ethnic minority that descents from the foreign Muslims of the Tang (Lipman 1997, xxiii).

The northwestern region of Xinjiang is almost entirely Muslim, and was only joined by non-Muslims since the last fifty years. Of the 20 million-something people who live there, around eight million belong to the Uyghur minority. Although there are no official government records of how many people practice Islam within the PRC, it is estimated that there are currently are around 23 million Muslims in China, a number that is expected to grow to almost 30 million in 2030 (Pew 2011).

XinjiangFood

China’s northwest has always been a region filled with unrest. While Muslim identity strengthened throughout the 17th and 18th century, other rulers (Arab, Mongols, Russians) were looking for new lands to expand their power in present-day Xinjiang. The situation reached a crisis point. In the 19th century, the Chinese Qing government ordered a suppression of Muslim rebels. It is estimated that 20 to 30 million lives were lost in this suppression (Jones-Leaning & Pratt 2012, 317). During the Mao years, Muslims in the northwestern regions suffered greatly from the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), as the famine was especially severe in these provinces. Religious buildings and schools were destroyed by the Red Guards, Arabic script was prohibited, and Muslims were expected to rear pigs and eat pork (ibid., 318).

Believe it, don’t show it

After the Mao years, it was acknowledged that religious beliefs could not be completely abolished (ibid., 318). Freedom of religion was officially declared in 1949, but the Communist Party believed that theistic religion would ultimately disappear. Atheism was therefore propagated amongst the people. In current-day China, religion is more or less tolerated, as long as it conforms to state-approved principles and organization (Boyle & Sheen 2003, 179-180). Instead of guaranteeing free exercise of religion, the constitution only guarantees freedom of religious belief. In other words; you can believe what you want, but how you engage with your religion in everyday life has to comply with what the state deems right.

uyghurwomen

In the reform period of the 1980s, the PRC had a policy of cultural liberalization that also applied to China’s northwest. Mosques were reopened and religion was revived. But as extremist Islamic movements expanded internationally, radical groups mushroomed in China’s northwest. Muslim separatist groups called for Xinjiang to form an independent East Turkestan state. Especially after September 11, Chinese authorities focused on its northwest, that had by now become its most politically sensitive region – Western media were also watching the “Islamic terrorism” in Xinjiang (Dwyer 2005, 3). For the last decades, Beijing has been propagating Chinese monoculturalism, trying to assimilate the major minorities of the northwest (especially the Uyghurs) to the dominant Chinese culture (ibid., 2).

Amnesty International has reported harsh measures taken by Chinese authorities to suppress unrest in the northwest, including executions and unfair trials (Jones-Leaning & Pratt 2012, 328). “The fight against terrorism is no excuse for repression,” says Amnesty. In its crackdown on terrorism, the government has introduced several policies, including those on language: they prioritize Chinese language before minority language. It also also closed several mosques and islamic schools because of “anti-Chinese activity” (ibid., 328). Ramadan has been officially discouraged, religious dress restricted, and media freedom constrained.

How ‘Chinese’ are China’s Muslims?

The burqa ban has stirred online discussions on what does and does not belong to the identity of China’s Muslims. “I fully support the ban on face-covering veils,” says one netizen: “Uyghurs can wear authentic Uyghur clothing,  but the black veil definitely is not part of it – it belongs to terrorism.” Another netizen agrees: “The burqa is part of an evil cult, and has no place within the Uyghur community.”

Although there definitely are various traditional styles of clothing within the different Muslim communities of China, their clothing also follow the Quran’s instructions on moderate dress. Women in some parts of Xinjiang are expected to cover their heads and faces (ibid., 327). Chinese authorities have been trying to root out orthodox Islam wear within Muslim minorities by launching the ‘Beauty Project‘ (靓丽工程), discouraging men to grow beards and women to wear veils.

propaganda2Propaganda murals painted next to a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang, showing what the Chinese government deems as acceptable (BBC 2015).

“They identify themselves through their religion,” says a Weibo user about Chinese Muslims: “They only identify themselves with Islam. But we identify them as Chinese.” Is this the key to the problem of China’s relations with its Muslims? Does the majority of China really see their Muslim minorities as ‘Chinese’? Do the Muslim minorities see themselves only as ‘Muslim’? The truth probably lies in the middle, and relates to problematic questions on what it means to be ‘Chinese’ or what identifies a ‘Muslim’ in China.

The fact is that Muslims are part of modern-day China. It is their motherland; the only home they have ever known. Yet they are still working to make a place for themselves. Historically, they are more ‘Chinese’ than America’s Muslims are ‘American’. Culturally, they are less ‘Chinese’ than the Muslims of France are ‘French’.

The wider problem remains; China’s relations to its Muslim minorities in the northwest has no sign of progress. Meanwhile, Islam-related terrorist attacks continue. Not enough integration? Too much suppression? China’s government, propagating monoculturalism, does not hold the key to the Islam problem. Nor do European leaders, who have advocated multiculturalism. Obama emphasises the importance of Muslim integration, but it needs two things in order to be successful: a free society that protects faith, and a faith that protects free society. Unfortunately, there is still a long road ahead.

– by Manya Koetse

 

Did you know…? 

* The majority of China’s muslims are orthodox Sunni Muslim.

* The oldest mosque of China is the Great Mosque of Xi’an from 742, covering 130,000 square meters.

* Before 1884, present-day Xinjiang was divided in a northern part (Dzugaria) and southern part (Tarim Basim). It was designated as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in 1955.

* Xinjiang borders on eight different countries: Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakstan, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan.

* Xinjiang literally means ‘new border’ in Chinese.

* Beijing has 40 mosques, whereas Kashgar currently has over 6000, which is only half of the number prior to the Cultural Revolution.

*China’s Hui Muslim minority has a long cultural tradition of female imams. There are hundreds of female imams leading mosques around the country.

References

Abe, Tetsuya. 2015. “Living with terror: China clamps down on Uighurs after Paris attacks.” Nikkei Asian Review, 15 January http://asia.nikkei.com/magazine/20150115-Living-with-terror/Politics-Economy/Living-with-terror-China-clamps-down-on-Uighurs-after-Paris-attacks  [17.1.15].

BBC. 2015. “The Colorful Propaganda of Xijiang.” BBC News, January 15 http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-30722268 [17.1.15].

Boyle, Kevin and Juliet Sheen. 2003 (1997). Freedom of Religion and Belief: A World Report. London: Routledge.

Cartillier, Jerome. 2015. “Obama: Europe should better integrate Muslims.” Yahoo News, 16
January http://news.yahoo.com/us-britain-vow-help-france-paris-attacks-obama-
175747690.html [18.1.15].

Colchester, Max. 2015. “France Mulls Deep-Rooted Problems Behind Attacks.” Wall Street
Journal, 9 January http://www.wsj.com/articles/france-mulls-deep-rooted-problems-behind-attacks-
1420824161 [17.1.15].

Dwyer, Arienne M. 2005. “The Xinjiang Conflict: Uyghur Identity, Language Policy, and Political Discourse.” Policy Studies: 15.

Economist. 2015. “Terror and Islam: After the Atrocities.” Economist, 17 January
http://www.economist.com/news/briefing/21639540-attacks-charlie-hebdo-and-kosher-supermarket-brought-french-together-unity [17.1.15].

Francis, David. 2015. “Obama Slaps Europe for Failing to Integrate Muslims.” Foreign
Policy, 16 January http://foreignpolicy.com/2015/01/16/obama-slaps-europe-for-failing-to-
integrate-muslims/ [18.1.15].

Jones-Leaning, Melanie and Douglas Pratt. 2012. “Islam in China, From Silk Road to Separatism.” Muslim World 102: 308-334.

Koetse, Manya. 2015. “Chinese reacties op de aanslag op Charlie Hebdo.” 360 Magazine, 15
January http://www.360magazine.nl/politiek/4274/chinese-reacties-op-de-aanslag-op-charlie-
hebdo#.VLvM-YrF_xg [18.1.15].

Lipman, Jonathan. 1997. Familiar Strangers, A History of Muslims in Northwest ChinaWashington: University of Washington Press.

Mi, Shoujiang and Jia You (translated by Min Chang). 2004. Islam in China. Beijing: China Intercontinental Press.

Pew 2011. “The Future of the Global Muslim Population.” Pew Research Center, January 27
http://www.pewforum.org/2011/01/27/the-future-of-the-global-muslim-population/ [18.1.15].

SCMP. 2015. “France mourns victims in Charlie Hebdo attack as police hunt gunmen.” South
China Morning Post, 9 January http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1677755/france-mourns-
police-hunt-charlie-hebdo-gunmen [18.1.15].

Tang, Didi. 2014. “China Bans Ramadan Fast In Schools.” The Huffington Post. June 2 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/02/china-bans-ramadan_n_5551063.html [11.2.15]

Images

http://d.ibtimes.co.uk/en/full/1392110/xinjiang.jpg

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-30722268

http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1567483/xinjiang-city-bans-muslim-clothing-and-large-beards-public-buses?page=all

©2014 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Avatar

    goldie wan kenobi

    February 15, 2015 at 5:48 am

    Talking with Xinjiang person I learned that she did not consider herself Chinese she said ” I am Chinese when around ethnic Chinese people, and I am myself when they are gone. We don’t feel Chinese and barely look it.” Muslim is not an ethnicity the writer continually referred to these people of Xinjiang as an ethnic group called Muslims. Thats incorrect.

    • Manya Koetse

      Manya Koetse

      February 15, 2015 at 10:30 am

      Dear Goldie,
      Thanks for this comment, it is interesting and it shows that your Xinjiang acquaintance, although probably nationally Chinese, does not feel ‘Chinese’. About Muslims as an ethnicity, you are right. But the article also does not state that being ‘Muslim’ is an ethnicity. It says that there officially is no such a thing as a ‘Chinese Muslim’, because, within the PRC, Muslims are not defined as a specific category. Chinese citizens are divided into 56 different ‘minzu’ or ethnic groups; a categorization that is separated from religion. Nevertheless, within these minzu, there are ten that take Islam as their faith. This article is about Islam in China, and not specifically about Uyghurs or Hui etc, it therefore speaks about ‘Muslims’, meaning those ethnic minorities within the PRC that take Islam as their faith. The issue of Muslims in China is complex and cannot be oversimplified. Nowhere does the article state that all people in Xinjiang are Muslims, nor that they all belong to the same ethnicity. Regards, Manya

  2. Avatar

    Alec

    February 16, 2015 at 1:49 am

    In the last paragraph you wrote ‘China’s relations to its Muslim minorities in the northeast has no sign of progress’, did you mean ‘northwest’? 🙂

    • Manya Koetse

      Manya Koetse

      February 17, 2015 at 4:04 pm

      You’re right, thanks Alec, adjusted.

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Backgrounder

These Are the Foreign Brands Apologizing to China amid Hong Kong Tensions

Who’s apologizing and why? An A-Z list of the foreign companies caught up in China’s online brand hunt.

Manya Koetse

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First published

Foreign luxury brands hoping to appease the Chinese market are walking on eggshells as the political crisis in Hong Kong is deepening. Chinese netizens and state media recently condemned foreign brands for showing any signs of disregarding the One-China Policy. An online witch hunt has begun: this is the list of brands.

While the political crisis in Hong Kong is deepening, the propaganda machine in mainland China is running at full speed to condemn anti-Beijing ‘rioters’ and promote the one-China principle.

As state media has been intensifying its news coverage on the situation in Hong Kong, with virtually all outlets using similar narratives, Chinese web users started to focus on foreign (luxury) brands and whether or not they list Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan as being part of China.

Starting on August 8, Chinese social media platform Weibo has seen dozens of hashtags taking over Chinese social media in relation to the big brand scandal; one foreign brand after the other was exposed as ‘ignoring’ China’s one-China principle on their website or products.

By the beginning of this week, the online brand hunt had almost become like an online contest, with thousands of netizens suggesting new brands that are allegedly not respecting China’s sovereignty.

Although the trend initially began with Chinese web users condemning brands -starting with Versace-, Chinese state media soon also reported about the online controversies and intensified the movement.

Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily wrote that Western brands are quick to apologize, but should also “learn from their mistakes” in the long run, and cannot disregard the One-China Policy if they want to do business in China.

“This is common knowledge, it’s the bottom line,” – online propaganda poster by People’s Daily shows foreign brands and a crack in the “One China” symbol.

State media outlet Global Times also published an illustration online, writing the slogan “China can’t be one bit less” (“中国一点都不能少”) that has been used by state media to emphasize China’s one-China principle since the 2016 South China Sea dispute.

Illustration by Global Times.

In response to the controversies, it has been raining apologies from foreign brands on Chinese social media the past days.

Who is mainly responsible for this online witch hunt? Although it first started with Chinese web users sharing images and screenshots of foreign brands and their ‘erroneous representation’ of China, state media and celebrities soon also started to play a major role in this issue and have contributed to the enormous snowball effect of the trend.

What’s the ‘correct’ way to list Hong Kong or Taiwan according to the one-China principle? Below is an image of the (adjusted) website of Valentino where it lists countries and lists Hong Kong and Taiwan as being part of China.

Here’s a list of the global brands have become tied up in controversy on the mainland this week (this list might still be updated):

 

● ASICS 亚瑟士

Japanese footwear brand

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/asicsofficial (240,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
“ASICS lists HK & Taiwan as Separate Countries” (#亚瑟士将香港与台湾列为国家#): 110 million views.

What’s the problem?
The ASICS website listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries.

Apology?
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “ASICS apologizes” hashtag (#亚瑟士致歉#), 6,5 million views on Weibo. The footwear brand emphasized that it abides by the one-China policy and that it will correct its “mistakes.”

Consequences:
Besides some netizens who vow not to buy any of the brands in this list disregarding the PRC’s one-China policy, there are no indications as of now that the brand is affected by the issue.

 

● CALVIN KLEIN

American fashion brand

Brand Weibo account:
https://weibo.com/calvinklein (303,000 fans)

Hashtag:
“CK Exposed for Insulting China” (##CK被曝辱华##): 1,5 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Calvin Klein faced criticism for listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries or regions on its website.

Apology?
Yes, statement on August 13, followed by “CK apologizes” hashtag (#ck道歉#), 15 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
Chinese actress Jelly Lin, Calvin Klein’s brand ambassador for the Asia-Pacific region, announced an immediate termination of collaboration with the American fashion house. The hashtag for this event (#林允终止与CK合作#) received no less than 510 million views. Zhang Yixing (Lay Zhang), a Chinese member of K-pop group Exo and a Calvin Klein model, warned the US clothing company to respect Beijing’s “one China” policy but did not stop working the brand (he did terminate collaborations with Samsung, also in this list).

 

● COACH 蔻驰

American luxury accessories company 

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/coachchina (4+ million fans)

Hashtag:
“Coach Lists HK, Macau, Taiwan as Countries” (#蔻驰将港澳台列为国家#): 6 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Less than 24 hours after Versace’s apology, Coach was among the second batch of brands, along with Givenchy, ASICS, and Fresh, to be exposed online for erroneous geographic listings. Coach got in trouble for a t-shirt displaying ‘Hong Kong’ as an independent region and listing ‘Taipei’ as belonging to ‘Taiwan,’ while Shanghai and Beijing are listed under China.

The tshirt that got Coach into trouble.

The brand was also found to have listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as independent countries under its website’s  “search country” option.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Coach apologizes” hashtag (#蔻驰道歉#), 300 million views on Weibo.

Consequences:
Coach’s China ambassador, supermodel Liu Wen, said on Weibo on Monday that she had cut off her endorsement deal with the fashion label (#刘雯终止与蔻驰合作#, 6 million views) as the brand “seriously impacted the national sentiment of the Chinese people.” State media outlet Global Times suggested the brand faced “potential boycott in China.”

 

● FRESH 馥蕾诗

American beauty brand 

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/freshbeauty (339,500 milion fans)

Hashtag:
No separate hashtag for this incident.

What’s the problem?:
Fresh faced backlash for listing ‘Hong Kong’ as a separate region on its official (English) website.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Fresh apologizes” hashtag (#fresh道歉#,) 8 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
No known direct consequences.

 

● GIVENCHY 纪梵希

French luxury fashion and perfume house

Brand Weibo account:
https://weibo.com/officialgivenchy (1.5 milion fans)

Hashtag:
The topic ‘Givenchy T-Shirt’ (#纪梵希t恤#) became big on Weibo. The hashtag page has over 500 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Like Coach, Givenchy also got in trouble for a t-shirt displaying ‘Hong Kong’ as an independent region and listing ‘Taipei’ as belonging to ‘Taiwan.’

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Givenchy apologizes” hashtag (#纪梵希道歉#,) 290 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
Chinese singer Jackson Yee terminated his brand partnerships with Givenchy (#易烊千玺与纪梵希解约# 680 million views).

 

● POCARI SWEAT 宝矿力水特

Japanese sport’s drink

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/pocarisweat (15400 fans)

Hashtag:
“Pocari Sweat Get Out of China”(#宝矿力水特滚出中国#) is one of the early hashtags associated with the Pocari controversy. With just over 300,000 views, it did not gain huge traction on Weibo.

What’s the problem?
Pocari Sweat is among the earliest brands – if not the earliest- to be caught up in the brand controversy relating to the protests in Hong Kong. As described by Japan Times, pro-democracy demonstrators praised Pocari after it pulled advertising from Hong Kong television station TVB, which protesters accuse of pro-Beijing coverage. Pocari became a popular drink among Hong Kong protesters.

Apology?:
The mainland China office of the brand issued two apology statements on July 11 and 21 in which it emphasized that it operates separately from the Hong Kong division and that it respects China’s “one country, two systems” policy.

Consequence:
Pocari Sweat was condemned by Chinese state media, but it is not clear if people in mainland China are drinking less Pocari because of the issue.

 

● VALENTINO 

Italian fashion house

Brand Weibo account:
www.weibo.com/valentinoofficial (413,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
No particular hashtag.

What’s the problem?:
Valentino listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries in the region/language menu on its foreign website.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 13, in which Valentino apologizes for making “a mistake” on its website. The website has since been changed.

Consequence:
No known consequences, the website seemed to be quickly adjusted, and many netizens expressed their praise for that and for the fact that the recent trend seems to make foreign brands more aware of the importance of respecting the One-China Policy.

 

● VERSACE 范思哲 

Italian fashion house

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/versacechina (850,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
“Versace Suspected of [Supporting] Hong Kong and Macau Independence” (#范思哲涉嫌港独澳独#): 3.2 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Versace is the first brand to be targeted in this week’s brand-hunting trend. An image of a T-shirt that listed Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries was first posted on Weibo by a female netizen on August 8, who wrote: “I discovered this recently, and wondered if the design of this t-shirt means that Versace is supporting Hong Kong independence?” Three days later, the image had circulated so much that it became a trending topic. Commenters called out the brand for being “two-faced” and for profiting from Chinese money while disregarding Chinese sovereignty.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 11, followed by “Versace apologizes” hashtag (#范思哲道歉#,) 860 million views on Weibo. In its statement, Versace stated that the t-shirts had already been recalled and destroyed in late July, and that the fashion house “deeply apologized for the controversy” that was caused by an “error in its t-shirt design.” Versace further stated that the brand “loves China” and “resolutely respects China’s territorial sovereignty.”

Donatella Versace, the designer and chief creative officer of Versace, also issued a personal apology through Instagram, writing: “Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s National Sovereignty and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it may have caused.”

Consequence:
Chinese celebrity Yang Mi ended her relationship with Versace. The announcement received a lot of attention on Chinese social media (#杨幂终止与Versace合作# 1.1 billion views).

 

● SWAROVSKI 施华洛世奇

Austrian jewelry company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/swarovskicom (500,00+ fans)

Hashtag:
Swarovski, together with Calvin Klein, was one of the brands that popped up in the general ‘luxury brand scandal’ after the Versace controversy had snowballed and had moved to Coach, Givenchy, ASICS, and Fresh. The Swarovski issue was exposed just a bit later and had no separate hashtag on Weibo.

What’s the problem?
Swarovski went trending on Chinese social media for classifying Hong Kong as a country on its website.

Apology?
Swarovski issued an apology statement on August 13. The hashtag “Swarovski Apologizes” received over 750 million views on Weibo (#施华洛世奇道歉#).

Consequence:
Chinese actress Jiang Shuying, also known as Maggie Jiang, announced on Tuesday (August 13) that she would be ending her cooperation with Swarovski (#江疏影与施华洛世奇解约#, 410 million views).

 

CURRENTLY UNDER SCRUTINY BUT NO APOLOGIES:

 

● AMAZON 亚马逊

American e-commerce company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/amazonchina (4.4 million fans)

Hashtag:
“Amazon T-shirts” (#亚马逊t恤#), 140 million views; “Amazon Sells Hong Kong Independence Shirts” (#亚马逊售卖港独T恤#), 18 million views.

What’s the problem?
Amazon is one of the latest brands to be added to the virtual PRC wall of shame of international brands going against Beijing’s “One China” principle. On August 14, screenshots of the Amazon e-commerce platform selling t-shirts promoting an independent Hong Kong and displaying anti-China slogans went viral on Weibo.

Reaction
Amazon did not apologize for the merchandise sold on its platforms, but the company did respond to ChinaNews (#亚马逊回应T恤事件#), emphasizing that Amazon always has and will respect China’s one-China principle, and abide by local laws of the countries Amazon is active in. There were also netizens on Weibo saying they understood that Amazon cannot be responsible for all the merchandise sold by its online shops around the world.

 

● SAMSUNG 三星 

South Korean Tech Company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/samsung (2.8+ million fans)

Hashtag:
No separate hashtag for this issue, although the announcement that Zhang Yixing would terminate his contract with Samsung did receive over 980 million views, making it one of the bigger hashtags in this brand scandal.

What’s the problem?:
Samsung faced criticism on August 14 for damaging China’s “territorial integrity” by displaying choices Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan as “countries” on its website.

Consequence:
Chinese celebrity and K-Pop star Zhang Yixing (Lay Zhang) announced on August 13 that he would no longer work together with Samsung as a brand ambassador for “hurting the national feelings of Chinese compatriots” (#张艺兴与三星解约#, 980 million views!).

 

By Manya Koetse

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How the Hong Kong Protests Are Discussed on Chinese Social Media

“Hong Kong, the Pearl of the Orient, is no longer blooming, but covered in cuts and bruises.”

Manya Koetse

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Although discussions on the Hong Kong protests were initially silenced on Chinese social media, the demonstrations are now trending all over Weibo, with state media propagating hashtags and illustrations in favor of Hong Kong government and in support of the Hong Kong Police Force.

The political crisis in Hong Kong shows no signs of de-escalating after another series of mass demonstrations and violent clashes between police and protesters.

This week marks the ninth consecutive week of protests in Hong Kong. The first demonstrations started in March and April of this year against an extradition bill that would allow local authorities to detain and extradite people wanted in mainland China.

After demonstrations escalated in June, the bill was declared “dead” and suspended by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, but it was not formally withdrawn.

Protests have since continued throughout June, July, and into August, and are now about much more than the extradition bill alone – they are, amongst others, about greater freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, and about less political influence from the Beijing government.

Protesters are calling for Lam’s resignation and for democratic elections, and have denounced violent tactics and “abuse of power” used by the Hong Kong Police Force.

The absence of the police during an attack on residents by suspected gang members dressed in white shirts at the Yuen Long station on July 21 is one of the incidents protesters mention as police misconduct.

But there is also a division between demonstrators, and not necessarily one unified voice. There are also those, for example, who support Hong Kong police. And those who denounce the actions of angry protesters.

 

China’s Central Government Condemns Protests

 

Although authorities in mainland China initially remained quiet on the topic of the Hong Kong protests, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, China’s top agency for handling Hong Kong affairs, held its first press conference on its stance regarding Hong Kong demonstrations on July 29.

Yang Guang, the office’s spokesperson, condemned the actions of protesters over recent weeks, saying that they “exceeded the boundaries of acceptable protest.”

On August 6, there was another press briefing where Yang Guang used stronger language to denounce the protests, saying that the “radical protests (..) severely impacted Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, pushing it into a dangerous abyss” and that those behind the demonstrations should not “misjudge” the situation and “mistake our restraint for weakness.”

 

Main Stances on Chinese Social Media

 

On Chinese social media sites, news and discussions on the Hong Kong protest were initially silenced (also see this article), but that has changed now.

Although discussions are still heavily controlled, the topic of the Hong Kong demonstrations has been dominating the trending streams over the past days on China’s popular social media platforms.

On Douyin, one of the most popular short video / social media apps in mainland China, there are dozens of different videos of violent incidents in Hong Kong that are being reposted and liked thousands of times.

On news app Toutiao, articles relating to the Hong Kong protests are in the recommended and ‘hot’ sections, while bloggers and news accounts on WeChat are also posting and reposting Hong Kong related content.

For the scope of this article, we will solely focus on Weibo – the narratives that are spread in daily discussions on the platform are comparable to those on other platforms.

Although the ensuing examples are the main types of posts on Hong Kong that are most popular on Chinese social media now, and definitely receive a lot of support, there are also posts with other views and ideas that might be blocked before ever making it to Weibo or other apps/platforms.

But the restrictions on free discussions on social media do not only relate to platform censorship.

Recently, there are also instances in which Chinese netizens speak out in support of the protesters in Hong Kong who then become a victim of the so-called “human flesh search engine.”

One female Weibo user, responding to the demonstrations in Hong Kong, wrote on August 5th: “Respect to every person out there striking and protesting!” Other Weibo users then made screenshots of her comment and revealed personal details about the woman (a 26-year-old Chinese citizen), labeling her a traitor.

One blogger reposting the woman’s photo and Weibo profile has 1,3 million followers, making this incident quite big and serving as a warning to other Weibo users not to spread their ‘politically incorrect’ views on the Hong Kong protests.

 

“Protect Hong Kong, Support the Police Force”

 

With over 5 billion views, the hashtag “Protect Hong Kong” (#守护香港#) is very popular on Weibo these days.

The hashtag is promoted by Party newspaper People’s Daily, that also launched another viral hashtag, namely “Officers, We Support You” (#阿sir我们挺你#, 300 million views).  The word for ‘officer’ used in this hashtag is “Ah Sir” or “阿Sir”, a uniquely Hong Kong form of address used for policemen and teachers.

Using the “Protect Hong Kong” and “Officers, We Support You” slogans, People’s Daily has also issued an illustration that shows three police officers carrying weapons and protective screens. Behind them are protesters, and above them is China’s Five-starred Red Flag.

Illustration by People’s Daily, issued on Weibo and other social media.

Online propaganda poster issued by China Daily on Weibo.

The main idea behind these hashtags/illustrations is that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) firmly supports the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong Police Force in dealing with so-called “thugs” or “bandits”  (“暴徒”).

A common stance expressed by Chinese netizens is that pro-democracy protesters are “damaging public security” in Hong Kong and are “dividing the nation.”

“Talk about democracy and freedom in a fair and reasonable way,” one commenter writes: “Don’t talk about freedom and democracy while breaking the law and acting outrageous.”

“It’s horrible to see,” another person says: “The Pearl of the Orient is no longer blooming, but is now covered with cuts and bruises.”

Many stories of violence used against the police force are circulating on Chinese social media. Some videos show protesters using potentially dangerous laser pointers to shine directly in faces of police officers. Last Tuesday, student leader Keith Fong was arrested for possession of such lasers.

One particular trending story concerns a bald police officer named ‘Liu Sir’ (刘sir) who was violently attacked by a group of protesters on July 31st. The mob allegedly punched and kicked him, and assaulted him with sticks and objects before he pulled out his gun.

Photo by People’s Daily, shared on Weibo.

Officer Liu, who has sustained some minor injuries from the incident, responded to the incident writing in a text: “[I] just hate the fact that they are also Chinese – it feels wrong to hit them and also wrong not to. It really pains me!”

Officer Liu has become somewhat of a hero on Chinese social media, as his image is propagated by Chinese state media through photos and illustrations.

Image of Officer Liu shared on Weibo by netizen @李里言子.

The idea of ‘protecting’ Hong Kong and supporting its police force goes hand in hand with the idea that Hong Kong is, and “always will be,” a “part of China.”

Many commenters in the comment sections express their anger about Hong Kong protesters attacking police and throwing the Chinese flag into the water. “If you do not want to be Chinese, then don’t live on Chinese territory,” some write.

 

“Hong Kong’s Colonial Mentality” 

 

A post by an economics blogger (@同行中的我, 14674 fans) that received more than 6500 ‘likes’ on Weibo argues that one problem behind the protests is that Hong Kong youth are stuck in a “colonial mentality.”

The blogger says that Hong Kong people have a lack of patriotic education and have no “sense of belonging.” It is this Hong Kong mentality, the writer argues, that prevents the region from blooming. Without mainland China, Hong Kong is nothing, the post says.

This sentiment is reiterated by many commenters on Weibo, who write things such as “Without a country, you have no home.”

Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain in 1842 as part of the Treaty of Nanjing. July 1st of 1997 marked Hong Kong’s return to China, and the moment it became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC, based on the principle of “one country, two systems.”

Those who are protesting for Hong Kong independence are also called “Pro HK Independence ‘Poison’” on Weibo (港毒分子, a wordplay with characters meaning ‘Hong Kong-independence/poison-members’: a derogatory term for those supporting Hong Kong independence).

“The Pro HK Independence Poison comes from Hong Kong education. Its education comes from its system. So to get rid of this poison, you first need to replace the system, and then change education in Hong Kong,” one person suggests.

 

“Biased Media Representations”

 

“Western media only use pictures that are taken out of context -they have an ulterior motive,” Weibo news blogger Jianhua (@建华Wei业) writes: “They fabricate news about Hong Kong police power abuse and violence.”

The accusation of Western media representing the Hong Kong protesters as the ‘good guys’ and the Hong Kong police as the ‘bad guys’ is repeated on Chinese social media quite a lot these days.

One major example is the aforementioned case of Sir Liu, as many media allegedly only forwarded those images or footage of the police pulling his gun, leaving out the part where he was attacked by protesters first.

Since there is a clear pro-Hong Kong Police Force dominant narrative on Weibo, many netizens defend the police and describe the protesters as violent and unreasonable rioters.

 

“US Meddling in Hong Kong Affairs”

 

Besides criticism on supposed biased media representations of the situation in Hong Kong, there is also criticism on the role of the United States in the Hong Kong protests.

One photo of American diplomat Julie Eadeh meeting up with student leaders involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement circulated on Chinese social media this week, with state media accusing the US of playing a role in “creating disorder” in Hong Kong.

Image posted on Weibo by CCTV.

“What Is America Up To?”(#美国居心何在#) is one of the hashtags related to the incident that is shared on Chinese social media, promoted by CCTV.

“What is America up to?” online poster designed and shared by CCTV.

“America has no right to meddle in Hong Kong affairs,” commenters on Weibo respond: “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong.”

Adding fuel to this discussion is the fact that some Hong Kong protesters have recently started waving American flags at demonstrations (read more about that here).

Trending on August 9 is an incident in which a woman angrily pulled the American flags from protesters’ hands at Hong Kong airport. Many people on Weibo praise the woman for being so “courageous” to stand up to the demonstrators. “We just want Hong Kong to be stable and peaceful,” the woman stated to the media.

Others on Weibo call on protesters in Hong Kong to be reasonable. “I feel that the situation in Hong Kong is getting more and more complicated,” one commenter writes: “I hope the protesters can rationally overthink why they are participating in these demonstrations; they shouldn’t let themselves be used by others.”

“I just cannot make sense of what these angry youth are doing,” another commenter writes: “They are waving the American flag. But when they leave [Hong Kong], people won’t see them as Hong Kongnese – foreigners will all think they are Chinese. I just don’t get where they’re going.”

 
Keep an eye on What’s on Weibo for more related stories in the time to come. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and subscribe to notifications via the bell in this screen (Chrome/Firefox/Android).
 

By Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. Please note that your comment below will need to be manually approved if you’re a first-time poster here.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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