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Made-in-China Halal: Online Discussions on ‘Halalification’

As a form of protest against the growing prevalence of halal food, some groups of Chinese netizens vow not to eat or buy halal products.

Manya Koetse

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Image by Sohu.com (http://www.sohu.com/a/159080564_446930)

Over recent years, the rise of made-in-China halal food and services have increasingly generated heated online debates on the so-called ‘halalification’ of China. Many netizens condemn the country’s growing prevalence of halal products and join the online protest against their normalization.

Halal sesame paste from Shaanxi, halal bubble-gum from Gansu, or halal instant noodles from Shandong – under the hashtag “halalification” (#清真泛化#), photos of regular food products that carry the ‘halal’ label are being posted on social media platform Sina Weibo every day to ‘name and shame’ Chinese companies for turning their products Muslim-friendly.

China currently has some 23 million Muslims, the majority being based in the country’s north-western regions, mostly belonging to the Uyghur and Hui ethnic groups. According to Pew Research (2011), the Chinese Muslim population is expected to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030.

The global market for halal food is thriving, with latest figures suggesting it will be worth close to USD 2.10 trillion by 2025. Although China – with its One Belt One Road initiative in full swing – could potentially be a major player on the halal market, it now only has an approximate 0.1 percent of global halal food exports.

With an interesting market both domestically and internationally, it seems that more products in China are now turning halal to reach a wider consumer group. In doing so, Chinese producers of halal food can both boost their local economies and access the booming worldwide halal business (Erie 2016b).

But a large group of people in China are not comfortable with this trend and condemn the growing prevalence of regular Chinese food products carrying the halal label – both in- and outside the PRC.

Last week, some netizens’ discovery of globally distributed ‘halal’ sunflower seeds produced in China’s Shandong province caused some surprise amongst commenters on Weibo: “These are Halal sunflowers seeds that are locally sold at an American supermarket in Portland,” one author on Weibo (@弗虑弗为) wrote:

“I saw the halal logo on the back and figured it was imported from Malaysia or Indonesia (..), but then I saw “Shandong Halal Certification Service” on the logo! Amazing, now China’s halalification is also expanding to the rest of the world.”

“The spread of halal is just everywhere,” some people on Weibo complain. “Can’t we investigate more into the situation and policies regarding halal and its subsidies in our country?” author Fan Niuwen (@范_纽文) asks.

 
Halal in the PRC: an “Islamic Revival”
 

Halal in Chinese is referred to as qīngzhēn (清真), which can also mean “Islam”, “Islamic”, or “Muslim.” Since China has no national halal certification legislation, many local and provincial governments, such as Ningxia or Shanghai, have implemented their own halal regulations.

In 2002, the Chinese government actually made beginnings in drafting a law to regulate nationwide halal food production. The proposal received much opposition within various circles within China, however, and was eventually halted in April of 2016.

In China and Islam (2016), Matthew S. Erie argues that China has seen “an Islamic revival” over the recent years, particularly among Hui communities, that is, amongst others, visible in a growing number of mosques and in a proliferation of halal food restaurants and factories (10-12).

There are now thousands of companies across China’s provinces producing halal food for consumers in mainland China, and some of them also export to other countries.

Besides a rise in halal food products, China has also seen an increase in other signs of Islam in public life in many cities, such as stores that sell “Muslim use products” including perfumes and soaps that are “free of any porcine products” (Erie 2016, 12) or special facial tissues, water, and toilet paper.

 
“Pan-Halal Tendencies”
 

Both the spread of halal food products in the PRC and the increase in special “Muslim use products” have caused waves of backlash on Chinese social media over recent years. The outrage over Meituan’s special halal delivery boxes or the controversy over Huawei phones with built-in prayer alarms are just some of many incidents causing anger on Weibo and Wechat over the past year.

Since 2017, Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times has introduced the concept of “pan halal tendency” to describe the idea that “some Muslims are demanding things to be halal which cannot really be halal, such as water, roads and toilets.”

The trend is presented as ‘dangerous’ for making “Islamic rituals penetrate into secular life.”

Special lane: “Halal/muslim cash register”

In a local compaign in Gansu, around 760 shops selling these so-called “pan-halal products” were closed down in early March of this year to “safeguard ethnic unity,” Global Times reports. Recent online backlash and local anti-‘pan halal’-campaigns are a sign of existing tensions between Islamic laws and China’s secular laws and policies.

 
Anti-Halalification Movement: “#IDontEatHalal”
 

In any social media discussion on China’s halal food debate, the term qīngzhēn fànhuà (清真泛化) inevitably pops up now. It is a new term that first appeared in Chinese media in 2016. It basically means ‘the spread of halal’ or ‘halalification,’ but since qīngzhēn also means ‘Islamic,’ it can also imply ‘Islamization’ – discussions thus also go beyond the topic of food alone.

This so-called ‘Islamization’ of China seems to be a recurring source of concern for some netizens. Just are there are many Chinese social media accounts promoting halal food, there are also dozens of popular accounts on Chinese social media sites opposing the spread of halal in the country, arguing it is a threat to “national unity” (民族团结).

Some of the accounts promoting anti-Islamic sentiments have been deleted or heavily censored since Chinese authorities banned various anti-Islam terms in September of 2017, leading to more fragmented online debates on the issue.

Author Li Mu (李牧) writes on Weibo: “There are more and more state-funded Muslim canteens, Muslim public baths, (..) who approves of this? Since some of these activities are explained through the Koran, does this mean Islamic laws are already taking effect in China?”

As a form of protest, some groups of Chinese netizens vow never to eat halal again. On Weibo, some people tag their posts with the hashtag “I don’t eat halal” (#我不吃清真食品#) – viewed more than 460,000 times at time of writing. The hashtag ‘halalification’ received more than 38 million views.

 
A Multi-layered Debate
 

Closely looking at debates on Chinese social media, the online resistance against China’s ‘halalification’ is multi-layered. Although much of it goes hand in hand with an increasing tide of overall anti-Islam sentiments in which people connect Islam to terrorism and extremism, there are also more nuanced reasons why so many people oppose to the spread of the halal industry in the PRC.

A general reasoning amongst Chinese netizens is that the Chinese government is officially atheist and therefore should not regulate dietary measures as implemented by Islamic law or that of any other religion. Many people say the same holds true for Chinese companies such as Huawei or Meituan, which they argue should be neutral in the services they provide.

Just as Muslim consumers should have the right to eat halal, non-Muslim consumers should be able to consume products that do not carry the halal label, a prevalent viewpoint persists.

Examples of some regular supermarket products that are halal as posted on Weibo: hotpot condiments, hot sauce, butter, cookies, and salt.

“I am not a Muslim, but I also do not oppose to Muslims’ halal diet at all,” one popular comment on Quora-like platform Zhihu.com says: “In fact, I hope they can all eat halal. But now it’s been taken a step further, which is the expansion of halal food.”

This commenter, along with many others on platforms such as Zhihu or Weibo, argue that in order for a product to get the halal certification, it naturally needs to adhere to the proper Islamic laws in their preparation. This includes the ritual slaughter of animals with the thorough drainage of blood, the reciting of scripture, etc. The comment continues:

If you now go into the supermarkets, you’ll see that about half of the products on some shelves have the halal label. What’s unbearable is that even products such as salt, tea, or popsicles now carry this label, while (..) it is impossible for products that do not contain any ingredients such as pork or blood to be non-halal [haram]. So why does this ‘halalification’ pose a risk? Because Islam [organizations] oversee halal certifications, meaning that they have a monopoly on this business, and use it to expand their religion.”

Others also complain about the prevalence of halal-labeled products in shops: “If school canteens can have a ‘halal dining’ section, why can’t supermarkets have a special section for halal products?”, a Weibo user named ‘Simple Dog’ (@一只单纯的颜狗) writes: “It takes me ages to check all the labels of the products I buy and it’s very tiring. Can you also respect the [wishes of] Han people?”

“I can’t believe it; I just bought a box of plain noodles online and now it turns out they are halal,” another netizen says.

There is a myriad of voices on social media backing this idea that the spread of halal products is going too far. Legal service app Ilvdo (@律兜) published an article on Weibo that mentions that many Chinese consumers might buy halal products such as halal ice cream or milk without even knowing it: “You perhaps drank [halal] water and indirectly funded Islam religion – because the companies that have halal certifications have to pay Islamic organizations for them.”

 
The Right (Not) to Eat Halal
 

“Why I don’t eat halal?”, another Weibo user writes: “Firstly, because I do not believe in Islam, and eating Islamic food clashes with my own beliefs. Second, halal food needs to be prepared by Muslims, and by consuming it as a non-Muslim that means I give fewer opportunities to my non-Muslim compatriots to produce food and earn an income. I am in support of Muslims being free to halal food produced by Muslims, and non-Muslims being free to eat food products that are not.”

It is a recurring logic that is at the heart of the discussion on the spread of halal food on Chinese social media: many of those who oppose the spread of halal food in the PRC connect the normalization of Islamic dietary laws to an alleged greater societal shift towards Islam.

The spread of ‘Islam’ and ‘halal food’ are practically the same things in these discussions through the concept of qingzhen (‘halal’) certifications, which allegedly sustains and supports the Islamic religion through Chinese secular society. “I am not Muslim and refuse to eat Islamic food and refuse to pay its religious taxes,” a popular Weibo blogger (463880 fans) writes.

But the account of the China Muslim Youth Group (@中穆青社), which has over 15800 fans on Weibo,  refutes these allegations when it writes on March 13: “Of course the right-wing people [右右们] have the right to refuse halal food, the wide sales of halal food also have not been established because of your offerings. Whatever you say about ‘religious taxes’ is just nonsense and is obscuring the facts.”

There are also those who point out that halal food, in the end, is an integral part of Chinese cuisine and society. Islam is part of China’s history; Muslims have lived in China from as early as the eight century. One netizen, the CEO of “China’s Muslim Net” @XiaoMa writes: “Halal food is an important part of Chinese food culture. It is made by Chinese Muslims for all of China to enjoy. We cannot underestimate its contribution to the development of China’s food industry.”

With a growing consumer group of halal products and a rise in companies producing halal, China’s halalification debates are likely to continue in the years to come. For some participants in these online discussions, however, the answer to the debate is simple: “I respect Muslims’ right to eat halal, and they should respect my right not to.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Erie, Matthew S. 2016. China and Islam: The Prophet, the Party, and Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Erie, Matthew S. 2016b. “China’s Halal Constitution: ‘Islamic’ Legislation Stirs Debate at the PRC Engages the Muslim World.” The Diplomat. May 27. https://thediplomat.com/2016/05/chinas-halal-constitution/

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

©2018 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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China Food & Drinks

China’s Best Fast-Food Restaurants: These Are the 11 Most Popular Chains in the PRC

These are China’s most popular fast-food chains and the most important trends in the industry.

Manya Koetse

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The China Cuisine Association (CCA) released a list ranking the strongest fast-food companies in China this month. The list is a top 70 (!), but here, What’s on Weibo provides an overview of the top 11 in this ranking list of fast-food restaurants in China.

Fast food has been trending on Chinese social media this week after the China Cuisine Association (综合自中国烹饪协会, CCA) issued a new ‘best brands’ report during its 23rd China Fast Fast-Food Convention.

The report by the CCA found two major trends within China’s fast-food industry.

Firstly, fast-food brands, in general, are becoming more and more popular within mainland China. The industry has seen rapid growth over the past decade, with the first half of this year already seeing a 9.4% increase compared to last year.

In the period from January to August of 2019 alone, China’s restaurant industry had a total sales revenue of 2.8 trillion yuan (355 billion US dollars) – making it one of the country’s fastest-growing industries according to Sina Finance.

Second, Chinese-style fast food brands are rising in popularity. Although KFC, McDonald’s, and Burger King still dominate the top three chart, Chinese players such as Laoxiangji (老乡鸡), Dicos (德克士), and Real Kungfu (真功夫) are becoming favorite fast-food restaurants among Chinese consumers.

On Weibo, some commenters suggest that it is inevitable for foreign players to still rule the top lists since they were the first fast-food chains to arrive in China. China’s own homegrown brands followed later and needed more time to grow, but, they predict, will only become more popular in the years to come.

Fast-food first arrived in China in the 1980s, with Kentucky Fried Chicken launching in the PRC in 1987 and McDonald’s following in 1990. The very first fast-food restaurant in China was actually not KFC, but ‘Yili’s Fast Food Shop’ (义利快餐厅), a brand established in 1906 by Scottish businessman James Neil and taken over by Chinese managers in the 1940s.

So what currently are China’s most popular fast-food chains? The list as issued by the CCA actually contains the 70 strongest fast-food companies of China.

For the scope of this article, we highlight the top-ranking 11 fast-food companies of China for you, starting with number one.

 

#1: Kentucky Fried Chicken (肯德基)

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is the major brand by Yum China (百胜中国), China’s leading restaurant company that spun off from the American Yum! Brands in 2016. Yum China has the exclusive right to operate KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell in China, and also owns the Little Sleep hotpot concept. The KFC official Weibo account almost has 2.5 million fans.

People outside of China are sometimes surprised to find that KFC is so hugely popular in the mainland. Its success story goes back to 1987, when the restaurant opened its first doors near Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Within a decade, KFC already had 100 different restaurants in China.

The question of how an American fast-food chain succeeded in becoming the number one in China, outnumbering McDonald’s, is at the center of the book KFC in China: Secret Recipe for Success. Some reasons that contribute to KFC’s success in China is the popularity of chicken in China, the chain’s management system, and the restaurant’s adaptation to local taste.

 

#2: McDonald’s (麦当劳)

Twenty-nine years ago, McDonald’s opened China’s first restaurant in Shenzhen under the name ‘Màidāngláo’ (麦当劳), a Chinese rendering of the name.

Since 2017, the restaurant’s official name change to ‘Jīn Gǒngmén’ (金拱门), literally meaning ‘Golden Arches’, made headlines both in- and outside China. The name as displayed on the restaurants, however, has always remained the same; ‘Golden Arches’ is just the formal Chinese name of the mother company.

Despite its rocky journey in China – McDonald’s has always faced strong competition within the Chinese fast food market and had to deal with a 2014 food scandal – the American fast-food chain is still popular among Chinese, with many sharing fond memories of their first McDonald’s experience.

The Weibo account now has 1,1 million fans.

The chain still has more room for growth in the PRC, and is looking at new ways to franchise on the mainland. McDonald’s is also always adapting to local tastes. The Chinese menu offers products such as Cola Chicken wings or big chicken cutlet rice bowls.

 

#3: Burger King (汉堡王)

Compared to KFC or McDonald’s, Burger King is somewhat of a newcomer to the Chinese market, but its growth is also rapid: the first restaurant in China opened in 2005, and its 1000th already opened in 2018.

China’s fast-growing middle class has helped the American brand to flourish on the mainland, as did McDonald’s former president of greater China, Peter Tan, who became Burger King’s senior vice president.

Burger King has a wide and strong social media presence in China, with various official Weibo accounts actively promoting Burger King in various cities. The accounts have a personal approach and often post jokes and funny videos.

 

#4: Home Original Chicken / Laoxiangji (老乡鸡)

Home Original Chicken currently is the most popular Chinese-style fast-food chain in the PRC. To celebrate this fact, various restaurants around the country held some promotional events this week, even giving out lunch for free in some of its 800+ locations across the country. The promotion went trending on Weibo, with the hashtag ‘Laoxiangji invited the whole country for dinner’ (#老乡鸡宴请全国#) getting 280 million views.

The short history of the restaurant goes back to 2003 when chicken breeder Shu Congxuan opened the first location in Hefei, Anhui province. The chain’s menu items look completely different from the top 3 in this list; ‘Laoxiangji’ serves some classic pork meatballs, meatballs wrapped in fried gluten, hot and sour fish, or steamed eggplant with chili and sour sauce.

A combi meal as promoted by Laoxiangji.

The ‘Laoxiangji’ Weibo account now has over 360,300 followers.

 

#5: Dicos (德克士)

Dicos, founded in 1994, is one of the biggest Chinese-style fast-food chains in the PRC. It was founded in Chengdu and serves fried chicken and different fried chicken rice bowls, among other things. It already opened its 2000th store in 2013.

Tianjin Ding Qiao Food Service owns Dicos. In a way, you could say Dicos is one of KFC’s biggest competitors in the PRC as it is also famous for its fried chicken buckets.

The restaurant’s Weibo account has over 727,000 fans. Besides promoting fried chicken dishes, the account also regularly promotes the Dicos brands’ various sweet desserts.

 

#6: Real Kungfu (真功夫)

Real Kungfu is probably the fast-food restaurant with the coolest logo – which looks like an image of Bruce Lee- and brand name here.

The restaurant is headquartered in Guangzhou and opened its first restaurant in 1990. The restaurant serves various meal sets at very reasonable prices, usually including a rice bowl, soup, boiled lettuce, and a meat main dish.

Photo of Zhen Kungfu order by Weibo user.

Weibo account @Zhengongfu has more than 188,000 followers. The account often posts about movies or series, with the chain associating itself with Chinese popular culture.

 

#7: Country Style Cooking (乡村基)

Country Style Cooking (Xiāngcūnjī, 乡村基) is originally a Chongqing restaurant that opened its first restaurant in 1996 under the name ‘Country Style Chicken’ (乡村鸡). It now has over 600 restaurants throughout China.

The restaurant’s name is literally also its theme: providing real ‘home-style’ cooking from the country to its customers. It serves some classic stir-fry dishes such as the Kung Pao Chicken (宫保鸡丁).

The brand is still relatively small on Chinese social media, having some 39000 fans on its Weibo account.

 

#8: Ajisen Ramen (味干拉面)

Ajisen Ramen is the first Japanese chain in this list, which focuses on Japanese ramen noodle soup dishes. It operates more than 700 noodle restaurants in Hong Kong and mainland China, but also has restaurants in other countries across the world.

Its history goes all the way back to 1968, but its franchise endeavors started later.

The chain has no presence on Weibo.

 

#9: Yonghe King (永和大王)

Yonghe King is another Chinese-style fast-food chain that, like Ajisen, also focuses on noodles. Its first restaurant was opened in 1995 in Shanghai.

The brand is not fully Chinese anymore, as it merged with Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC), the biggest fast-food company in the Philippines, in 2004. Since 2016, Jollibee is 100% owner of Yonghe King.

Yonghe King’s menu is diverse, as it offers various breakfast items, meal sets with noodles or rice, and desserts. It promotes its breakfast as the perfect start of the day for busy people who have to get to work early and have no time to prepare a meal.

With almost 409,000 fans on Weibo, Yonghe King is pretty popular on Chinese social media.

 

#10: Yoshinoya (吉野家)

Yoshinoya is the second Japanese chain in this list and it is the oldest brand, going back all the way to 1899.

Although Yoshinoya is a ‘fast food’ chain because, some of the items on its menu are not as fast to eat. The restaurant is known for its beef bowls, but how about a one-person hotpot set?

Hop Hing Group, based in Hong Kong, is the licensed operator of Yoshinoya in Hong Kong and Mainland China. The restaurant has recently become a target of violence during the Hong Kong Protests, as it was labeled as being a Beijing supporter.

 

#11: Mr. Lee California Beef Noodle King (李先生加州牛肉面大王)

The Beijing brand Mr. Lee is a popular fast-food chain in mainland China that specializes in beef noodle soup. Its first store was opened in 1988.

The ‘California’ part in its time comes from the Californian Chinese-American businessman Li Beiqi (李北祺) who started the company – hence the restaurant’s name (Mr. ‘Li’ in pinyin).

Besides the beef noodle soup, the restaurant also offers rice meals, dumplings, sweets, evening snacks and more. The Mr. Lee’s Weibo account has over 55000 fans.

By Manya Koetse

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.

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

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China Fashion & Beauty

Turning Drinks into Fashion – Chinese Designer Yang Yang Personifies Popular Beverages

Personified beverage fashion – trending because it’s cool.

Manya Koetse

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Every now and then there are posts on Weibo that just seem to keep on making their rounds. The ‘beverage fashion’ drawings collection by Yang Yang (杨杨) is one of these posts, first popping up on Chinese social media in June of this year.

Yang Yang is a 28-year-old designer from Anhui, who started drawing when she was 13 years old. She has been active in the fashion business for eight years now and has become popular on Kuaishou, China’s popular short video and live-streaming app.

If Coca Cola were a fashionista, what would she look like? In the eyes of Yang Yang, this would be her:

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Wahaha (哇哈哈) purified water, produced by the largest beverage company in China, is personified here:

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Energy drink brand Red Bull China, a Sino-foreign joint venture company, uses different colors than cans in the US or Europe.

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

One particularly striking illustration by Yang Yang is that of Nongfu icea tea drink Cha π (茶兀).

Nongfu Spring, one of the most common brands of bottled water in China, suddenly seems very trendy now.

This is the fashion version of Sea Crystal Lemon, known for its bright blue and yellow.

Following the various Weibo posts that are making their rounds with the illustrations by Yang Yang, more drawings seem to have been added later via other channels, including that of Pepsi, Wong Lo Kat, and Snow Beer.

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Drawing by Yang Yang (画师杨杨).

Although Yang Yang’s designs have gone viral this year, it is not known if they will have a chance to be turned into wearable fashion. As for Yang, she says she was just “playing around” to keep a creative mind.

Also read: From Stay-at-Home Dad to Fashion Designer – ‘Super Dad’ Rises to Fame

By Manya Koetse

Sources:
https://k.sina.com.cn/article_1872762823_p6fa017c702700xosj.html
https://new.qq.com/rain/a/20190619A0POST

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.

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

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