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Meng Wanzhou “Back to the Motherland,” Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor Return to Canada

Meng Wanzhou is coming home to China.

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Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟) is coming home to China. It has been nearly three years since the CFO of Huawei, and the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei (任正非), was first detained in Canada during transit at Vancouver airport at the request of United States officials.

Meng Wangzhou was accused of fraud charges for violating US sanctions on Iran. Ever since late 2018, Chinese officials have been demanding Meng’s release and called the arrest “a violation of a person’s human rights.” Meng was under house arrest in Vancouver while battling extradition to the United States.

At the same time, in December of 2018, Canadian national Michael Kovrig was detained in the Chinese capital by the Beijing Bureau of Chinese State Security. Kovrig, who is known as Kang Mingkai (康明凯) in Chinese, served as a diplomat in Beijing and Hong Kong until 2016, and then became a Hong Kong-based Senior Adviser at the International Crisis Group, where he worked on foreign affairs and global security issues in Northeast Asia.

Kovrig was accused of espionage in China, although many called the arrest a case of “hostage diplomacy” (“人质外交”). In late 2018, Kovrig’s case went trending on Chinese social media. Although many online discussions were censored, popular comments said: “You take one of ours, we take one of yours” (more here).

Also detained in December of 2018 was the Canadian Michael Spavor (迈克尔‧斯帕弗), a China-based consultant and director of Paektu Cultural Exchange, an organization promoting investment and tourism in North Korea. In August of this year, a Chinese court sentenced Spavor to 11 years in prison after declaring him guilty of spying, while Kovrig had still been awaiting a verdict in his case.

Michael Spavor (left) and Michael Kovrig (right).

Now, as announced by Canadian PM Trudeau on Friday night, the two Michaels and Meng are free and on their way home. Meng was discharged by the Supreme Court in British Columbia after an agreement was reached with American authorities to resolve the criminal charges against her. While Meng boarded a flight to Shenzhen, Kovrig and Spavor were heading back to Canada.

On the Chinese social media platform Weibo, Meng’s return to China became the top trending topic of the day. “Meng Wanzhou About to Return to the Motherland” became the no 1 hashtag (#孟晚舟即将回到祖国#), receiving 1.5 billion views by Saturday afternoon (CST).

State media outlet People’s Daily was one of the main accounts pushing hashtags related to Meng. They also released the hashtag “Meng Wanzhou Just Updated her Moments” (#孟晚舟刚刚更新朋友圈#), referring to a social media post by Meng on WeChat, in which she wrote that she was on her way home to China and just crossing the North Pole, adding “under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, our motherland is becoming glorious and flourishing; without a strong motherland, I would not have had my freedom today.”

State media also issued online images featuring Meng, welcoming her back home after 1028 days.

While Meng’s return triggered thousands of posts and comments on Weibo, the release of Kovrig and Spavor did not get nearly as much attention on Chinese social media – it also was not reported on social media by any Chinese official media accounts at time of writing.

In some online discussions on Weibo, commenters called the release of Kovrig and Spavor an “exchange” or “a business deal,” with others writing: “This is better, as long as Meng returns home, it’s alright.”

Meng Wanzhou’s detainment became one of the biggest topics on Chinese social media back in 2018, and it sparked anti-American sentiments – many netizens expressed how the United States was allegedly using the judicial system in a battle that was actually all about politics.

A political satire image of Meng Wanzhou being rescued by the Chinese authorities as an American shark is trying to eat her alive also circulated on Chinese social media this weekend. The image (“归舟”) was created and posted by digital artist Wuheqilin (乌合麒麟), who also welcomed Meng back home.

Meanwhile, some social media users in China have started a countdown to Meng’s arrival, tracking the flight on live tracking maps. Her CA552 plane is scheduled to arrive in Shenzhen at 21:14 local time, September 25.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

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©2021 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 World

Reversal Seen as Step Back: Chinese Social Media Responses to U.S. Abortion Ruling

“Now we can all have eight children and a bright future,” one Chinese commenter sarcastically wrote about the U.S. reversal of abortion law.

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As the end of constitutional protections for abortions in the United States is making headlines worldwide, the Supreme Court’s overturning of women’s right to abortion is also trending on Chinese social media.

On June 25, the hashtag “U.S. Supreme Court Cancels Constitutional Right to Abortion” (#美国最高法院取消宪法规定的堕胎权#) attracted over 640 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo. The hashtag “U.S. Supreme Court Overthrows Roe v. Wade” (#美国最高法院推翻罗诉韦德案#) garnered over 120 million views.

Roe v. Wade refers to the United States Supreme Court decision on abortion, which recognised a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus (generally estimated to be about 24 weeks).

The plaintiff in the 1973 case was the then 21-year-old Dallas waitress Norma McCorvey (1947) – publicly known under the pseudonym ‘Jane Roe’ – who filed the case after she was denied the right to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. McCorvey eventually won the case (although she had already given birth by then), and the Roe decision thereafter granted the right to abortion for nearly five decades.

That decision was overturned on Friday, removing the federal constitutional right to an abortion in the United States and making the procedure illegal or heavily restricted in at least 11 states, with more states expected to follow. The reversal came in a dispute over a Mississippi law that banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and directly challenged Roe v. Wade.

As states began to enact abortion bans and clinics stopped offering abortion procedures, the Roe v. Wade reversal led to protests in cities across the United States.

On Weibo, media posts about the issue received thousands of shares and comments and triggered many discussions.

“Reasonable abortion is a recognized basic human right,” one popular comment said, receiving over 57,000 likes. “In the world’s most developed nation, women can’t fully make decisions about their own wombs,” another comment with hundreds of likes said, with other commenters calling the decision “historical” and “insane.” Various commenters also wrote: “I just don’t understand this” or “I don’t dare to believe it.”

Chinese media reports about the Roe v. Wade reversal have also generated online discussions about whether or not China could implement tighter restrictions on abortions in the future, and if that would be a good development or not – a decisive issue.

“Such a law in China could have prevented the abortion of many girls,” one Weibo user wrote, reflecting on the non-medical, sex-selective abortions that occurred in China during the One Child Policy (1980-2015).

Although abortion is legal and widely available in the People’s Republic of China, policy guidelines were introduced in September of 2021 to restrict the number of abortions performed for “non-medical reasons” at a time when the country is seeing the lowest population growth in six decades.

But while some commenters used the American case to reflect on China’s potential future legal changes, there were also many who took this opportunity to reflect on and praise the basic personal freedom Chinese women currently have to end an unwanted pregnancy.

Many saw the U.S. move as a step back for women’s rights (“is this really 2022?”), lamenting the state of women’s rights internationally and also mentioning the recent Tangshan incident in China as a sign of a supposed international decreased level of (legal) protection of women.

“Perhaps you can’t empathize, but there’s also nothing to cheer about while you’re watching the fire burn from afar and are grateful to be Chinese – American women lose their right to abortion, and Chinese women have seen their wombs become nationalized. Now we can all have eight children and have a bright future,” one commenter from Shandong wrote in a sarcastic voice.

There were also some commenters who wrote that it was non-sensical for Chinese web users to argue over American abortion laws, saying the controversial U.S. decision has everything to do with an ongoing war between American Republicans who oppose legal abortion versus Democrats who favor it, and nothing to do with China and its family planning policies.

But regardless of whether or not American policies have anything to do with Chinese modern-day society, the U.S. Supreme Court decision is just a sign for many that policies could always turn around and that there is no guarantee that current rights and freedoms will last forever. “The wheel of history is moving backwards,” one Weibo user wrote on Saturday, with another person adding: “Will the next step be a ban on contraception?”

Overall – perhaps surprisingly in light of a rise in online anti-American sentiments over the past few years – most comments on Weibo at time of writing show solidarity and sympathy for American women over the Roe reversal.

“Those in charge of society are unavoidably making plans for women’s wombs,” one female commenter said, perhaps reflecting both on Chinese family planning policies as well as the recent American developments.

For more related to abortion in China, check our previous articles on this topic here.

By Manya Koetse

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Featured image: Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

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BBC’s ‘Racism for Sale’ Documentary Triggers Discussions and Censorship on Chinese Social Media 

Weibo discussions on ‘Racism for Sale’ documentary: “BBC is maliciously hyping up the issue.”

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A video in which a group of African children dressed in red are happily chanting Chinese slogans made international headlines back in early 2020. Although the video might have seemed cheerful at first to those who don’t know Chinese, it is actually racist and exploitative.

The children are energetically repeating what someone else is telling them to say, while holding up a blackboard with the phrase they are chanting written out: “I am a black devil. My IQ is low” (“我是黑鬼, 智商低”).

The video was initially posted on Chinese social media on February 10th, 2020, sparking some controversy within China. It later started to attract international attention after Ghanaian vlogger Wode Maya, who studied in China, spoke out about it on his YouTube channel in a video on February 16th which has since been viewed nearly 200,000 times.

The video featuring the African children shocked people from all over the world and led to some media outlets looking further into the context. In April of 2020, France 24 Observers reporters investigated the video and shed light on a wider Chinese market for videos recorded in Africa with locals.

These type of videos are reportedly made by Africa-based Chinese nationals who give the children some money or food in return to perform for personalized videos, which are then sold via Chinese online platforms.

The videos often include birthday greetings or other personalized messages, but as the aforementioned example shows, sometimes also contains far more sinister content. In another video, the children were made to say they promised they’d never go to China.

There had been controversy over these kinds of videos before. As reported by France 24 Observers, such videos have been circulating on Chinese social media since 2015. In 2017, Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao already closed a few accounts selling such content.

This month, the racist video issue has been brought back to the forefront again due to BBC Africa Eye releasing its “Racism for Sale” documentary, in which reporters Runako Celina and Henry Mhango further investigate and expose the Chinese video-making industry that exploits vulnerable children across Africa. They traced the Weibo video and dozens of others back to one Chinese national living in Malawi, and then confronted him (watch the BBC documentary here).

Image of the Chinese national making the videos. (Via Yahoo).

On Weibo, the ‘Racism for Sale’ documentary also triggered discussions, but instead of focusing on the racist videos, they were generally more focused on the BBC documentary’s narrative and its intentions, and about anti-Black racism within China.

The influential Weibo channel Diba Guanwei (@帝吧官微), which has over 1,5 million followers, called out the documentary in a Weibo post for purposely wanting to meddle in China-Africa relations. It said that the Chinese man recording such videos and insulting African people was indeed a problem, but that it was too much to suggest that this is all about Chinese people exploiting Africans.

Other Weibo users denounced the Chinese man for making such videos, with one popular account suggesting that this person might have intentionally shot these videos to “hurt the friendship between Africa and China,” and that he should be severely punished for it.

One thing that some people jumped on is how a racist Weibo account named “Black People Joke Club” (黑人笑话社) is featured in the documentary for being the first Weibo account to post the video of the African children. Popular nationalist blogging account Guaguashuashi (@呱呱傻事) suggested that BBC Africa used the supposedly insignificant account to make a big story and stir up anger among Africans. Moreover, the account also claimed that the man identified as ‘Lu Ke’ (卢克) who was making the children chant and dance for the video actually had a Taiwanese accent. Guahuashashi’s post received over 2000 likes and more than 300 comments.

The “Black People Joke Club” (黑人笑话社) Weibo account was previously shut down. In light of the recent BBC documentary, other accounts publishing racist content have also been removed, including an account titled “That Guangzhou Guy” (那个广州人). Words such as ‘black devil’ have also been censored and come up with zero results on Weibo now. Images included in discussions of the BBC documentary have also been censored.

Censored images in a post about BBC’s ‘Racism for Sale.’

At time of writing, some content related to the “Black People Joke Club” or other racist accounts is still available on Weibo due to other social media users previously tagging these accounts when posting their own content. There are also still many Weibo groups, topics, and hashtags where people share racist jokes and memes. Many of these posts feature racist jokes about the N-word, blackface, or other stereotyping and derogatory content.

Although some Weibo bloggers blame the BBC for attracting more attention to the old racist video, there are also those who point out that there is indeed a problem with anti-Black racism among Chinese: “Some people in China are really discriminating against black people. Whenever there are women online who post about their happy life with their black husband, they are often cursed on by some men. I think there are really a lot of racist people in our country,” one Weibo commenter wrote.

Another popular comment by a Weibo account from Jiangxi said that some Chinese are hypocritical to deny their own racist rhetoric against black people and are loudly calling out America for anti-Black racism, while also being quick to call something ‘discrimination of Chinese people’ whenever they feel something is insulting to China.

The issue of anti-Black racism on Chinese social media has often popped up, turning into trending discussions, especially when it is about foreign media reporting on it. In 2021, a Chinese influencer came under fire after a video of her doing a blackface makeup tutorial resurfaced online. A Chinese Vtuber (virtual influencer) on Bilibili also stirred controversy for being blatantly racist and forcing her (virtual) ‘slave’ to go and pick cotton.

In 2016, social media exploded in light of a Chinese ad campaign for washing detergent brand Qiaobi (俏比) which featured a black man turning into a Chinese man after being ‘washed.’ Although the commercial initially did not receive much attention in China, the international media coverage eventually sparked major discussions on Chinese social media for being racist.

An Africa-themed skit performed during the 2018 CCTV Gala was meant to promote China-African relations, but instead it received backlash for featuring a Chinese actress wearing blackface and being accompanied by someone costumed as a monkey.

The Chinese Qiaobi commercial drew much controversy for being racist in 2016.

The ‘Racism for Sale’ video has not just triggered discussions on Weibo, it has also become a diplomatic issue. On June 13, Malawi’s Foreign Minister Nancy Tembo shared a video via Twitter addressing the matter, adding that she felt “disgusted, disrespected and deeply pained” because of the video industry exposed by BBC Africa.

The Chinese Embassy in Malawi condemned the videos in a Twitter post on June 13. Wu Peng, China’s Director-General of the Foreign Ministry Department of African Affairs, met with Minister Nancy Tembo a day later, and stated on Twitter that both China and Malawi have “zero tolerance for racism” and that China will continue to crack down on such racial discrimination videos in the future.

A Weibo account dedicated to the overseas Chinese community in Malawi has not posted anything about the BBC documentary nor the videos discussed in it.

Also read: Chinese social media responses to the Western anti-racism movement after Floyd’s death.

By Federica Giampaolo and Manya Koetse

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

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.

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

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