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“Witness to China’s Diplomatic History” – Netizens Commemorate Diplomat Wu Jianmin

Chinese diplomat Wu Jianming was killed in a car accident on June 18, at the age of 77. Although Wu has been criticized to be a “dove diplomat”, netizens generally remember him as a sincere and truthful man. His death is widely commemorated on Chinese social media.

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Chinese diplomat Wu Jianming was killed in a car accident on June 18, at the age of 77. Although Wu has been criticized to be a “dove diplomat”, netizens generally remember him as a sincere and truthful man. His death is widely commemorated on Chinese social media.

Wu Jianmin (吴建民) was a prominent Chinese diplomat in China. He was trained in French language and literature in Beijing Foreign Studies University, and has since then played an important role in Chinese diplomacy.

During the 1971-1977 period, Wu was one of the first Chinese diplomats residing in the United Nations. He worked at the Chinese Embassy in Belgium, and was ambassador to the Netherlands and France. He was the first Asian president to the International Exhibition Bureau.

Wu was killed in a car accident on his way back home from the airport in Wuhan. The accident was believed to have been caused by driver fatigue. Wu was scheduled to have a meeting the next day for the publication of China’s Peaceful Development White Paper 2016.

Wu’s Diplomatic Ideas

As a diplomat, Wu was an advocate of China’s non-conflictual interaction with the world. Acknowledging that the world’s knowledge of China is asymmetric to China’s knowledge of the world, Wu believes that the proper manner to increase mutual understanding lies in sincere communication. China should also stick to its ancient philosophy of harmony and peace.

A list of Wu’s quotations by People’s Daily provides a brief look into Wu’s diplomatic thoughts:

  • “We should not jump with rage at foreign criticism.”
  • “There should be no calculation of petit interests in foreign aid. If one wants something, one needs to offer first.”
  • “From 5m dollars to 550 billion, how could this be possible without mutual trust between China and America?”
  • “The world today runs no longer on ‘jungle rule'”
  • text

    His Death is a Loss to the Country

    Wu was particularly anxious about the rise of nationalism combined with popularism in China. He believed both trends to be deceptive, as they could potentially lead China and its people back to an inward looking, self-centered worldview – a perspective that would not benefit China’s role in the international society.

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    Wu’s take on China’s role in the world was also why some criticized him. Some deemed him a “dove diplomat” with a naive believe in peace and too soft to stand up to the world. Wu himself reacted to such criticism by stating that those who view global politics as dangerous and confrontational no longer understand the world today. This view has brought Wu to the centre of the national debate on China’s diplomatic strategies.

    Although not everybody agreed with his views, most netizens see Wu as a truth-speaking diplomat. Many lit candles for the deceased diplomat under the Sina Weibo topic “Wu Jianmin Killed in Car Accident” (#吴建民车祸去世).

    “Mr. Wu was a witness of Chinese diplomatic history. He had a rational and distinct view of the world. He was an excellent diplomat and his death is a loss to the country”, writes one netizen.

    wujian

    Some netizens show sympathy with Wu’s diplomatic ideas and worry that China’s future foreign policy will become less peaceful: “Does the death of Ambassador Wu suggest the end of a diplomatic époque? Must the national discourse be diverted to international fractures in a time of economic pressure? Now many are propagating war on line. This is not a good phenomenon.”

    Netizens Show Concern over China’s Diplomacy

    This is not the first time Chinese netizens express concerns over China’s diplomatic strategy. Last month, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi sharply berated a journalist during a state visit in Canada.

    When the journalist questioned why Canada pursued closer ties with China despite the PRC’s human rights situation, Wang Yi interrupted and criticized the journalism for being too prejudiced: ““I have to say that your question is full of prejudice against China and arrogance … I don’t know where that comes from. This is totally unacceptable,” he said. He also stated that only Chinese can comment on its human rights situations.

    Wang Yi’s reaction triggered much discussion on Chinese social media. While some felt proud that Wang spoke out against foreign criticism, there were also those who did not agree with the manner in which he did this. A video clip of Saudi Arabia Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel Al Jubeir was widely shared as a contrasting example to Wang Yi. Al Jueir, when confronted with a journalist’s statement that Islam and terrorism cannot be separated, answered with grace and reason.

    “A man is a true man not because he persists he’s right even when he knows he is wrong”, says one netizen, “he is a true man because he has the courage to own up to his mistakes. Look at our foreign minister. Patriotism is horrible; it can deprive a nation of its sense of right and wrong”.

    Many Chinese netizens are increasingly concerned about China’s diplomacy in the world today. Their stance is different from the public sentiment that was reported on some years ago when China’s Foreign Ministry claimed they were under pressure of the public and frequently received packages of “calcium tablets”, allegedly intended to “strengthen their spine against foreign pressures” (Shambaugh 2013, chapt 3).

    Although many Chinese might have believed the diplomatic strategy of their country was far too soft, the foreign minister declared in 2014 that they’ve been receiving far less packages of calcium tablets.

    The growing online discussions and lessening calcium deliveries might be an indication that China’s public opinion is slowly changing into questioning a too assertive tone in China’s foreign affairs.

    – By Diandian Guo 

    Shambaugh, David. 2013. “Chapter 3: China’s Diplomatic Pressure”, in China Goes Global: The Partial Power. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press (Google Books).

    ©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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    Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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    China Insight

    Blazing Memories: About the Comparison of the Notre Dame Fire to the Burning of the Old Summer Palace (Op-Ed)

    Understanding why the Yuan Ming Yuan went trending in China after the Notre Dame fire.

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    A What’s on Weibo news article on Chinese online responses to the Notre Dame fire attracted very mixed reactions on English-language social media this week.

    After the fire at the Notre Dame in Paris earlier this week, What’s on Weibo published an article describing Chinese online responses to the devastating blaze, and the ubiquitous comments that compared the destruction of the iconic French cathedral to the burning of the Chinese Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan) in Beijing by the Anglo-French army in 1860.

    There have been many reactions to this story on various social media platforms. From one side, there were those who questioned why we would even publish an article like that, suggesting that our position in covering this trend was biased. On the other side, there were those who jumped into the discussion, blaming Chinese for playing the victim and ignoring the destruction of old historical buildings or Mosques within their own country over recent years.

    The reactions to this article and overall trend show the polarized stances on social issues and media in China, and how to cover them. Some suggested that it was not fair to write down the “negative social media opinions of a few Chinese commenters,” saying that it “reflected badly” on China overall, or that they were “irrelevant.”

    Covering the voices of a few dozen ‘trolls’ and presenting them as an ‘overall sentiment’ is not what we do at What’s on Weibo.

    Some people pointed out that the comparison of the Notre Dame blaze to the burning of the Old Summer Palace was not something that most Chinese agreed with. As also covered in our article, there were indeed many commenters, including historians and Key Opinion Leaders, who opposed to the Yuan Ming Yuan trend in light of the Notre Dame fire.

    The fact of the matter still is that the Old Summer Palace became a massive topic of online debate following the Notre Dame fire. Ignoring such a trend in covering Weibo responses to the tragic Paris incident would be a huge blind spot problem.

    Instead of condemning these Chinese online responses, ignoring they are there, or trivializing their relevance, it is perhaps more constructive to consider where they come from, and understanding that the history of the Old Summer Palace is still deeply ingrained in the collective memory of the Chinese people and nation.

    Before further elaborating on this, let’s first go back to the trend itself.

     

    From Notre Dame to Yuan Ming Yuan

     

    As news of the catastrophic fire that engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral (巴黎圣母院) in Paris on Monday made headlines across the world, the Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan 圆明园) suddenly became a trending topic on Chinese social media.

    Besides all the people who mourned the destruction of the historic cathedral, and those who posted photos of their previous visits to the scenic spot, there were many Chinese netizens who started addressing the plundering and burning down of the Yuan Ming Yuan (“Garden of Perfect Brightness”) in 1860, leading to the Notre Dame and the Old Summer Palace becoming top trending topics on Weibo at the same time.

    As Notre Dame goes trending on Weibo, so does the Old Summer Palace (top 4 top trending).

    On April 18, WeChat self-media account Fang Zhouzi (方舟子) wrote about the reaction: “On Chinese internet, a peculiar response started to emerge, as many people suddenly started remembering the burning of the Yuan Ming Yuan by the Anglo-French forces 159 years ago, and thereupon saying that the Notre Dame deserved to be burned.”

    It is unclear who first drew a comparison between the Notre Dame and the Yuan Ming Yuan, but on April 16, actor Zhou Libo (周立波) wrote on Weibo that “compared to the Yuan Ming Yuan, the Notre Dame is just a garden.” A former editor at the Phoenix News Military Channel, Jin Hao (金昊), also published an article on WeChat titled “Mourning it, my ass! I’m pleased with the big fire at Notre Dame” (“哀悼个屁!巴黎圣母院大火,我很欣慰!”) (since deleted).

    On other social media sites, such as Douban, people also started posting blogs with titles such as “the Notre Dame collapse makes me think of the Old Summer Palace” (“巴黎圣母院的倒塌让我想起了圆明园”).

    An exploration of search queries on Chinese search engine Baidu shows that at the time when ‘Notre Dame’ peaks as a query on April 16, so does the term ‘Yuan Ming Yuan.’ Similarly, on Google Trends, the Chinese query ‘Notre Dame’ shows the Yuan Ming Yuan Park as the number two related topic in its overview of the past week.

    Baidu trends show that both the search terms ‘Notre Dame’ (A) and ‘Yuan Ming Yuan’ (B) simultaneously peak on April 16.

    At time of writing, there are dozens of pages on Weibo filled with comments relating to the Notre Dame/Old Summer Palace comparison. We won’t list many of them here, but some of the comments include reactions such as: “Now you can also experience how it feels when art and culture are burned,” “I might have a narrow sense of patriotism, but seeing the Notre Dame burn makes me happy inside,” and “even a hundred Notre Dames still don’t make the Old Summer Palace,” with many netizens claiming that the loss of the Old Summer Palace was just as bad, or rather worse, than the destruction of the Notre Dame.

    These collective responses to the Notre Dame fire also drew much criticism. State media outlet CCTV published an article that condemned the comparison of the Notre Dame and the Old Summer Palace, stating that people “should not vent their emotions in the name of history” (Li Xuefei 2019).

    Various other news channels also published critique, including one article titled “The Notre Dame fire as retribution for the burning of Yuanmingyuan? Please stop this inhumane line of reasoning” (“巴黎圣母院大火是烧圆明园的报应?快停下反人类思维”).

    As covered in our previous write-up, there were also many voices on Weibo denouncing the trend. One of them was Yan Feng (严锋), a professor at Fudan University, who posted:

    The Notre Dame cathedral was constructed in 1163, the Yuan Ming Yuan was destroyed in 1860. The people who burned the Yuan Ming Yuan were not the people who built the Notre Dame of Paris. They were separated by 700 years. The French feudal separatists were in no way French according to modern-day standards. Every injustice has its perpetrator and every debt its debtor, why should you let the Notre Dame bear the responsibility of burning down the Yuan Ming Yuan?

    “First of all, we are people, then we are Chinese,” another popular comment said: “The loss of such a historical cultural gem is a loss for all mankind.”

     

    Collective Memories of Yuan Ming Yuan

     

    In October of 1860, British and French troops sacked and burned the Old Summer Palace, which was once a massive complex consisting of more than a hundred buildings, pavilions, and scenic spots, built since the 17th century for the Qing emperors.

    The event took place at the end of the Second Opium War. Unsatisfied with the Treaty of Nanjing and, among others, demanding more Chinese cities and ports to open for trade, the Anglo-French army invaded Beijing in 1860. They plundered the Yuan Ming Yuan, which was filled with books and art treasures. The burning came afterward, to destroy the evidence of their looting. The fire blazed for three days and three nights, leaving the enormous palace grounds in ruins (Chey 2009, 79).

    The site of the once magnificent Old Summer Palace is now the Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park, an initiative that was set up in the 1980s after decades of neglect. In “The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan,” Haiyan Lee calls the site a “national wound” (2009). It is a symbolic space, where the ruins remind visitors of the injustice China once suffered at the hands of Western powers.

    This injustice is an important incident in China’s so-called “Century of Humiliation,” the time from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s during which China was attacked, weakened, and torn by foreign forces.

    The “Century of Humiliation” still plays an important role in China today, as young people are also taught that this historical consciousness is important. The four character slogan “Wù wàng guóchǐ” (勿忘国耻), “Never forget national humiliation”, is frequently repeated in Chinese media, museums, schools, documentaries, and in popular culture.

    Young Chinese students carrying a sign “Never Forget National Humiliation”, image via Xinhua.

    As described in the insightful work by Zheng Wang, Never Forget National Humiliation, the historical memory of China’s era of humiliation has become part of Chinese national identity, promoted in official discourse, and often unconsciously yet profoundly influencing people’s perceptions and actions. This is also what collective memory is: an accumulation of memory-forming processes that take place on both conscious and non-conscious levels (Koetse 2012, 10).

    The Yuan Ming Yuan Park is a particularly significant cultural heritage site where the remembrance of the humiliations and injuries China suffered at the hands of foreign imperialists comes to life through the ruins (Lee 2008, 169).

     

    Blazing Memories

     

    Collective memory and nations are tied together in many ways, as historical memories serve as an important vehicle to unify the nation. They also play an important part in how people from different communities, societies, or nations will interpret big or important events that happen in the world today.

    When certain news makes headlines, it is not uncommon for people to reflect on it speaking from their own experiences and the collective memory of their own nation or bigger community – especially when the place where it happens is far removed from them.

    This is not unique to China. To grasp, process, and comment on faraway incidents, it is sometimes easier to relate it to something that is closer to you.

    Former American first lady Michelle Obama visited Paris earlier this week for her book tour, and told the audience about how shocked she was about the Notre Dame blaze, briefly comparing the incident to the devastating American 9/11 attacks.* Does it make sense to compare the burning of the Notre Dame to the 9/11 attacks? Perhaps not. Yet Obama was not the only one to raise the 9/11 events; some on Twitter even called the burning of the Notre Dame “a cultural 9/11” disaster.

    Seeing the overwhelming responses to the Notre Dame fire on Chinese social media, where so many people linked it to Chinese history, the reaction perhaps should not be whether these online responses and media discussions were either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – instead, it is important to understand where they come from, and how people from various backgrounds, cultures, or religions, often use their own cultural or social frameworks, historical narratives, and dominating ideas to make sense of what is happening around them.

    As the Notre Dame trend on Chinese social media shows, but what’s beyond the scope of this article, is that the mechanisms of online nationalism and anti-foreign sentiments often also come into play once these memory-machines start running.

    In the end, the Notre Dame fire actually has nothing to do with the history of the Old Summer Palace. But the news of the Notre Dame blaze was enough reason for many Chinese netizens to trigger and bring up this memory of Chinese suffering that still exists in the minds of the people today.

    Instead of condemning that, or trivializing news reports on these trends, one could try to understand it, and then see it as a completely separate issue from the Notre Dame fire – as many people on Weibo also do.

    By Manya Koetse

    Recommended reading:

    References

    Fang Zhouzi 方舟子. 2019. “巴黎圣母院和圆明园有什么关系?” April 18, Fang Zhouzi / Self-Media WeChat link[4.18.19].

    Koetse, Manya. 2012. “The ‘Magic’ of Memory. Chinese and Japanese Re-Remembrances of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).” Research Master thesis, Leiden University.

    Lee, Haiyuan. 2009. “The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan – Or, How to Enjoy a National Wound.” Modern China 35 (2): 155-190.

    Li Xuefei 李雪菲. 2019. “巴黎圣母院火灾怎能与火烧圆明园混为一谈 狭隘的民族主义可休矣.” April 16, CCTV,Sina News https://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/2019-04-16/doc-ihvhiqax3118848.shtml [4.18.19].

    Ong, Siew Chey. 2009. China Condensed: 5, 000 Years of History & Culture. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International.

    Weatherley, Robert D., and Ariane Rosen. 2013. “Fanning the Flames of Popular Nationalism: The Debate in China over the Burning of the Old Summer Palace.” Asian perspective 37(1):53-76.

    Zheng Wang. 2012. Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations. New York: Columbia University Press.

    * Segment on Michelle Obama in Paris from Dutch “Talkshow M” of April 17th, 36.00 min.

    Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

    ©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 Insight

    ‘Sharenting’ on Chinese Social Media: When Parents Are Posting Too Many Baby Pics on WeChat

    ‘Shaiwa’ is the Chinese term for ‘Sharenting’ – when does sharing baby pictures on social media become too much?

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    It’s called ‘Sharenting’ in English, it’s called ‘Shàiwá’ in Mandarin Chinese, and it’s all about parents sharing (too) many photos of their offspring on social media.

    To what extent is it okay to post photos of your baby or children on social media, and when does it become too much? These questions are at the heart of a discussion that has been ongoing on Chinese social media recently, with the hashtag “Should You Be Sharenting on Moments?” (#朋友圈该不该晒娃#) receiving 140 million views on Weibo.

    ‘Moments’ is WeChat’s social-networking function, that allows users to share photos on their own feed that is visible to their friends, family, and other Wechat contacts.

    ‘Sharenting’ is a word that was coined to describe the overuse of social media by parents to share content based on their children. Around 2013/2014, the word came to be used more frequently in English-language mainstream media. In Chinese, the term for this phenomenon is ‘shài wá‘ (晒娃), which combines the characters for ‘exposing’ and ‘babies.’

    Recently, more articles have popped up in Chinese media that take a critical stance towards parents sharing too much about their children on social media, with some WeChat Moments feeds consisting entirely of photos of children.

     

    Sharenting Concerns

     

    In English-language media and academic circles, the phenomenon of ‘sharenting’ has been a topic of discussion for years. In 2017, Blum-Ross and Livingstone published a study about the phenomenon, highlighting the concerns over it.

    Some of these concerns are that ‘sharenting’ might infringe on children’s right to privacy, that it can be exploitative, is possibly exposing children to pedophiles, and might have consequences in terms of data-mining and facial recognition (110).

    For parents, the reasons to share photos of their children online are multifold. It could just be to chronicle their lives and share with friends and relatives, but it could also be because they are part of (online) communities where sharing these photos is part of the shared lifestyle and identity (Blum-Ross & Livingstone 2017, 113).

    For some, it is a way to express their creativity and this might also lead to some parents gaining financial benefits from doing so, if they are, for example, bloggers incorporating advertisements or sponsored content on their channels.

    Recently, the topic became much discussed in the US after actress Gwyneth Paltrow posted a picture on Instagram in late March of her and her 14-year-old daughter Apple Martin skiing. Apple then responded in the comments sections, saying: “Mom, we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent.” The incident sparked discussions on children’s privacy on social media.

     

    Whose Choice Is It?

     

    In China, there is not just a word for ‘sharenting,’ there is even a word to describe parents who ‘sharent’ like crazy: Shàiwá Kuángmó (晒娃狂魔), meaning something like ‘Sharenting Crazy Devils.’

    The phenomenon of sharenting was discussed in Chinese media as early as 2012, when it was mostly the safety issue of ‘sharenting’ that was highlighted: with parents posting photos of their children, along with a lot of personal information, they might unknowingly expose their children to child traffickers, who will easily find out through social media where a child goes to school, and when their parents take them to the park to play.

    Recently, discussions on sharenting in China have mainly focused on WeChat as a platform where parents not just post photos of their children, but also post about their school results, their class rankings, and other detailed information. Especially during holidays, WeChat starts flooding with photos of children.

    Image via Sina.com

    Chinese educational expert Tang Yinghong (唐映红) commented on the issue in a news report by Pear Video, saying that sharenting is a sign of parents missing a certain sense of meaning in their own lives, and letting their children make up for this. Regularly posting about their children’s lives and activities allegedly gives them a certain value, status, and identity.

    That they are infringing on the privacy of their children by doing so, Tang argues, is something that a lot of Chinese parents do not even consider. Only if the children agree with their parents sharing their photos, he says, it is okay to do so.

    But the majority of commenters do not agree with Tang’s views at all. “So what else are we supposed to post in our ‘Moments’? If we post about our kids, it’s sharenting. If we post about our travels, it’s flaunting wealth. If we post selfies, it’s vanity. We should be free to post what we want in our Moments.”

    “Showing off our kids is our own choice, if you don’t want to see it, just block it,” others say.

    “He’s not right in what he says. I regularly post my child’s picture. My career is going well and I am happy. The goal of me posting these photos is to keep my WeChat Moments feed alive, and I use it as some sort of photo album,” another Weibo user says.

    Some voices do agree with Tang, saying: “First ask your children for permission, they also have their right to privacy.”

     

    Kids’ Rights to Privacy

     

    But what if the children are too young to give permission? And from what age are they able to really give their consent? The idea of children’s ‘right to privacy’ is a fairly new one in Chinese debates on sharenting. In other countries, these discussions started years ago.

    In the Netherlands, sociologists Martje van Ankeren and Katusha Sol argued in a 2011 newspaper article that parents posting photos of their babies and young children on social media are actually infringing on the privacy of their kids, disregarding what sharing the lives of their offspring online might mean for them in the future, just for scoring a few ‘likes’ on Facebook.

    The online presence of children often starts from the day they are born now, building throughout their whole childhood. A 2017 UK news article suggested that the average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child online before their fifth birthday. The baby’s first steps, medical issues, ‘funny’ photos and videos of a child with food smeared all over its face – it’s all out there. But what happens to all these online records?

    Van Ankeren and Sol argue that the social media presence of children might affect them in the future. What if they are applying for their dream job, but their potential future employee finds out through online research that they had serious health issues as a child? And how do young adults feel about their new friends and acquaintances being able to view all those embarrassing photos of them as a child that their parents ‘tagged’ them in from before they could even remember?

    “Everyone should have the right to choose what kind of information they want to share, and with whom. If your parents already did that for you, you lost your freedom of choice before you were even able to consider it,” Van Ankeren and Sol write.

    The case of France made headlines last year, as its privacy laws make it possible for grown-up children to sue their parents for posting photos of them on social networks without their consent, which could potentially result in hefty fines or imprisonment.

    In China, the debate on kids’ rights to privacy is not yet gaining much attention within the ‘sharenting’ discussions. Some people, however, do speak out about the issue on social media.

    “I understand you want to share pictures of your child on ‘Moments’,” one Weibo user (@寒月之瞳) writes: “However, why do you insist on [also] sharing nude photos of your child? Small kids are also people, they have a right to privacy. The people on your ‘Moments’ are not all people you know very well. Do you really think it’s a good idea to share these photos?”

    An article in the Chinese Baby Sina outlet writes: “Parents have to protect the privacy of their kids, before posting a photo of them on the internet, think about how it might influence them.”

    For most commenters on Chinese social media, however, posting pictures of their children online is just an innocent pastime: “I post on WeChat Moments every day. If it’s not photos of my child, I post about the dinner I cooked or the parties I attend. WeChat Moments is about sharing your life, and in my life, my child is what matters most. It’s only natural that most of my photos are of my child.”

    “People shouldn’t meddle in other’s people’s business. Whether or not I want to post my child’s photos is up to me.”

    By Manya Koetse

    References

    Blum-Ross, Alicia and Sonia Livingstone. 2017. “”Sharenting,” Parent Blogging, and the Boundaries of the Digital Self.” Popular Communication 15 (2): 110-125.

    Van Ankeren, Martje and Katusha Sol. 2011. “Willempje wil geen Facebookpagina.” Nov 2, NRC: 12.

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

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    What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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