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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.

    [rp4wp]

    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 Digital

    Insights into the Social Credit System on Chinese Online Media vs Its Portrayal in Western Media

    In many international media, China’s nascent Social Credit System is presented as a gloomy sci-fi storyline with clickbait titles. In Chinese mass media, the story is not nearly as ‘sexy’.

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    The lurid scenario of how China’s nascent Social Credit System (SCS) might unfold as presented by many international media, stands in stark contrast to how the topic is discussed on Chinese online media. Not only is the SCS discussed and presented much differently within the PRC, the topic is also not nearly getting as much attention as it does in the West.

    “The year 2018 has been a crucial year in the development of China’s Social Credit System (社会信用体系),” lawyer Ju (居小森律师) writes on Weibo this week.

    The past year has indeed been the year of China’s Social Credit System: it was an important year for the system’s implementation, and it also became one of the most discussed China-related news topics in international media1 – using sci-fi vocabulary, powerful emotional words, suspenseful music, and dramatic images in their SCS-focused stories, the SCS is presented much differently in Western media than it is within the PRC.

     

    SCS: From Google to Weibo Trends

     

    From October 2017 to October 2018 alone, the Google search engine comes up with more than six million results in a search for the term “China social credit system” in English. Showing all results from before this time, there are 160 million results for the term in total.

    (whatsonweibo/google)

    Google Trends statistics show that worldwide interest in China’s Social Credit System had its absolute peak in the past year, and that Black Mirror, the British science fiction series exploring the dark consequences of new technologies, is one of the terms that is most associated with the web search query ‘China’s social credit system.’

    Black Mirror is a highly popular series on Netflix, of which one 2016 episode called ‘Nosedive’ revolved around a dystopian society where people are judged by a numeric rating given to them by their interactions with other people, affecting their opportunities in life. This episode is often connected to China’s SCS by Western blogs or news sites.

    In the Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’, people’s position on the social ladder is determined by other people ranking them.

    The Black Mirror association with ‘social credit’ does not only come up on Google Trends. On Twitter, for example, some of the hashtags most related to the term also includes “#blackmirror.”

    In contrast to the English term, with 160 million results, the Chinese term for the social credit system (社会信用体系) comes up with only 19,2 million total search results on Google. Google Trends also shows a rather minimal interest in the Chinese term compared to its English equivalent.

    Although that result is somewhat flawed (the Google search engine is blocked in mainland China), Baidu, one of China’s most popular search engines, also gives a comparatively small total of 7,7 million results for the same Chinese web search query.

    All in all, there are clear indications that the attention for the Chinese Social Credit System in the international English-language online media environment is much bigger than that within China.

    While the Social Credit System (SCS) is being mentioned on Twitter almost every five to ten minutes at time of writing, it is only being discussed on Weibo with intervals of minimally one or two hours by posts that are barely getting likes or comments.2

    This is especially noteworthy when considering that Sina Weibo has around 100 million more monthly active users (±430 million) than Twitter has (±326 million).

    So what does this all mean? How come that there is so much appetite for this topic outside of China, while inside the PRC, where the ‘system’ is well underway, there is a lesser public interest in its development?

     

    What Actually is the Social Credit System?

     

    In the book Social Credit Law: Principles, Rules and Cases, author Luo Peixin explains Social Credit as follows:

    Social Credit is a management system that takes big data as its basis, is supported by technological capacities, and is backed by law [legal provisions]; it is an important modern method to forward the country’s governance systems and management capabilities” (3).

    Rather than one system or database, the Social Credit System is an overall policy or ideology, a mechanism of punishments and rewards, that is allegedly “meant to improve the integrity and trust level of the whole society” (creditchina.gov.cn).

    In 2014, the Chinese government announced its first plans on the construction of a nationwide Social Credit System to be rolled out by 2020. For now, there is not one system in place, but rather a collection of different implementations and experiments across various regions and cities across China.

    What they all have in common, though, is that individuals, corporations, or agencies are being assessed based on their ‘trustworthiness’ (Kostka 2018, 1).

    In Shaanxi’s Ankan city, blacklisted trust ‘offenders’ are being publicly displayed on a local court’s LED screens this month (via http://jszx.court.gov.cn).

    The past summer has seen some important developments in the realization of a national Social Credit System. In the Chinese state media article “The Credit Society is Coming, Are You Ready for It?” [“信用社会来临,你准备好了吗”], People’s Daily notes that new Social Credit terms such as “blacklists” (黑名单) will become more ubiquitous in daily life from now on.

    Earlier this year, the first names on the ‘lose trust list’ (失信人名单) – meaning those who have failed in complying with their public commitments or court orders – were reported to the Chinese railway and aviation departments by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC) to block these people from traveling.

    At the beginning of 2018, twelve cities have been announced as successfully laying out the foundations of a Social Credit management system.3

    Other Chinese cities are frequently added to the ‘credit cities’ list. Dalian, for example, is one of the cities that is highlighted by Chinese media this month for “steadily advancing” its Social Credit System implementation. The city has introduced an automated administrative process at its Public Resources Trading Center, in which people who are found to have bad credit will automatically be refused the handling of business.

    It is just one among dozens of examples of how various cities and regions in China are experimenting with Social Credit and both punitive and rewarding measures.

    Besides the SCS initiatives being implemented by local governments, commercial companies are also participating in making China a more credit-based society. Users who opt in to Alibaba’s Sesame Credit loyalty program system, for example, can enjoy many benefits if they have a good credit score (650+), such as borrowing books from the local library for free, or using share bikes without deposit (more on Sesame Credit and its perks here).

    According to Weibo user ‘Lawyer Ju’, the broad credit system “covers both economic credit systems and social integrity systems,” within which the blacklist system is getting “more and more important”, adding that “the joint structure of ‘lose trust in one place, and there’s no place to go’ [一处失信、处处受限] will soon be here.”

     

    Weibo Focus: No Bad Deed Should Go Unpunished

     

    Lawyer Ju is not the only Weibo user who seems rather optimistic and happy about the implementation of a system that governs society based on trust.

    Although major discussions on the actual ‘Social Credit System’ – using that exact term (社会信用体系) – are practically non-existent on Weibo, there are other examples of trending topics linked to the system that have gone viral lately.

    One noteworthy example is the topic of two ‘Train Tyrants‘ that went trending on Chinese social media since August of this year.

    The two train bullies that went viral the past months.

    It all started with the “Highspeed Train Tyrant” (高铁霸座男) in September. It is a nickname that was given to a man who refused to give up the seat he took from another passenger on the G334 express train to Beijing in late August, and whose bizarre and rude behavior was caught on video.

    The other train bully that went viral in September, is a woman from Hunan who was dubbed ‘High-Speed Train Tyrant Woman’ (高铁霸座女) by Weibo netizens.

    She had taken a seat assigned to another passenger while riding the train from Yongzhou to Shenzhen. A video (YouTube link here) shows how the woman makes a scene when the train conductor tells her she is in the wrong seat; she refuses to get up, raises her voice, talks rudely to the conductor, and simply claims she has bought a ticket and will not change to another seat until she has reached her final destination.

    The story of this female ‘train tyrant’ became trending on Weibo with over 500 million views.

    With more than 600 million combined views on the stories of the highspeed ‘Train Tyrants’, making them one of the bigger news stories of the year, the unruly behavior of passengers on Chinese public transport system made headlines. When news came out that both ‘bullies’ were fined and blacklisted by the Chinese railways (banning them from boarding trains for 180 days, see this article by Jeremy Daum for more on the legal aspects), many commenters applauded the system – although some deemed it not punitive enough (“180 days and a 200 yuan [$28] fine is nothing!“).

    Although this case concerned a Railway-specific blacklist, many people commented that this blacklisting system should also be applied to people disturbing the order in hospitals, for example, and that it should be linked with the nationwide Social Credit System.

    Moreover, many deemed that the Social Credit System should be even more punitive to people disturbing the public order, saying they “only had themselves to blame” (“咎由自取”), and it is a mere matter of “how karma works.”

     

    Twitter Focus: China’s Scary Social Credit System

     

    Meanwhile, on Twitter, a very different Social Credit story is going viral. A two-minute short video published by the Economist on October 26 titled “How Does China’s Social Credit System Work?” has more than 275,000 views on Twitter alone at time of writing (Update 23.00 China time: Economist has removed the video within hours after this article was posted).

    Accompanied by suspenseful music, the video starts by captioning that by 2020, “the Chinese government will give all 1.4bn of its citizens a personal score based on how they behave.”

    It further alleges that the ‘system’ will “track people’s activities on the Internet,” and that “what they buy, view, and say online will all be analysed,” followed by the claim that “this data will then be evaluated and distilled into a single number according to rules set by the government.”

    Still from the Economist video.

    The Economist video then focuses on surveillance cameras “that track people’s behavior in public”, suggesting that someone’s “score” could be lowered by crossing a red light, and that 12 million people have already been “punished for having a low score” through domestic travel bans.

    Among thousands of reactions on the video, many compared China to an “Orwellian surveillance state” or a “Black Mirror episode.”

    This recent Economist video is but one of dozens of examples of international media outlets describing China’s Social Credit System within a certain framework, mainly linking it to terms such as ‘punishment,’ ‘surveillance,’ and ‘individual scores.’

    Many of these news stories suggest that every Chinese citizen will be assigned a ‘score’, or that people’s mere way behaving in public will be able to lower that ‘score’, resulting in ‘punishment’ (FYI: there is no indication that there will be one ‘score’ for citizens in a nationwide SCS, also see this article).

    These stories are often grossly conflating the (optional) commercial credit systems, such as Sesame Credit, with national government policies and local experiments. (For more about this, also check this article).

     

    Dramatically Different Approaches

     

    By just comparing the previously mentioned examples of the Train Tyrant viral story in China, and the Economist viral video, one can get a glimpse of the great gap in (social) media approaches of the Social Credit System in China and in Western media.4

    “Creepy”, “Chilling”, “Sci-fi” – some of the words used in Western media headlines to frame the SCS.

    In the international media headlines, powerful emotional words like ‘chilling’, ‘creepy’, or ‘dystopian’ are often used. Perhaps not coincidentally, marketers since long know that readers react more strongly to ‘alert words’ that make us feel anxious, such as ‘afraid’, ‘scare’, ‘risk’, and ‘alarm’ – which are all great words to get more engagement with social media users, and thus will result in more clicks.

    As ‘sexy’ as the SCS might seem in Western media, as ‘dry’ it can seem in the Chinese media context, where the most powerful words used in headlines are terms as ‘trust’, ‘harmony’ or ‘blacklist’, and where there are no dramatic images; occasionally there is a featured photo of officials having a meeting (to see more on how state media propagates the SCS through cartoons, click here).

    A typical SCS-focused article in Chinese media.

    This difference in the framing of SCS between Western publications and Chinese articles can also be seen in the specific words used in SCS-focused news stories.

    The word clouds below show the most used words in three typical SCS articles from Western mainstream media (Independent, Guardian, and ABC), and three typical English-language Chinese state media articles on SCS (namely Global Times, Xinhua, and China Daily ).

    Most common words in news articles discussing the social credit system in Western media (left) and English-language Chinese media (right). (By What’s on Weibo via wordart).

    While there are many words overlapping between the two examples, the most-used words in these Western media sources (left) are words as ‘system’, ‘list’, ‘citizen’, ‘behaviour’, ‘score’, and ‘government’, whereas the Chinese state media sources (right) more commonly use words as ‘business’, ‘law’, ‘market’, and ‘build.’

    Doing the same experiment with Chinese-language state media articles on the SCS (Sina News, People’s Daily, and Guangming Daily) shows that ‘trust’ or ‘credit’ (信用) and ‘building’ (建设) are among the most-used words, with terms such as ‘enjoy together’, ‘cooperate’, or ‘unite’ frequently popping up.

    The result of the most common words used in three state media articles on SCS (Whatsonweibo via Picdata).

    The different public attitude towards the SCS implementation in China versus the Western media discourse on the issue, is also illustrated in a recent study by Genia Kostka (2018), that investigates Chinese citizens’ attitudes towards social credit systems. Rather than thinking of it as a ‘creepy’ or ‘dystopian’ system, it showed that SCSs actually have very high levels of approval across the respondent groups in the study (her work can be viewed here).

     

    Social Credit Accounts without Followers

     

    Ever since the 2014 plans of China’s Social Credit implementation were announced, Chinese social media has seen dozens of regional, urban, district-based ‘Social Credit’ accounts pop up on Weibo and WeChat to inform netizens of local developments.

    The online presence of these local social credit programmes signals that Weibo and Wechat may have hundreds of these accounts in the future informing citizens/netizens of new measures and guidelines.

    However, the fanbase numbers of these accounts, again, reflect that there does not seem to be that much interest for the nascent SCS implementations.

    A brief overview of some of these Weibo accounts:

    * Credit Suzhou @苏州工业园区信用平台
    Followers: 391
    First post on record: September 29, 2015

    * Liaoning Credit @信用辽宁
    Followers at time of writing: 764
    First post on record: August 1, 2012

    * Wuhu Credit
    @信用芜湖
    Followers at time of writing: 14
    First post on record: August 22, 2016

    * Beijing City Social Credit Building Promotional Association @北京市社会公信建设促进会
    Followers at time of writing: 14913
    First post on record: September 17, 2014

    * China Trustworthy Guangzhou @中国诚信广州
    Followers at time of writing: 383
    First post on record: June 20, 2012

    * Honest Suqian @诚信宿迁
    Followers at time of writing: 21
    First post on record: September 9, 2014

    With more than 24,000 followers, the Weibo account of commercial credit system Sesame Credit (@芝麻信用) is much more popular than the government-related management programmes.

    Perhaps the topic of SCS, for many Chinese, is lacking the ‘Black Mirror’ appeal it has for many Western consumers of news. Perhaps ‘harmony’ and ‘trust’ are not as click-worthy as ‘creepy’ and ‘dystopian’?

    On Weibo, Lawyer Ju is confident in the future of SCS in China: “Whether it’s from a social, corporate, or individual perspective,” he writes: “‘trust’ is now everywhere; it’s become a necessary ‘virtual asset.’ The gradual improvement of the construction of a legal credit system is the fundamental policy in order to regulate the market economy.”

    Although his message is sound and clear, it is perhaps also somewhat boring and dry: it has not received any likes or shares to date. Meanwhile, on Twitter, the Economist‘s suspenseful video on China’s grim SCS future has received more than 280,000 views, and counting. “Oh my god!”, one popular reply to the video says: “This is just like that Black Mirror episode!”

    (Update 23.00 China time: Economist has removed the video within hours after this article was posted).

    By Manya Koetse

    1 This article talks about ‘international’ or ‘Western’ media to show a clear difference from Chinese media. Although the term can be understood in many ways, we mean it here to address mainstream English-language (news) sources of media outlets from mainly the US, Europe, and Australia.

    2 Please note that there is currently no reason to assume that discussions of this specific topic are being censored: censorship scanning sites such as Free Weibo show no signs that posts using the term are specifically targeted, and state media and local governments are actually trying to start up discussions on this topic, as I will briefly touch upon later on in this article.

    3 Namely Hangzhou, Nanjing, Xiamen, Chengdu, Suzhou, Suqian, Huizhou, Wenzhou, Weihai, Weifang, Yiwu, and Rongcheng.

    4 Note that these are just small examples within a big and complicated discourse that has more sides to it than this article allows to zoom in on.

    References

    Kostka, Genia. 2018. “China’s Social Credit Systems and Public Opinion: Explaining High Levels of Approval” SSRN, July 23. Available at https://ssrn.com/abstract=3215138 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3215138 [29.10.18].

    Luo Peixin 罗培新. 2018. Social Credit Law: Principles, Rules and Cases [社会信用法:原理、规则、案例]. Beijing: Peking University Press.

    People’s Daily. 2018. “Observing the Social Credit System: The Credit Society is Coming, Are You Ready for It? [观察社会信用体系:信用社会来临,你准备好了吗].” Xinhua June 4. Available online at http://www.xinhuanet.com/2018-06/04/c_1122931164.htm [29.10.18].


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    China Digital

    No WeChat, No Access – How China’s Digital Revolution is Leaving behind Its Elderly Population

    With apps and QR code scanning taking over day-to-day life necessities in China, elderly citizens are feeling increasingly alienated from society.

    Brydon Brancart

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    As daily life in China becomes ever more digitally dependent, China’s elderly find themselves increasingly excluded from a wide range of services. Here’s an overview of this new societal problem by What’s on Weibo’s Brydon Brancart.

    “If you don’t take cash then put a sign up!”, yelled 67-year old Mr. Xie after trying to use cash to pay for his groceries at a checkout isle reserved for mobile payments.

    Enraged at his treatment, Xie’s initial reaction was to cause a ruckus, lunging at the security guards surrounding him. “You shame me, an old guy, for not being able to use WeChat!”, Xie explained later on, after regaining his composure.

    The video, posted on Weibo in late September of this year, quickly made its way around Chinese social media, renewing a controversy that goes right to the heart of China’s fast-paced digital revolution: can the elderly keep up?

     

    No App, No Access: Seniors without Wechat

    Sorry, as you’re already over 70, you’re not fit to keep on living

     

    The issue became prominent last year after writer Xiao Ao (小奥) published an article titled: “Sorry, as you’re already over 70, you’re not fit to keep on living” [“对不起,由于你已经超过70岁,你已经不适合活下去了!”].

    In the article, Xiao voiced her frustration over how difficult it was for her 90-year-old grandfather to receive a package she had mailed him.

    “I thought it would be a simple delivery,” Xiao recalls. “My grandfather would just have to walk to his door, open it, open the package, and then could [retrieve the gift]. But I was wrong.”

    Packages sent to her grandfather’s housing complex are stored for pickup in new delivery lockers – which can only be unlocked by the intended recipient using their Wechat account.

    “My grandfather is only able to receive calls and can only make them with his glasses on. He can’t text, so Wechat is even more [out of the question],” Xiao explained.

    According to her, there is a widespread alienation of China’s elderly from the digital economy, evident from countless reports of elderly struggling to use digitalized services that come second nature to younger generations: cab-hailing, queing in a bank or hospital, bike-sharing, the list goes on and on.

    “I’ve realized that the ‘convenient life; before my eyes is, in fact, a great disaster impeding our parents’ everyday necessities, one they can neither dodge nor escape…”, Xiao concluded.

    Wang Qipeng, writing for the Beijing Evening Paper, presents a similar viewpoint.

    “One can say that we live in a ‘scanning’ age,” Qipeng writes: “Yet (…) there are many elderly people who, because they cannot scan, have no way of using bike-sharing, have no way of getting discounts at the store, and can’t even open the smart-boxes that are delivered to them.”

    The store owner holds up a sign that says “Mobile Payments.”

    Wang’s reference to “the scanning age” is no overstatement. Whether unlocking a bicycle through a bike-sharing app such as Mobike or Ofo, or ordering lunch in the office through the meal delivery app Eleme, all transactions are performed through apps that in turn rely on mobile payment apps.

    Even public institutions are adapting to the scanning age, for purposes ranging from public announcements to dispensing toilet paper.

    Unlocking a Mobike by scanning a QR code (image via CGTV).

    QR codes are ubiquitous across China’s public and commercial landscapes. They are posted on walls in vegetable stalls, sit beside registers at department stores, and are even used by beggars in first-tier cities.

    Their function is simple. In order to access them, one opens up the relevant app and selects ‘scan’. The app opens the phone’s camera function and scans the QR code. Then, all one has to do is simply select an amount to pay or agree to terms of service. Whether it ’s scanning a QR code, or producing one to be scanned, the process takes seconds.

    Reliance on mobile payments has been increasing globally, but nowhere has that growth been faster and more extensive than along China’s Eastern seaboard. According to the South China Morning Post, in the third quarter of 2017, earnings in the mobile payment sector reached 29.5 trillion RMB (almost 4.25 trillion USD), a three-fold increase in just one year.

    For younger urban residents, doing away with cumbersome cash is a welcome change. A 2017 Penguin Intelligence study found that 92% of those polled in China’s cities primarily use mobile payments methods. Cash, on the other hand, is preferred by less than 10% of this group.

    Handing the elderly a smartphone is in no way a solution. The replacement of the wallet by the smartphone comes with its own set of rules and requirements. Using mobile payments does not solely depend on familiarity with smartphones, it also assumes an eyesight keen enough to read the small print on phone screens.

    Operations such as linking a bank account to a phone can be a nightmare for the technologically illiterate. In the absence of easily accessible courses suited to the learning speed of elderly citizens, mobile payment’s effect on this age group is precisely the opposite of what it intends, adding rather than alleviating the chores of everyday life.

     

    Viral Stories of Seniors in Digital Trouble Resurface

    To refuse taking on cash is actually a type of discrimination for those who do not understand how mobile payments work.”

     

    Besides Xie’s viral rant, a plethora of online essays and news reports highlighted just how ill-equipped China’s eldery citizens are in today’s digital era.

    In January of this year, Xin Lan News reported the story of an elderly man who, in what seems like a foreshadowing of Xie, broke down into tears at a train station after having to admit he did not know how buy a ticket online.


    Incapable of buying a ticket, an elderly man cries in frustration (via Sina.com).

    Around the same time, another story described the plight of a sweet potato salesman who complained that his son took advantage of his unfamiliarity of scanning to steal a large portion of his salary. And only a few days after Chinese netizens moved on from Xie’s rant, news came of an elderly woman who was tricked by a man pretending to help her use scan a QR code.

    On Weibo, many commenters support the elderly in these stories. A typical comment said: “To refuse taking on cash is actually a type of discrimination for those who do not understand how mobile payments work.”

    Unfortunately, despite the frequency of these stories, there is little consensus on how to better prepare the elderly for an increasingly digitalized tomorrow.

     

    Proactive Solutions with Long-Term Consequences

    Society ought to accommodate the needs of the elderly, it ought to consider their necessities.

    .
     

    Charities have sought to implement educational programs to tackle this issue. The most proactive of these organizations, See Young (夕阳再晨), a volunteer organization that started in Beijing, is now operating in sixteen Chinese provinces, having already provided individualized support to over 18,000 elderly citizens, and helped educated over a million.

    The government has been supportive of See Young, mentioning them in the 13th five-year plan. Li Zhihong, head of the policy research division of the China National Working Commission on Ageing, commented to the People’s Daily that, “when it comes to helping the elderly become immersed in the information age, there are already organizations actively working [towards this].”

    Yet, many disagree with forcing the elderly to continually learn, including the founder of See Young, Zhang Jiaxin (张佳鑫). In Wang Qipeng’s article “Does Scanning Leave the Elderly Without Money to Spend?” [“扫码让老人无钱可花?”], an interview with Zhang is cited where the philanthropist states:

    Society ought to accommodate the needs of the elderly, it ought to consider their necessities. [Society] mustn’t force them to expend all their energy in learning this or learning that, forcing them to act in this way. Only through such [a change] will [society] truly help and respect the elderly.”

    Zhang worries that continued pressure on the elderly to keep up to date on the newest technologies will only make them feel that “at home, and in society, they exist in an inferior position.”

    By Brydon Brancart, edited by Eduardo Baptista

    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

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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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