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Nightmarish Night in Itaewon: Fatal Halloween Stampede in Seoul

The devastating Halloween stampede in Seoul’s Itaewon is among the deadliest stampedes worldwide of the past decade.

Manya Koetse

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What was supposed to be the first big Halloween party night since the pandemic turned into a tragedy in Seoul’s Itaewon, where 154 people lost their lives in a stampede, including four Chinese nationals.

A devastating stampede that occurred in the Itaewon area of Seoul, South Korea, is making headlines around the world and is also receiving a lot of attention on Chinese social media on the late night of October 29 and early morning of October 30. “Itaewon” was among the top search keywords on Weibo, receiving over 220 million views in the early hours of Sunday (#梨泰院#).

The incident took place amid Halloween celebrations in the city, where large crowds tried to push forward on a narrow street near a major central party spot. Photos and videos from above show how the crowd became so large that people got crushed. According to the latest reports, at least 146 154 people died in the stampede.

Nightmarish footage circulating on Weibo shows medical staff providing first aid and treatment to victims on the street while the party music was still blasting from the speakers at nearby party venues.

The incident took place around 22.40 local time, when crowds got so large that people were unable to push forward. Around 23:30, around fifty people were reportedly already being treated for cardiac arrest.

On the social media platform Weibo, many of the top commenters responding to the Itaewon stampede are Chinese citizens who are living in Seoul, some assessing that there were over 10,000 people in the street when the incident happened.

“I’m so happy I left early,” some people said, with other Seoul-based netizens saying: “So grateful that I felt too tired to go out tonight.”

“I was at the scene, now still on our way back. All roads were closed off by emergency vehicles and police cars.”

“Stampede incidents can just happen like that,” others said, while many people were posting virtual candles on Weibo and saying that this news made them unable to sleep.

China has also seen stampede incidents in the past. On 31 December 2014, a deadly stampede occurred in Shanghai during New Year celebrations, leaving 36 people dead and another 49 injured.

For some netizens, the tragedy in South Korea makes them reflect on the epidemic situation in China, where the zero-Covid policy makes events where such enormous crowds can gather unfathomable. At the same time, there were also many netizens who said this was not an appropriate time to link the Itaewon incident to China’s zero-Covid policies.

Considering the current death toll, the Itaewon stampede is already among the most deadly stampede incidents of the past decade.

The Astroworld Festival stampede in Texas, which also received a lot of media attention in 2021, left 10 people dead. The much-covered Berlin Love Parade disaster of 2010 caused the deaths of 21 people. In 1993, 20 people were reported to have been killed in a stampede in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong during New Year celebrations.

Update 30 October: Chinese official media reported on Sunday that four Chinese citizens were among the 154 people who lost their lives in the stampede (#韩国踩踏事故已有4名中国公民遇难#).

By Manya Koetse 

 

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©2022 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 Media

The Beishan Park Stabbings: How the Story Unfolded and Was Censored on Weibo

A timeline of the censorship & reporting of the Jilin Beishan Park stabbing incident on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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The recent stabbing incident at Beishan Park in Jilin city, involving four American teachers, has made headlines worldwide. However, on the Chinese internet, the story was initially kept under wraps. This is a brief overview of how the incident was reported, censored, and discussed on Weibo.

On Monday, June 10, four Americans were stabbed while visiting Beishan park in Jilin.

Video footage of the victims lying on the ground in the park was viewed by millions of people outside the Chinese internet by Monday afternoon.

Despite the serious and unusual nature of such an attack on foreigners visiting China, it took about an entire day for the news to be reported by official Chinese channels.

 
How the Beishan Incident Unfolded Online
 

In the afternoon of June 10, news about four foreigners being stabbed in Jilin’s Beishan Park started circulating online.

Among the first online accounts to report this incident was the well-known Chinese-language X account ‘Li Laoshi’ (李老师不是你老师, @whyyoutouzhele), which has 1.5 million followers, along with the news account Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24), which has 1 million followers on X.

They both posted a video showing the incident’s aftermath, which soon went viral on X and beyond. It showed how three victims – one female and two male – were lying on the ground at the park, bleeding heavily while waiting for medical help. A police officer was already at the scene.

As soon as the video and tweets triggered discussions in the English-language social media sphere, it was clear that Chinese social media platforms were censoring and blocking mentions of the incident.

By Monday night, China local time, many Weibo commenters had started writing about what had happened in Beishan Park earlier that day, but their posts became unavailable.

Some bloggers wrote about receiving an automated message from Weibo management that their posts had been taken offline. Others started posting about “that thing in Jilin,” but even those messages disappeared. On other platforms, such as Douyin, the story was also being contained.

By 21:00-22:00 local time, a hashtag on Weibo, “Jilin Beishan Park Foreigners” (吉林北山外国人), briefly became the second most-searched topic before it was taken offline. Weibo stated: “According to relevant laws, regulations, and policies, the content of this topic is not shown.”

A hashtag about the Beishan stabbings soon became one of the hottest search queries before it disappeared.

While netizens came up with more creative words and other descriptions to talk about what had happened, the focus shifted from what had happened in Beishan Park to why the topic was being censored. “What’s this? Why can’t we talk about it?” one Weibo user wondered: “Not a single piece of news!”

Around 23:30 local time, another blogger posted: “It seems to be real that four foreigners were stabbed in Jilin’s Beishan Park this afternoon. We’ll have to see when it will formally be reported on Weibo.” Others questioned, “Why is the Jilin incident so tightly covered up on the internet?”

Around 04:00 local time on June 11, the first media outlet to really report on what had happened was Iowa Public Radio (IPR News). Before that time, one Iowan citizen had already commented on X that their sister-in-law was one of the victims involved.

One victim’s family had told IPR News that the individuals involved were four Cornell College instructors. All four survived and were recovering at a nearby hospital after being stabbed during a park visit in China.

The instructors were part of a partnership with Beihua University in Jilin. Cornell College and Beihua University have had an active partnership since 2018, with Beihua funding Cornell instructors to visit China, travel, and teach during a two-week period. Members from both institutions were visiting the public park in Jilin City when they were attacked. The visit was likely intended as a sightseeing and relaxation opportunity during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, when many people visit the park.

As reported by IPR News reporter Zachary Oren Smith (@ZacharyOS), U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks stated that her office was working with the U.S. Embassy to ensure the victims would receive care for their injuries and safely leave China.

 
Hu Xijin Post
 

Now that news of the attack on four Americans was all over X, soon picked up by dozens of international news outlets, the Chinese censorship of the story seemed unusual, considering the magnitude of the story.

Furthermore, there had still been no official statement from the Chinese side, nor any news reports on the suspect and whether or not he had been detained.

By the morning of June 11, an internal, unverified BOLO notice from the Jilin city Chuanying police office circulated online. It identified the suspect as 55-year-old Jilin resident Cui Dapeng (崔大鹏), who was still at large. The notice also clarified that there were not four but five victims in total.

At 11:33 local time, it seemed that the wall of censorship surrounding the incident was suddenly lifted when Chinese political and social commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进), who has nearly 25 million followers on Weibo, posted about what had happened.

He based his post on “Western media reports,” and commented that this is a time when Chinese and American sides are actually promoting exchange. He saw the incident as a “random” one, which, regardless of the attacker’s motive, does not reflect broader sentiment within Chinese society. He concluded, “I also hope and believe that this incident will not negatively affect the exchanges between China and the US.”

Hu’s post spurred a flurry of discussions about the Beishan Park incident, turning it into a top-searched topic once again. His comments sparked controversy, with many disagreeing with his suggestion that the incident could potentially affect Sino-American exchanges. Many argued that there are numerous examples of Chinese people being attacked or even murdered in the US without anyone suggesting it would harm US-China relations.

Within approximately two hours of posting, Hu’s post was no longer visible and had disappeared from his timeline. This sudden deletion or blocking of his post again triggered confusion: Was Hu being censored? Why?

Later, screenshots of Hu Xijin’s post shared on social media were also censored.

 
A “Collision”
 

By the early Tuesday evening, June 11, Chinese official accounts and state media accounts finally issued a report on what had happened in what was now dubbed the “Beishan Park Stabbing Incident” (#吉林公安通报北山公园伤人案#).

Jilin authorities issued a report on what happened in Beishan Park.

A notice from local public security authorities stated that the first emergency call about a stabbing incident at the park came in at 11:49 in the morning on Monday, June 10, and police and medical assistance soon arrived at the scene.

The 55-year-old Chinese suspect, referred to as ‘Cui’ (崔某某), reportedly stabbed one of the Americans after they bumped into each other at the park (described as “a collision” 发生碰撞). The suspect then attacked the American, his three American companions, and a Chinese visitor who tried to intervene. Reports indicated that the victims were all transported to the hospital and were not in critical condition.

It was also stated that the suspect was arrested on the “same day,” without specifying the time and location of the arrest.

Later on Tuesday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed the incident during their regular press conference. Spokesperson Lin Jian (林剑) stated that local police had initially judged the case to be a random incident and that they were conducting further investigation (#外交部回应吉林北山公园伤人案#).

 
Boxer Rebellion References
 

With the discussions about the incident on Chinese social media less controlled, various views emerged, commenting on issues such as public safety in China, US-China relations, and anti-Western sentiments.

One notable trend during the early discussions of the incident is how many commenters referenced to the ‘Boxer Rebellion’ (1899–1901), an anti-foreign, anti-Christian uprising that took place during the final years of the Qing Dynasty and led to large-scale massacres of foreign residents. Many commenters believed the attacker had nationalist motives targeting foreigners.

Anti-american, nationalist sentiments also surfaced online. Some commenters laughed about the incident or praised the attacker for doing a “good job.”

However, the majority argued that this event should not be seen as indicative of a broader trend of foreign-targeted violence in China. They emphasized that Asians in America are far more frequently targeted in hate crimes than any Westerner in China, underscoring that this incident is just an isolated case.

This idea of the event being “random” (“偶然事件”) was reiterated in official reports, Hu Xijin’s column, and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But there are also those who think this might be a conspiracy, calling it bizarre for such a rare incident to occur just when Chinese tourism was finally starting to flourish in the post-Covid era: “Now that our tourism industry is booming, foreigners are getting stabbed? How could it be such a coincidence? Is it possible that this was arranged by spies from other countries?”

On Tuesday, social commentator Hu Xijin made a second attempt at posting about the Beishan Park incident. This time, his post was shorter and less outspoken:

“This appears to be a public security incident,” he wrote: “But this time, four foreign nationals were attacked. In every place around the world, there are criminal and public security incidents where foreigners become victims. China is one of the relatively safest countries in the world, but this incident still occurred in broad daylight in a tourist area. This reminds us, that we need to always keep enhancing the effectiveness of security measures to protect the safety of all Chinese and foreign nationals.”

Again, his post triggered some controversy as some bloggers discovered that Hu had previously argued against extra security checks at Chinese parks, which he deemed unnecessary. They felt he was now contradicting himself.

The differing views on Hu’s posts and the incident at large perhaps explain why the news was initially controlled and censored. Although censorship and control are inherent parts of the Chinese social media apparatus, the level of control over this story was quite unusual. Whether it was due to the suspect still being on the loose, public safety concerns, fears of rising nationalist sentiments, or the need to understand the full details before the story blew up, we will likely never know.

Nevertheless, this time, Hu’s post stayed up.

The Beishan Park incident is reportedly still under investigation.

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Military

Saying Goodbye to “Uncle Wang”: Wang Wenbin Becomes Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia

Manya Koetse

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When China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Spokesperson Wang Wenbin concluded a regular press conference on May 24, he suddenly said “farewell” (“我们再见”) and stepped down to shake hands with reporters. This surprising moment quickly had his online fan circles buzzing. Was he leaving? Starting a new job? Everyone was speculating.

Wang Wenbin (汪文斌, b. 1971), the Deputy Director of the Foreign Ministry Information Department of China, has been with the Foreign Ministry since 1993. His face became familiar to many both inside and outside China after he took on the role of MFA spokesperson in 2020.

Over the years, Wang has become increasingly popular on social media. There are thriving fan forums filled with thousands of posts and videos dedicated to Wang, praising his professionalism and humorous expressions.

Although there were no official reports on Wang leaving his post, hundreds of netizens began saying goodbye to their favorite diplomat.

Nearly two weeks later, on June 4th, it was announced that Wang will be starting as China’s new ambassador to Cambodia. A related hashtag went trending on Weibo (“Wang Wenbin Appointed as Ambassador to Cambodia” #汪文斌候任驻柬埔寨大使#), attracting over 130 million views within a day.

 
“Anhui’s Pride”
 

Why is Wang so popular?

First, his popularity is part of a larger trend of Chinese diplomats being admired and idolized online, a phenomenon detailed in our article here (link).

But besides being part of China’s “Diplomat Dream Team” (外交天团), Wang is admired for his conduct and character. He appears very serious but often shows a smile. He is highly professional, yet occasionally displays a playful side.

These likeable contrasts in his persona also reflect his background. While Wang represents international China, he comes from a small village. Born and raised in Xindu in Tongcheng, Anhui, Wang studied at China’s Foreign Affairs University, majoring in French and economics. He speaks several foreign languages, including English, and once sent out New Year’s wishes in 11 different languages. His success story makes him “Anhui’s pride.”

While Zhao Lijian was known as a real ‘wolf warrior diplomat,’ Wang Wenbin’s style is perceived as more “calm,” “scholarly,” and “refined,” though he remains critical, firm, and assertive. For instance, Wang rebuffed U.S. claims that China might arm Russian troops in the Ukraine war, stating, “it is the United States and not China that is endlessly shipping weapons to the battlefield.” He also called the shootdown of the alleged Chinese spy balloon “100 percent hysteria” and urged the United States to abandon its “hegemonic” approaches to international affairs.

For many Wang Wenbin fans, his assertive yet ‘refined’ (‘温文尔雅’) foreign policy resonates deeply, as they appreciate how Wang shapes China’s image abroad: “It’s the perfect interpretation of being a great and elegant great power.”

Wang’s large fanbase on Chinese social media is always creative in editing images of him and adding quotes. In response to the news of Wang’s new position, a flood of new videos popped up in Wang Wenbin fan communities. Many see Wang as relatable, likeable, and a role model, often saying that ‘Uncle Wang’ (汪叔) is just too “cool.”

 
“We’ve got your back”
 

Wang’s role as China’s ambassador to Cambodia is not entirely new to him. He has previously worked in various positions at Chinese embassies in Senegal, Cameroon, and Mauritius, and served as ambassador to Tunisia from 2018 to 2020.

Cambodia is an important regional ally to China, and Sino-Cambodian ties have grown stronger, exemplified by the two countries holding a 15-day joint military exercise in May of this year. Cambodia is a key country for China’s strategic layout in Southeast Asia.

Many netizens are pleased to see Wang Wenbin appointed to Cambodia, though some complain that his “talent is wasted on an insignificant role” (“大材小用” dà cái xiǎo yòng). However, others recognize the growing strategic importance of Cambodia and see Wang’s appointment as a reflection of his significance to China; they suggest he is the right man in the right place.

Wang’s loyal fans wish him nothing but the best in his new position. One person posted: “No matter where you are, we’ve got your back, Uncle Wang.”

Wang Wenbin will replace Wang Wentian (王文天), who served as Chinese Ambassador to Cambodia since November 2018.

Although Wang Wenbin’s online fan communities might become a bit quieter from now on, one thing is certain: he won’t be forgotten. One fan wrote: “From now on, we’ll continue to watch you shine.”

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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