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No More Online Anti-Islam Terms Allowed on Weibo – but Discussions Continue Anyway

After various controversies, Chinese authorities have now blocked various Islam-related words by Chinese netizens on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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Chinese authorities have recently blocked various Islam-related words invented by Chinese netizens. The ban comes after consecutive online controversies on the topic of Chinese Muslims and Islam in China; the tone of the discussions reportedly “undermines ethnic unity.”

Posts containing terms such as “green religion” and “peaceful religion,” or any other online terms relating to Islam or Muslims invented by Chinese netizens, are currently banned from Chinese social media.

Chinese state media outlet Global Times reports that the ban comes amid an online backlash against national policies which some deem “overly favorable to Muslim minorities.”

Anti-Islamic Sentiments on Weibo

Anti-Islamic sentiments have been on the rise on Weibo over recent years, and often peak when people disagree with alleged “affirmative discrimination policies” toward Chinese Muslim minorities. China has an estimated 23 million Muslims.

One such incident occurred in 2016, when a Chinese university introduced separate shower cabins for Muslim students that offered complete privacy, while the ordinary dorm showers are usually open.

The case triggered anger online, especially among students, of whom some wrote: “I also have the f**cking rule that nobody should see me shower, am I going to have an exclusive shower cabin now?”

In July, online reports about the introduction of ‘Halal Only’ food delivery boxes also evoked anger as it sparked discussions about the ‘halalifaction‘ of food in China.

Image of food delivery box that says “special use for halal food.”

A very recent incident involved a case where a girl was harassed by a Muslim man on the Bund in Shanghai. When her online report was taken offline, and police did not give out any background details about the suspect, Weibo users complained that religious sensitivities were placed above personal safety.

Another incident took place in Tangshan in early September, where an alleged altercation took place between Muslim minorities and local staff at a toll station. Online rumors about the incident triggered a wave of anti-Islam comments, and videos of the incident were soon after deleted from Chinese social media.

“The Green Religion”

On Chinese social media, Islam is often referred to as the “peaceful religion” (和平教) or the “green religion” (绿教). While the first is mostly meant sarcastically, the second comes from the importance of the color green in Islam and is meant to refer to the religion in a negative way.

In the same type of derisive, derogatory online speak, Muslims are often referred to as “the greens” (绿绿) on Weibo. ‘Greenification’ (绿化) is another online word, meaning ‘Islamization.’

At the time of writing, abovementioned online terms such as “green religion” or “peaceful religion” were all banned from Weibo’s search function and showed no results.

No search results for ‘green religion’ on Weibo.

In its recent article, Global Times quoted a Beijing professor in saying that “it is necessary to timely remove radical phrases that discriminate against Islam and are biased against Muslims to prevent worsening online hatred towards the group” and that these online terms “severely undermine religious harmony and ethnic unity.”

In a Global Times column earlier this week, editor Shan Renpin conveyed a similar message in saying that there “might be negative consequences” to the government’s “protection of the harmony with minority groups and religions,” but that “overall, if the authorities would not do it this way, the other negative consequences are likely to be more serious.” (“这样做确实有时会有负面效果,但是综合起来看,如果官方不这样做,另外的负面效果很可能更大.”)

Ongoing discussions: Halal Mooncake

Despite the recent ban on certain terms, Chinese netizens still find ways to discuss Islam-related controversies. On Friday, another topic triggered heated discussions regarding halal mooncakes.

With the Chinese national Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节) holiday nearing, many people discussed how a Chinese university stated that all of their mooncakes (the traditional snack for this festival) will be halal in consideration for their Muslim students.

Beijing’s University Of International Business And Economics (对外贸易经济大学) issued a notice on September 22 (see below) regarding the mooncakes, saying “to respect the traditions of our Muslim students, all our mooncakes will be made from halal ingredients.”

The issue attracted hundreds of comments, with many saying: “Don’t these schools know that Muslims don’t even celebrate Mid-Autumn Festival?”

“Respect the Muslims – for this minority, we all have to eat halal.”

“Since when did the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival become a Muslim festival?”

Although much of the anger in this discussion is directed more so at the school’s organization (“Why does 99% of the people have to adapt for the 1%?”) than at its Muslim students, it does also include much hate speech towards Muslims in general.

One thing the latest controversy shows is that despite the fact that these discussions are now more heavily censored, their tone and terms are the same as before.

Although Global Times asserts that China’s “favorable policies” are intended to maintain ‘social harmony’ and accelerate ‘greater ethnic unity,’ most netizens commenting on these issues do not seem to be on the same page. Typical comments said: “How can they say we’re harming national unity by talking about Muslims?” and “I just don’t understand [..]. When did religion become a minority? Can a religion represent minorities?”

By Manya Koetse


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

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

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    Bruce Humes

    September 24, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    Good to see coverage here — in English — of issues and language relating to Islam currently under discussion on China’s Weibo in 2017.

    Censorship extends beyond social media, of course. Muslim fiction writers in China dare not touch upon a whole host of issues, particularly recent laws and regulations that tightly restrict Muslim dress and worship in Xinjiang.

    One result is an introspective sort of fiction writing in which Uyhgur authors turn the focus almost entirely on themselves, their families and the Uyghur community. A good example is Xinjiang’s Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木). Han Chinese rarely figure in his Uyghur universe. Its hallmarks are serial womanizers, disparaging monikers, and a hybrid lingo with an appealing Central Asian flavor. His novel, Confessions of a Jade Lord (时间悄悄的嘴脸), will be published in English in 4Q 2017.

    Another Uyghur writer to watch is Patigül ((帕蒂古丽), whose novel One-hundred Year Bloodline (百年血脉, due out in 4Q 2017 too), is the semi-autobiographical saga of a Xinjiang woman of mixed Uyghur, Hui and Han extraction who marries a Han husband and moves to Zhejiang. Obviously, there are Han characters, but the spotlight is clearly on Uyghur and Hui personalities, and their struggle to maintain their distinct ethnic identity.

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China Media

Iran “Unintentionally” Shot Down Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752

Despite the overall condemnation of Iran, there are also many pointing the fingers at the US, writing: “It’s all because of America.”

Manya Koetse

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First published

Shortly after Iran’s military announced on Saturday that it shot down Ukrainian Airlines flight 752 on Wednesday, killing all 176 passengers on board, the topic has become the number one trending hashtag on Chinese social media platform Weibo.

In a statement by the military, Iran admitted that the Boeing 737 was flying “close to a sensitive military site” when it was “mistaken for a threat” and taken down with two missiles.

Among the passengers were 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans, and three British nationals.

Earlier this week, Iranian authorities denied that the crash of the Ukrainian jetliner in Tehran was caused by an Iranian missile.

The conflict between US and Iran has been a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media, also because the embassies of both countries have been openly fighting about the issue on Weibo.

Although many Chinese netizens seemed to enjoy the political spectacle on Weibo over the past few days, with anti-American sentiments flaring up and memes making their rounds, today’s news about the Iranian role in the Ukrainian passenger plane crash is condemned by thousands of commenters.

“Iran is shameless!”, one popular comment says. “This is the outcome of a battle between two terrorists!”

“Regular people are paying the price for these political games,” others write: “So many lives lost, this is the terror of war.”

The Iranian Embassy in China also posted a translated statement by President Hassan Rouhani on its Weibo account, saying the missiles were fired “due to human error.”

Despite the overall condemnation, there are also many commenters pointing the fingers at the US, writing: “It’s all because of America.”

Meanwhile, the American Embassy has not published anything about the issue on its Weibo account at time of writing.

The hashtag “Iran Admits to Unintentionally Shooting Down Ukrainian Plane” (#伊朗承认意外击落乌克兰客机#) gathered over 420 million views on Weibo by Saturday afternoon, Beijing time.

Chinese state media outlet CCTV has shared an infographic about the US-Iran conflict and the passenger jet news, writing they hope that these “flames of war” will never happen again.

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Media

The Weibo Battlefield in the US-Iran Conflict: Iranian and American Embassies ‘Argue’ on Chinese Social Media

The US-Iran conflict has extended to Weibo, where Chinese netizens watch the online ‘battle’ unfold.

Manya Koetse

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“Don’t know if you all have discovered it yet, but the Iranian Embassy in China and the American Embassy in China have started to fight on Weibo,” prominent Chinese media outlet 21st Century Business Herald (21世纪经济报道) writes on Weibo on January 10th.

The Iranian and American embassies have been all the talk on Chinese social media this week. While US-Iran tensions are dominating international media headlines, the embassies of Iran and US have been taking their conflict to the Chinese social media platform.

Ever since January 3rd, when the head of Iran’s Quds Force Qasem Soleimani was killed by a US airstrike in Iraq, the Beijing embassies of both the USA and Iran have engaged in an online argument over the conflict between their two countries.

The Iranian Embassy (@伊朗驻华大使馆), that has 254670 followers on its Weibo account, condemned the assassination of Soleimani on January 3rd by reposting and translating a Twitter post by Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, calling it a “dangerous and foolish” act of “international terrorism.”

That post received over 23,000 likes and thousands of comments, with many of them showing support for Iran.

The US Embassy Weibo account (@美国驻华大使馆), that has over 2,5 million followers, also posted a response to the attack on January 4 by translating several quotes by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asserting that the decision to kill Soleimani was the right one and that it made the world a safer place.

Although many of the thousands of netizens responding to the American Embassy’s post praised the attack, there was also a lot of criticism.

“The terrorist group ‘USA’ has claimed responsibility for this act of terrorism,” one popular comment said, with others also pointing the finger at the American government for behaving as ‘terrorists.’

With the deepening of the US-Iran crisis after the Iranian military launched missiles against US bases in Iraq earlier this week, the Weibo posts and comments just keep coming in.

On January 8, the Iranian Embassy wrote that the “end of malign US presence in West Asia has begun,” a sentence also posted on Twitter by Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

In between some light-footed Weibo posts about the Golden Globes, the American Embassy published various Weibo posts explaining its stance on the situation. One post of January 7 detailed the “bloody history” of Qassem Soleimani, writing about him as a terrorist and evil man who killed hundreds of people.

The online ‘battle’ between Iran and the US has led to various hashtags, such as “The Weibo Fight of the Iranian and US Embassy of China” (#美伊驻华大使馆微博互斗#), a topic that is receiving a lot of attention on Chinese social media.

The official accounts of two foreign powers’ embassies, discussing their conflict on a Chinese social media platform, in Chinese; it’s not common, and Chinese netizens talk about it while Chinese media write about it.

One sentence* has been reposted dozens of times by Weibo users over the past days: “Here’s the world’s largest imperialist country and the world’s largest theocratic republic, on a social media platform of the world’s largest socialist nation, using Standard Chinese to engage in a fierce diplomatic fight.”

“And we’re all watching and eating popcorn,” one commenter added [literal expression used is “Chī guā qúnzhòng” (吃瓜群众), online expression for “watermelon eating masses,” meaning clueless bystanders watching the situation unfold].

The Weibo battleground has seemingly also turned into a way for the embassies to win the favor of the Chinese public; the Iranian Embassy, for example, published a post on its Weibo account that invites Chinese tourists to visit Iran during the Spring Festival and pinned it to its main page to attract the attention of readers amidst the recent online upheaval.

The online presence of the US-Iran conflict shows the importance of ‘Weibo diplomacy,’ also known as ‘Weiplomacy.’ A large number of foreign embassies in China have a presence on Sina Weibo to engage with local audiences. It is a low-cost, convenient, and seemingly effective tool to promote their countries, political goals, and inform people about their latest activities.

Over the past week, it seems that the majority of Chinese netizens have sided with Iran and condemned the US. This public sentiment, however, might have more to do with the prevailing anti-American sentiments over the past year than a general pro-Iranian stance.

In a 2016 overview of most popular foreign embassies on Weibo, the US embassy scored a number three position with its 1+ million followers, while the Iranian account only came in at number 39 with a mere 6000+ fans on its account.

Although it is unusual for foreign embassies to use Weibo as an online battleground for their offline conflicts, it is not the first time it has happened. In 2014, What’s on Weibo reported how the Beijing embassies of Russia and Poland also argued on Weibo during the aftermath of MH17 crash.

This time around, some netizens conclude that the only one to really ‘win’ in online conflicts such as these is the Weibo platform itself. As the Weibo posts keep going, the ‘melon eating masses’ keep coming. “The Sina Weibo company must be secretly laughing at this ordeal,” one person writes.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions from Miranda Barnes
Follow @whatsonweibo

* Chinese sentence: “世界上最大的帝国主义国家,跟世界上最大的政教合一的神权共和国,在世界上最大的社会主义国家的网络平台上,使用标准的汉语进行激烈的外交缠斗”

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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