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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 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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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    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 Local News

Changsha Restaurant Employee Pays the Price after Protecting Abused Child

A Changsha restaurant employee who intervened when a mother beat her child ended up paying the price for it.

Manya Koetse

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The story of a restaurant employee who had to pay the price for sharing a video of a mother beating her child has triggered anger on Chinese social media.

The incident happened on September 14, when Mr. Jiang (江), an employee at the ‘Peng Shu’ Western-style restaurant in Changsha, stopped a mother from beating her young daughter at the shopping mall where the restaurant is located.

As reported by the Guizhou media channel People’s Focus (@百姓关注), a mother and daughter at the restaurant drew the staff’s attention when the mother began physically assaulting her daughter.

The mother, clearly overwhelmed by her emotions, resorted to kicking, hitting, yelling, and even attempting to strike her child with a chair, allegedly in response to the child accidentally spilling ice cream on her clothing.

During this distressing incident, which was captured on video, Mr. Jiang and another colleague intervened to protect the child and immediately alerted the police to the situation.

But the one who was punished in the end was not the mother.

The video of this incident was shared online, leading the woman to repeatedly visit the restaurant in frustration over her unblurred face in the video. The police had to mediate in this dispute.

To the dismay of many netizens, the employee ended up being forced to pay the woman 10,000 yuan ($1369) in compensation for “moral damages.” He has since resigned from his job and has left Changsha. A related hashtag was viewed over 110 million times on Weibo (#餐厅员工发顾客打娃视频后赔1万离职#) and also became a hot topic on Douyin.

The majority of commenters expressed their anger at the unjust outcome where a restaurant employee, who had attempted to protect the child, faced repercussions while the mother appeared to avoid any legal consequences for her actions.

“Where is the All-China Women’s Federation when you need them?” some wondered, while others wanted to know why the incident was not followed up with an immediate investigation into the child abuse. Others suggested that if it were a man who had beaten his child, authorities would have been quicker to intervene.

The issue of corporal punishment for children often comes up in Chinese social media discussions. While many people find it unacceptable to beat children, using violence to discipline children is also commonplace in many families.

When China’s first national law against domestic violence came into effect on 1 March 2016, article 5 and 12 specifically addressed the special legal protection of children and made family violence against children against the law.

By Manya Koetse

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©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Fashion & Beauty

Fashion that Hurts? Online Debates on China’s Draft Law Regarding ‘Harmful’ Clothes

The proposed ban on clothing deemed harmful is stirring debate, with some arguing for the significance of protecting national pride and others emphasizing the value of personal expression.

Manya Koetse

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China’s recent proposal to ban clothing that “hurts national feelings” has triggered social media debates about freedom of dress and cultural sensitivities. The controversial amendment has raised questions about who decides what’s offensive for which reason.

A draft amendment to China’s Public Security Administration Punishments Law (治安管理处罚法) has caused some controversy this week for proposing a ban on clothes that “hurt national feelings.”

The discussions are about Article 34, clausules 3 and 4, which point out that wearing clothing or symbols that are deemed “harmful” to “the spirit and feelings of the Chinese nation” could become illegal. Offenders may face up to 15 days of detention and a fine of 5,000 yuan ($680).

The revised Article is part of a section about acts disrupting public order and their punishment, mentioning the protection of China’s heroes and martyrs.

Especially over the past three to four years, Chinese authorities have placed more importance on protecting the image of China’s “heroes and martyrs.” In 2018, the Heroes and Martyrs Protection Law was adopted to strengthen the protection of those who have made significant contributions to the nation and sacrificed their lives in the process.

Those insulting the PLA can face serious consequences. In 2021, former Economic Observer journalist Qiu Ziming (仇子明), along with two other bloggers, were the first persons to be charged under the new law as they were detained for “insulting” Chinese soldiers. Qiu, who had 2.4 million fans on his Weibo page, made remarks questioning the number of casualties China said it suffered in the India border clash. He was sentenced to eight months in prison.

Earlier this year, Chinese comedian Li Haoshi was canceled making a joke that indirectly made a comparison between PLA soldiers and stray dogs, while also placing words famously used by Xi Jinping in a ridiculous context.

Screenshot of the draft widely shared on social media.

The draft is open for public comment through September 30, and it is therefore just a draft of a proposed amendment at this point.

Nevertheless, it has ignited many discussions on Chinese social media, where legal experts, bloggers, and regular netizens gave their views on the issue, with many people opposing the amendment.

This a translation of the first four clausules of Article 34 by Jeremy Daum’s China Law Translate (see the full translation here). Note that the discussions are focused on the item (2) and (3) revisions:

“Article 34:Those who commit any of the following acts are to be detained for between 5 and 10 days or be fined between 1,000 and 3,000 RMB; and where the circumstances are more serious, they are to be detained for between 10 and 15 days and may be concurrently fined up to 5,000 RMB:
(1) engaging in activities in public places that are detrimental to the environment and atmosphere for commemorating heroes and martyrs;
(2) Wearing clothing or bearing symbols in public places that are detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people and hurt the feelings of the Chinese people, or forcing others do do so;
(3) Producing, transmitting, promoting, or disseminating items or speech that is detrimental to the spirit of the Chinese people and hurts the feelings of the Chinese people;
(4) Desecrating or negating the deeds and spirit of heroes and martyrs, or advocating or glorifying wars of aggression or aggressive conduct, provocation, or disrupting public order.”

Here, we mention the biggest online discussions surounding the draft amendment.

 
Main Objections to the Amendment
 

On Chinese social media site Weibo, commenters used various hashtags to discuss the recent draft, including the hashtags “China’s Proposed Amendment to the Public Security Administration Punishments Law” (#我国拟修订治安管理处罚法#), “Article 34 of the Draft Amendment to the Public Security Administration Punishments Law” (#治安管理处罚法修订草案第34条#) or “Harm the Feelings of the Chinese Nation” (#伤害中华民族感情#).

The issue that people are most concerned about is the vague definition “harming or hurting the spirit and feelings of the Chinese nation” (“伤害中华民族精神、感情”).

Although Chinese state media outlets, including the English-language Global Times, indicate that the clause is deemed to target some provocative actions to attract public attention, such as wearing Japanese military uniforms at sensitive sites, legal experts and social media users are expressing apprehensions regarding its ambiguity.

Questions arise: Who determines what qualifies as “harmful”? What criteria will be used? How will it be enforced? Beyond concerns about the absence of clear guidelines on which attire might be deemed illegal and for what reasons, there are fears of potential misinterpretation and misuse of such a law due to its subjective nature.

Some people question whether wearing foreign brands like Adidas or Nike could be considered offensive. There are also concerns about whether wearing sports attire supporting specific clubs might be seen as disrespectful. Another common topic is cosplay, a popular form of role-playing among China’s youth, where individuals dress up in costumes and accessories to portray specific characters. Can people still dress up in the way they like?

Well-known political commentator Hu Xijin published a video commentary about the issue on September 7, suggesting that the law in question could be more concrete and avoid misunderstanding by explicitly mentioning it targets facism, racism, or separatism. He also suggested that it is important for China’s legal system to provide people with a sense of security (– rather than scaring them).

Others reiterated similar views. If the clausules are indeed specifically about slandering national heroes and martyrs, which makes sense considering their context, they should be rephrased. One popular legal blogger (@皇城根下刀笔吏) wrote:

The legal enforceability of harming the spirit and the feelings of the Chinese nation is not quite the same as insulting or slandering heroes. Because it is actually very clear who our national heroes are. They are classified as martyrs and were approved by the state, it’s very clear. But when it comes to the feelings and the spirit of the Chinese nation, this is just very vague (..) And ambiguity brings about a mismatch in the practice of implementation, which will make people lose trust in this legal provision and makes them feel unsafe.”

Although a majority of commenters agree that the proposed amendment is vague, some also express that they would support a ban on clothes that are especially offensive. Among them is the popular blogger Han Dongyan (@韩东言), who has over 2.3 million followers on Weibo.

One example that is mentioned a lot, also by Han, is the 2001 controversy surrounding Chinese actress Vicky Zhao who wore a mini-dress printed with the old Japanese naval flag during a fashion shoot, triggering major backlash over her perceived lack of sensitivity to historical matters and the offensive dress.

Han also mentioned a 2018 example of two young men dressed in Imperial Japanese military uniforms taking a photo in front of the Shaojiashan Bunker at Zijin Mountain, where the Second Sino-Japanese War is commemmorated.

 
Kimono Problems
 

One trending story that is very much entangled with recent discussions about the proposed ban on ‘harmful’ clothing is that about a group of Chinese men and women who were recently denied access to the Panlongcheng National Archaeological Site Park in Wuhan because staff members allegedly mistook their clothing for Japanese traditional attire.

The individuals were actually not wearing Japanese traditional dress at all; they were wearing traditional Tang dynasty clothing to take photos of themselves. This is part of the Hanfu Movement, a social trend that is popular among younger people who supports the wearing of Han Chinese ethnic clothing (read more).

According to Zhengguan News (正观新闻), there is no official park policy prohibiting the wearing of Japanese clothing, and an internal investigation into the incident is ongoing. The Paper reported that the incident allegedly happened around closing time.

Meanwhile, this incident has sparked discussions because it highlights the potential consequences when authorities arbitrarily enforce clothing rules and misinterpret situations. One netizen wrote: “It illustrates that when “some members of the public” cannot even tell the difference between Hanfu, Tang dynasty attire, and Japanese kimono, they are simply venting their emotions.”

Last year, a Chinese female cosplayer who was dressed in a Japanese summer kimono while taking pictures in Suzhou’s ‘Little Tokyo’ area was taken away by local police for ‘provoking trouble’ (read here).

A video showed how the young woman was scolded by an officer for wearing the Japanese kimono, suggesting she is not allowed to do so as a Chinese person. The girl was known to be a cosplayer, and she was dressed up as the character Ushio Kofune from the Japanese manga series Summer Time Rendering, wearing a cotton summer kimono, better known as yukata.

The incident sparked extensive debates, with differing viewpoints emerging. While some believed the girl’s choice of wearing Japanese clothing during the week leading up to August 15, a memorial day marking the end of the war, was insensitive, many commenters defended her right to engage in cosplay.

These discussions are resurfacing on Weibo, underscoring the divided opinions on the matter.

One Weibo user expressed a common viewpoint: “I believe wearing a Japanese kimono in everyday situations is not a problem, but doing so at specific times and places could potentially offend the sentiments of the Chinese nation.” Another blogger (@猹斯拉) also voiced support for a law that could prohibit certain clothing: “If you genuinely believe what you’re wearing is not harmful, you always have the right to make your argument.”

However, there is also significant opposition, with some individuals posting images of themselves reading George Orwell’s 1984 at night or making cynical remarks like, “Maybe we should say nothing and wear nothing, as anything else could lead to our arrest.”

“This is not progress,” another person wrote: “It’s taking another step back in time.”

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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