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Online Influencers: New Perspectives on Social Change (Live Event)

What are the challenges bloggers are facing in China today? How can blogging help create tolerance in a divided society? These are the questions addressed at today’s event about New Perspectives on Social Change at the RNW headquarters

Manya Koetse

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The age of digitalization and social media empowers young bloggers and journalists to get their voices heard and influence politics and society. RNW Media has organized an event where a number of these online influencers will talk about how they are shaping the future of journalism – an issue not just relevant for the case of China, but for the world at large.

What are the challenges bloggers are facing in China today? How can blogging help create tolerance in a divided society? These are the issues addressed at today’s event about New Perspectives on Social Change at the RNW headquarters in Hilversum, The Netherlands.

The speakers at today’s event are Chinese blogger and journalist Yuan Chang, who will focus on the challenges facing bloggers in the PRC; Dacia Munezero (@mdacia), co-founder of the influential Yaga bloggers project in Burundi, who will explain how blogging can help create tolerance in a divided society; and Abir Sarras (@abirsarras), coordinator of Love Matters Arabic, who will talk about the recent trial of an Egyptian blogger (RNW event page).

Director RNW Media Robert Zaal (@RobertZaal) welcomes today’s audiences. Today’s host is mass media researcher and author Piet Bakker (@pietbakker). “Digital first,” Bakker says: “This is a choice made by RNW [Radio Netherlands Worldwide] – radio is no longer our main platform, we have changed with our times, with a focus on human rights and freedom of speech. Journalism in countries where there is no freedom of speech naturally becomes some sort of activism.”

“Digital comes first,” Bakker says: “This is a choice made by RNW [Radio Netherlands Worldwide] – radio is no longer our main platform, we have changed with our times, with a focus on human rights and freedom of speech. Journalism in countries where there is no freedom of speech naturally becomes some sort of activism.” This is what today’s event is about:

The Challenges Facing Bloggers in China

Yuan Chang is a Chinese blogger and journalist. He has worked for the New York Times, and is now a blogger for RNW. He speaks about censorship and online freedom.

“There is a small space between hardcore politics and personal rights in China,” Yuan Chang says. “Censorship in China is not a black and white issue. The PRC is not North Korea. There is a small space of freedom, and that is where I move around.”

“In China, we work with a VPN [virtual private network] to get access to the sites that are blocked. It is getting harder and harder as the Great Firewall of China is getting more sophisticated all the time, but we always find a way to circumvent it.”

“With my blogging, I never got any real problems. I was censored before, but I am still here. When I worked for the New York Times, the police did in fact give me a call multiple times – but that is not really surprising when you work for foreign media as a Chinese citizen.”

“In Europe, people fuss about privacy a lot. In China, we don’t fuss about it, because we know they know everything about us. They would give me a call and say: ‘Ah, you’re back in China for the summer, why don’t you relax for a while now and don’t work – remember you still have a Chinese passport.’ For me, I don’t worry too much about it. It is actually transparent: I know they know everything I do.”

“I have no expectations of foreign companies like Facebook or Google in China. For them, it is business first, and they will not help to overcome censorship. Instead, these kind of companies impose self-censorship.”

“There will not be a big change in China because of what is happening online now. It will take a lot of little changes before, slowly but surely, a bigger change will come about.”

Burundi: Blogging as a Bridge in a Divided Society

Burundi blogger Dacia Munezero would have been here today, Piet Bakker (@pietbakker) says, but the circumstances in her country unfortunately did not allow her to come.

In this video she talks about the letter she wrote to the wife of President Pierre Nkurunziza, which she wrote out of sheer desperation over the current crisis in her country.

Antoine Kaburahe , director of the Iwacu media group, has come to talk about the situation in Burundi: “Last year there was an attempt at a coup in Burundi. During this night, all traditional media were destroyed. This was the moment where bloggers, like the Yaga network, but also Twitter and Facebook, really exploded.”

“Those platforms were the only windows to the world for us at that point. We in Burundi live in a radio culture, but nowadays most people have smartphones. So when the credible radio station suddenly disappeared, these smartphones became our source of media.”

“My father was a journalist as well, and he created the first Catholic newspaper of Burundi. This is why I also wanted to start a newspaper, which also works with social media and Web TV. I believe I have enough impact now – I don’t need to make radio.”

“Our regime does not like social media. Dacia already says [in the video] how she was threatened after sending a letter to the first lady – this is what happens. It might happen that we are cut off from Internet completely – we don’t know.”

Talking about Sex and Online Freedom in Egypt

Ahmed Naji would be one of the speakers with Abir Sarras today. Ahmed Naji is a journalist, blogger and published author in Egypt who was prosecuted last year (read more). “Ten days ago the court found that Ahmed was innocent,” Abir Sarras, producer of the Arabic blog Love Matters, says: “But it was overruled and he has not off the hook yet.” Abir Sarras will talk about her work and online freedom in Egypt here.

Love Matters is the first blog about love and sexual health in Egypt, it is an encyclopedia about everything related to sexual health – from lovemaking to pregnancy. We use a big network of bloggers from the region. People who blog for us talk about things that are actually taboo – we give them a platform to talk about these things.”

“The blog has only been around for 1,5 years, but it is already very popular. There is a real lack of information. People learn all their lives that sex is taboo, and when they get married, they suddenly are expected to know what to do during their wedding night. Porn is actually very well-watched in Arabic countries. Actually – in the areas where ISIS is most active, there is a lot of porn viewing going on.”

“We talk about health risks and points of focus when you want to try different things. We have also done an item about anal sex.”

“We are online – we are ‘outside’ – and that makes us safe. Also, a lot of experts are endorsing our content. We are a scientific website, and we try to keep away from religion. We don’t criticize it, but we do try to balance out the [sexual] advice people have got from their religious background.”

*This blog is now closed. *

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

©2016 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 Military

China ‘Strikes Back’: Taiwan Military Drills, Countermeasures, and Waves of Nationalism on Weibo

One poster by China Daily on Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan said: “The Chinese people will fight back twice as hard.”

Manya Koetse

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During this tension-filled and eventful week, the general mood on Chinese social media went from angry to frustrated. With the start of China’s military drills around Taiwan and the announcement of countermeasures in response to Pelosi’s Taiwan visit, there’s been a new wave of national pride and expressions of nationalism.

When Nancy Pelosi’s plane landed in Taipei on Tuesday, August 2nd, many Chinese netizens expressed frustration and anger that she had “gotten away too easy” with visiting Taiwan despite repeated warnings by Beijing. Things had not turned out the way many had hoped, and the U.S. House Speaker’s visit to Taiwan – which Beijing considers to be a province of China, – was seen as a provocation at a time when the China-US relationship was already strained.

On Thursday, however, the mood on Chinese social media turned around when China began its announced live-fire military drills around Taiwan. State media channels, official accounts, military bloggers, and regular netizens shared the sometimes movie-like videos showing large-scale military exercises, including ballistic missiles fired into waters.

From Fujian’s Pingtan Island, one of mainland China’s closest points to Taiwan, tourists and day trippers had a front-row view of some projectiles launched by the Chinese military and helicopters flying past (see Twitter thread embedded below).

On Friday, August 5th, during which military drills continued, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also announced sanctions on Pelosi and her immediate family members, along with a string of countermeasures against the U.S., which are the following:


“1. Canceling China-US Theater Commanders Talk.
2. Canceling China-US Defense Policy Coordination Talks (DPCT).
3. Canceling China-US Military Maritime Consultative Agreement (MMCA) meetings.
4. Suspending China-US cooperation on the repatriation of illegal immigrants.
5. Suspending China-US cooperation on legal assistance in criminal matters.
6. Suspending China-US cooperation against transnational crimes.
7. Suspending China-US counternarcotics cooperation.
8. Suspending China-US talks on climate change.”

By Friday evening, one CCTV-initiated Weibo hashtag regarding the countermeasures (#针对佩洛西窜台反制措施#) had received over 280 million views, and another one regarding sanctions on Pelosi (#外交部宣布制裁佩洛西#) had received over 780 million views.

On the same day, news that lightning struck outside the White House, critically injuring four people, also went trending on Chinese social media. Many people responded to the remarkable news with sayings about how this was “Pelosi’s curse” and that “evil doings will rebound onto the evildoer.”

State media outlet China Daily posted an online poster with both Chinese and English text, writing: “Let me be serious and clear: we will not fight if they don’t fight us. For any act in violation of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, the Chinese people will fight back twice as hard,” referring to the words of the spokesperson of the Chinese mission to the EU.

When news came out on Friday that Japanese authorities condemned China’s firing of ballistic missiles during the ongoing military drills around Taiwan, claiming Chinese missiles fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Chinese state media outlet Global Times dismissed Tokyo’s concerns, calling the complaints “unprofessional” and “baseless” since Japan was referring to an overlapping area it allegedly has no exclusive rights to (#日本碰瓷中国导弹毫无道理#).

In response to the issue, Xu Ji (@徐记观察), a blogger with over 3 million followers, posted a gif on Weibo showing Chinese actor Wu Jing in the iconic action film Wolf Warrior II with both middle fingers up. Wu Jing stars in the movie as Leng Feng, a Chinese veteran who travels around the globe and punishes those who offend China (Sun 2021, 128).

The image set the tone for the overall mood on social media regarding the recent international developments.

“Beautifully played!” many commenters said.

“First steps of striking back! Countermeasures! Hitting back! Sooner or later the national flag will rise on Taiwan!”, Chinese actor Huang Haibo wrote on his Weibo account (@real黄海波).

“I trust in the motherland, I trust in PLA,” was another recurring comment.

“We gave you a choice, you didn’t want it, now you have to deal with the consequences,” one Weibo commenter said.

When news came out on Friday night that a mountain fire broke out on an outer island during an artillery exercise held by the Taiwanese military, a streak of schadenfreude shot through Weibo, with some netizens wondering if the PLA had helped Taiwan to extinguish the fire they started themselves.

“It’s probably better if our troops climb up the hill and put out the fire,” multiple people suggested, and others writing: “I feel embarrassed for them.”

“The PLA will come to the rescue,” others also said, repeating the same trust and pride in the People’s Liberation Army that was echoed across Chinese social media the entire day.

Also read:
*From ‘Starting a War’ to ‘Just for Show’: Chinese Social Media Views on Pelosi’s Potential Taiwan Visit
* Pelosi in Taiwan: “1.4 Billion People Do Not Agree with Interference in China’s Sovereignty Issues”

By Manya Koetse

 

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Featured image is an edited picture showing an image from Wolf Warrior 2 as posted on Weibo today.

References

Sun, Jing. 2021. Red Chamber, World Dream – Actors, Audience, and Agendas in Chinese Foreign Policy and Beyond. United States: University of Michigan Press.

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Zhou Zhou in West Africa: Chinese Woman Trending on Weibo after Going ‘Missing’ in Nigeria

The story of Zhou Zhou – who joined her husband in Nigeria – caused concerns among netizens who believed the woman is not safe.

Manya Koetse

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One Chinese woman’s decision to move to West Africa with her older husband triggered worries and speculation on social media, with prevailing negative stereotypes fuelling fears that something bad might had happened to her.

A 7-months pregnant Chinese woman married to a Nigerian man suddenly became top trending on Chinese social media platform Weibo this week when she went ‘missing in action’ after posting about her upcoming trip to West Africa on her social media channels.

The woman posted about her travels as ‘Zhou Zhou in West Africa’ on Douyin, the Chinese TikTok, where she has over 290,000 followers.

The 20-year-old Chinese woman named Zhou Zhou gained netizens’ attention after she wrote on social media on July 28 that she would travel out of China and join her African husband to go back to his hometown.

One of the last photos Zhou Zhou shared online before going MIA (missing in action).

She shared some details of her trip from the Shanghai International Airport on social media, including those on how Nigerian border security staff inquired about her family and her purpose for visiting the country.

A photo of Zhou Zhou and her husband makes it to news channels.

Zhou Zhou soon received many messages from concerned netizens advising her to reconsider her trip because she is pregnant, suggesting that the medical care in West Africa is not up to par and that she would not be safe in Nigeria.

When Zhou Zhou then stopped updating her social media and did not respond to personal messages anymore, people started raising the alarm that Zhou might have gone missing after arriving in Nigeria. When her social media account bio info suddenly changed from ‘female’ to ‘male’, people worried that something might have happened to her.

By August 1st, there had been over 1.3 billion (!) views of a hashtag titled “Zhou Zhou in West Africa Went Missing” (#周周在西非已失联#).

The online concerns about Zhou Zhou grew so loud that even the Chinese Consultate in Nigeria responded to the issue (#大使馆回应周周在西非已失联#) and said they would look into the matter.

Zhou Zhou’s story unleashed a flood of stories on the supposed situation in West Africa or in Africa in general, with many people claiming to know what life is like or how Africans are like. Some people suggested that Zhou Zhou might discover her husband would actually have “multiple wives” and pointed out cultural differences between China and Nigeria.

One Nigeria-based blogger shared their experience about the various problems in the country, such as female inequality, and also claimed that Black [Africans] had a “talent for acting” and that “they should not be easily trusted”, adding: “we as Chinese don’t even say ‘I love you’ as many times in our entire lifetime as some Black [Africans] do within a time frame of two hours.”

Others were concerned about the age difference of fifteen years between Zhou Zhou and her husband, writing: “The age gap between them is so big, Zhou Zhou is only 20 years old? How did they meet? (..) Zhou Zhou and this African uncle come from such different cultural backgrounds.”

Throughout the years, there have been multiple trending stories on Weibo triggering worries that Chinese people, especially women, are not safe when they go abroad and that they are targeted for their nationality. After the murder of two Chinese sisters in Japan in 2017, a popular comment said: “When Chinese citizens travel to other countries, they must be vigilant. After all, we are not familiar enough with the political environment and social atmosphere of other countries. We must learn to protect ourselves.”

The existing prejudice and racial stereotyping on Chinese social media regarding African men only added fuel to the fire.

On the late night of August 1st, Zhou Zhou finally sent out a message on social media, telling everyone that she was doing well and thanking everyone for their concern.

Zhou Zhou’s post.

She also uploaded a video to her Douyin channel, saying:

“We’re doing well, thank you. I’m in the final stage of my pregnancy. Perhaps my feelings are not completely stable at the moment, because I’ve received so many messages and didn’t give a timely reply. Maybe I created misunderstandings because of it.”

In the video, Zhou Zhou explained that her husband does not have multiple wives and that they had already arranged a medical check-up at a local hospital.

Her response went trending (#周周在西非发视频回应#), garnering over 140 million views this week.

While many people accused Zhou Zhou of being an ‘attention seeker’ and purposely creating “a hype,” there were also those who argued that she should now be left in peace.

“I don’t like to tell young women how to choose their partner,” one commenter (@Amy小北京) responded: “To each their own. Some people love money, others love appearance. Some people love sincerity, others love excitement. For this girl, it’s not that it’s wrong to find someone from West Africa. This is her life, she has the right to choose. But why would I still say she’s stupid? [Because] the risk of this marriage is still too great.”

“Netizens did what they had to, they advised her not to, but she’s an adult and she’ll well aware of her own decision, let’s just wish her the best,” one educational blogger (@叫我小张同志就好) wrote.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly 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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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