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Op-Ed: Your Use of “Netizen” Hurts Responsible China Coverage

It’s not innocent jargon. Not anymore.

Dave Yin

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Far from innocent jargon, the word ‘netizen’ has political implications in its use today and should not be casually tossed around, says Beijing-based journalist Dave Yin. In this op-ed contribution, Yin responds to our recent article “Netizens or Not?

It’s unlikely that when internet theorist and author Michael F. Hauben coined the word “netizen” more than thirty years ago, he would have imagined that, one day, on the other side of the world, a few handfuls of Western reporters and media critics covering China would be divided: in one camp applauding and in the other cursing his creation. It’s equally unlikely he’d recognize at first glance what his word has come to mean in 2018 – and to whom.

Common thought is that whether or not “netizen” should be used, and what it means, are at the heart of this debate, which by now spans publications both big and small, free and censored. It hasn’t gotten us anywhere.

But in view of China’s escalation of online policing and digital surveillance, the concept of “netizen” is evolving, as must its coverage in Western media. Far from innocent jargon, the word today has political implications and a growing potential for harm, one Western media must recognize if it is to conduct responsible reporting.

 

A Western interpretation

 

When considering the word “netizen,” it helps to know what one is talking about. Namely, pick a definition, and stick with it.

Scenario A)

One clear-cut definition offered by the Atlantic designates a unique identity; young, wealthy, educated Chinese urbanites and/or politically active individuals in online communities adept at skirting censorship.

Here, simple protocol applies. Writers using “netizen” must first make sure the subjects of their story actually match this description. Then, they must assess whether these complex socioeconomic and political elements are evident in this word. Hint: they’re not.  Inevitably, writers should be explaining these elements to accompany the use of this term in each article it appears in. Anything short of this is incomplete reporting.

Scenario B)

If broadly defined to be a synonym to “Chinese internet users,” as is more often the case, then several questions emerge: Why do Chinese internet users need a special label in the first place? Why is “Chinese internet user” inadequate when this type of terminology works for everyone else? If research (paywall) suggests the online habits of Chinese are similar to the rest of us, what are we trying to accomplish by othering them?

 

Self-applied labels

 

In advocacy reporting, we try to respect a person’s self-applied labels, such as with race or sexual orientation, so I appreciate the irony when I say that just because Chinese people call themselves “netizens” doesn’t necessarily mean we should.

Be it when describing race, sexual orientation, disability, etc. there is a general effort to use terminology that centers the person, and not the circumstance, which is often complex. “Person with impaired vision,” “a cisgender gay man,” “the woman, who identifies as a second-generation Filipino immigrant,” “individuals claiming to be members of the Anonymous collective” are infinitely better than “the blind,” “the gay,” “the Filipino,” “Anonymous.” In pieces where nuance and individuals matter, these words do more than fill up space.

“Netizen,” as it is currently used, erases both.

What’s more, these often political labels emerged in societies with freedom of association where one makes a statement simply by publicly identifying. By contrast, what does it mean to label yourself with something as vague and abstract as “netizen” in a society that doesn’t allow such freedom, and what effect does it have when Western media take up this cause?

 

A Chinese strategy

 

The self-applied label argument is also unsound when you consider that “netizen” is actually a mistranslation of the word “wǎngmín” (网民).

In wǎngmín 人民 (people), nóngmín 农民 (farmer), jūmín 居民 (resident), yímín 移民 (migrant), yúmín 渔民 (fisherman), and míngē 民歌 (folk song), “mín” 民 simply means “people,” without any “citizen” connotation, and therefore “wǎngmín” 网民 really just means “internet people/people on the internet.”

In other words, “netizen” and “wǎngmín” are faux amis. It’s a mistake that Western media has allowed to proliferate and one that we must now contend with.

While the use of the English word by ordinary Chinese and private Chinese media could boil down to guileless ignorance towards English nuance, by contrast, “wǎngmín,” when applied by the Chinese government and its mouthpieces, is part of deliberate national policy. As described by Manya Koetse in her analysis, the Chinese term is an official category of Chinese nationals on which the CCP imposes severe restrictions.

What ramifications are there for Western media in not consciously decoupling these wildly different interpretations by different actors? By casually tossing the word around, do we not run the risk of normalizing Chinese internet policy?

While we, working in the Far East, may feel at times that our work is isolated, it should be noted that people are, in fact, reading, for better or worse.

“[‘Netizen’] has been used when reporting on China for a decade+ [sic] in order to relieve journalists of understanding what they’re reporting on,” one Reddit user (Western netizen?) writes. “Today it is a lazy way to assume all internet users in China think the same way by f*cking lazy journalists.”

“Netizen” may well stick around. China’s emerging digital policies have all but ensured it. But we owe it to our readers and the people we cover to get with the program, to evolve our terminology and critical judgment at the same pace as the subject matter.

We need to understand that the benefits of its selective, judicious use, as a result of explicit purpose, come from highlighting and decoding China’s socioeconomic and political situation, not from generalizing 772 million individuals, and least of all from othering them or normalizing their constraints. It may help everyone’s understanding of this country, including our own.

By Dave Yin

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.

Dave Yin is a Beijing-based Canadian reporter covering Chinese policy, tech and identity. Previously he covered North American IT and LGBT topics. Visit his website here and follow at: @yindavid.

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Express VPN Deal This Black Friday / Cyber Monday (China 2019)

Black Friday Alert! Express VPN deal.

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We’ve previously recommended this VPN on What’s on Weibo, today we show their best deal for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Black Friday is almost here! Black Friday 2019 falls on November 29, with Cyber Monday following on December 2nd. Like with Singles’ Day in China, deals often start well before Black Friday and last some days after Cyber Monday, so here we are now.

We’re here to list the best deal for our favorite VPN that still works behind the Great Firewall.

First: experiences may differ for everyone, depending on their wifi/4G connections and the devices they use. In order for a VPN to work in China, make sure you have a stable internet connection and always make sure you have the latest version of the VPN app you use.

At What’s on Weibo, we have recently had good experiences with both ExpressVPN and KeepSolid VPN Unlimited. When one of them didn’t work, the other one did, making it a good pair to purchase.

We previously also had other VPNs on our recommended list, but no longer recommend them because of persisting connection problems in China.

Please take into consideration that over the past months, both of the abovementioned VPNs have also had their share of problems in the PRC every now and then – it happens to the best of them. To be sure to always stay connected, you could consider purchasing multiple VPNs.

KeepSolid currently does not have a Black Friday deal, but if you are looking for another VPN to use- not necessarily for China, but in general, – you can also check out the Black Friday offer by NordVPN; they now offer major discount on their 3-year plan ($3.49 per month + 3 months FREE, $125.64 total = 70% discount); their 2-year plan: $4.99 per month, $119.76 total = 58% discount); and their 1-year plan: $6.99 per month, $83.88 total = 41% discount). Click here for that deal.

 

Express VPN Black Friday Deal

This 2019 Black Friday, it is Express VPN that has the best deal on offer, so we will only feature that one here; three months free when you purchase the 12-month plan – which is the 15 month deal for only $6.67 per month (Express VPN usually starts at $12.95 per month).

ExpressVPN, which actually calls itself the “#1 Trusted leader in VPN”, is a reliable service with mostly steady connections depending on what location you select. The app has the ‘smart location’ button that helps you pick the best location to connect to from where you are.

They have excellent service and frequent updates for desktop, mobile, and tablet. Make sure you always update your app, Express will then recommend the best location to connect from, which is super convenient (for now, for example, it’s Hong Kong 4, Tokyo 3, and LA 5 that work best).

Express VPN usually offers single month services starting from $12.95/month, and 6-month plans from $9.99/month; with their Black Friday Deal you get three months free with a 12-month ExpressVPN plan to save 49% compared to their usual monthly price. That’s 15 months for the price of 12, with a total price of  $99.95 now.

The “30 Days Risk-Free” promise of ExpressVPN makes the barrier to try it out much lower. If you are not satisfied, they’ll get you your money back without questions asked.

 

CLICK HERE TO GET THE BLACK FRIDAY DEAL (UNTIL DECEMBER)

 

NB: This post is not a sponsored post. We only recommend VPNs that we’ve tested and know. These recommendations may, however, include an affiliate link that at absolutely no additional cost whatsoever to you allows What’s on Weibo to receive a small percentage in case you purchase the service. (Which also helps a bit to keep our site going, so it’s win-win!). Do you think we should recommend another VPN and want to share your experiences? We’re open to try it out and add to this list – feel free to contact us.

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

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Health & Science

40-Year-Old Woman Completes Shanghai Marathon While 8 Months Pregnant

Pregnant marathon runner Lili clashes with Chinese traditional attitudes towards women who are expecting a baby.

Jessica Colwell

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A 40-year-old woman named Li Lili (黎莉莉) became news in China after she ran the Shanghai Marathon last Sunday while 32 weeks pregnant, completing the race in five hours and 17 minutes.

This was the third marathon Li has run during her pregnancy. She ran the first two during week eight (with a time of 3:54:43) and week 22 (with a time of 4:47:58) of her pregnancy.

Lily is an avid runner, having completed 62 marathons during her lifetime. Her story went viral on Weibo under the hashtag “8 Months Pregnant 40-Year-Old Woman Runs Marathon” (#40岁孕妇怀胎8月跑完全马#), which has received over 200 million reads at time of writing.

[Li has run three marathons during her pregnancy, one in each trimester.]

Her story has ignited debate across Weibo this week regarding the merits and dangers of vigorous exercise during pregnancy. In interviews with the press, however, Li remained defiant in the face of her critics.

“For many people, they are worried about this because they don’t understand it,” she told video news site Pear Video in an interview.

“Many people have told me it is dangerous. They criticize me, just like they criticized Chen Yihan,” she says, referring to Taiwanese actress Ivy Chen (陈意涵) who faced fierce online criticism after posting pictures of herself running while five months pregnant in 2018.

Actress Ivy Chen’s controversial Weibo post from 2018, showing her running 5 kilometers while five months pregnant.

“But most of these critics have never even been pregnant,” Li continued: “The fact is, I did this because I have a very deep understanding of my own body. I’ve run over 60 marathons, I am an extremely good runner. I’ve run a marathon in 3:28, which is considered an excellent time even for talented athletes, even for men. I have my own training methods, I’ve been training for a very long time, and have carefully prepared for these marathons.”

The reactions to Li’s story online have ranged from enthusiastic praise to outright condemnation.

“Wow! I admire how strong she is! It is said that each person knows what is right for them in their own heart. It’s none of your business what she does with this unborn hero!” gushes the most popular comment on Pear Video’s Weibo post about the story.

But another popular comment argues that marathon running is actually inappropriate for Chinese women in general: “Foreigners running marathons is fine, but this is not for Chinese women. Pregnant Chinese women running marathons is equivalent to them not caring for their children.”

The results from a poll put out by Chengdu Economic Daily so far show the majority of readers do not oppose Li’s decision to run a marathon, with 54,000 choosing the option “One case cannot represent the whole, it will vary from individual to individual” and 38,000 choosing “Support, if the mother’s body is strong enough.” Only 17,000 chose the option “Oppose, pregnant women should not engage in vigorous exercise.”

“What do you think of a 40-year-old woman running a marathon while 8 months pregnant?” asks a Weibo poll by Chengdu Economic Daily.

Some comments on the poll argued that Li was irresponsible to take part in a marathon, in case something did go wrong: “Problems come up when you least expect them. If it’s just you running on your own, that’s one thing. But this is a group race. I can’t say if it’s right or wrong, but it could bring a lot of trouble to other people.”

But the majority of popular comments expressed outright support and admiration, or at the very least opposition to Li’s critics, telling them to mind their own business.

The support for Li’s decision appears to fly in the face of Chinese traditional attitudes towards pregnant women. The list of dos and don’ts for Chinese mothers-to-be is long and complex, ranging from the bizarre (no eating/drinking dark foods so as not to affect the baby’s skin color) to the more common (avoiding shellfish).

The belief that pregnant mothers should avoid exertion is high on the list, extending even to the month after birth.

But despite these strong traditions, Li’s strength and determination have clearly inspired new support for expectant mothers who wish to continue an active lifestyle while pregnant.

Also read: ‘Sitting the Month’ – a Gift or Torture?

Also read: Bad Mom To Be? Pregnant Woman Intentionally Trips 4-Year-Old Boy in Baoji

By Jessica Colwell
Follow @whatsonweibo

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.

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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