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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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China Sex & Gender

Censorship of Chinese 6B4T & Feminist Groups Prompts Wave of Support for “Douban Sisters”

Even those who don’t agree with ‘6b4t’ views condemn Douban’s recent crackdown on 6b4t and feminist groups.

Manya Koetse

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What is 6b4t? That is the question popping up in several places on Chinese social media this week after the popular networking platform Douban closed down several feminist groups and targeted the keyword ‘6B4T.’

Douban (豆瓣) is an influential Chinese social media platform that allows users to discuss and review books, music, films, and other topics. The platform has a ‘group’ (小组) function, with groups being like online forums revolving around a particular topic where Douban users can subscribe, post, and interact.

On the night of April 12, Douban closed down more than ten Douban feminist groups, of which some were linked to ‘6b4t’ views.

6b4t is an online movement that originated in South Korea and is about female empowerment and independence that shifts away from patriarchal society and male-dominated fields in popular culture and beyond.

The ‘6B’ stands for no husband, no children, no boyfriend, no male sex partner, not buying any products/brands that are unfriendly to women, and offering support to single women. The movement received some media attention earlier in 2019, when it was still about ‘4B’ or the ‘4 no’s’ (no marriage, no kids, no boyfriend, no sex; the ‘single women support’ and ‘refusal of buying misogynistic products’ were added later). The ‘4T’ stands for the rejection of shapewear (corsets), religion, otaku culture, and idols.

 

“A devastating blow for Chinese radical feminists”


 

The censorship of 6b4t-related groups on Douban sparked sharp criticism and anger online. On Twitter, ‘HAL 10000’ (@dualvectorfoil) called the crackdown “a devastating blow” for Chinese radical feminists.

The Twitter account FreeChineseFeminists (@FeministChina) posted a screenshot of Douban’s notification that the ‘6B4T’ group had been removed, with the platform calling it an “extreme” and “radical” “ideology.”

On Weibo, many commenters also spoke out against the removal of the feminist Douban groups.

“I am 6b4t and although it might seem extreme in the eyes of some, I am not harming anyone at all,” one person wrote, with another commenter adding: “This is completely limited to myself, I do not influence others.”

“I’ve been 6b4t for years without even realizing,” one Weibo user jokingly wrote: “I’ve been single forever!”

Another person admitted: “I don’t really look at Douban, and I don’t really understand 6b4t, but blowing up those groups like this goes too far.”

 

We have to firmly support our Douban sisters”


 

The account of Xianzi, the woman who became famous for the Xianzi versus Zhu Jun court case, also commented on the Douban censorship on April 13:

I am not a follower of 6b4t at all, but I firmly support my Douban sisters and oppose how the feminist Douban groups have been shut out. First, 6B4T clearly is an important branch of contemporary online feminism – shutting these groups out is shutting out discussions on female topics. Seconds, the viewpoint of 6B4T is not radical at all, it just asserts that women do not need to enter heterosexual relationships and can break away from masculine control. This is completely up to women themselves and has nothing to do with anyone else. When even such a viewpoint is banned, and women insisting on being single are still seen as rebellious — this is the fundamental reason why we have to firmly support our Douban sisters.

Many people support Xianzi’s statement, and meanwhile, the hashtag “Women Let’s Unite” (#女性们团结吧#) also took off on Weibo, with many commenters calling on women to let their voices be heard.

“If someone is covering your mouth to try and silence you – scream louder,” one person wrote.

The hashtag was also used to address issues of domestic abuse, a topic that has received a lot of attention on Chinese social media over the past year. In October of 2020, the death of the female vlogger Lamu, who was burnt by her ex-husband, also sparked an online movement that called on authorities to do more to protect and legally empower female victims of domestic abuse.

The ‘Women Unite’ hashtag page had received over 47 million views by late Tuesday night. Another relating hashtag, ‘Douban Feminism’ (#豆瓣女权#) was viewed over 40,000 times.

 

You can disagree, but you can’t silence them”


 

While the search for ‘6b4t’ gave few new results on the Douban site at the time of writing, there were still some older posts on the topic.

One noteworthy one is that by user *Blossom*, who took the time earlier this year to explain what 6b4t means to her, saying “6b4t is an act of struggle, it is not a discipline.”

In the post of February 2nd of this year, ‘Blossom’ explains that 6b4t is a way of resistance where the keyword is “sovereignty,” namely the female sovereignty over her own body. 6b4t is a way to fight for radical feminism, Blossom claims:

In the context of patriarchal society, women are sexually objectified while male sexuality equals power. Under this premise, marriage, childbearing, romantic love, and sexual activity are all about reinforcing the power of men and benefiting them. So we advocate 4b, which essentially is a non-violent and non-cooperative struggle mode, with the same characteristics as workers’ and slaves’ strikes.”

Although there are also people expressing disagreement with the 6b4t movement, many defend their right to have online discussion groups about their ideas.

“You can disagree, you can call them into question, but you can’t cover their mouths to silence them,” one Weibo user wrote.

“We can have groups advocating marriage and childbirth, why can’t we have groups advocating being single and childfree?”, another person asked, with one commenter stating: “I do not advocate 6B4T, but I will defend to the death the right of these women to advocate 6B4T.”

Throughout the years, feminist movements have often become a target of censorship on Chinese social media. Douban previously also censored content relating to the Zhu Jun sexual harassment case, and in the case of demanding justice for Lamu, some hasthag pages were also removed from Weibo. The renowned feminist Weibo account ‘Feminist Voices’ (@女权之声) was permanently banned in 2018, along with other feminist accounts.

“A new era of witch-hunting has started,” one top comment in a thread of 2200 comments said: “Get ready to fight, let your voice be heard!”

A somewhat ironic consequence of Douban’s latest censorship is that many people who had never heard about this ‘radical feminism’ now know what 6b4t is because it became a ‘banned term.’ “I’ve learnt a new word today,” some commenters say, with others vowing to support their silenced ‘Douban sisters.’

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Local News

Delivery Man in Anhui Run Over by Ambulance Sent to Rescue Him

From bad to worse: this Eleme delivery man was run over by an ambulance after being hit by an SUV.

Manya Koetse

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On April 12, a delivery man in the city of Bozhou, Anhui province, was run over by an ambulance arriving at the scene of an accident where he had just been injured.

Shocking footage circulating on Chinese social media shows the delivery man lying in the middle of the road when the ambulance arrives and runs over his leg. The incident happened around 12:00 in the afternoon (link to video, viewer discretion advised).

While the delivery man already suffered injuries because he was hit by an SUV shortly before, things quickly went from bad to worse when the ambulance that was supposed to come to his rescue crushed his leg. The man is currently undergoing treatment at a local hospital in Mengcheng county.

Statement on Weibo by the official Mengcheng county account (@蒙城发布).

According to recent news reports, the ambulance driver has currently been suspended and is under investigation.

The incident received a lot of attention on Weibo today, where the hashtag page discussing the double accident received over 150 million views (#外卖员被救护车二次碾压#).

Many comments relating to this incident are focused on the role of the traffic police at the scene of the accident, with people wondering why there was no guard standing next to the victim.

Thousands of commenters also address how sorry they feel for the victim, especially because the lives of many food delivery drivers – facing long working hours and low wages – is already tough enough.

According to Toutiao News (头条新闻), the delivery man works for Chinese food delivery giant Eleme. Wang Gang (王刚, alias) is approximately 30 years old and has a wife and a child. He had only been working for Eleme for a few months and reportedly did not have any prior accidents.

In Monday’s double accident, Wang suffered a mild skull fracture, seven broken ribs, and a fractured lower leg. He is in stable condition.

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.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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