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China and Covid19

Out of the Closet: After Protests in China, “Political Coming Out” Trend Spreads Across Social Media

Some suggest that a ‘political coming out’ is even more important than the other kind of ‘coming out.’

Manya Koetse

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This week, WeChat groups across China have seen many discussions following an unrest-filled weekend. In the lively online discussions about the phenomenon of ‘politically coming out,’ many agree that it is sometimes more complicated to show one’s political orientation than to come out regarding one’s sexual orientation.

After a nationwide wave of protests, the word “political coming-out” (zhèngzhì chūguì 政治出柜) has become a popular one on Weibo, WeChat, and beyond.

The term refers to people showing their political position or views to those around them, usually in social media settings (“online political coming out” 线上政治出柜).

In Chinese, ‘chūguì‘ (出柜) literally means ‘to come out of the closet’ and is generally used for those coming out as gay or revealing their sexual orientation.

On Weibo, there are numerous discussions this week about ‘coming out politically.’

Chinese internet users talk about a surge in people, mostly within WeChat groups, coming out about their political orientation and views in light of recent developments. On December 1st, one Yunnan-based blogger said that it felt as if WeChat was seeing a large-scale ‘political coming out’ across friend groups, which sometimes almost seemed like a ‘personality coming out.’

Some people suggest that it is a good idea to show your political views every now and then. One popular comment said: “After all the political coming-outs happening in family, neighborhood, and business [WeChat] groups, I feel I can relax a little bit. Now we know how many people were in the closet.”

Another person agrees: “Now that I’ve come out of the closet politically, I feel so much better.”

One older, popular blogger (@好叨叨还是少叨叨) wrote:

“Every other few months or so you can ‘come out politically’ in your Wechat friend groups and use it as an opportunity to clean up your [contact] list. I’d rather not see those who will blacklist me sooner or later anyway, and it takes the pressure off of things for everyone. After all, I’m not young anymore, and I don’t need so many friends who don’t share the same principles. Of course, others will also see me like that.”

“Don’t be discouraged that parents, partners, and children do not always see eye to see – let alone friends. Even if these are close friends that you share tears and laughter with, they are still not walking in your shoes and do not experience the world as you experience it. As long as you’re armed and strong it’s ok, because along this road you will constantly separate from some people, and you will also find some true, like-minded comrades. Other than that, there is nothing you can do or need to do in these situations that you cannot entirely control.”

There are many who agree with the idea that it is easier to know who you would like to stay friends with by showing your true colors: “How to filter your friends? By coming out and by coming out politically.”

Some even suggest that ‘coming out politically’ is much more important than the other kind of ‘coming out,’ while there are also those saying that ‘coming out politically’ is much more complex and has the ability to really offend those around you, making you realize that you are so different that you might end up hating each other.

“I can personally share that coming out politically is twice as hard as coming out about your sexuality,” one blogger wrote.

 

STRUGGLING WITH POLITICAL ORIENTATION


 

Other Weibo users express that they find these times confusing. One female blogger wrote:

“I simply do not have the courage to come out of the closet politically. On the one hand, I am afraid that expressing my views will lead to an alienation with those around me, and coming out will inevitably lead to isolation or gossip. On the other hand, I am also unsure about my own orientation. When it comes to gender, there is just a few different kinds of ‘coming out’; men liking men, women liking women, and those liking both. But when it comes to politics, every person has different views on every single matter and every point, and there is no standard definition of divisions.”

There there are also those who find that it would be better not to show your political views at all if it is not absolutely necessary: “[Not coming out politically] could save mutually good relationships.”

“I can just see my Wechat groups splitting apart,” another person writes.

Amid all these discussions about the phenomenon of coming out politically, there were virtually no Weibo posts reflecting on what the different stances actually are or which topics people are referring to.

On Chinese social media, especially on Weibo, open discussions regarding the protests in Beijing, Shanghai, and elsewhere have been heavily controlled and mostly censored.

Although WeChat is also controlled, censorship is generally somewhat less visible and pervasive in private group chats, and people find various ways to still express some views that are deemed sensitive.

It is clear that a lot of people do not agree with each other when it comes to those who recently made their voices heard on the streets.

Although many supported the protesters, there were also many who did not; then there were those who believed the unrest across China was caused by evil “outside forces,” and those who believed that theory was completely non-sensical.

“I’d like to say something to these students,” one Jiangsu blogger with over 10,000 followers wrote: on Weibo “This is not a revolution. It’s not the collapse of the world. This is the fight against the epidemic.”

“We just want to live our lives,” one commenter replied.

 

THE OPEN-UP FACTION VERSUS THE ZERO-COVID FACTION


 

More than just about the protests themselves, the bigger discussion behind it evolves around those wanting the country to open up (live with the virus) versus those who advocate for anti-Covid measures.

On Chinese social media, they are often referred to as the ‘open up faction’ (开放派) versus the ‘zero Covid faction’ (清零派). Those in favor of sticking to the anti-epidemic measures fear that easing restriction could lead to many deaths, especially among the elderly and the youngest. They think they are the reasonable ones, and criticize the other side for relying on their emotions or being selfish or too naive.

The ones who want to open up, however, think the social and economic costs of the fight against the virus have become too high. They blame the other side for relying on fear rather than reason, or say that those advocating ‘zero Covid’ are careless about other people’s lives, or that they are privileged enough to still be able to get by despite strict measures and lockdowns.

Then there are those who are in the middle, seeking for halfway grounds that both sides can agree on.

On WeChat, one blogger argued that many people have some “public positions” (公开立场) that they are willing to share with others, while they also hold some “private positions” (私人立场) that they are less likely to share with others, especially when they feel their views are not shared by the majority of society.

But because so many in society keep their “private views” to themselves – perhaps for fear of rejection or because they think that expressing their views might be otherwise risky, – the commonly accepted idea of what “the majority” thinks is based on false assumptions since so many people simply choose to keep their mouths shut. This could even lead to those people actually being in the minority being conceived of as being in the majority, something that is also referred to as “pluralistic ignorance.”

This time of unrest and this important period in China’s fight against the virus have apparently created a moment when many people feel like they need to finally come out of their “closet” despite the risks. While some have done so on the streets, others are doing it on social media.

“I support ‘political coming out’,” one Weibo user writes, while some say they are still waiting for the right time.

Other netizens are just glad about adding something new to their vocabulary: “I just learnt a new word today! ‘Political coming out.’ It’s an interesting word, and I like it.”

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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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 and Covid19

The “Final Round Players” of China’s Covid Outbreak

Those who still haven’t had Covid have made it to the “finals,” but it’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative.

Manya Koetse

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This Chinese Lunar New Year period, as millions of people are traveling across the country, Hangzhou Daily (杭州日报) posted a video on Weibo of a 13-year-old boy dressed in full protective clothing at the Hangzhou train station.

The young man told the reporter that he was on his way to visit his grandparents for the Chinese New Year. When asked why he was dressed in protective clothing from head to toe, he answered: “Because I haven’t had Covid yet.”

According to the video posted by Hangzhou Daily, the boy has made it to the “Final Rounds” (决赛圈) as he has managed to stay Covid-negative at a time when so many people have already been infected with Covid-19 (#挺进决赛圈的男孩穿防护服坐火车#).

Since China ‘optimized’ the last stringent measures of its ‘Zero Covid’ policy back in early December – including an end to mandatory mass testing, – a wave of Covid infections spread across the country. The number of infections and emergency department visits reportedly reached its peak in late December of 2022 and in early January of 2023.

According to Wu Zunyou (@吴尊友ChinaCDC), chief epidemiologist of the Chinese Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 80 percent of China’s population has now been infected with Covid (“这一波疫情已经使得全国约80%的人感染过”).

As it is getting rarer to come across someone who has not had Covid yet, travelers dressed in full hazmat suits and protective gear are bound to stand out. “So many people on the train, and there are still two people in the crowd wearing protective clothing,” one Weibo user from Guangdong wrote. Others also post photos on social media of some of the few travelers still fully dressed in protective gear.

One blogger photographed a child wearing protective clothing at Chongqing West Station on Jan. 24, calling the protective attire “exaggerated,” and wondering how the child was supposed to go to the toilet.

Photo posted on Weibo by @杨品-光线摄影学院 on Jan 24., 2023.

Traveler wearing protective clothing at Hangzhou East Station, photo by @百鸣老屈.

Hangzhou Daily is not the only media outlet dubbing those who managed to stay negative “final round players” (决赛圈选手). In early January, Beijing Daily (北京日报​​​​) and People’s Daily (人民日报) also published a short article using the same phrase. In the article, the Beijing expert physician Dr. Li Dong (李侗) answered some questions about the so-called ‘finalists.’

According to Dr. Li Dong, some of the people who claim to have managed to stay ‘Covid free’ were never infected due to protective measures. But there are also those who may have actually had Covid-19 without realizing it, as they barely had any symptoms or were completely asymptomatic.

“Final round players, protect yourself!” one Weibo commenter writes: “Who else has managed to reach these finals?”

“As a ‘final player,’ I finally went out to eat and visit the shopping mall today. I’ll have to wait and see if I reach the championship level. If I haven’t caught [Covid], I can go on and lead a normal life; if I did catch it, I’ll need to wait a while, and will also be able to lead a normal life.”

Other persons who did not have Covid yet also share on social media that they went out for the first time during this Spring Festival period: “I cautiously went out and saw my first movie in 2023, Wandering Earth II, I picked a morning screening so that the cinema is not so crowded yet.”

Now that the Covid infections in China have peaked and the number of infected critically ill patients is quickly dropping, the fears over catching Covid are also seemingly fading among those who were not yet infected.

But some people who have not had Covid yet are still being careful, especially if it concerns elderly family members. It’s not always easy to stay positive about still testing negative – also for loved ones who did previously have Covid and want to protect their family.

One Fujian-based social media user writes: “I recovered from Covid and I’m spending the Spring Festival with three ‘final round players.’ We’ve been stuck inside the house for days. I’ve been looking at the lanterns and the lights in the neighborhood, watching them from the balcony, and I really wanted to go down and see.”

“Looking at WeChat Moments, all my friends are out traveling, but my family still hasn’t had Covid and we’re afraid to go out,” another netizen writes: “It’s sad to celebrate the New Year without going out. Guess we’re final-round players now, let’s hope it brings good things.”

Meanwhile, the group of ‘finalists’ is still shrinking. One Weibo user from Guangxi wrote: “I’ve left the finalist circle. It’s only been two days since I returned to my hometown and I’m already infected.”

By Manya Koetse 

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China and Covid19

Video Shows Real-Time “Departure” Information Board at Chinese Crematorium

From “cremation in process” to “cooling down,” the digital display shows the progress of the cremation to provide information to those waiting in the lobby. The crematorium ‘departure’ board strikes a chord with many.

Manya Koetse

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A video showing a live display screen announcing the names and status of the deceased at a Yunnan crematorium has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, from WeChat to Weibo, where one version of the video received over 1,7 million views.

Somewhat similar to a real-time platform departure display on train stations, the screen shows the waiting number of the deceased person, their name, gender, the name of the lounge/room (if any) for families, the name of the crematorium chamber, and the status of the cremation process. Below in the screen, it says “the final journey of a warm life” (温暖人生的最后旅程).

For example, the screen displays the names of a Mr. Chen and a Mr. Li; their bodies were in the process of being cremated (火化中), while other cremations were marked as “completed” (完成) or “cooling down” (降温中).

Through such a screen, located in the crematorium lobby, family members and loved ones can learn about the progress of the cremation of the deceased.

The video, recorded by a local on Jan. 7, received many comments. Among them, some people commented on the information board itself, while others simply expressed grief over those who died and the fragility of life. Many felt the display was confronting and it made them emotional.

“It makes me really sad that this how people’s lives end,” one commenter said, with another person replying that the display also shows you still need to wait in line even when you’re dead.

“I didn’t expect the screens [in the crematorium] to be like those in hospitals, where patients are waiting for their turn,” another Weibo user wrote. “It would be better if the names were hidden, like in the hospitals, to protect the privacy of the deceased,” another person replied.

Others shared their own experiences at funeral parlors also using such information screens.

Another ‘departure display’ at a Chinese crematorium, image shared by Weibo user.

“My grandfather passed away last September, and when we were at the undertaker’s, the display was also jumping from one name to the other and we could only comfort ourselves knowing that he was among those who lived a relatively long life.”

“Such a screen, it really makes me sad,” another commenter from Guangxi wrote, with others writing: “It’s distressing technology.”

Although the information screen at the crematorium is a novelty for many commenters, the phenomenon itself is not necessarily related to the Covid outbreak and the number of Covid-related deaths; some people share how they have seen them in crematoriums before, and funeral parlor businesses have used them to provide information to families since at least 2018.

According to an article published by Sohu News, more people – especially younger ones – have visited a funeral home for the first time in their lives recently due to the current Covid wave, also making it the first time for them to come across such a digital display.

The online video of such an information board has made an impact at a time when crematoriums are crowded and families report waiting for days to bury or cremate their loved ones, with especially a large number of elderly people dying due to Covid.

On Jan. 4, one social media user from Liaoning wrote:

I really suggest that the experts go to the crematoriums to take a look. There is no place to put the deceased, they’re parked outside in temporary containers, there’s no time left to hold a farewell ceremony and you can only directly cremate, and for those who were able to have a ceremony, they need to finish within ten minutes (..) At the funeral parlor’s big screen, there were eight names on every page, and there were ten pages for all the people in line that day, I stood there for half an hour and didn’t see the name of the person I was waiting for pop up anymore.”

As the video of the display in the crematorium travels around the internet, many commenters suggest that it is not necessarily the real-time ‘departure’ board itself that bothers them, but how it shows the harsh reality of death by listing the names of the deceased and their cremation status behind it. Perhaps it is the contrast between the technology of the digital display boards and the reality of the human vulnerability that it represents that strikes a chord with people.

One blogger who reposted the video on Jan. 13 wrote: “Life is short, cherish the present, let’s cherish what we have and love yourself, love your family, and love this world.” Among dozens of replies, some indicate that the video makes them feel uncomfortable.

Another commenter also wrote:

I just saw a video that showed an electronic display at a crematorium, rolling out the names of the deceased and the stage of the cremation. One name represents the ending of a life. And it just hit me, and my tears started flowing. I’m afraid of parting, I’m afraid of loss, I just want the people I love and who love me to stay by my side forever. I don’t want to leave. I’m afraid I’ll be alone one day, and that nobody will ever make me feel warm again.”

One person captured why the information board perhaps causes such unease: “The final moments that people still spent on this earth take place on the electronic screen in the memorial hall of the funeral home. Then, they are gone without a sound.”

 

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By Manya Koetse 
with contributions by Zilan Qian

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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