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Higher Prices, Bothered Passengers: Why Are Didi’s Prices Going Up?

It has been the question going around Chinese social media: why are the prices of China’s most popular e-hailing app service Didi (滴滴) going up? Users of the mobile taxi-calling app are not happy now that prices are increasing as much as 20%. Read the story of Didi Chuxing, its increasing prices, and what Chinese netizens are saying about it.

Manya Koetse

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It has been the question going around Chinese social media: why are the prices of China’s most popular e-hailing app service Didi (滴滴) going up? Users of the mobile taxi-calling app are not happy now that prices are increasing as much as 20%. Read the story of Didi Chuxing, its increasing prices, and what Chinese netizens are saying about it.

It is the question of the day on Baidu’s Quora-like question asking platform: why is China’s most popular car-hailing service Didi Chuxing getting more expensive? And also, more specifically: why is Didi Carpooling (滴滴顺风车), an alleged non-profit service provided by Didi Chuxing, raising its prices?1

News about Didi has been making headlines since the Chinese e-hailing giant acquired the international car-hailing firm Uber in August of this year, and its rising prices have become a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media.

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The Story of Didi

Nowadays it is hard to find an urban Chinese not familiar with these two simple characters: 滴滴 (Dī dī). Didi Chuxing (滴滴出行) is China’s biggest taxi-hailing service, formed from the merger of rival firms Didi Dache and Kuaidi Dache. The former competitors Didi Dache and Kuaidi were backed by China’s e-commerce giants Tencent and Alibaba, and both started in the summer of 2012. They were involved in a fierce competition for market share before finally announcing their merge in February 2012.

After the merge, the company was formerly known as Didi Kuaidi (滴滴快递), until it rebranded as Didi Chuxing in September 2015 with a fresh new logo and image.

Didi also launched a carpooling service called ‘Didi Shunfengche’ (滴滴顺风车, “Didi’s Favourable Ride”) in June 2015. Didi Shunfengche uses an app and advanced techniques to match car owners with customers looking for a ride. The service was allegedly a non-profit one, as Didi said it would offer it for free to “relieve the ‘pain point’ of urban traffic during rush hour, providing a public good and promoting green travel” (FT 2015).

didichuxing

Didi is also often referred to as “China’s Uber” outside the PRC. One year after the launch of Kuaidi Dache and Didi Dache, American e-hailing giant Uber also entered the Chinese market (2013). But during its first years in China, Uber was not doing too well as it lost over $1 billion a year.

Uber China suffered greatly from Didi, its main rival, that was doing a staggering 10 million rides a day in China, while at the same time, Uber was doing 2 million rides a day worldwide.

In August 2016, Uber China finally gave up its Chinese e-hailing war with Didi, and merged with its rival.

Higher Prices, Bothered Passengers

Since the last couple of months, but especially since Didi acquired Uber China (优步), Didi Chuxing has been quietly increasing its prices. The topic of “Didi’s rising prices” (滴滴涨价) has been going around Chinese internet, and it is a source of annoyance for many Chinese car-hailing netizens.

Also for Didi’s Carpooling, prices are heightened 20% since September of this year. A 3 km ride starting price went from 10 RMB (±1.5$) to 12 RMB (±1.8$), and the per-kilometer price went from 1.3 RMB (±0.19$) to 1.5 RMB (±0.22$). It is the third time prices are raised within one year.

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According to a spokesperson quoted by Chinese media, the Didi Shunfengche prices have gone up because carpool drivers will have to take some detours and spend more time to pick up other passengers, for which they need more compensation. The sharp price increase thus is explained to “achieve reasonable cost-sharing, to encourage users to share their ride, and to help develop a healthy industry,” the spokesperson said.

On Chinese social media, netizens are not too happy about the rising prices, with some netizens saying they will switch back to normal taxis instead.

Many also say that it is not good for passengers that Didi now monopolizes the cab-hailing industry since its merge with Uber.

According to Shanghai Daily, China’s Ministry of Commerce is currently conducting investigations into the Didi Chuxing and Uber China deal according to China’s Anti-monopoly law.

“Make the Pig Fat Before You Eat It”

On Q&A platform ‘Baidu Knows’ (百度知道), the question “Why is market-leader Didi Shunfengche raising its prices?” [垄断行业的滴滴顺风车为什么涨价?] recently became the ‘question of the day’, with some netizens providing insightful answers.

One netizen just said: “It is simple: you have to raise and fatten the pig before you can slaughter and eat it” [“很简单,猪养肥了,可以宰了吃肉了”]. Another Baidu user said that Didi “used a long line to catch a big fish” (“放长线钓大鱼”).

What they mean is that the main reason why Didi’s e-hailing service has become so huge is because of the money it poured into subsidies for drivers and riders (“fattening the pig”). Most of Didi’s passengers initially started to use Didi because of its many discounts and low prices, while drivers also joined the e-hailing market for the profits.

In the early years of Chinese e-hailing apps, a survey showed that 55% of cab drivers had a monthly income increase of 10% to 30% since they started using them (Philips & Kim 2016, 241).

Didi kept its rates artificially low to push out competitors and dominate the market. Although new rules for e-hailing companies no longer allow these practices starting from November 1st 2016, Didi has already had enough time to win the “subsidy war”.

The “subsidy war” was played on both sides. Much like its rival, Uber China also kept prices artificially low to win over new customers. For example, a 30 km journey in Beijing that would be about 80 RMB (±12$) per normal cab, which already is relatively cheap, would be 40 RMB (±5.9$) with Uber – an amount that would have to cover not only the cost of the gas, but also that of the insurance, the corporate fees, taxes, and salary of the driver.

Although Chinese passengers were initially the big winners as they got incredibly subsidized rides, they will now be the ‘losers’ as prices are inevitably going up. While drivers and passengers previously had more money in their wallets, Didi and Uber were losing it – with the main goal of making money at a later time (“eating the pig”).

Now that e-hailing has become a normal part of everyday life for many Chinese commuters, it is time for Didi to start making money instead of giving it away. Because they have acquired a monopoly position within their market, riders have few other options left; passengers will pay more, drivers will make less.

What About Uber?

Chinese riders will still have the choice to either take Didi Chuxing or Uber in the future, especially now that ride-hailing companies like Uber have become officially legalized by the Chinese government (they previously were in a legal grayish area).

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They will keep a separate identity for Uber because, amongst other reasons, it provides a somewhat different service than Didi. When riders order a Didi ride through their mobile phone, the request of the ride and destination goes out to all the cab drivers in the area. Whoever wants to takes the ride can take it, and every driver has the right to take or refuse the request. After receiving a ride, passengers pay for it through cash or Alipay/WeChat pay.

uub

Uber, on the other hand, is more service-based. With Uber, passengers order a car without putting in the destination. The driver will only know where to pick up passengers, but not where they are going. They are therefore not able to refuse rides based on destination, whereas the normal Didi service cars can do this. Another big difference is the way of paying: all Uber rides will be deducted from your Uber account that is connected to your credit card, and passengers never pay the driver directly.

One thing that is not different is that Uber China is also getting more expensive.

Not All About The Money

On Sina Weibo, many netizens respond to the heightened prices, some with annoyance, others with a pragmatic view.

Many netizens share screenshots of their Didi bill, saying: “Ouch, this ride normally just cost me at most 15 RMB (±2.2$) and now it costs me 19.9 RMB (±2.9$).”

price

“No problem for me, go ahead and raise your prices, I’ll just stop taking your rides,” one netizen comments, along with multiple similar responses. “If the prices are raised, I’ll stop using these services. I only started using it because it was cheap. Of course, it is convenient, but for me, the price is key,” another Weibo user comments.

Some netizens are disappointed: “With these rising prices, e-hailing (网约车) will become a high-end service. And there’s nothing to do because there’s no competition now,” one netizen posts.

One Beijing male netizen says: “Didi’s moment of crisis will come. The drivers will walk off because they dislike the lower pay, the passengers will stop riding because they dislike the higher fairs.”

Many netizens are especially disgruntled because China’s Paypal-equivalent Alipay (支付宝), a very common way of paying for e-hailing, recently announced it will start charging users fees starting from October 12. “Didi prices going up, Alipay charging fees, what can I do?!”, one Weibo user wrote.

Another netizens remarked: “The fact that prices of e-hailing and e-banking are going up now shows that the cards are shuffled in the domain of e-commerce, and that capitalism is now taking over the internet.”

There are also voices saying now that unfair “subsidy wars” will soon become illegal in China, there will be more opportunity for competition to grow bigger. The Yidao (易到) car-hailing services, for example, might finally get a chance to expand. In 2010, Yidao was the pioneer of car-hailing apps, but since its prices were always higher than its competition, it did not become as big as Uber or Didi did.

yi-dao

But here, it might not be all about the money. When Chinese riders will get more used to paying higher prices for their e-hailing services, they might start focusing more on the ride quality than its price. This is another reason why companies such as Yidao have not yet lost the race. Chinese online entertainment company LeTV invested 700$ million in Yidao last year, as the company is likely to start focusing more on offering different services (films, tv) to customers to make their ride as enjoyable as possible.

They have also joined hands with restaurants, hotels and other consumer sites to expand their business model. Passengers riding with Yidao could, for example, get coupons or vouchers for restaurants and vice versa.

Some Weibo netizens also feel that money is not the sole factor in the recent Didi developments, and they are more than prepared to pay the heightened prices: “This has nothing to do with money. A couple of years ago when Beijing did not have Uber or Didi yet, you would wait by the side of the road to hail a cab, and while it rained and stormed you would wait in the rain for 40 minutes with your kid by your side, and still not one car would stop. Did you forget about that?”

Many netizens, however, are not convinced: “I won’t ride Didi anymore.”

– By Manya Koetse

References

Philips, Roger A. & Eugene P. Kim. 2016. Business in Contemporary China. Routledge: New York & London.

1(垄断行业的滴滴顺风车为什么涨价?)

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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    Jon

    September 14, 2016 at 3:50 am

    Pay wall to read this? Fucking lame. Nope! Byeee!

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Backgrounder

These Are the Foreign Brands Apologizing to China amid Hong Kong Tensions

Who’s apologizing and why? An A-Z list of the foreign companies caught up in China’s online brand hunt.

Manya Koetse

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First published

Foreign luxury brands hoping to appease the Chinese market are walking on eggshells as the political crisis in Hong Kong is deepening. Chinese netizens and state media recently condemned foreign brands for showing any signs of disregarding the One-China Policy. An online witch hunt has begun: this is the list of brands.

While the political crisis in Hong Kong is deepening, the propaganda machine in mainland China is running at full speed to condemn anti-Beijing ‘rioters’ and promote the one-China principle.

As state media has been intensifying its news coverage on the situation in Hong Kong, with virtually all outlets using similar narratives, Chinese web users started to focus on foreign (luxury) brands and whether or not they list Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan as being part of China.

Starting on August 8, Chinese social media platform Weibo has seen dozens of hashtags taking over Chinese social media in relation to the big brand scandal; one foreign brand after the other was exposed as ‘ignoring’ China’s one-China principle on their website or products.

By the beginning of this week, the online brand hunt had almost become like an online contest, with thousands of netizens suggesting new brands that are allegedly not respecting China’s sovereignty.

Although the trend initially began with Chinese web users condemning brands -starting with Versace-, Chinese state media soon also reported about the online controversies and intensified the movement.

Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily wrote that Western brands are quick to apologize, but should also “learn from their mistakes” in the long run, and cannot disregard the One-China Policy if they want to do business in China.

“This is common knowledge, it’s the bottom line,” – online propaganda poster by People’s Daily shows foreign brands and a crack in the “One China” symbol.

State media outlet Global Times also published an illustration online, writing the slogan “China can’t be one bit less” (“中国一点都不能少”) that has been used by state media to emphasize China’s one-China principle since the 2016 South China Sea dispute.

Illustration by Global Times.

In response to the controversies, it has been raining apologies from foreign brands on Chinese social media the past days.

Who is mainly responsible for this online witch hunt? Although it first started with Chinese web users sharing images and screenshots of foreign brands and their ‘erroneous representation’ of China, state media and celebrities soon also started to play a major role in this issue and have contributed to the enormous snowball effect of the trend.

What’s the ‘correct’ way to list Hong Kong or Taiwan according to the one-China principle? Below is an image of the (adjusted) website of Valentino where it lists countries and lists Hong Kong and Taiwan as being part of China.

Here’s a list of the global brands have become tied up in controversy on the mainland this week (this list might still be updated):

 

● ASICS 亚瑟士

Japanese footwear brand

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/asicsofficial (240,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
“ASICS lists HK & Taiwan as Separate Countries” (#亚瑟士将香港与台湾列为国家#): 110 million views.

What’s the problem?
The ASICS website listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as countries.

Apology?
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “ASICS apologizes” hashtag (#亚瑟士致歉#), 6,5 million views on Weibo. The footwear brand emphasized that it abides by the one-China policy and that it will correct its “mistakes.”

Consequences:
Besides some netizens who vow not to buy any of the brands in this list disregarding the PRC’s one-China policy, there are no indications as of now that the brand is affected by the issue.

 

● CALVIN KLEIN

American fashion brand

Brand Weibo account:
https://weibo.com/calvinklein (303,000 fans)

Hashtag:
“CK Exposed for Insulting China” (##CK被曝辱华##): 1,5 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Calvin Klein faced criticism for listing Taiwan and Hong Kong as separate countries or regions on its website.

Apology?
Yes, statement on August 13, followed by “CK apologizes” hashtag (#ck道歉#), 15 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
Chinese actress Jelly Lin, Calvin Klein’s brand ambassador for the Asia-Pacific region, announced an immediate termination of collaboration with the American fashion house. The hashtag for this event (#林允终止与CK合作#) received no less than 510 million views. Zhang Yixing (Lay Zhang), a Chinese member of K-pop group Exo and a Calvin Klein model, warned the US clothing company to respect Beijing’s “one China” policy but did not stop working the brand (he did terminate collaborations with Samsung, also in this list).

 

● COACH 蔻驰

American luxury accessories company 

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/coachchina (4+ million fans)

Hashtag:
“Coach Lists HK, Macau, Taiwan as Countries” (#蔻驰将港澳台列为国家#): 6 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Less than 24 hours after Versace’s apology, Coach was among the second batch of brands, along with Givenchy, ASICS, and Fresh, to be exposed online for erroneous geographic listings. Coach got in trouble for a t-shirt displaying ‘Hong Kong’ as an independent region and listing ‘Taipei’ as belonging to ‘Taiwan,’ while Shanghai and Beijing are listed under China.

The tshirt that got Coach into trouble.

The brand was also found to have listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as independent countries under its website’s  “search country” option.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Coach apologizes” hashtag (#蔻驰道歉#), 300 million views on Weibo.

Consequences:
Coach’s China ambassador, supermodel Liu Wen, said on Weibo on Monday that she had cut off her endorsement deal with the fashion label (#刘雯终止与蔻驰合作#, 6 million views) as the brand “seriously impacted the national sentiment of the Chinese people.” State media outlet Global Times suggested the brand faced “potential boycott in China.”

 

● FRESH 馥蕾诗

American beauty brand 

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/freshbeauty (339,500 milion fans)

Hashtag:
No separate hashtag for this incident.

What’s the problem?:
Fresh faced backlash for listing ‘Hong Kong’ as a separate region on its official (English) website.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Fresh apologizes” hashtag (#fresh道歉#,) 8 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
No known direct consequences.

 

● GIVENCHY 纪梵希

French luxury fashion and perfume house

Brand Weibo account:
https://weibo.com/officialgivenchy (1.5 milion fans)

Hashtag:
The topic ‘Givenchy T-Shirt’ (#纪梵希t恤#) became big on Weibo. The hashtag page has over 500 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Like Coach, Givenchy also got in trouble for a t-shirt displaying ‘Hong Kong’ as an independent region and listing ‘Taipei’ as belonging to ‘Taiwan.’

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 12, followed by “Givenchy apologizes” hashtag (#纪梵希道歉#,) 290 million views on Weibo.

Consequence:
Chinese singer Jackson Yee terminated his brand partnerships with Givenchy (#易烊千玺与纪梵希解约# 680 million views).

 

● POCARI SWEAT 宝矿力水特

Japanese sport’s drink

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/pocarisweat (15400 fans)

Hashtag:
“Pocari Sweat Get Out of China”(#宝矿力水特滚出中国#) is one of the early hashtags associated with the Pocari controversy. With just over 300,000 views, it did not gain huge traction on Weibo.

What’s the problem?
Pocari Sweat is among the earliest brands – if not the earliest- to be caught up in the brand controversy relating to the protests in Hong Kong. As described by Japan Times, pro-democracy demonstrators praised Pocari after it pulled advertising from Hong Kong television station TVB, which protesters accuse of pro-Beijing coverage. Pocari became a popular drink among Hong Kong protesters.

Apology?:
The mainland China office of the brand issued two apology statements on July 11 and 21 in which it emphasized that it operates separately from the Hong Kong division and that it respects China’s “one country, two systems” policy.

Consequence:
Pocari Sweat was condemned by Chinese state media, but it is not clear if people in mainland China are drinking less Pocari because of the issue.

 

● VALENTINO 

Italian fashion house

Brand Weibo account:
www.weibo.com/valentinoofficial (413,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
No particular hashtag.

What’s the problem?:
Valentino listed Hong Kong and Taiwan as separate countries in the region/language menu on its foreign website.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 13, in which Valentino apologizes for making “a mistake” on its website. The website has since been changed.

Consequence:
No known consequences, the website seemed to be quickly adjusted, and many netizens expressed their praise for that and for the fact that the recent trend seems to make foreign brands more aware of the importance of respecting the One-China Policy.

 

● VERSACE 范思哲 

Italian fashion house

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/versacechina (850,000+ fans)

Hashtag:
“Versace Suspected of [Supporting] Hong Kong and Macau Independence” (#范思哲涉嫌港独澳独#): 3.2 million views.

What’s the problem?:
Versace is the first brand to be targeted in this week’s brand-hunting trend. An image of a T-shirt that listed Hong Kong and Macau as independent countries was first posted on Weibo by a female netizen on August 8, who wrote: “I discovered this recently, and wondered if the design of this t-shirt means that Versace is supporting Hong Kong independence?” Three days later, the image had circulated so much that it became a trending topic. Commenters called out the brand for being “two-faced” and for profiting from Chinese money while disregarding Chinese sovereignty.

Apology?:
Yes, statement on August 11, followed by “Versace apologizes” hashtag (#范思哲道歉#,) 860 million views on Weibo. In its statement, Versace stated that the t-shirts had already been recalled and destroyed in late July, and that the fashion house “deeply apologized for the controversy” that was caused by an “error in its t-shirt design.” Versace further stated that the brand “loves China” and “resolutely respects China’s territorial sovereignty.”

Donatella Versace, the designer and chief creative officer of Versace, also issued a personal apology through Instagram, writing: “Never have I wanted to disrespect China’s National Sovereignty and this is why I wanted to personally apologize for such inaccuracy and for any distress that it may have caused.”

Consequence:
Chinese celebrity Yang Mi ended her relationship with Versace. The announcement received a lot of attention on Chinese social media (#杨幂终止与Versace合作# 1.1 billion views).

 

● SWAROVSKI 施华洛世奇

Austrian jewelry company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/swarovskicom (500,00+ fans)

Hashtag:
Swarovski, together with Calvin Klein, was one of the brands that popped up in the general ‘luxury brand scandal’ after the Versace controversy had snowballed and had moved to Coach, Givenchy, ASICS, and Fresh. The Swarovski issue was exposed just a bit later and had no separate hashtag on Weibo.

What’s the problem?
Swarovski went trending on Chinese social media for classifying Hong Kong as a country on its website.

Apology?
Swarovski issued an apology statement on August 13. The hashtag “Swarovski Apologizes” received over 750 million views on Weibo (#施华洛世奇道歉#).

Consequence:
Chinese actress Jiang Shuying, also known as Maggie Jiang, announced on Tuesday (August 13) that she would be ending her cooperation with Swarovski (#江疏影与施华洛世奇解约#, 410 million views).

 

CURRENTLY UNDER SCRUTINY BUT NO APOLOGIES:

 

● AMAZON 亚马逊

American e-commerce company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/amazonchina (4.4 million fans)

Hashtag:
“Amazon T-shirts” (#亚马逊t恤#), 140 million views; “Amazon Sells Hong Kong Independence Shirts” (#亚马逊售卖港独T恤#), 18 million views.

What’s the problem?
Amazon is one of the latest brands to be added to the virtual PRC wall of shame of international brands going against Beijing’s “One China” principle. On August 14, screenshots of the Amazon e-commerce platform selling t-shirts promoting an independent Hong Kong and displaying anti-China slogans went viral on Weibo.

Reaction
Amazon did not apologize for the merchandise sold on its platforms, but the company did respond to ChinaNews (#亚马逊回应T恤事件#), emphasizing that Amazon always has and will respect China’s one-China principle, and abide by local laws of the countries Amazon is active in. There were also netizens on Weibo saying they understood that Amazon cannot be responsible for all the merchandise sold by its online shops around the world.

 

● SAMSUNG 三星 

South Korean Tech Company

Brand Weibo account:
https://www.weibo.com/samsung (2.8+ million fans)

Hashtag:
No separate hashtag for this issue, although the announcement that Zhang Yixing would terminate his contract with Samsung did receive over 980 million views, making it one of the bigger hashtags in this brand scandal.

What’s the problem?:
Samsung faced criticism on August 14 for damaging China’s “territorial integrity” by displaying choices Hong Kong, China, and Taiwan as “countries” on its website.

Consequence:
Chinese celebrity and K-Pop star Zhang Yixing (Lay Zhang) announced on August 13 that he would no longer work together with Samsung as a brand ambassador for “hurting the national feelings of Chinese compatriots” (#张艺兴与三星解约#, 980 million views!).

 

By Manya Koetse

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

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Backgrounder

How the Hong Kong Protests Are Discussed on Chinese Social Media

“Hong Kong, the Pearl of the Orient, is no longer blooming, but covered in cuts and bruises.”

Manya Koetse

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Although discussions on the Hong Kong protests were initially silenced on Chinese social media, the demonstrations are now trending all over Weibo, with state media propagating hashtags and illustrations in favor of Hong Kong government and in support of the Hong Kong Police Force.

The political crisis in Hong Kong shows no signs of de-escalating after another series of mass demonstrations and violent clashes between police and protesters.

This week marks the ninth consecutive week of protests in Hong Kong. The first demonstrations started in March and April of this year against an extradition bill that would allow local authorities to detain and extradite people wanted in mainland China.

After demonstrations escalated in June, the bill was declared “dead” and suspended by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, but it was not formally withdrawn.

Protests have since continued throughout June, July, and into August, and are now about much more than the extradition bill alone – they are, amongst others, about greater freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, and about less political influence from the Beijing government.

Protesters are calling for Lam’s resignation and for democratic elections, and have denounced violent tactics and “abuse of power” used by the Hong Kong Police Force.

The absence of the police during an attack on residents by suspected gang members dressed in white shirts at the Yuen Long station on July 21 is one of the incidents protesters mention as police misconduct.

But there is also a division between demonstrators, and not necessarily one unified voice. There are also those, for example, who support Hong Kong police. And those who denounce the actions of angry protesters.

 

China’s Central Government Condemns Protests

 

Although authorities in mainland China initially remained quiet on the topic of the Hong Kong protests, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, China’s top agency for handling Hong Kong affairs, held its first press conference on its stance regarding Hong Kong demonstrations on July 29.

Yang Guang, the office’s spokesperson, condemned the actions of protesters over recent weeks, saying that they “exceeded the boundaries of acceptable protest.”

On August 6, there was another press briefing where Yang Guang used stronger language to denounce the protests, saying that the “radical protests (..) severely impacted Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability, pushing it into a dangerous abyss” and that those behind the demonstrations should not “misjudge” the situation and “mistake our restraint for weakness.”

 

Main Stances on Chinese Social Media

 

On Chinese social media sites, news and discussions on the Hong Kong protest were initially silenced (also see this article), but that has changed now.

Although discussions are still heavily controlled, the topic of the Hong Kong demonstrations has been dominating the trending streams over the past days on China’s popular social media platforms.

On Douyin, one of the most popular short video / social media apps in mainland China, there are dozens of different videos of violent incidents in Hong Kong that are being reposted and liked thousands of times.

On news app Toutiao, articles relating to the Hong Kong protests are in the recommended and ‘hot’ sections, while bloggers and news accounts on WeChat are also posting and reposting Hong Kong related content.

For the scope of this article, we will solely focus on Weibo – the narratives that are spread in daily discussions on the platform are comparable to those on other platforms.

Although the ensuing examples are the main types of posts on Hong Kong that are most popular on Chinese social media now, and definitely receive a lot of support, there are also posts with other views and ideas that might be blocked before ever making it to Weibo or other apps/platforms.

But the restrictions on free discussions on social media do not only relate to platform censorship.

Recently, there are also instances in which Chinese netizens speak out in support of the protesters in Hong Kong who then become a victim of the so-called “human flesh search engine.”

One female Weibo user, responding to the demonstrations in Hong Kong, wrote on August 5th: “Respect to every person out there striking and protesting!” Other Weibo users then made screenshots of her comment and revealed personal details about the woman (a 26-year-old Chinese citizen), labeling her a traitor.

One blogger reposting the woman’s photo and Weibo profile has 1,3 million followers, making this incident quite big and serving as a warning to other Weibo users not to spread their ‘politically incorrect’ views on the Hong Kong protests.

 

“Protect Hong Kong, Support the Police Force”

 

With over 5 billion views, the hashtag “Protect Hong Kong” (#守护香港#) is very popular on Weibo these days.

The hashtag is promoted by Party newspaper People’s Daily, that also launched another viral hashtag, namely “Officers, We Support You” (#阿sir我们挺你#, 300 million views).  The word for ‘officer’ used in this hashtag is “Ah Sir” or “阿Sir”, a uniquely Hong Kong form of address used for policemen and teachers.

Using the “Protect Hong Kong” and “Officers, We Support You” slogans, People’s Daily has also issued an illustration that shows three police officers carrying weapons and protective screens. Behind them are protesters, and above them is China’s Five-starred Red Flag.

Illustration by People’s Daily, issued on Weibo and other social media.

Online propaganda poster issued by China Daily on Weibo.

The main idea behind these hashtags/illustrations is that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) firmly supports the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong Police Force in dealing with so-called “thugs” or “bandits”  (“暴徒”).

A common stance expressed by Chinese netizens is that pro-democracy protesters are “damaging public security” in Hong Kong and are “dividing the nation.”

“Talk about democracy and freedom in a fair and reasonable way,” one commenter writes: “Don’t talk about freedom and democracy while breaking the law and acting outrageous.”

“It’s horrible to see,” another person says: “The Pearl of the Orient is no longer blooming, but is now covered with cuts and bruises.”

Many stories of violence used against the police force are circulating on Chinese social media. Some videos show protesters using potentially dangerous laser pointers to shine directly in faces of police officers. Last Tuesday, student leader Keith Fong was arrested for possession of such lasers.

One particular trending story concerns a bald police officer named ‘Liu Sir’ (刘sir) who was violently attacked by a group of protesters on July 31st. The mob allegedly punched and kicked him, and assaulted him with sticks and objects before he pulled out his gun.

Photo by People’s Daily, shared on Weibo.

Officer Liu, who has sustained some minor injuries from the incident, responded to the incident writing in a text: “[I] just hate the fact that they are also Chinese – it feels wrong to hit them and also wrong not to. It really pains me!”

Officer Liu has become somewhat of a hero on Chinese social media, as his image is propagated by Chinese state media through photos and illustrations.

Image of Officer Liu shared on Weibo by netizen @李里言子.

The idea of ‘protecting’ Hong Kong and supporting its police force goes hand in hand with the idea that Hong Kong is, and “always will be,” a “part of China.”

Many commenters in the comment sections express their anger about Hong Kong protesters attacking police and throwing the Chinese flag into the water. “If you do not want to be Chinese, then don’t live on Chinese territory,” some write.

 

“Hong Kong’s Colonial Mentality” 

 

A post by an economics blogger (@同行中的我, 14674 fans) that received more than 6500 ‘likes’ on Weibo argues that one problem behind the protests is that Hong Kong youth are stuck in a “colonial mentality.”

The blogger says that Hong Kong people have a lack of patriotic education and have no “sense of belonging.” It is this Hong Kong mentality, the writer argues, that prevents the region from blooming. Without mainland China, Hong Kong is nothing, the post says.

This sentiment is reiterated by many commenters on Weibo, who write things such as “Without a country, you have no home.”

Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain in 1842 as part of the Treaty of Nanjing. July 1st of 1997 marked Hong Kong’s return to China, and the moment it became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC, based on the principle of “one country, two systems.”

Those who are protesting for Hong Kong independence are also called “Pro HK Independence ‘Poison’” on Weibo (港毒分子, a wordplay with characters meaning ‘Hong Kong-independence/poison-members’: a derogatory term for those supporting Hong Kong independence).

“The Pro HK Independence Poison comes from Hong Kong education. Its education comes from its system. So to get rid of this poison, you first need to replace the system, and then change education in Hong Kong,” one person suggests.

 

“Biased Media Representations”

 

“Western media only use pictures that are taken out of context -they have an ulterior motive,” Weibo news blogger Jianhua (@建华Wei业) writes: “They fabricate news about Hong Kong police power abuse and violence.”

The accusation of Western media representing the Hong Kong protesters as the ‘good guys’ and the Hong Kong police as the ‘bad guys’ is repeated on Chinese social media quite a lot these days.

One major example is the aforementioned case of Sir Liu, as many media allegedly only forwarded those images or footage of the police pulling his gun, leaving out the part where he was attacked by protesters first.

Since there is a clear pro-Hong Kong Police Force dominant narrative on Weibo, many netizens defend the police and describe the protesters as violent and unreasonable rioters.

 

“US Meddling in Hong Kong Affairs”

 

Besides criticism on supposed biased media representations of the situation in Hong Kong, there is also criticism on the role of the United States in the Hong Kong protests.

One photo of American diplomat Julie Eadeh meeting up with student leaders involved in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement circulated on Chinese social media this week, with state media accusing the US of playing a role in “creating disorder” in Hong Kong.

Image posted on Weibo by CCTV.

“What Is America Up To?”(#美国居心何在#) is one of the hashtags related to the incident that is shared on Chinese social media, promoted by CCTV.

“What is America up to?” online poster designed and shared by CCTV.

“America has no right to meddle in Hong Kong affairs,” commenters on Weibo respond: “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong.”

Adding fuel to this discussion is the fact that some Hong Kong protesters have recently started waving American flags at demonstrations (read more about that here).

Trending on August 9 is an incident in which a woman angrily pulled the American flags from protesters’ hands at Hong Kong airport. Many people on Weibo praise the woman for being so “courageous” to stand up to the demonstrators. “We just want Hong Kong to be stable and peaceful,” the woman stated to the media.

Others on Weibo call on protesters in Hong Kong to be reasonable. “I feel that the situation in Hong Kong is getting more and more complicated,” one commenter writes: “I hope the protesters can rationally overthink why they are participating in these demonstrations; they shouldn’t let themselves be used by others.”

“I just cannot make sense of what these angry youth are doing,” another commenter writes: “They are waving the American flag. But when they leave [Hong Kong], people won’t see them as Hong Kongnese – foreigners will all think they are Chinese. I just don’t get where they’re going.”

 
Keep an eye on What’s on Weibo for more related stories in the time to come. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and subscribe to notifications via the bell in this screen (Chrome/Firefox/Android).
 

By Manya Koetse

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