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Reactions to Brexit in Chinese (Social) Media

News of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is fully dominating international headlines and has become the number one trending topic on Sina Weibo. As Brexit is now also making front-page news in China, What’s on Weibo provides an overview of reactions to Brexit in Chinese (social) media

Manya Koetse

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News of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is fully dominating international headlines and has become the number one trending topic on Sina Weibo. As Brexit is now also making front-page news in China, What’s on Weibo provides an overview of reactions to Brexit in Chinese (social) media.

Britain’s vote to leave the EU is dominating the headlines worldwide. On June 24, ‘Brexit’ also made it to the number one spot of Weibo’s trending topics list under the hashtag of ‘Britain out of EU Referendum’ (#英国脱欧公投#). For many Chinese media outlets and netizens, the outcome of the Brexit referendum shows the risks of democracy and populism.

 

“We’re eyewitnesses to history.”

 

“We’ve become eyewitnesses to history,” Chinese netizens said (“我们竟然成为了历史的见证人”), with others already advising younger generations to remember this day: “Dear students, this will be an exam question. In which year, what month and what day did Britain leave the European Union?”

trending

‘Brexit’ is the number one trending topic on China’s biggest social media platform Sina Weibo.

British prime minister Cameron announced that he would resign after the referendum outcome and that a new leader would be needed by October. That news was shared on Sina Weibo over 6050 times within twenty minutes after its release. “The UK is surely moving fast today,” one Weibo netizen responded. Another commenter jokingly writes: “Cameron says: ‘You stupid retards, I was just playing around and you fools took it seriously!'”

Other Chinese netizens also make fun of Cameron (卡姆伦), saying that by allowing this referendum over the UK’s EU membership to take place, he has “crushed his foot while trying to move a rock” (“搬起石头砸自己的脚”) – that he has fallen into the pit of his own digging. “You’re not careful for a second, and before you know it you’ve made history,” one netizen comments.

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Chinese reactions to Brexit on Sina Weibo: “We’ve become an eyewitness to history”.

There are also netizens who seem to understand Britain’s choice for leaving the EU: “It is like a husband and wife,” one commenter says: “If you can go on, you stay together, but if you cannot go on, you get a divorce. Staying together would only intensify the conflict.”

 

“Britain leaving the EU is a reflection of the ongoing global trend of populism.”

 

On Tencent’s opinion and commentary In Touch Today platform, Chinese author Xi Yinghong (奚应红) says Britain leaving the EU is a reflection of the ongoing trend of populism (民粹主义) that is currently spreading not only in Europe, but throughout the world. Xi writes that the division between those voting to “remain” and “exit” the EU can be crudely seen as a disagreement between the British (political) elite and the ordinary people, who seem to “speak a different language” on a variety of issues, “making communication difficult”:

“While London’s social elite is still loudly debating the negative implications of Brexit for UK economy, migration, and national sovereignty, the masses are more likely to be infected by these kinds of slogans: ‘We want to control our own borders, formulate our own laws, and get our money back from Brussels.’ Although they are talking about the same issues, the way they are expressed reflect a different psychological and emotional stage – and this difference is especially evident when it comes to the issue of immigration.”

According to a Tencent opinion poll that accompanied the article, a majority of Tencent readers already expected Britain to leave the EU.

poll

Opinion poll by Tencent: “Do you think the UK will leave the EU?” 31.47% says they will remain, 68.53% says they will leave.

On the question: “Do you think populism is a dangerous global trend?”, 35% of netizens indicated they do not perceive populism as a potential threat, whereas nearly 65% of participants do feel it is potentially dangerous.

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The opinion poll by Tencent: “Do you think populism is a dangerous global trend?” 35.41% says no, 64.59% says yes.

One much-upvoted comment to the article says: “The issue of Britain leaving the EU is a very complicated one that involves political, economic, as well as diplomatic problems. It is an issue that should’ve been be left to the experts, not to ordinary people who do not have a fundamental understanding of economics and foreign diplomacy. Now the British need to bear the consequences of their choice.”

 

“The democratic system will drag Britain through the mud.”

 

Influential economic newspaper The Economic Observer (观察) made Brexit big front page news (featured image) today, with headlines saying: “Britain Leaves EU, Cameron Resigns”. In the leader, journalist Li Lin (李晽) wonders “whether Cameron will be condemned by history in the UK and throughout Europe” for the outcome of the Brexit referendum, that could cause a “butterfly effect” (蝴蝶效应).

One reader comments: “Some people will be happy and some will be sad that UK is separating itself from Europe. Fact is that the democratic system will further drag Britain through the mud. It seems that a major reshuffle in the world is really about to begin now.”

China’s biggest newspaper The People’s Daily (人民日报), the official news outlet of the Chinese Communist Party, did not make Brexit front page news. Instead, their headlines are all focused on the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO, 海合作组织) in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where Chinese president Xi Jinping met with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

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Not Brexit, but the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting was on the frontpage of China’s largest state media outlet.

The two presidents reportedly spoke about the promotion of the SCO in regional development and security. Apart from Russia and the PRC, the 2001-founded Shanghai Cooperation Organization currently has 6 other members, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India and Pakistan. Putin and Xi also spoke about enhancing the Sino-Russian bilateral ties and their strategic partnership. Brexit was not part of their agenda meeting.

 

“This day will go into the history books as the moment that led to the collapse of the European Union.”

 

Some media and netizens also discuss to what extent Brexit will influence China. According to the West Strait Morning Post (海西晨报), experts say the referendum’s outcome will be positive for Chinese students studying abroad due to the devaluation of the pound. They also state that Britain’s vote to leave the EU is expected to have a “limited impact” on the trade relations between China and Europe.

Many Chinese netizens follow the news about Europe with much interest. A post by the Chinese Wall Street Journal saying: “After Brexit, Dutch politician Geert Wilders has promised to organize a referendum about the Netherlands leaving the EU” has attracted much attention and was shared over 10,000 times within a couple of hours.

wilderstrending

Dutch politician Geert Wilders is a much talked-about topic on Chinese social media today.

 

“First Britain leaves the EU, and then the Netherlands will follow. The EU is crying,” a Weibo user says.

“I can understand it,” one other commenter says: “Even countries like Turkey will enter the EU, and the Netherlands would not want that.” “Muslim immigration has greatly contributed to countries leaving the EU,” another netizen comments.

Overall, many netizens see Britain’s vote to leave the EU as the beginning of a further disintegration of the EU. Apart from a potential referendum in the Netherlands, there are also many expecting a second independence referendum in Scotland. News and analysis outlet Caixin.com writes: “The UK decision will encourage the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and other countries to also leave the EU,” reporting about a speech given by U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage earlier today.

“I have an inkling that this day will go into the history books as the moment that led to the collapse of the European Union,” one Weibo user concludes.

– By Manya Koetse

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©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 Media

The Beishan Park Stabbings: How the Story Unfolded and Was Censored on Weibo

A timeline of the censorship & reporting of the Jilin Beishan Park stabbing incident on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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The recent stabbing incident at Beishan Park in Jilin city, involving four American teachers, has made headlines worldwide. However, on the Chinese internet, the story was initially kept under wraps. This is a brief overview of how the incident was reported, censored, and discussed on Weibo.

On Monday, June 10, four Americans were stabbed while visiting Beishan park in Jilin.

Video footage of the victims lying on the ground in the park was viewed by millions of people outside the Chinese internet by Monday afternoon.

Despite the serious and unusual nature of such an attack on foreigners visiting China, it took about an entire day for the news to be reported by official Chinese channels.

 
How the Beishan Incident Unfolded Online
 

In the afternoon of June 10, news about four foreigners being stabbed in Jilin’s Beishan Park started circulating online.

Among the first online accounts to report this incident was the well-known Chinese-language X account ‘Li Laoshi’ (李老师不是你老师, @whyyoutouzhele), which has 1.5 million followers, along with the news account Visegrád 24 (@visegrad24), which has 1 million followers on X.

They both posted a video showing the incident’s aftermath, which soon went viral on X and beyond. It showed how three victims – one female and two male – were lying on the ground at the park, bleeding heavily while waiting for medical help. A police officer was already at the scene.

As soon as the video and tweets triggered discussions in the English-language social media sphere, it was clear that Chinese social media platforms were censoring and blocking mentions of the incident.

By Monday night, China local time, many Weibo commenters had started writing about what had happened in Beishan Park earlier that day, but their posts became unavailable.

Some bloggers wrote about receiving an automated message from Weibo management that their posts had been taken offline. Others started posting about “that thing in Jilin,” but even those messages disappeared. On other platforms, such as Douyin, the story was also being contained.

By 21:00-22:00 local time, a hashtag on Weibo, “Jilin Beishan Park Foreigners” (吉林北山外国人), briefly became the second most-searched topic before it was taken offline. Weibo stated: “According to relevant laws, regulations, and policies, the content of this topic is not shown.”

A hashtag about the Beishan stabbings soon became one of the hottest search queries before it disappeared.

While netizens came up with more creative words and other descriptions to talk about what had happened, the focus shifted from what had happened in Beishan Park to why the topic was being censored. “What’s this? Why can’t we talk about it?” one Weibo user wondered: “Not a single piece of news!”

Around 23:30 local time, another blogger posted: “It seems to be real that four foreigners were stabbed in Jilin’s Beishan Park this afternoon. We’ll have to see when it will formally be reported on Weibo.” Others questioned, “Why is the Jilin incident so tightly covered up on the internet?”

Around 04:00 local time on June 11, the first media outlet to really report on what had happened was Iowa Public Radio (IPR News). Before that time, one Iowan citizen had already commented on X that their sister-in-law was one of the victims involved.

One victim’s family had told IPR News that the individuals involved were four Cornell College instructors. All four survived and were recovering at a nearby hospital after being stabbed during a park visit in China.

The instructors were part of a partnership with Beihua University in Jilin. Cornell College and Beihua University have had an active partnership since 2018, with Beihua funding Cornell instructors to visit China, travel, and teach during a two-week period. Members from both institutions were visiting the public park in Jilin City when they were attacked. The visit was likely intended as a sightseeing and relaxation opportunity during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday, when many people visit the park.

As reported by IPR News reporter Zachary Oren Smith (@ZacharyOS), U.S. Representative Mariannette Miller-Meeks stated that her office was working with the U.S. Embassy to ensure the victims would receive care for their injuries and safely leave China.

 
Hu Xijin Post
 

Now that news of the attack on four Americans was all over X, soon picked up by dozens of international news outlets, the Chinese censorship of the story seemed unusual, considering the magnitude of the story.

Furthermore, there had still been no official statement from the Chinese side, nor any news reports on the suspect and whether or not he had been detained.

By the morning of June 11, an internal, unverified BOLO notice from the Jilin city Chuanying police office circulated online. It identified the suspect as 55-year-old Jilin resident Cui Dapeng (崔大鹏), who was still at large. The notice also clarified that there were not four but five victims in total.

At 11:33 local time, it seemed that the wall of censorship surrounding the incident was suddenly lifted when Chinese political and social commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进), who has nearly 25 million followers on Weibo, posted about what had happened.

He based his post on “Western media reports,” and commented that this is a time when Chinese and American sides are actually promoting exchange. He saw the incident as a “random” one, which, regardless of the attacker’s motive, does not reflect broader sentiment within Chinese society. He concluded, “I also hope and believe that this incident will not negatively affect the exchanges between China and the US.”

Hu’s post spurred a flurry of discussions about the Beishan Park incident, turning it into a top-searched topic once again. His comments sparked controversy, with many disagreeing with his suggestion that the incident could potentially affect Sino-American exchanges. Many argued that there are numerous examples of Chinese people being attacked or even murdered in the US without anyone suggesting it would harm US-China relations.

Within approximately two hours of posting, Hu’s post was no longer visible and had disappeared from his timeline. This sudden deletion or blocking of his post again triggered confusion: Was Hu being censored? Why?

Later, screenshots of Hu Xijin’s post shared on social media were also censored.

 
A “Collision”
 

By the early Tuesday evening, June 11, Chinese official accounts and state media accounts finally issued a report on what had happened in what was now dubbed the “Beishan Park Stabbing Incident” (#吉林公安通报北山公园伤人案#).

Jilin authorities issued a report on what happened in Beishan Park.

A notice from local public security authorities stated that the first emergency call about a stabbing incident at the park came in at 11:49 in the morning on Monday, June 10, and police and medical assistance soon arrived at the scene.

The 55-year-old Chinese suspect, referred to as ‘Cui’ (崔某某), reportedly stabbed one of the Americans after they bumped into each other at the park (described as “a collision” 发生碰撞). The suspect then attacked the American, his three American companions, and a Chinese visitor who tried to intervene. Reports indicated that the victims were all transported to the hospital and were not in critical condition.

It was also stated that the suspect was arrested on the “same day,” without specifying the time and location of the arrest.

Later on Tuesday, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs addressed the incident during their regular press conference. Spokesperson Lin Jian (林剑) stated that local police had initially judged the case to be a random incident and that they were conducting further investigation (#外交部回应吉林北山公园伤人案#).

 
Boxer Rebellion References
 

With the discussions about the incident on Chinese social media less controlled, various views emerged, commenting on issues such as public safety in China, US-China relations, and anti-Western sentiments.

One notable trend during the early discussions of the incident is how many commenters referenced to the ‘Boxer Rebellion’ (1899–1901), an anti-foreign, anti-Christian uprising that took place during the final years of the Qing Dynasty and led to large-scale massacres of foreign residents. Many commenters believed the attacker had nationalist motives targeting foreigners.

Anti-american, nationalist sentiments also surfaced online. Some commenters laughed about the incident or praised the attacker for doing a “good job.”

However, the majority argued that this event should not be seen as indicative of a broader trend of foreign-targeted violence in China. They emphasized that Asians in America are far more frequently targeted in hate crimes than any Westerner in China, underscoring that this incident is just an isolated case.

This idea of the event being “random” (“偶然事件”) was reiterated in official reports, Hu Xijin’s column, and by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But there are also those who think this might be a conspiracy, calling it bizarre for such a rare incident to occur just when Chinese tourism was finally starting to flourish in the post-Covid era: “Now that our tourism industry is booming, foreigners are getting stabbed? How could it be such a coincidence? Is it possible that this was arranged by spies from other countries?”

On Tuesday, social commentator Hu Xijin made a second attempt at posting about the Beishan Park incident. This time, his post was shorter and less outspoken:

“This appears to be a public security incident,” he wrote: “But this time, four foreign nationals were attacked. In every place around the world, there are criminal and public security incidents where foreigners become victims. China is one of the relatively safest countries in the world, but this incident still occurred in broad daylight in a tourist area. This reminds us, that we need to always keep enhancing the effectiveness of security measures to protect the safety of all Chinese and foreign nationals.”

Again, his post triggered some controversy as some bloggers discovered that Hu had previously argued against extra security checks at Chinese parks, which he deemed unnecessary. They felt he was now contradicting himself.

The differing views on Hu’s posts and the incident at large perhaps explain why the news was initially controlled and censored. Although censorship and control are inherent parts of the Chinese social media apparatus, the level of control over this story was quite unusual. Whether it was due to the suspect still being on the loose, public safety concerns, fears of rising nationalist sentiments, or the need to understand the full details before the story blew up, we will likely never know.

Nevertheless, this time, Hu’s post stayed up.

The Beishan Park incident is reportedly still under investigation.

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China’s Intensified Social Media Propaganda: “Taiwan Must Return to Motherland”

As ‘Taiwan’ is all over Chinese social media, the discourse is controlled and heavily influenced by Chinese official media accounts.

Manya Koetse

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Following the inauguration of Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te on Monday, Taiwan has been a trending topic on Chinese social media all week.

Chinese state media have launched an intensive social media propaganda campaign featuring strong language and clear visuals, reinforcing the message: Taiwan is not a country, Taiwan is part of China, and reunification with the motherland is inevitable.

On Friday, May 24, almost half of the trending topics on Chinese social media platform Weibo were related to Taiwan, its status, and China’s large-scale military drills around Taiwan that began on Thursday.

 

“Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country”

 

On Monday, Lai Ching-te, also known as William Lai, took office after winning the Taiwan elections in January of this year. He was handed over the leadership by Tsai Ing-wen, who served as Taiwan’s president for two four-year terms.

Before leaving office, Tsai spoke to the media and reiterated her stance that Taiwan is an independent, sovereign country. In his inaugural speech, Lai also echoed that sentiment, referring to Taiwan as a nation and urging its people not to “harbor any delusions” about China and cross-strait peace.

Although Chinese official sources did not say much about Lai’s inauguration on the day itself, Chinese state media outlet CCTV issued a strong statement on Wednesday that went viral on social media. They posted an online “propaganda poster” showing the word “unification” (统一) in red, accompanied by the sentence: “‘Taiwan Independence’ is a dead-end road, unification is unstoppable.

The hashtag posted with this image said, “Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country,” reiterating a statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi when Lai won the elections in early 2024.

The propaganda poster posted by CCTV on May 22 was all about “reunification.”

Within merely eight hours, that hashtag (“Taiwan never was a country, and it will never become a country” #台湾从来不是一个国家也永远不会成为一个国家#) received over 640 million views on Weibo, where it was top trending on Wednesday, accompanied by another hashtag saying “China will ultimately achieve complete reunification” (#中国终将实现完全统一#).

 

“With each provocation our countermeasures advance one step further, until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved”

 

Starting on Thursday, China’s military exercises in the Taiwan Strait became a major topic on the Chinese internet.

“Joint Sword-2024A” (联合利剑—2024A) is the overarching name for the land, sea, and air military exercises conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), designed to test the armed forces’ ability to “seize power” and control key areas of the island.

The political message behind these exercises, asserting China’s claim over Taiwan and showcasing its military power, is as visible online as it is offline.

On Weibo, People’s Daily live-blogged the latest details of the military exercises around Taiwan, including strong statements by the Ministry of Defense and experts asserting that the PLA has the capability to hit various crucial targets in Taiwan, including its southeastern air defense zone.

The Eastern Theater Command (东部战区) of the PLA also released a 3D animation to simulate the destruction of “Taiwan independence headquarters,” severing the “lifeline of Taiwan independence.”

CCTV Military (央视军事) posted that the ongoing PLA operation is aimed to break Taiwan’s “excessive arrogance.”

They quoted the spokesperson of the Ministry of Defense in saying: “With each provocation from [supporters of] ‘Taiwan independence,’ our countermeasures advance one step further until the complete reunification of the motherland is achieved.”

 

“The motherland must unify, and it will inevitably unify”

 

One relatively new slogan used in the online propaganda campaign regarding Taiwan this week is “Táiwān dāngguī” (#台湾当归#), which means “Taiwan must return [to the motherland].

However, the slogan is also a play on words, as the term dāngguī (当归) refers to Angelica Sinensis, the Chinese Angelica root (“female ginseng”), a medicinal herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, native to China and cultivated in various East Asian countries.

In one poster disseminated by People’s Daily, Taiwan is depicted on the left – resembling a piece of the yellowish root – as a part of the character “归” (guī, to return, go back to). The remainder of the character consists of various slogans commonly used by Chinese official media to emphasize that Taiwan is part of China.

New poster by People’s Daily. ‘Taiwan’ on the left side resembles a piece of Chinese Angelica root (looks like ginseng).

These sentences include slogans like, “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.

Accompanying the “Taiwan Must Return” hashtag, People’s Daily writes: “‘Taiwanese independence’ goes against history, it’s a dead end. The motherland must unify, and it will inevitably unify. #TaiwanMustReturn#.”

Within a single day, the hashtag received a staggering 2.4 billion views on Weibo.

Although ‘Taiwan’ is all over Chinese social media, the discourse is controlled and heavily influenced by Chinese official media accounts. The majority of comments from netizens echo official slogans on the issue, expressing sentiments such as “Taiwan will never be a country,” “I support the ‘One China’ principle,” and “Taiwan is part of China.”

A post by CCTV regarding reunification with Taiwan garnered over 100,000 comments, yet only a fraction of these discussions were visible at the time of writing.

Amidst all the slogans and official discourse, there are also some bloggers expressing a broader view on the issue.

One of them wrote: “In the current official media lineup regarding ‘Taiwan is a province of China’, there are no longer any “warnings” or “demands” to be found. The rhetoric has shifted towards reprimands, and towards an emphasis on the legal principles behind the reclamation of Taiwan. I am convinced that a reunification through military force is no longer a ‘Plan B’ – it is the definite direction we are moving towards.”

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.

©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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