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Russian Perspectives, Ridiculing Putin Supporters: Chinese Online Media Responses to the Wagner Mutiny

Exploring Chinese online media reactions to the Wagner Rebellion in Russia on June 24.

Manya Koetse

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The recent developments involving Putin and the Wagner group have gained significant attention in China’s media landscape, with a Russia-focused perspective dominating the online discussions. While some Chinese netizens express support for Russia, there is also a notable segment that mocks and ridicules staunch pro-Russia supporters, labeling them as ‘Yellow Geese’.

Note: This article was written on June 24, 2023, as the situation in Russia was unfolding, including the Chinese responses to it at the time.

As the world is watching how Russia is facing an armed mutiny after the Wagner group accused Russia of a deadly missile strike on its troops in Ukraine, the topic is also making headlines in China, becoming a number one top trending topic in Baidu’s and Weibo’s hot search lists.

While reports on the conflict between Russian troops and the Wagner mercenaries are flooding in, the topic “Putin Accuses Wagner Head [Prigozhin] of Treason” (#普京指责瓦格纳负责人叛国#) received a staggering 1.2 billion views on the Weibo platform within just a few hours time.

The hashtag directly refers to the televised speech Russian President Putin gave earlier on on the 24th in which he mentioned how the Russian private military force Wagner was attempting to subvert Russia from within, classifying it as an act of treason and calling it “a blow to Russia” and “a knife in the back of our people.”

 
Chinese Online Media: A Russian Perspective
 

Chinese social media discussions on the evolving situation in Russia are heavily influenced by reports from Chinese state media outlets, which share the latest news and updates not only on Weibo but also on other social media platforms such as WeChat, Douyin (China’s TikTok), and others. The hashtags surrounding the news reports are also initiated by Chinese media outlets.

In their online news posts, there may not be a distinct ‘pro-Russian’ stance, but there clearly is a strong Russia-focused perspective.

Putin’s condemnation of the Wagner military has become one of the major trends in China’s online media landscape. Alongside that, discussions about Russia’s “anti-terror measures” and Putin’s phone conversations with a select few international allies regarding the latest developments are also gaining significant attention.

By early Sunday morning (China local time), both Putin’s speech and Russian media reports about the Russian army setting up machine gun positions on the outskirts of Moscow became two of the most popular hashtags on Weibo.

Another aspect that is capturing considerable attention in the Chinese online media sphere is the involvement of Putin ally and Chechen leader Kadyrov and the Chechen troops. Discussions surrounding their role in the unfolding events have become a prominent topic of interest.

On Saturday, Kadyrov called the actions of the Wagner group a military rebellion, and he promised help in putting down the mutiny.

Chechen troops heading to the tense region, this news was trending on Douyin as well.

News about the deployment of Chechen forces to the Rostov region has been extensively covered by media outlets and has garnered significant attention on Weibo. Additionally, it has emerged as a top trending topic on Douyin, further amplifying public interest in the matter.

It is noteworthy that during the live coverage on Saturday afternoon and early evening UK time, BBC World News did not mention Kadyrov at all, nor did they report about Putin’s international calls to allies.

Instead, they focused more on a Ukrainian perspective, highlighting a difference in coverage between Chinese media and Western media regarding the developments.

 
A Plea for Peace
 

A prevailing response on Chinese social media to the recent events in Russia is a plea for global peace and the restoration of stability, emphasizing a desire for calm rather than further unrest.

“A fragmented Russia would be the most dangerous destabilizing factor in the world,” remarked a Chinese commenter.

“The border line between China and Russia is very long, and the two countries are closely interconnected. I hope for peace and a quick end to all the turmoil,” another Weibo user wrote.

Others also wondered about the safety of Russia-based Chinese citizens.

“Has China started evacuating its citizens? Has the Chinese Embassy in Russia issued a warning notice?”, some netizens wondered.

There has been no announcements about safety measures taken by the Chinese Embassy in Moscow at the time of writing.

 
Witnessing History
 

Another common context in which the Wagner mutiny is discussed on the Chinese social media platform Weibo is through a historical lens.

Many commenters perceive the recent developments as a significant historical moment and draw comparisons to previous instances in history of rebellious army groups, either in China or in other countries.

An influential voice on Weibo discussing the Prigozhin-led Wagner mutiny is Hu Xijin, a political commentator and former editor-in-chief of the state media outlet Global Times. With a background in journalism and Russian Literature and Language, Hu Xijin is also well-informed about Russia and geopolitics.

In an early post on June 24th, Hu said it was still uncertain if the situation should be seen as “internal strife” (内讧) or “armed rebellion” (叛乱). Hu also suggested that if all the Wagner forces would follow Prigozhin’s defiance of Putin, the Russian defense line could collapse.

In a later post, Hu Xijin noted that traditional armed rebellions or coups d’état have been uncommon in Russian history, with palace coups being more prevalent. He therefore called the Wagner rebellion a “very unexpected occurrence,” similar to historical instances of regional military leaders challenging central authority in ancient China.

The small survey, of which screenshots circulated on social medial

One Baidu blogger’s small-scale survey asked Chinese netizens what historical episode the Wagner mutiny was most similar to. The most popular answer was the “Revere the Emperor, Destroy the Traitors” movement from 1936, when a group of rebellious Japanese troops, led by members of the Young Officers’ Movement, seized control of Tokyo and carried out the assassination of several prominent officials. Four days after their initial mutiny, the rebels surrendered (see ‘February 26 incident‘).

Hu Xijin also commented on the uncertain political situation in Russia, highlighting that anything could happen and that the outcome is highly dependent on the responses of Putin, the Russian military, society, and the Wagner forces to the evolving developments.

 
Mocking Chinese Staunch Supporters of Russia
 

Meanwhile, the latest developments also show a clear divide between Chinese social media users who are supporting Russia and those ridiculing them.

As per the statement by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on Saturday, where he expressed his readiness to assist in suppressing the Wagner mercenary mutiny, there is a hope among pro-Russian voices that Kadyrov will play a crucial role in quickly defeating the Wagner Group.

Popular Toutiao blogger Erhaimi (@洱海弥), who has over a million Weibo fans, wrote: “Chechen troops have already arrived in the Rostov-on-don region. Currently, the Moscow forces are advancing from the front, while the Chechen forces are positioned at the rear, both sides are attacking. The Wagner rebels are done.”

However, numerous commenters on Chinese online platforms dismiss such statements as “naive,” “childish,” or “fairytales.” They mock Chinese pro-Russian enthusiasts for “indulging in fantasies” by blindly believing in Russia’s victory, and they label them as “Yellow Goose Filial Sons” (黄俄孝子), “Yellow Geese” (黄鹅), or other related terms.

“How are the Yellow Geese doing in light of today’s news?” some commenters wonder, with others saying: “They crack me up,” “they will have to wait another 200 years for their powerful Russia.”

The ‘goose’ reference is because Russia is usually nicknamed ‘big goose’ in China (大鹅) since the words for ‘goose’ and ‘Russia’ sound the same.

Previously, the term “Weak Goose” or “Noob Goose” (菜鹅) also became popular on Chinese social media as a wordplay on the phrase “Weak Russia” (菜俄), which has the same pronunciation in standard Chinese and jokingly refers to “the weak Russian army” (“俄军很菜”) (read here).

As news broke that Wagner chief Prigozhin announced the order to his mercenaries to halt their march on Moscow to avoid “shedding Russian blood” after negotiations with Belarus’ leader Lukashenko, many Chinese netizens were ready to call it a day after a day filled with news updates.

“Rest well,” one commenter said: “I hope your ‘weak Russia’ will manage to remain standing while I sleep. If there actually will be a battle to defend Moscow tonight, please wait until I wake up [with engaging with me], otherwise I will struggle to catch up with the latest developments tomorrow morning.”

 
By Manya Koetse 

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©2023 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

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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PREMIUM CONTENT

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

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©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 Digital

About the “AI Chatbot Based on Xi Jinping” Story

Key takeaways about the ‘Xi Jinping chatbot’, jokingly referred to as ‘Chat Xi PT’ by foreign media outlets.

Manya Koetse

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This week, various English-language newspapers reported that China is launching its very own Xi Jinping AI chatbot. China’s top internet regulator is reportedly planning to unveil a new chatbot trained on the political philosophy of Xi Jinping. This Large Language Model (LLM) is humorously referred to as ‘Chat Xi PT’ by the Financial Times and in other foreign media reports.

The Times of India website headlined that “China builds AI chatbot trained on Xi Jinping’s thoughts.” News site Asia Financial reported that “China has unveiled a chatbot trained to think like President Xi Jinping.” Various outlets even called it a “ChatGPT chatbot based on Xi Jinping.”

The Financial Times calls the application “China’s latest answer to OpenAI” and notes that “Beijing’s latest attempt to control how artificial intelligence informs Chinese internet users has been rolled out as a chatbot trained on the thoughts of President Xi Jinping.”

Besides the Financial Times article by Ryan McMorrow, media reports were largely based on a piece in the South China Morning Post authored by Sylvie Zhuang, titled “China rolls out large language model AI based on Xi Jinping Thought.”

Zhuang detailed how Xi Jinping’s political philosophy, along with other themes aligned with the official government narrative, form the core content of the chatbot, which is launched at a time when China “tries to use artificial intelligence to drive economic growth while maintaining strict regulatory control over cybersecurity.”

News about the supposed “Xi Jinping chatbot” is based on a post published on the WeChat account of the Cyberspace Administration magazine.

The magazine in question is China Cyberspace (中国网信), overseen by the Cyberspace Administration of China (国家互联网信息办公室) and published by the China Cyberspace Research Institute (中国网络空间研究院).

 

“Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application”


 

On May 20, China Cyberspace (中国网信杂志) posted the following text on WeChat, which was viewed less than 6000 times within two days (translation by What’s on Weibo):

 

“Recently, the Cyberspace Information Research Large [Language] Model Application developed by the China Cyberspace Research Institute has been officially launched and is being tried out internally.” [1]

“As an authoritative and high-end think tank in the Cybersecurity and Informatization field, the China Cyberspace Research Institute relied on the data of the “Internet Information Research Database” and organized a special tech team to independently develop the Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application, to take the lead in demonstrating the innovative development and application of generative AI technology in the field of Cybersecurity and Informatization.”

“The corpus of this Large Model [LLM] is sourced from seven major speciality knowledge bases within the “Internet Information Research Database,” including the “Comprehensive Database of Cyber Information Knowledge”, the “Knowledge Base of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” “Dynamic Cyber Knowledge Base,” “Internet Information Journal Knowledge Base,” “Internet Information Report Knowledge Base,” and more. Users can independently select different categories of knowledge bases for smart question-and-answering. The specialization and authority of the corpus ensures the professionalism of the content that’s generated.”

“Do you want to quickly make a summarized report on the current status of AI development? Are you curious about the differences between ‘new quality productive forces’ and ‘traditional productivity’? This Large Model application can quickly produce it for you!”

“The Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application is based on domestically registered open-source and commercially available pre-trained language models. By combining Information Retrieval technology with specialized Cyberspace Information knowledge, it can do smart question-and-answering [Q&A chatbot], it can generate articles, give summaries, do Chinese-English translations, and many other kinds of tasks in the field of Cybersecurity and Informatization to meet the various demands of users.”

“The system used for the Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application is deployed on a dedicated local server of the China Cyberspace Research Institute. Data is processed from this local server, ensuring high security. This application will become one of the embedded functions of the “Internet Information Research Database” and authorized users invited for targeted testing can access and use it.”

“The Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application will also support users to customize and build new knowledge bases. Users uploading public data and personal documents can analyze and infer, further expanding the scope of personalised use by users.”

 

Although some Chinese media sources reported on the launch of the application, it barely received traction on Chinese social media.

At the time of writing, the only official accounts posting about the application on Chinese social media are those related to research institutions or the Cyberspace Administration of China.

 

Key Takeaways on the “Chat Xi PT” Application:


 

So what are the key takeaways about the so-called, supposed ‘Chat Xi PT’ application that various foreign media have been writing about?

■ Focus on Cyberspace Administration and Digital Governance:
Contrary to some English-language media reports, the application is not primarily centered around Xi Jinping Thought but rather emphasizes Cyberspace Administration and digital governance. Its official name, the “Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application” (网信研究大模型应用), does not even mention Xi Jinping.

■ Not a Rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT:
Unlike what has been suggested in the media reports, this particular application should not be seen in the light of China “creating rivals to the likes of Open AI’s ChatGPT” (FT). Instead, it caters to a specific group of users engaged in specialized research or operating within certain knowledge fields. There are many others (commercial) chatbots in China that could be seen as Chinese alternatives to OpenAI’s ChatGPT. This is not one of them.

■ Modernization of Cyberspace Authorities:
Rather than solely meeting user demand, the application underscores China’s Cyberspace authorities’ modernization efforts by integrating generative AI technology into their own platforms.

■ Clarifying “Xi Jinping Thought”:
Various English-language media reports conflate “Xi Jinping Thought” with “thoughts of Xi Jinping.” “Xi Jinping Thought” specifically refers to “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” the theories, body of ideas that were incorporated into the Constitution of the Chinese Communist Party in 2017.

■ Nothing “New” about the Application:
The ‘Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application’ is based on existing LLMs and functions as a tool for navigating databases and information in the AI era, rather than representing a groundbreaking innovation or an actual ‘Xi Jinping chatbot.’ While it may have been written as a tongue-in-cheek headline, let’s be clear: there is no such thing as a ‘Chat Xi PT.’

 
By Manya Koetse

[1]About the translation of the term “网信” (wǎngxìn): in this text, I’ve used different translations for the term “网信” (wǎngxìn) depending on the context of its use. The term can be translated into English as “cyberspace” or “internet information,” but since it is mostly used in relation to China’s Cyberspace Administration and digital governance, it is sometimes more appropriate to refer to it as Cyberspace Security and Information,like the term “国家网信部门” which translates to “national cybersecurity and informatization department” (Also see translations by DigiChina).

 

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Full Text by China Cyberspace:

“近日,由中国网络空间研究院开发的网信研究大模型应用已正式上线并内部试用。

垂直专业:聚焦网信领域

作为网信领域权威高端智库,中国网络空间研究院依托“网信研究数据库”数据,组织专门技术团队,自主开发了网信研究大模型应用,率先示范生成式人工智能技术在网信研究领域的创新发展和落地应用。

该大模型语料库来源于“网信研究数据库”的七大网信专业知识库,包括“网信知识总库”“习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想知识库”“网信动态知识库”“网信期刊知识库”“网信报告知识库”等。用户可自主选择不同类别的知识库进行智能问答。语料库的专业性、权威性保证了生成内容的专业性。

便捷高效:实现多种功能

想快速列出关于人工智能发展现状的报告提纲?想知道新质生产力和传统生产力的不同之处?网信研究大模型应用能够迅速生成!

网信研究大模型应用基于已备案的国内开源可商用预训练语言模型,通过将检索增强生成技术和网信专业知识相结合,实现了网信领域的智能问答、文稿生成、概括总结、中英互译等多种功能,可满足用户的多种需求。

安全可靠:数据本地处理

网信研究大模型应用系统部署在中国网络空间研究院的专属本地服务器,数据由本地服务器进行处理,具有较高的安全性。该大模型应用将成为“网信研究数据库”的嵌入功能之一,获得授权的定点测试用户可以应邀使用该应用。

网信研究大模型应用还将支持用户自定义新建知识库,可通过加载用户自己上传的公开数据、个人文档进行分析推理,进一步拓展用户的个性化使用范围。”

Featured image by What’s on Weibo, image of Xi Jinping under Wikimedia Commons.

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