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Satirical Swedish TV Show Making Fun of Chinese Adds Fuel to Fire after Tourist Row

The show, that tells Chinese tourists not to defecate in the streets, has been denounced by the Chinese Embassy in Sweden.

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After a controversial incident involving Chinese tourists in Stockholm, this time it is a Swedish TV show that is triggering waves of comments on Chinese social media for “insulting Chinese.” Diplomatic tensions between Beijing and Stockholm seem to rise as the Chinese embassy has published another safety alert for Chinese citizens in Sweden today.

A satirical Swedish TV show is accused of “insulting Chinese” by Chinese media and netizens for a sketch that was featured its most recent episode. (Youtube link here).

The sketch was themed around the topic of ‘welcoming Chinese people to Sweden,’ listing a number of do’s and don’ts for Chinese tourists in a satirical ‘information video’ that was published on Chinese video streaming site Youku. The video was accompanied by a dubbed voice speaking in Chinese.

“Welcome to Sweden”

In the video, “taking a poo outside of a historical place,” for example, is said to be a “no do” -referring back to Chinese tourists allegedly pooing in public (there’s a Chinese sign outside the Louvre Museum that forbids people from defecating). The host also says that Chinese tourists should not mistake pet dogs that are being walked in Sweden for lunch.

The Swedish TV show in question is called ‘Swedish News’ (Svenska Nyheter/瑞典新闻), and makes satire out of recent (political) news. The controversial episode was aired on Friday night, September 21st.

Another issue, one that particularly seemed to have struck a nerve among Chinese netizens, is that the show also calls Chinese people “racist,” and says that Sweden is a multicultural society that protects the rights of everybody – believing in the equality of everybody no matter where they are from -, “unless they come from China.”

The satirical comment makes fun of the idea that Swedes would supposedly be racist towards Chinese. The alleged “abuse” of a Chinese family in Stockholm and its aftermath generated a lot of negative news attention on Sweden over the past month.

The controversial incident involving Chinese tourists and Swedish police.

The Chinese embassy in Sweden even issued a safety alert, stating that recently, there are more cases where Chinese tourists have been victims of theft and robbery, as well as cases where victims were treated poorly by Swedish police.

Another particularly sensitive issue, is that the show featured a map of China that did not show Taiwan nor parts of Tibet. What makes matters ‘worse,’ as reported by Chinese media, is that the video was uploaded to a Chinese video streaming site. The segment featured in the show also had the ‘Youku’ watermark in it.

 

“A gross insult to and vicious attack on China and the Chinese people.”

 

On September 23, Chinese media outlet The Observer wrote about “the Swedish TV show that insults China” (“辱华的瑞典节目”), suggesting that the show depicts Chinese as racist, calling it a “defamation of Chinese people.”

The Chinese Embassy in Sweden strongly denounced the TV show’s contents on Saturday, September 22, for “maliciously attacking China and Chinese people,” publishing an official statement on their website.

The full statement is a follows:

In the evening of 21 September, the SVT broadcast a Swedish News program which outrageously insulted China. The program leader Jesper Rönndahl made comments that amount to a gross insult to and vicious attack on China and the Chinese people. We strongly condemn it, and have lodged a strong protest to SVT.

The SVT program and Jesper Rönndahl spread and advocate racism and xenophobia outright, and openly provoke and instigate racial hatred and confrontation targeting at China and some other ethnic groups. The program also referred to a wrong map of China where China’s Taiwan province and some part of the Tibet region were missing, which severely infringes on China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The program breaks the basic moral principles of mankind, and gravely challenges human conscience and is a serious violation of media professional ethics. To think that such things could happen in Sweden, an advocate of ethnic equality!

Relevant program staff from SVT argued that this is an entertainment program, an argument which is totally unacceptable and we firmly reject. We urge SVT and the program to immediately give an apology. We reserve the rights to take further actions.”

 

“This is low. It is making Sweden look bad.”

 

On social media site Sina Weibo, the hashtag “Swedish TV Show Insults China” (#瑞典辱华节目#) has over 20,5 million views at time of writing, and it is also included in the top 10 of most popular topics.

Many netizens write the TV show is “excessively hurtful” towards China. Although a majority of those who previously commented on the tourist row said that the Chinese family was at fault, a seeming majority now says on Weibo that it is unfair to stigmatize all of China over that one family row.

“This is low. It is making Sweden look bad,” one popular comment read.

“Sweden can no longer distinguish right from wrong,” another top comment said: “They take in many refugees as if they’re family, but these migrants have low basic morals and go vandalizing everywhere, but the Swedish government is too afraid to even fart [at them]; they’d rather go scolding Chinese to get some sense of existentialism.”

“They think worse of Chinese than they do of refugees,” one person replied.

 

“We remind Chinese citizens in Sweden to pay extra attention to their safety.”

 

Over the past month, the relations between China and Sweden have become somewhat strained. An overview of the incidents:

◙ September 12: The Dalai Lama visits Sweden.

◙ September 14-16: Sweden and China end up in a diplomatic row after three Chinese tourists are thrown out of a hostel in Stockholm after an argument over their check-in time. It is noteworthy that this incident happened on in early September, but only received massive attention in Chinese media in mid-September. State media denied the criticism had any connection to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Sweden.

◙ September 14: The Chinese Embassy in Sweden issues a safety alert stating that recently, there are more cases where Chinese tourists have been victims of theft and robbery, as well as cases where victims have been treated poorly by Swedish police.

◙ September 20: Official Chinese newspaper (or ‘Party tabloid’) Global Times publishes a column titled “Tolerant Chinese hotels”, which argues that Chinese hotels are “lenient and understanding”, and that “this good-hearted treatment isn’t the same for some Chinese tourists in Sweden who were violently thrown out of a hostel in the heart of the country’s metropolis.”

◙ September 21: The controversial Swedish satirical TV show airs, which allegedly “insults” China and Chinese people.

◙ September 22: The Swedish Migration Board decides to temporarily stop carrying out deportations of Uyghurs and other minorities back to China. According to InBeijing.se: “This also applies to cases were asylum have already been denied, such as the above mentioned family, who will not be forced to return to Xinjiang and the almost certain repression awaiting them there.” Also read about the earlier news on this insightful site involving the Uyghur family that risked deportation from Sweden.

◙ September 22: The Chinese Embassy in Sweden issues a statement denouncing the satirical Swedish TV show for “maliciously attacking” China.

◙ September 23: The Chinese Embassy in Stockholm issues another safety alert for Chinese in Sweden, warning Chinese to pay extra attention to their safety in China, saying: “We remind Chinese citizens in Sweden to pay attention to their safety. Since April of this year, we have received daily reports from Chinese about being robbed, having things stolen and losing documents, but the Swedish police so far have not investigated any cases. We cannot effectively guarantuee the legal rights of Chinese citizens [here].”

Note that the case of Gui Minhai (桂民海), a Chinese-born Swedish scholar and prolific book publisher who has been in custody or under close surveillance in mainland China for the past two years, also continues to be an important point of disagreement between China and Sweden.

After all controversy, some people on Weibo now write: “Just don’t go to Sweden.” Many others say: “I wouldn’t even want to go anymore.”

By Manya Koetse, Richard Barnes, Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Richard

    September 23, 2018 at 9:43 am

    Yes don’t go to Sweden and that include every Chinese people around the world, not just Chines from mainland China.

    • Avatar

      Clive

      September 24, 2018 at 8:31 am

      I agree, don’t waste your tourism money on a country of racists. Awful weather all year round, non-existent culture aside from stinky canned fish.

    • Avatar

      No thanks, Swedenn's cold and liberal PC. Sweden Women=Black and Arab Property

      September 25, 2018 at 9:49 am

      No one goes to Sweden anymore lol, its already 70% Muslim Jihad beards from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan not to mention the Youth gangs, Ethiopia Refugees, Sudan Refugees, Turk immigrants, Balktans and Russian youth hooligans taking over.

      Blacks and Muslims already fucks an average of 21-24 Different Swedish girls there within their life time anyway, its paradise for them but a shithole stench even for their neighbours Denmark and Norway.

  2. Avatar

    terebethian

    September 23, 2018 at 6:52 pm

    wait so did the swedes figure out how to keep hordes of godawful chinese tourists out of their country?! Point to the Swedes!

  3. Avatar

    W.T.Pooh

    September 24, 2018 at 5:37 am

    This is what you get after a generation of CCP cultural destruction [aka ‘revolution’], indoctrination, brainwashing and information blockade, these robots are no longer a social [human] being fit for the world community, they have no idea of reality, propriety, social norms, manners etc.
    .
    All they know is CCP party politics, and the philosophy of “struggle”, therefore incessant complaints, demands, retaliation…It’s a tragedy to see a fifth of the world population turned into mindless savages in mere one generation, and from one of the oldest civilization for that matter!
    .
    Sigh!

  4. Avatar

    Beth

    September 27, 2018 at 5:24 am

    This comment section is horrid. I love What’s on Weibo, as it helps me as a student learn to read more realistic language and slang, and it’s usually well written and informational. I’m disappointed that such a nice site can’t moderate better against such obvious racism or sexism. What’s the use of allowing comments referring to women as property and sluts or whores or as Chinese people as inhuman savages? They’re not adding anything to any meaningful discussion, and allowing this kind of hate only encourages them to feel entitled to share it everywhere. I can understand a website that often deals with censorship in China feeling hesitant to censor anyone themselves, but come on. Having community standards isn’t going to impede on anyone’s freedom of speech.

    As for the article, I think the headline nailed it pretty nicely. All this “satire” did was add fuel to a fire, which I’m sure is exactly what the creators wanted. Who cares about human decency or the like when you can get more viewers or ad revenue? It just really sucks that this is further distracting everyone from the Dalai Lama’s visit and China’s alleged “punishment” of Sweden. The only people I saw talking about his initial visit were the far-right because they were happy he said that refugees shouldn’t stay in Europe permanently or they would make Europe lose its cultures.

    • Avatar

      admin

      September 27, 2018 at 5:41 am

      Hi Beth, so sorry that What’s on Weibo has disappointed you. As this site is still run by one single person, we cannot do everything at the same time. We could close this entire comment section off, but would rather not. If you like to see improvement of this site, we welcome any help in the shape of contributed help or donations, so we can focus on the things we should really be focusing on, such as bringing the latest China trends to you, instead of moderating comments. Thanks for your support. Warm regards!

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China Digital

From Tea Farmer to Online Influencer: Uncle Huang and China’s Rural Live Streamers

‘Cunbo’ aka ‘rural livestreaming’ is all the rage. A win-win situation for farmers, viewers, and Alibaba.

Manya Koetse

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This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, originally published in German by Goethe Institut China on Goethe.de: “VOM TEEBAUERN ZUM INFLUENCER: ONKEL HUANG UND CHINAS LÄNDLICHE LIVESTREAMER.” 

The past year has been super tumultuous when it comes to the topics that have been dominating Chinese social media. The Coronavirus crisis was preceded by other big issues that were all the talk online, from the US-China trade war to the protests in Hong-Kong, the swine flu, and heightened censorship and surveillance.

Despite the darker side to China’s online environment, however, there were also positive developments. One of the online trends that became popular this year comes with a term of its own, namely cūnbō (村播): rural livestreaming.  Chinese farmers using livestreaming as a way to sell their products and promote their business have become a more common occurrence on China’s e-commerce and social media platforms. 

mage via Phoenix News (iFeng Finance).

The social media + e-commerce mix, also called ‘social shopping,’ is booming in the PRC. Online platforms where the lines between social media and e-commerce have disappeared are now more popular than ever. There’s the thriving Xiaohongshu (小红书Little Red Book) platform, for example, but apps such as TikTok (known as Douyin in China) also integrate shopping in the social media experience.

Over recent years, China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba has contributed to the rising popularity of ‘social shopping.’ Its Taobao Live unit (also a separate app), which falls under the umbrella of China’s biggest online marketplace Taobao, is solely dedicated to shopping + social media, mainly mobile-centered. It’s a recipe for success: Chinese mobile users spend over six hours online per day, approximately 72% of them shop online, and nearly 65% of mobile internet users watch livestreaming.

Every minute of every day, thousands of online shoppers tune in to dozens of different channels where sellers promote anything from food products to makeup or pet accessories. The sellers, also called ‘hosts’ or ‘presenters,’ make their channels attractive by incorporating makeup tutorials, cooking classes, giving tips and tricks, chatting away and joking, and promising their buyers the best deal or extra presents when purchasing their products.                

Livestreaming on Taobao goes on 24/7 (screenshots from Taobao app by author).

Sometimes thousands of viewers tune in to one channel at the same. They can ‘follow’ their favorite hosts and can interact with them directly by leaving comments on the livestreams. They can compliment the hosts (“You’re so funny!”), ask questions about products (“Does this also come in red?”), or leave practical advice (“You should zoom in when demonstrating this product!”). The product promoted in the livestreams can be directly purchased through the Taobao system.

Over the past year, Alibaba has increased its focus on rural sellers within the livestreaming e-commerce business. Countryside sellers even have their own category highlighted on the Taobao Live app. Chinese tech giant Alibaba launched its ‘cūnbō project’ in the spring of 2019 to promote the use of its Taobao Live app amongst farmers. The most influential livestreaming farmers get signed by Alibaba to elevate Taobao Live’s rural business to a higher level.

One of these influential Chinese farmers who has made a name for himself through livestreaming is Huang Wensheng, a tea farmer from the mountainous Lichuan area in Hunan Province.

Uncle Huang livestreaming from the tea fields (image via Sohu.com)

Huang, who is nicknamed ‘Uncle Farmer,’ sells tea through his channel, where he shows viewers his work and shares stories and songs from his village. He is also known to talk about what he learned throughout his life and will say things such as: “It is important to work hard; not necessarily so much to change the world , but to make sure the world does not change you.”

With just three to five livestreaming sessions per week, ‘Uncle’ Huang reaches up to twenty million viewers per month, and, according to Chinese media reports, has seen a significant increase in his income, earning some 10,000 yuan (€1300) per week.

Huang is not the only farmer from his hometown using Taobao Live to increase their income; there are some hundred rural livestreamers in Lichuan doing the same.

Some random screenshots by author from rural livestreaming channels, where online shoppers get a glimpse of countryside life

The rural livestreaming category is significantly different from the urban fashionistas selling brand makeup and the latest must-haves: these hosts do not have the polished look, glamorous clothes, or stylish backgrounds. They usually film outside while doing their work or offer a glimpse into their often humble rooms or kitchens.

Viewers get to see the source of the products sold by these rural sellers; they often literally go to the fields to show where their agricultural products grow, or film themselves getting the eggs from their chickens or the oranges from the trees. From fruits to potatoes and flowers, and from fresh tea to home-made chili sauce – a wide range of products is promoted and sold through Taobao Live these days.

Some rural livestreamers are trying to stay ahead of their competition by coming up with novel concepts. A young farmer from Sichuan, for example, recently offered viewers the opportunity to “adopt” a rooster from his farm, allowing them to interact with ‘their’ rooster through social media and even throwing the occasional birthday party for some lucky roosters.

Image via sina.com.

Examples such as these show that although the countryside livestreamers usually lack glitter and glam, they can be just as entertaining – or perhaps even more so – than their urban counterparts.

Who benefits from the recent ‘cūnbōboom? One could argue that the rising popularity of livestreaming farmers is a win-win situation from which all participants can profit in some way. The commercial interests are big for Alibaba. The company has been targeting China’s countryside for years, as it’s where China’s biggest consumption growth will happen while mobile internet penetration is still on the rise. Alibaba earns profits from an increasing number of rural e-commerce buyers, as well as e-commerce sellers.

Alibaba’s early focus on the countryside as a new home for e-commerce has previously also led to the phenomenon of so-called ‘Taobao Villages,’ where a certain percentage of rural residents are selling local specialties, farm products or other things via the Taobao platform with relatively little transaction costs.

Many Chinese villages and farmers are profiting from the further spread of Taobao in the countryside. Not only does Alibaba invest in logistics and e-commerce trainings in rural areas, these e-commerce channels are also a way to directly boost sales and income for struggling farmers.

Chinese media predict that the rural livestreaming trend will only become more popular in the years to come, bringing forth many more influential farmers like Huang.

But besides the commercial and financial gains that come from the rising popularity of rural livestreamers, there is also a significant and noteworthy social impact.  At  a time in which China’s rapidly changing society sees a widening gap between urban and rural areas, these rural channels serve as a digital bridge between countryside sellers and urban consumers, offering netizens a real and unpolished look into the lives of farmers in others parts of the country, and gives online buyers more insight and understanding of where their online products came from.

Taobao Live is actually like a traditional “farmers’ market,” but now it is digital, open 24/7, and accessible to anyone with a mobile phone. It’s the Chinese farmers’ market of the 21st century.

By Manya Koetse
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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.

This text was first published by Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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Backgrounder

Coronavirus on Chinese Social Media: The 8 Major Trends in Times of the 2019-nCoV Crisis

The 8 main trends defining the online responses to the Wuhan coronavirus on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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Since the outbreak of the new coronavirus becoming big news in China and around the world, there have been few other topics going trending on Chinese social media than those related to 2019-nCoV. What’s on Weibo gives an overview of the most noteworthy online media trends in China regarding the corona-crisis.

 
By Manya Koetse, further research and news-gathering by Miranda Barnes
 

From panic to patriotism, the outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a wide range of different responses from Chinese netizens and online media outlets over the past few weeks.

Although the first reports on the emergence of a pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan came out in late December, it wasn’t until mid-January that the new virus, belonging to the coronavirus family, started dominating the top trending lists on social media in China and beyond.

The hashtag “Nationally Confirmed Cases of New Pneumonia” (#全国确诊新型肺炎病例#) became one of the biggest news-related topics we have ever seen on Weibo, receiving eight billion views by January 25, and reaching a staggering 13,5 billion views by February 2.

As of February 6th, approximately 28,200 cases of the new virus were confirmed, with over 170 cases reported in countries outside of China. The death toll also became much higher than days before, rising to 564. With these numbers, the coronavirus has exceeded the scale of the 2003 SARS outbreak in terms of infected patients.

Along with the quick spread of the new coronavirus across the country, the general mood and direction of the discussions and trends in the Chinese online media environment have also been in constant flux.

At What’s on Weibo, we have been glued to our social media screens, but because editor-in-chief Manya Koetse has been flooded with daily media requests we have not been able to update the site with regular updates (meanwhile, @manyapan did post regular updates on Twitter).

Here, we will highlight some of the main social media trends we spotted during the outbreak of the new Chinese coronavirus, now and over the past weeks.

 

TREND #1:

Online Backlash against the Eating of Wild Game

As an online media panic broke out around January 20, when a third person had died of the new Wuhan virus, one of the main trends to come up on Chinese social media was an online backlash against the eating of wild game (as reported here by Jessica Colwell).

The backlash flooded Weibo after the downtown Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market (武汉华南海鲜批发市场), selling a wide range of dead and alive wild animals – anything from snakes and crocodiles to rats, hedgehogs or bats, – was identified as the suspected source of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Image posted by Sina Parenting on February 1st.

Since Chinese researchers linked the novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019) to bats, videos and images of bat dishes and people eating bat soon made their rounds on social media.

Many of these videos were actually unrelated to Wuhan, but were used in condemning the practice of eating (illegal/unsafe) wild game in general.

Around January 23, hashtags such as “Support the Banning of Wild Game Markets” (#支持禁绝野味市场#), “Refusing Eating of Wild Game Starts with You” (#拒吃野味从我做起#), “Control Your Mouth, Refuse Wild Game” (#管住嘴拒绝吃野味#) went viral on Weibo.

As images or videos of people eating bats or other exotic animals soon also spread to Twitter and other non-Chinese social media, some English-language media labeled them as “xenophobic” or “racist” – ignoring the fact that the anti-wild game storm actually started in the Chinese online media environment.

Online information leaflet spread by People’s Daily, “Resisting the Consumption of Wild Game Starts with Ourselves”

State media outlets such as People’s Daily, for example, played a role in the online dissemination of information against the eating of wild game and actually hosted some of these hashtag pages on Weibo.

The main argument behind the backlash is that those eating (unsafe, illegal) exotic and/or wild animals could risk their own health and that of their community and that what you eat is also your responsibility in keeping others safe.

A news story of a man hunting wild animals for consumption made its rounds on Weibo this week.

The backlash against the eating of wild game and online anger against people hunting or illegally buying wild animals for consumption is still ongoing, with some directing their anger against Wuhan people in specific.

This has also triggered discussions on Weibo about discrimination – not against Chinese people in general, but against Chinese netizens discriminating against Wuhan people or even against people from the Hubei province.

 

TREND #2:

Fake News and Censorship

Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo are tightly controlled online environments. When certain sensitive topics pop up, such as the anniversary of the Tiananmen protests, the Hong Kong demonstrations in their early phases, or big political events, virtually all related posts and news sharing will sometimes be removed by online censors.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, this was not necessarily the case. From the start, there was a lot of reporting, sharing, and discussion of the virus online.

However, there certainly has been ongoing censorship of the topic. This was mainly done in the case of netizens reposting videos of chaotic situations in streets or at hospitals, but also in the case of ‘fake news’ posts (mostly called “starting rumors”).

Posts that could potentially trigger unrest or panic also were censored. One hashtag that made its rounds around January 22 was “Escaping Wuhan” (#逃离武汉#), with people trying to leave Wuhan before the city would go on lockdown. That hashtag page was soon completely removed from Weibo.

The comments sections of some posts reporting on controversial or sensitive news were also completely turned off (such as this report addressing local authorities in Wuhan allegedly taking donated face masks).

One Weibo user (@魔女小稀), an alleged nurse, posted a video of people in a hospital hallway on January 24th, claiming that “three [dead] bodies” had been lying in a Wuhan hospital for the entire afternoon covered in white sheets without being removed.

The post and the Weibo user were completely removed from the platform on January 25. By that time, however, the video and allegations were already picked up and reposted internationally.

According to Sina News, the post had been completely false; there were no bodies lying around this Wuhan hospital. If there were people covered in white sheets, it was merely people sleeping in the hallway after waiting for a long time.

This is but one of many examples of ‘fake news’ floating around Chinese social media over the past two weeks, with images and videos being placed in a misleading context, people claiming that patient or deceased numbers were much higher than those reported by the official media, and some even bringing up conspiracy theories about the source of the coronavirus (e.g. that the Americans started it, that it leaked from a biolab in Wuhan, etc).

The problem in this issue is, of course, when do we call it ‘fake news’ and when do we call it ‘censorship’? Amid the chaos and uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak, it is not always easy to separate the two.

This is also a contributing factor in the general distrust in official media reports that clearly surfaced on Weibo over the past weeks. “I don’t believe it,” is a sentence popping up everywhere on social media.

Spreading online “rumors” is a crime under China’s Criminal Law and is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Although some foreign media outlets, such as this one, make it seem as though it is illegal to share fake news about the coronavirus in particular, it is actually illegal in China to share fake news in general.

 

TREND #3:

Virus Vigilantism

Another trend we noticed on social media during the wake of the coronavirus outbreak is not just a distrust in official media and authorities, but also distrust in fellow citizens.

One clear example that blew up on Weibo is that of a young woman from Wuhan who posted about her traveling to France – and enjoying nice food – despite suffering from a fever and cough. Because she took fever reducers, she claimed to have passed airport temperature monitors without issue.

The post sparked great anger among Chinese netizens and triggered the so-called ‘human flesh search engine,’ with people digging into her personal details.

The incident even led to the Chinese embassy in France investigating the matter. The woman turned out not to have been infected with the virus.

But there are many examples of people exposing and doxing those who allegedly are hindering the collective goal of minimizing the risk of a further spreading of the virus, for example by not self-isolating after visiting Wuhan.

There’s also been widespread online condemnation of people stealing tissue paper from public elevators. Many apartment buildings around China now provide a box of tissue paper for hygienic reasons so that people do not need to touch the elevator buttons.

Surveillance videos of people stealing these boxes have been making their rounds on Weibo and WeChat, such as this lady in an elevator in Chongqing, with thousands of netizens expressing their anger over their behavior – and sometimes naming and shaming them.

 

TREND #4:

Social Media as a Practical Communication Tool

Soon after the scale of the coronavirus outbreak started to become clear, social media platforms such as Weibo were started to be used as practical communication tools for authorities, (medical) organizations, and individuals to spread information or to ask for help.

Social media is now widely used as a practical communication tool for very general matters in the coronavirus crisis (e.g. providing information on how to avoid getting the virus), but also for more specific issues.

Various hospitals in Wuhan, for example, spread digital leaflets online summing up their specific shortages in supplies (face masks, surgical gloves, etc), and how people and organizations can contribute.

Another example is how authorities at various times use social media to search for people who were on board of certain trains or where passengers were later diagnosed with the virus.

But we have also seen individuals reaching out through social media. One woman, for example, reached out to netizens online after she and her husband fell ill and needed someone to look after their children.

Through the help of social media, there are now also local volunteers who help taking care of people’s pets while they are unable to return home to feed them.

One of the hashtags increasingly receiving attention online since early February is “Rescuing the Pets Left Behind in Wuhan Homes” (#武汉滞留家中宠物救援#).

Since January 26, Tencent’s WeChat has also opened a special “epidemic supervision” channel within its app where WeChat users can go to get the latest local information about the virus in their area or ask for medical help.

 

TREND #5:

Propaganda, Pride and Patriotism in Times of Crisis

The outbreak of the coronavirus coincided with the most important holiday of the year in China: the Spring Festival. On Friday, January 24, the CCTV broadcasted its annual Spring Festival Gala (Chunwan), a 4-hour long show that has been airing since 1983. The show is the biggest live TV event in the world, with a viewership of one billion.

The show is usually meticulously planned up to every second – with rehearsals starting months before -, but this year, for the first time ever, it included a segment on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. It showed scenes from inside a Wuhan hospital, and the show’s main presenters paid their respects to all the medical workers working day and night.

The event became trending on Weibo under the hashtag “For the First Time in History, ‘Chunwan’ Includes a Non-Rehearsed Segment” (#春晚历史上首次没有彩排的片段#)

It was during this time, with twenty million people under travel lockdown, that the sentence “Jiayou Wuhan, Jiayou Zhongguo” (“Come on Wuhan, Come on China”) was propagated by state media and became widely used on Chinese social media.

By now, the hashtag “Go Wuhan!” (#武汉加油#, hosted by Party newspaper People’s Daily) has over 12 billion views on Weibo.

“1.4 billion Chinese salute you”

Starting from the Spring Festival weekend, Chinese state media began to propagate more positive, patriotic, and nationalistic messages online during the corona crisis, focusing on the unity of China and the dedication and resilience of common Chinese people, with a specific emphasis on medical and army staff.

It is not uncommon, or actually rather common, for Chinese authorities and state media to propagate nationalism in times of hardship (also see our article on online propaganda during the Hong Kong protests).

 

TREND #6:

Quarantine Boredom: From Panic to Humor

From late January, the first humorous memes and videos starting flooding Chinese social media in light of the coronavirus.

Around January 25, there were over forty confirmed deaths due to the new coronavirus and over 1380 known infected patients. Along with the travel lockdown, most of the major tourist attractions across China had shut down, and driving bans were implemented in the city of Wuhan to restrict people’s movements in efforts to contain the outbreak.

What was supposed to be a time of joy and reunion and entertainment (the Chinese New Year) turned into a time of fear and self-isolation for many families in Wuhan and beyond.

Practically locked up in their homes, some people used humor as a ‘defense mechanism’ in times of coronacrisis.

The videos embedded in the thread below are some examples of people making the most of their times in lockdown.

But besides the creative solutions of people avoiding boredom inside the home, there were also many memes going around WeChat and Weibo making fun of the extreme measures taken by people and authorities, such as this photo below that was allegedly taken at a station in Yiwu, Zhejiang, saying: “Some people got off the train in Yiwu but thought they’d ended up in Saudi Arabia.”

There was also this viral image below of an office canteen where people were self-isolating for safety reasons, saying: “Eating at the cantine of my unit now feels more like taking an exam.”

Videos and images of people using sanitary pads, bras, plastic bags, or even fruit to protect their faces due to a scarcity of face masks also continue to make their rounds on social media, with people sometimes mocking neighbors, their friends or family, or even themselves in the extreme and sometimes silly measures they are taking to avoid getting the coronavirus.

 

TREND #7:

Anger against Local Authorities and Illegal Lock-Ins

As panic over the spreading coronavirus has become bigger over the past few weeks, the voices criticizing local authorities and organizations for mishandling the situation have also grown louder.

While loud criticism of the central government is usually censored before triggering bigger discussions, there has been ample criticism of provincial, city, and county authorities and organizations – and not without consequence.

In Hubei, local authorities have been criticized for, among others, initially censoring reports of an emerging new illness in December of 2019.

The mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, became a major target of netizens’ anger. In late January, Zhou admitted that he had failed in disclosing information in a timely manner and also “did not use effective information” to improve the local government’s work.

The Hubei branch of the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC, 中国红十字会) also received massive criticism online in early February when it turned out that, while the public donated medical supplies and money, most of it remained in the Red Cross warehouse.

On February 4, Chinese state media reported that the Hubei Red Cross deputy director had been removed from office and dismissed from the leading Party members group of the RCSC branch.

On village and prefecture-level, there has also been public condemnation of how authorities are handling the corona crisis.

Some videos going around social media showed how people, seemingly against their will, were locked up inside their own homes by local authorities after returning from Wuhan (“武汉返乡人员”).

China Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League of China, also condemned these practices as “illegal” and “inhumane” in an article that has since been deleted.

Through a new WeChat function mentioned earlier in this post, Chinese netizens can now also report any mishandlings of the coronavirus situation.

At the time of writing, there seems to have been some increased censorship, but nevertheless, criticism on local authorities keeps flooding Weibo.

“While people are busy helping themselves and each other, what are the leaders of Hubei and Wuhan doing?”, some people wonder: “Supplies in the hospitals are still scarce, there are still people who are unable to receive help!”

 

TREND #8:

Corona Panic Buying

It was around January 21st when the coronavirus panic reached a peak in China; a third infected patient had died of the virus the day before, the first cases were confirmed outside of China, and several big travel platforms had started to offer refunds or change flights via Wuhan.

Similar to the SARS outbreak in 2003, news of the coronavirus led to waves of “scare shopping” – a trend that also became very visible on social media.

Medical face masks soon sold out in Chinese pharmacies and on e-commerce platforms: around 80 million face masks were sold on Alibaba’s Taobao platform alone on January 20 and January 21st. Those (online) shops still offering face masks exploited the shortage of face masks, and would only sell them at exorbitant prices.

Twenty dollars for a face mask?

Although Alibaba soon announced it would remove sales of face masks from shops that were selling them at unstable prices, the sales and availability of (disposable) N95 masks is still an issue across China, with netizens complaining about it on Weibo every single day.

Another example of consumer panic followed the Jan 31st reports by two medical research institutions on the TCM oral medicine Shuanghuanglian, which would allegedly be effective in combating the new coronavirus.

Shortly after the reports came out, the herbal remedy sold out in stores across the country.

Chinese state media now warn people against “irrational purchases,” saying that the effectivity of herbal remedies such as Shuanghuanglian is still unsure.

Panic buying is a trend that is not just visible on Chinese social media, it is a trend that also seems to be triggered through social media, with rumors and reports of existing shortages of certain products leading to panic.

A clear example is the February 5 run on toilet paper in Hong Kong after rumors spread that the coronavirus outbreak would lead to insufficient supplies.

 

As there are still many new developments and news reports coming out concerning the coronavirus, we will keep on publishing more on What’s on Weibo about what’s trending on Chinese social media. (Also read: Distrust and despair on WeChat and Weibo after the death of Wuhan whistleblower Li Wenliang).

If it’s quiet here, please also follow us on Twitter here and here.

By Manya Koetse, additional research and news-gathering by Miranda Barnes
Follow @whatsonweibo

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