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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.

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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. 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.

    • 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.

    • 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. 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. 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. 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.

    • 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 Insight

Gamifying Propaganda: Everything You Need to Know about China’s ‘Study Xi’ App

Scoring points by doing Xi-focused quizzes and watching ‘Xi Time’ news: this app takes propaganda to a whole other level.

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A new app that encourages China’s online population to study Xi Jinping Thought has made headlines, both in and outside of China. Here’s everything you need to know about this new interactive propaganda tool. An overview by What’s on Weibo.

On January 1st, the Xué Xí Qiáng Guó app was launched on various Chinese app stores. The app is an initiative by the Propaganda Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, and is linked to the xuexi.cn platform, which was first set up in 2018.

The app has been making headlines in Chinese and English-language media this week. The BBC referred to the app as a “little red book,” and reported that members of the ruling Communist Party, as well as state-owned company employees who are not Party members, have allegedly been required to download and use it on a daily basis (Feb 15).

The Guardian reported that government officials in Fujian province and Qingdao city held workshops last month stressing the political importance of the app, and directing local leaders to promote the app across government departments (Feb 15).

Although some reports claim that the app is making its way to top lists of most downloaded apps in China, it only scored a position 72 in the top 100 list of popular Chinese app store 360app at time of writing. The app store does state that the app has been downloaded 76.99 million times, with app users rating it with 2,5 stars out of 5. The app is only available in Chinese, and is not available from the Google Play store or Apple stores outside of China.

The app’s name (学习强国) is translated as the ‘Study Xi Strong Country’ app in various English-language media reports, but a more suitable translation would perhaps be ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China.’1 There’s a wordplay in the name, since the Mandarin word for ‘studying’ is ‘xuéxí’ which also incorporates the name of Xi, and in this context means both ‘Studying’ as well as ‘Study Xi.’

The main slogan of the ‘Study Xi’ app is one of Xi’s own sayings: “Dreams start with studying, careers start from doing” (“梦想从学习开始,事业从实践起步”, loose translation). Both the idea of ‘Dreams’ and of ‘Studying’ are concepts that are consistently promoted in the Xi era, with the idea that the common dream of the people is the ‘Chinese Dream’ of bringing about the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Within this Chinese dream, studying is generally promoted as a “secret weapon” that will strengthen the Party and the nation (Xiao 2016).

 

A Multi-Functional Propaganda Tool

 

So what is the ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ app? It basically is a multi-functional educational platform that offers users various ways to study Xi Jinping Thought, Party history, Chinese culture, history, and much more. Once people are registered on the app, they can also access the platform via PC.

An important part of the app is its news feed: its home page features “recommended” reads that all focus on Xi Jinping and the Party. Another major feature is its ‘quiz’ page: every week, there are different quizzes that users can do, relating to all sorts of things, from Party ideology to famous Chinese poems.

We’ve listed some of the app’s functions below. It is much more than a media app alone; it also has a social function, that allows users to connect with friends, message them, call them, and even send them ‘red envelopes’ (money presents).


The ‘red envelope’ function is made possible through Alipay, the online payment platform that is owned by Ant Financial Services Group, an affiliate company of the Chinese Alibaba Group.

One way for users to verify their identity on the app is also by linking it to their Alipay account. Various media reports also claim that the app is linked to Alibaba’s Ding Ding platform, an enterprise chat app that has a multitude of functions, many of which are also incorparated in the ‘Study Xi’ app (for more about Ding Ding, see our article here).

Given the cooperation with Alibaba, it is perhaps not surprising that upon registering for the app with just my phone number, it already knew my nickname without me putting it in. The app also listed an old smartphone I used some two years ago as a “frequently used” device, although I had just downloaded the app the day before and had never registered for it before.

Twitter user @yanshitou12 also noted that, upon using a friend’s number to register for the app, her Ding Ding conversations were automatically loaded into the chat history, suggesting that Alibaba’s Ding Ding is indeed fully integrated with the app.

Like Ding Ding, the ‘Study Xi’ app also allows users to set up conference calls, send ‘self-deleting’ chats (like Snapchat), and use the app’s calendar function. Its many practical functions make this an app that is especially convenient for China’s 89,5 million Party members to stay close to the Party and its activities.

 

How to Score with Xi

 

The app’s most noteworthy and perhaps also most appealing feature is its scoring system, since it turns studying Party ideology and Xi Jinping Thought into a game.

Those who accumulate enough points can get an item from the app’s ‘prize shop.’ There are also contests which users can join to compete over a Huawei tablet or other items.

One Weibo user shared that she had just received her Modern Chinese Dictionary by mail through the app’s ‘gift shop,’ another person expressed her surprise that a delivery man came to deliver her prize at her door. “Thank you, Propaganda Department!”, she wrote.

The score system works as follows:

  • Upon registering for the app, you receive 1 point.
  • For every article or essay one reads, you get 1 point (one per article, does not work with articles that have already been viewed before).
  • For every video you watch you get 1 point (the same video won’t be credited with an extra point if you see it twice).
  • The time you spend on the app is also rewarded with points: for every 4 minutes of reading, you get 1 point (max 8 points per day).
  • For every 5 minutes of watching a video, you get 1 point (max 8 points per day).
  • You get 1 point for “subscribing” to a media account, which will then show up in your news feed.
  • If you share two articles with friends, you get 1 point.
  • You get 1 point for every two articles or essays you ‘save’ within the app.
  • If you score 100% on a quiz, you get 10 points.

What is quite remarkable about the app, is that it encourages users to ‘Study Xi’ at particular times of the day. The morning 6:00-8:30 timeframe, along with the 12:00-14:00 slot and evening 20:00-22:30 times, are designated as so-called “active time slots” during which users can score double points for their activities. Within these time slots, reading an article would, for example, grant a user 2 points instead of 1.

This signals that, in line with good working morale, people are supposed to look into the app during their morning commute, their lunch break, and before bedtime, and are indirectly discouraged from using it during (office) working hours.

The points that are scored on the app will be valid for two years.

On Weibo, some netizens are quite serious about the ‘gaming’ aspect of this app, and have already found ways to cheat the system. They share tips and tricks on how to score within the app: points are credited within 10 seconds of clicking an article, for example, and watching videos can be easily rewarded with a point if one immediately scrolls to the end.

Through the PC version of the app, it is easy to let certain videos play while scrolling the internet, basically earning points without actually watching the videos.

“Thanks,” many commenters reply to these cheating tricks: “Just what I was looking for.” “I already received 50 points in one day!”

 

A Library in Your Pocket: Media, Books, Movies

 

The ‘Study Xi’ app focuses on some dozen media outlets that users can subscribe to and which also show up in the ‘recommended’ homepage feed.

Incorporated in the app are state media outlets China Daily (中国日报网), People’s Daily (人民网), Xinhua (新华), Qiushi Journal (求是网), China Military Web (中国军网), Economic Daily (经济日报), and others.

The app also incorporates local ‘Study Xi’ platforms, from Hubei to Jiangxi, from Shandong to Fujian.

Besides these media, the app also has TV channels people can watch videos on, from CCTV News to a special ‘Xi Time’ news programme, to various TV dramas, including Turbulence of the Mu Clan (木府风云) and Romance of Our Parents (父母爱情).

“Xi Time” news clips focus on the activities of Xi Jinping.

There is also a movie section within the app, where users can watch classics such as The Long March (长征), The Founding Ceremony of the Nation (开国大典), films on Deng Xiaoping or Zhou Enlai, and various movies that focus on the Second Sino-Japanese War.

The ‘Study Xi’ library section grants users access to dozens of books. On the desktop version, the library is shown as an actual office, where you can click on the books that are displayed on the shelves and read them.

Some books are those by Xi Jinping, including The Governance of China (习近平谈治国理政), but there are also books by the famous Chinese author Lu Xun, or the 20th-century classic Rickshaw Boy by Lao She, and various works on calligraphy and poetry.

There is also an entire section of books available from a whole range of topics varying from astronomy to maths, biology, and geography. The books are available for online reading in pdf.

In general, you could say that the selection of media, videos, and books all fall into the categories of Chinese traditional culture and canonical literature, historical themes, science and technology, and the political themes of Party ideology and the Xi Jinping Thought that focuses on ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ (中国特色社会主义).

Those who read enough state media and Party articles will easily be able to do the quizzes and weekly questions in the app. Besides the standard ideological questions, it also draws from popular culture; I came across a question that used a trailer of China’s latest sci-fi movie The Wandering Earth that needed to be watched in order to complete the question.

 

Propaganda in the Xi Era

 

So how popular is the app, really? If the headlines in Chinese and non-Chinese media are to be believed, the majority of Chinese internet users are getting hooked on the app. That picture is perhaps the rose-colored one the Party would like to envision, but judging from social media comments and app ratings, reactions have been somewhat lukewarm.

On Weibo, there are some commenters who are sharing their 1000-point status on the app, or who say they enjoy looking into the app right before sleeping.

Dozens of commenters indicate that they have to assist their parents in using the app, or that it is not them, but their parents who are ‘hooked’ on the app – the majority of Weibo users are in the 20-35 years age group.

There are local trainings on making (older) Party members more familiar with the app, how to download it and how to use it. A local Chongqing community Weibo account recently posted the pictures below of their ‘Study Xi’ gathering.

On social media, some commenters complain about the fact that the Chinese Apple store has turned off the review comment sections on the app, despite the fact that it allegedly scored a number one spot in its “educational app” section.

Then there are also quite some commenters who say they often use the app: the score matters to them. In a time when everything is mobile, and online gaming is booming, it seems that ‘Study Xi, Strengthen China’ has made its app all the more relevant by adding the scoring element.

In doing so, the Propaganda Department of the Communist Party is continuing on the same route it has taken for the past couple of years, which shows a clear break with the propaganda machine before the Xi era.

Not only does the propaganda in the Xi era strengthen the idea of Xi as a political idol, it also fully embraces the Internet, the online media environment, and its related pop culture in doing so (also see Chang & Ren 2018).

Since 2017, various noteworthy propaganda moments, such as the 2017 Xi Clapping Game, the cartoonification of Xi, or the One Belt, One Road media publicity hype, all point in the same direction, namely that the Party propaganda will use the modes of communication and technology that are most popular among China’s (younger) online population to reach their audiences.

For now, I am still stuck below 50 points on the ‘Study Xi’ app. The scoring element is powerful: I feel triggered to get my score up. Maybe watch a few more videos, do better on the quiz, and read some more state media articles. I might just be tempted to go back for some more Xi-studies.

By Manya Koetse

1Translation suggested by Helen Wang @helanwanglondon.

References

Chang, J., & Ren, H. 2018. “The powerful image and the imagination of power: the ‘new visual turn’ of the CPC’s propaganda strategy since its 18th National Congress in 2012. Asian Journal of Communication, 28(1), 1–19.

Xiao Junhua 肖君华. 2016. “Dreams Start with Learning – Studying General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Important Discourse on Learning [梦想从学习开始——学习习近平总书记关于学习的重要论述]” Guangming Daily, via CPC News, 7 July http://theory.people.com.cn/n1/2016/0707/c376186-28531506.html [18.1.19].


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Weibo’s Digital Graveyard: Remembering the Dead on Chinese Social Media

‘The Dead’ honors the deceased and tries to break existing taboos on death in China.

Brydon Brancart

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With China’s rapid digitalization and flourishing online media environment, there’s one crucial societal topic that, although taboo, also now finds its place on Chinese social media: this Weibo account collects the stories of the dead and writes their online eulogies. In doing so, they are trying to break longstanding taboos around death in China.

“My grandmother passed away due to illness in 2016. She was 78 years old. My grandmother was a kind soul. She married my grandfather after his divorce. They had never even seen each other before [her] mother and father prepared the marriage, and yet she lovingly cared for him her entire life.” This eulogy was posted on Weibo on February 12th of this year.

Within hours after it was posted, over 100 people had replied with the most popular emoji for these type of posts: the candle.

Since 2011, thousands of these kinds of posts have appeared on Weibo, one of China’s biggest microblogs, thanks to “The Dead” (@逝者如斯夫dead), an account run by a small team dedicated to memorializing the deceased. Through their online memorials, they have encouraged conversation of a taboo topic.

 

HUNTING FOR THE DEAD ON WEIBO

“We wanted to provide a place for people to remember those who had passed away”

 

Starting small, ‘The Dead,’ which borrows its Chinese name from the Confucian phrase “All passes like a river” (逝者如斯夫 Shì zhě rú sī fū), has amassed over half a million followers. “We wanted to provide a place for people to remember those who had passed away,” a team member recently explained to What’s on Weibo.

Weibo users typically contact the account requesting eulogies about their deceased loved one, but such direct requests were rare just a few years ago. Instead, the account started by hunting for the dead among Weibo’s pages. They searched for signs of a user’s passing, like comments about mourning, and then monitoring the account for inactivity.

‘The Dead’ told What’s on Weibo that “while at present most of our information comes from Weibo users,” its team will still “go through the deceased’s page…looking through comments in the discussion section and asking about the user’s current condition” to confirm a death and glean facts for a memorial posting.

Few of its half a million followers personally know the people in the obituaries. But their reaction to its eulogies reveals a deep and often emotional connection to the topic of death.

“Every now and then I go to their page and scroll through the memorials,” one follower writes: “Those people, who were so full of life, passed away just like that. It’s so moving that sometimes I scroll until my eyes fill with tears.”

Another follower comments: “Whenever I’m feeling low I go and scroll through [the page], it always calms me down. I’ve been very inspired by it, thank you.” For many Chinese, such an open discussion of death would have been unthinkable in the past.

 

DEATH AS TABOO

“This taboo has an independent power in shaping human action”

 

Every culture confronts death differently and few do it well. Traditional Chinese culture shunned discussions of death, notes Cheris Shun-Ching Chan, professor of sociology at Hong Kong University.

Chan believes that Confucian silence on questions of death and folk Buddhist references to “a dark world (yinjian) and a cruel hell (diyue)” account for the topic’s avoidance. She also points to fears that a premature death could mark the end of one’s lineage (Chan 2012,37).

Chan’s survey research found that avoidance of any discussion about death was so widespread that it had become taboo. “The taboo manifests as an observable avoidance of the topic,” Chan writes, “particularly unexpected, accidental, or premature death, among not only the elderly but also the generation in their late 20s and 30s” (Chan 2012,36).

While religious belief waned during the tumult of the 20th century, the taboo persisted. “Today, this taboo has an independent power in shaping human action,” Chan argues: “In other words, one does not need to hold beliefs about hell, the dark world, ghosts, evils, and precipitating death in order to observe the taboo” (2012,38-40).

Stifling discussion about death has consequences, big and small. Individuals unwilling to acknowledge death are reluctant to write wills or register as organ donors. Respecting the death taboo, doctors avoid delivering a terminal diagnosis to patients, informing family members instead.

One news story from 1993 exemplifies this taboo on death; when residents near China’s first hospice care center protested the presence of death in their neighborhood, matters turned violent. They started shattering the center’s windows, driving doctors and their patients from the center in the middle of the night. As the health needs of China’s population evolves with its economic growth, the death taboo threatens much more.

In a rapidly aging China, people live longer and deaths cost more than ever before. The World Health Organization reports that eight of the top ten causes of death in China are now due to non-communicable diseases.

As deaths caused by accidents and communicable diseases have dropped, death by stroke, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, and cancer have jumped double digits and with that jump, a commensurate increase in the costly treatments of these diseases.

A 2013 study of the cost of non-communicable disease on the Chinese economy predicted that between 2012-2030, China will spend 27.6 trillion dollars remedying non-communicable disease. The death taboo threatens to leave China unprepared to care for a population living longer thanks to better medical care but dying at higher rates of chronic illness.

Health care in China is free, to a point. According to the Economist, China’s national health-insurance system caps reimbursements for treatment of serious chronic illness like heart disease and end of life care. The death taboo poses a risk to families in a country where it is still considered unfilial by many to pursue a course of treatment other than one meant to cure the patient.

Hospice care, which should be cheaper, is rarely considered and seldom available. While hospice care is now part of the standard course of treatment for end of life care in EU and North America, the death taboo undermines demand for the service. This, in turn, removes pressure on medical insurers to provide hospice coverage. Insurance coverage for hospice care is so limited that families are forced to pay out of pocket for most hospice care.

 

ADDRESSING DEATH

“Everyone ought to admit death’s existence and face up to its realities”

 

Addressing these challenges starts with acknowledging death as a part of life. “People have slowly become more willing to discuss death,” the Weibo ‘The Dead’ team observes: “You can see this in Weibo users openly posting about the passing of loved ones.”

Beyond Weibo, the account’s rejection of the death taboo has also found powerful allies elsewhere. In Beijing, Chen Yi and Luo Ruiqing, children of prominent CCP members, launched the Beijing Living Will Promotion Association, advocating for individuals and families to openly discuss and plan for end of life care.

Yi and Ruiqing explain to Caixin that watching the slow and painful death of their parents with few options for palliative care moved them to take action.

Their website provides information to help individuals decide about the kind of end of life care they want and how to ensure their wishes are followed through the use of a living will, a standard feature of Western health care but new to China.

In Shanghai, Wang Ying, a psychologist who now specializes in end-of-life, is taking a different approach to addressing the same problem. Ying founded Hand in Hand, an organization that encourages individuals to openly discuss their deaths as a form of preparation.

Like Yi and Ruiqing, Ying’s determination to challenge the death taboo stemmed from her conviction that repressing a discussion about end of life care and death causes his elder relatives needless suffering at the end of their lives.

Noting the rising interest in their Weibo account, ‘The Dead’ has recently started a Wechat mini app where users can send manage their own memorials and share them with others. The team believes that Weibo and Wechat allow them to reach out to a large audience all over the country.

They admit, however, that problems of economic disparity have limited their reach, and guess that most of their subjects and contributors are urban dwellers. Still, they are hopeful that their work can help change many people’s perspectives.

“Everyone ought to admit death’s existence and face up to its realities,” they say: “Working hard to live with an understanding of death is a lesson every Chinese person must learn.”

By Brydon Brancart

References (other sources in-text through hyperlinks)

Chan, Cheris Shun-Ching. 2012. Marketing Death: Culture and the Making of a Life Insurance Market in China. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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