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‘Sharenting’ on Chinese Social Media: When Parents Are Posting Too Many Baby Pics on WeChat

‘Shaiwa’ is the Chinese term for ‘Sharenting’ – when does sharing baby pictures on social media become too much?

Manya Koetse

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It’s called ‘Sharenting’ in English, it’s called ‘Shàiwá’ in Mandarin Chinese, and it’s all about parents sharing (too) many photos of their offspring on social media.

To what extent is it okay to post photos of your baby or children on social media, and when does it become too much? These questions are at the heart of a discussion that has been ongoing on Chinese social media recently, with the hashtag “Should You Be Sharenting on Moments?” (#朋友圈该不该晒娃#) receiving 140 million views on Weibo.

‘Moments’ is WeChat’s social-networking function, that allows users to share photos on their own feed that is visible to their friends, family, and other Wechat contacts.

‘Sharenting’ is a word that was coined to describe the overuse of social media by parents to share content based on their children. Around 2013/2014, the word came to be used more frequently in English-language mainstream media. In Chinese, the term for this phenomenon is ‘shài wá‘ (晒娃), which combines the characters for ‘exposing’ and ‘babies.’

Recently, more articles have popped up in Chinese media that take a critical stance towards parents sharing too much about their children on social media, with some WeChat Moments feeds consisting entirely of photos of children.

 

Sharenting Concerns

 

In English-language media and academic circles, the phenomenon of ‘sharenting’ has been a topic of discussion for years. In 2017, Blum-Ross and Livingstone published a study about the phenomenon, highlighting the concerns over it.

Some of these concerns are that ‘sharenting’ might infringe on children’s right to privacy, that it can be exploitative, is possibly exposing children to pedophiles, and might have consequences in terms of data-mining and facial recognition (110).

For parents, the reasons to share photos of their children online are multifold. It could just be to chronicle their lives and share with friends and relatives, but it could also be because they are part of (online) communities where sharing these photos is part of the shared lifestyle and identity (Blum-Ross & Livingstone 2017, 113).

For some, it is a way to express their creativity and this might also lead to some parents gaining financial benefits from doing so, if they are, for example, bloggers incorporating advertisements or sponsored content on their channels.

Recently, the topic became much discussed in the US after actress Gwyneth Paltrow posted a picture on Instagram in late March of her and her 14-year-old daughter Apple Martin skiing. Apple then responded in the comments sections, saying: “Mom, we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent.” The incident sparked discussions on children’s privacy on social media.

 

Whose Choice Is It?

 

In China, there is not just a word for ‘sharenting,’ there is even a word to describe parents who ‘sharent’ like crazy: Shàiwá Kuángmó (晒娃狂魔), meaning something like ‘Sharenting Crazy Devils.’

The phenomenon of sharenting was discussed in Chinese media as early as 2012, when it was mostly the safety issue of ‘sharenting’ that was highlighted: with parents posting photos of their children, along with a lot of personal information, they might unknowingly expose their children to child traffickers, who will easily find out through social media where a child goes to school, and when their parents take them to the park to play.

Recently, discussions on sharenting in China have mainly focused on WeChat as a platform where parents not just post photos of their children, but also post about their school results, their class rankings, and other detailed information. Especially during holidays, WeChat starts flooding with photos of children.

Image via Sina.com

Chinese educational expert Tang Yinghong (唐映红) commented on the issue in a news report by Pear Video, saying that sharenting is a sign of parents missing a certain sense of meaning in their own lives, and letting their children make up for this. Regularly posting about their children’s lives and activities allegedly gives them a certain value, status, and identity.

That they are infringing on the privacy of their children by doing so, Tang argues, is something that a lot of Chinese parents do not even consider. Only if the children agree with their parents sharing their photos, he says, it is okay to do so.

But the majority of commenters do not agree with Tang’s views at all. “So what else are we supposed to post in our ‘Moments’? If we post about our kids, it’s sharenting. If we post about our travels, it’s flaunting wealth. If we post selfies, it’s vanity. We should be free to post what we want in our Moments.”

“Showing off our kids is our own choice, if you don’t want to see it, just block it,” others say.

“He’s not right in what he says. I regularly post my child’s picture. My career is going well and I am happy. The goal of me posting these photos is to keep my WeChat Moments feed alive, and I use it as some sort of photo album,” another Weibo user says.

Some voices do agree with Tang, saying: “First ask your children for permission, they also have their right to privacy.”

 

Kids’ Rights to Privacy

 

But what if the children are too young to give permission? And from what age are they able to really give their consent? The idea of children’s ‘right to privacy’ is a fairly new one in Chinese debates on sharenting. In other countries, these discussions started years ago.

In the Netherlands, sociologists Martje van Ankeren and Katusha Sol argued in a 2011 newspaper article that parents posting photos of their babies and young children on social media are actually infringing on the privacy of their kids, disregarding what sharing the lives of their offspring online might mean for them in the future, just for scoring a few ‘likes’ on Facebook.

The online presence of children often starts from the day they are born now, building throughout their whole childhood. A 2017 UK news article suggested that the average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child online before their fifth birthday. The baby’s first steps, medical issues, ‘funny’ photos and videos of a child with food smeared all over its face – it’s all out there. But what happens to all these online records?

Van Ankeren and Sol argue that the social media presence of children might affect them in the future. What if they are applying for their dream job, but their potential future employee finds out through online research that they had serious health issues as a child? And how do young adults feel about their new friends and acquaintances being able to view all those embarrassing photos of them as a child that their parents ‘tagged’ them in from before they could even remember?

“Everyone should have the right to choose what kind of information they want to share, and with whom. If your parents already did that for you, you lost your freedom of choice before you were even able to consider it,” Van Ankeren and Sol write.

The case of France made headlines last year, as its privacy laws make it possible for grown-up children to sue their parents for posting photos of them on social networks without their consent, which could potentially result in hefty fines or imprisonment.

In China, the debate on kids’ rights to privacy is not yet gaining much attention within the ‘sharenting’ discussions. Some people, however, do speak out about the issue on social media.

“I understand you want to share pictures of your child on ‘Moments’,” one Weibo user (@寒月之瞳) writes: “However, why do you insist on [also] sharing nude photos of your child? Small kids are also people, they have a right to privacy. The people on your ‘Moments’ are not all people you know very well. Do you really think it’s a good idea to share these photos?”

An article in the Chinese Baby Sina outlet writes: “Parents have to protect the privacy of their kids, before posting a photo of them on the internet, think about how it might influence them.”

For most commenters on Chinese social media, however, posting pictures of their children online is just an innocent pastime: “I post on WeChat Moments every day. If it’s not photos of my child, I post about the dinner I cooked or the parties I attend. WeChat Moments is about sharing your life, and in my life, my child is what matters most. It’s only natural that most of my photos are of my child.”

“People shouldn’t meddle in other’s people’s business. Whether or not I want to post my child’s photos is up to me.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Blum-Ross, Alicia and Sonia Livingstone. 2017. “”Sharenting,” Parent Blogging, and the Boundaries of the Digital Self.” Popular Communication 15 (2): 110-125.

Van Ankeren, Martje and Katusha Sol. 2011. “Willempje wil geen Facebookpagina.” Nov 2, NRC: 12.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 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 Insight

Chairman Rabbit vs Hu Xijin: Divided Nationalists on Weibo

Hu’s personal opinions should not be mistaken for China’s official stance nor guide Chinese online public opinion, Chairman Rabbit argues.

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Political commentator Hu Xijin was an influential online voice in the days surrounding Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Chinese blogging account Chairman Rabbit lashed out against Hu, saying he misled public opinion at a time when his statements should have matched the official stance.

On August 3rd, a day after Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, Chinese blogger Chairman Rabbit (兔主席) posted a long piece of text on Weibo rebuking political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) for his overdosed hawkish claims leading up to Pelosi’s controversial visit.

Following the post by Chairman Rabbit, grandson of a former CCP leader, Chinese social media saw many discussions and a wave of criticism against Hu and his overaggressive position.

In his since-deleted post, Chairman Rabbit demanded stricter regulation of Hu’s public statements due to his perceived ties with the Chinese government.

Hu Xijin is a Chinese journalist and the former editor-in-chief and party secretary of Global Times, a Chinese and English-language media outlet under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper.

Although he retired from his job, Hu is still a very active commentator on political affairs via social media. With nearly 25 million fans on Weibo and over half a million followers on Twitter, his posts and statements often go trending and influence public opinions.

Chairman Rabbit argued that Hu has built a credible reputation in his field, both within China and abroad, where he is generally perceived as having certain authority to speak about China’s political affairs – with some foreign media almost regarding him as some sort of spokesman for the Chinese government. Meanwhile, according to Chairman Rabbit, Hu uses this credibility to promote his own personal views.

“He was too loud. It would make the people think that [China’s] actions are not enough, bringing about disappointment and distrust. This is damaging to the morale of the people and also to the credibility of the government,” Chairman Rabbit wrote.

 

Two Political Commentators “Protecting China’s National Interests”

 

Chairman Rabbit is the alias of Ren Yi (任意), a Harvard-educated Chinese blogger who currently has over 1.8 million followers on Weibo, where he calls himself a ‘history blogger.’ He is also the grandson of former Chinese politician Ren Zhongyi (任仲夷), who was a leader in China’s reform period since the late 1970s. ‘Chairman Rabbit’ is known as a nationalist, conservative political commentator who often comments on US-related issues and current affairs (for more on his background, check out this article by Tianyi Xu).

The Chinese blogger’s post came after a week in which Hu Xijin recurringly went trending for his strong condemnation of a potential visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Pelosi.

Hu suggested that a Taiwan visit by Pelosi would be a clear provocation of China, giving the PLA “good reason” for “waging a war.” One of Hu’s tweets, in which he voiced the view that U.S. military planes escorting Pelosi to Taiwan could potentially be shot down, was deleted by Twitter on July 30. Afterward, Hu reiterated his views on Weibo and criticized Western censorship.

Hu Xijin tweet which was deleted by Twitter on July 30.

Chairman Rabbit wrote about Hu:

“(..) as we can see time and again, he lacks judgment and accurate sources of information on some major issues (..), and he represents only his personal views, which may be misdirected. If his views were perceived as being purely personal, they would not receive nearly as much attention – his “authority figure” status is the key to everything, and he is perceived as having a special channel to represent authorities.”

In the post, Chairman Rabbit accuses Hu of using his status to promote his own views and to influence the public debate and the international view of China to gain clout.

Hu Xijin responded to the post himself on his Weibo account, suggesting he felt betrayed and “deeply puzzled” to be attacked by someone he considered a “friend who worked together [with me] to defend China’s national interests,” writing: “I originally saw them as allies, yet right in the heat of the moment, I was surprised to find that that they suddenly turned their guns to aim it at me.”

In the same post, Hu still defended his own words, arguing that despite his “limited power” he still does what he can to “protect China’s national interests.”

 

“Frisbee Hu”

 

The Chairman Rabbit vs Hu Xijin dispute caught the attention of Chinese netizens, including the liberals and conservatives on Chinese social media.

With his muscle-flexing language, Hu seemingly regained popularity amongst die-hard nationalists on Weibo after long being suspected of being a “gongzhi” (公知), a derogatory use of the term “public intellectual.” The latest controversy shows that the interests of online nationalists do not always align with the official government stances.

It also shows a division between populist nationalists and the more elite or ‘establishment’ nationalists on Chinese social media. The former operate independently and are willing to pressure the government toward a more hostile foreign policy, while the latter follow the decisions of the government and respond to them.

Hu is known for commenting on political issues and tuning into official narratives, which even led to him being nicknamed “Frisbee Hu” (胡叼盘), suggesting he can catch the ‘frisbees’ thrown by the Communist Party like a dog catches his toy.

However, it seems he did not catch their ‘frisbee’ this time. For the CCP, it arguably would be not a wise choice to engage in any kind of military conflict at this time, knowing the unpredictable societal changes it may bring to its regime, especially ahead of Xi Jinping’s bid for a third term in office at the 20th party congress later this year.

Authorities did emphasize that China would not “idly sit by” if Pelosi would visit Taiwan. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned the U.S. on August 1st that if the U.S. House speaker would visit Taipei, “the Chinese side will respond resolutely and take strong countermeasures to defend our sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

But the aggressiveness of Hu Xijin’s posts perhaps went beyond what the authorities had in mind. According to Chairman Rabbit, Hu “influenced public opinion, and China’s international image as well. What he got in the end was traffic for his own account.”

 

Instruments to Govern the Public Sphere

 

On social media, Hu still received a lot of support while others agreed with Chairman Rabbit that Hu was chasing clout and that his words have consequences. Although that is not necessarily bad – as his influence can mobilize and channel public rage in a time of strict Covid measures and a declining economy, – it can also backfire and reflect negatively on the government when they fail to meet the public’s expectations.

Chairman Rabbit suggests that it might be better for Hu to put a disclaimer and clarification at the top of any statement to make it clear that his views are personal and do not represent the official view.

This is not the first time Hu gets caught up in a conflict between Chinese populist and establishment nationalists. In 2021, Hu had a public spat with Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University. When Shen Yi defended a controversial post by the CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission which put an image of the Chinese rocket launch besides that of a mass cremation in India, Hu argued that official accounts should not ridicule India’s Covid deaths but “express sympathy for India, and place Chinese society firmly on the moral high ground” (read here).

At that time, however, Hu sided with the so-called ‘establishment nationalists’ advocating for more decent public expressions from an official government account at a time when their neighboring country was mourning the victims of their Covid outbreak.

Disputes such as ‘Hu vs Shen’ and ‘Hu vs Chairman Rabbit’ could be seen as instruments to govern the public sphere, shifting the focus of attention amid online storms. The ‘Hu vs Shen’ public spat shifted the subject from whether it is moral to ridicule a neighboring country for its tragedy to whether it is good for an official government account to ridicule a neighboring country for its tragedy.

Similarly, the ‘Hu vs. Chairman Rabbit’ dispute shifted the subject from whether it is moral to wage a war over Pelosi’s visit to whether it would be in China’s best national interests to wage a war and to the influence of online public commentators within this matter.

Chairman Rabbit posted a second lengthy post regarding the dispute on August 4th, in which he again reiterated his stance that Hu Xijin’s tone on social media did not match the official stance, and that Hu, with limited diplomatic and military knowledge, miscalculated his response to the Pelosi issue and guided public opinion in the wrong direction.

The dispute between the two influential commentators triggered discussions, with some bloggers wondering when the next round of bickering is going to take place. In doing so, Chairman Rabbit has also been instrumental in channeling nationalist sentiments and creating some calm after the online storm following Pelosi’s visit.

“I think the Propaganda Department needs take responsibility, as they tacitly accepted Hu Xijin’s influence on public opinion. They can’t later shift all the blame to a person who’s already retired,” one popular comment said: “Those who are responsible should take responsibility! Our propaganda has always seen some problems, both internally as well as externally.”

Other commenters think Hu Xijin is getting too much credit for being held responsible for shifting public opinion. “My friends don’t even know who Hu Xijin is, yet they had also shifted in the ‘prepare for war’ direction,” one Weibo user writes, with another person adding: “He’s just saying out loud what I was thinking already. If everyone said it, it might be blocked, but he can speak for us.”

“Hindsight is 20/20,” others say: “And we might need hawkish expressions such as those published by Hu. I still support him.”

By Xiuyu Lian and Manya Koetse

 

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China Insight

Pelosi in Taiwan: “1.4 Billion People Do Not Agree with Interference in China’s Sovereignty Issues”

“The Old Witch has landed!”, many commenters wrote on Weibo when Pelosi arrived in Taiwan.

Manya Koetse

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August 2nd was a tumultuous day on Chinese social media, with millions of netizens closely following how Pelosi’s plane landed in Taiwan. Chinese state media propagate the message that not only Chinese authorities condemn the move, but that the Chinese people denounce it just as much.

Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan is all the talk on Weibo, where netizens are closely following the latest developments and what they might mean for the near future of Taiwan and Sino-American relations.

“Today is a sensitive time, as it is said that Pelosi will fly into Taiwan tonight, challenging the one-China principle,” Global Times political commentator Hu Xijin wrote on Weibo on Tuesday afternoon, while Pelosi’s plane was still en route:

“At this time I’d like to tell everyone, that I firmly believe the Chinese government will definitely take a series of countermeasures, which include military actions. The Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of National Defense have repeatedly said they are “on the alert and combat-ready” and will not “sit and watch.” This is the country’s prestige, how could they not hit back? So let’s wait and see what will happen next.”

Tuesday was an extremely tumultuous day on Chinese social media as Taiwan- and Pelosi-related hashtags popped up one after the other, and news and videos kept flooding the platform, sometimes leading to a temporary overload of Weibo’s servers.

Around 20.30, an hour before Pelosi was expected to land in Taiwan at that time, more than half of all the trending search topics on Weibo related to Pelosi and Taiwan as virtually everyone was following the plane’s route and when it would land.

Not long before the expected landing of Pelosi’s plane, footage circulated on Weibo showing the iconic Taipei 101 building with a display of greetings to Pelosi, welcoming her to Taiwan and thanking her for her support.

By Tuesday night, Chinese official channels promoted the hashtags “The United States Plays With Fire & Will Burn Itself by Taiwan Involvement Provocation” (#美台勾连挑衅玩火必自焚#) along with the hashtag “1.4 Billion People Do Not Agree with Interference in China’s Sovereignty Issues” (​​#干涉中国主权问题14亿人不答应#).

Image posted by Communist Youth League on Weibo.

Millions of Chinese netizens followed flight radar livestreams, with one livestream by China.org receiving over 70 million viewers at one point.

On Tuesday night at 22:44 local time, after taking a detour, Pelosi’s plane finally landed in Taipei. About eight minutes later, Nancy Pelosi, wearing a pink suit, stepped out of the plane together with her delegation.

“The Old Witch has landed!”, many commenters wrote on Weibo, where Nancy Pelosi has been nicknamed ‘Old Witch’ recently.

Not long after, Hu Xijin posted on both on Twitter (in English) and on Weibo (in Chinese), writing that Pelosi’s landing in Taiwan opened an “era of high-intensity competition between China and US over Taiwan Strait.” Hu wrote that the PLA is announcing a series of actions, including military drill operations and live-fire exercises in zones surrounding Taiwan from August 4 to 7.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying (华春莹) also posted a series of tweets condemning the “wrong and dangerous path” the U.S. is allegedly heading down, reiterating the same ‘1.4 billion people do not agree’ narrative that was previously propagated on Weibo by official channels: “Making themselves an enemy of the 1.4 billion Chinese people will not end up well. Acting like a bully in front of the whole world will only make everyone see that the US is the biggest danger to world peace.”

Many netizens expressed frustrations over how seemingly easy it was for Pelosi to land in Taiwan despite repeated warnings. “It’s not like I want us to go to war,” one person wrote on Weibo: “But they are getting off too easy. For days we shouted about countermeasures, what kind of countermeasure is this?”

“Even our community guard who makes 1500 a month [$220] does a better job; if he says you can’t come in, you can’t come in,” another blogger wrote.

The majority of commenters do express their dissatisfaction and anger about Pelosi coming to Taiwan, some even writing: “I hope that Taiwan is liberated when I wake up” or “We must unify again, once the Old Witch is gone, we can do so.”

Passed midnight the hashtag “There Is But One China” (#只有一个中国#), initiated by CCTV, picked up on Weibo and received over 320 million views. The post by CCTV that only said “there is but one China” was forwarded on Weibo over 1,3 million times.

“Taiwan is China’s Taiwan,” many people commented.

“I don’t think I can sleep tonight,” some wrote.

Meanwhile, on FreeWeibo, a website monitoring censored posts on Chinese social media platform Weibo, there are some posts casting another light on the Taiwan issue.

“Regarding ‘Taiwan is China’s Taiwan.’ Every person can vote, there’s multi-party rule, and there can be democratic elections. Only then can we talk about a reunification,” one comment said. It was censored shortly after.

For our other articles relating to Pelosi and her Taiwan visit, click here.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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