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Storm of Criticism over Proposal to Lower China’s Legal Marriage Age to 18

National People’s Congress deputy Huang Xihua (黄细花) has called for lowering China’s legal marriage age, from 22 for men and 20 for women, to a minimum age of 18. On Weibo, many people are not happy about the proposal – with some finding it outright shocking.

Manya Koetse

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National People’s Congress deputy Huang Xihua (黄细花) has called for lowering China’s legal marriage age, from 22 for men and 20 for women, to a minimum age of 18. On Weibo, many people are not happy about the proposal – with some finding it outright shocking.

The topic “Legal Age for Marriage Lowered to 18” (#法定婚龄降到18岁#) became trending on Sina Weibo on March 4 after Huang Xihua (黄细花), a National People’s Congress deputy, called for China’s legal age for marriage to be lowered to 18 during China’s Two Sessions.

According to Sina’s social media channel “People’s Topics” (@全民话题), Huang argues that lowering the legal age of marriage is not necessarily to promote early marriage, but to give more rights to young people.

In 2012, Huang already proposed to change China’s marriage law, something which also triggered controversy at the time. The current marriageable age in China is 22 for men, 20 for women.

 

“If you want people to have more babies, just cut off the country’s internet after 8 pm.”

 

On Weibo, many netizens are not happy about Huang’s proposal. Some even say they find it “shocking”, and are afraid that such a measure will negatively affect the status of women in Chinese society and increase the nation’s divorce rates.

“Won’t this lead to a drop in the percentage of women with a higher education?”, some wonder.

Many others have similar worries. As one person writes: “Lowering the age of marriage will lead to more young people taking wrong steps in life. Especially for women; getting married at a young age and having children will lead to fewer women pursuing higher education.” Others also think that 18-year-olds are not yet experienced enough to get married.

“This is all just about increasing China’s birth rates,” one person comments: “But if you want people to have more babies, just cut off the internet across the country after 8 pm – that’ll work too.”

China is currently facing demographic challenges as society is aging. Although the implementation of the “Two Child Policy” in October 2015 caused an increase in birth rates, the figure still falls short of government’s estimations for the population to reach 1.42 billion by 2020, and might be too low to balance the consequences of the aging society and the shrinking workforce.

Earlier this year Chinese state media hinted at legalizing surrogacy to increase birth rates, something which greatly angered many people on social media who felt that women were treated as “breeding machines.”

In 2016, China also canceled the ‘late marriage leave‘, the 30-day paid leave when getting married over the age of 25. The paid leave was introduced at the time of the one-child policy to encourage people to postpone marriage and childbirth (“晚生晚育”) in order to help control China’s population growth.

 

“The safety of the air we breath is much more relevant than how old we are when we marry.”

 

There are also many people who don’t see the relevancy of the proposal. “This is not important at all!”, one netizen says: “What is much more important is to pay attention to the problems of the people – to focus on the safety of what we eat, what we drink, and of the air that we breathe. That’s much more relevant than how old we are when we marry.”

“It makes no sense. What 18-year-old has the financial capacity to get married anyway?”, another commenter says.

According to the South China Morning Post, Huang Xihua also proposed to scrap the two child policy and allow couples to have as many children as they want to increase the population. This proposal, remarkably, received much less attention on Chinese social media.

This photo of a mother cat and her kittens was used by Sina News when writing about Huang’s proposal to scrap the ‘two child policy.’

Huang Xihua is also an active user of Weibo (@黄细花), where she is currently facing quite some backlash on her home page, with people criticizing her proposals and some even wondering why Huang is in the National People’s Congress at all.

“How can a person with such an IQ represent us?”, one person says. “She just wants to be famous,” some say.

What about the minimum age for marriage in other countries? In neighboring countries South Korea and Japan, the legal age to get married is 18 for boys and 16 for girls. In the UK, the legal marriageable age is 16, while in some states in America, it is even legal for 14-year-olds to get married. As this chart shows, China globally has the highest minimum age for marriage for men (22).

In China’s Marriage Law of 1950, the age requirement for marriage was 20 for men and 18 for women. This was revised in the Marriage Law of 1980 to 22 for men and 20 for women to promote population control.

Amid a storm of criticism, there are also some who support the proposition: “I’m in favor of this proposal. If the legal minimum marriage age is 18, it doesn’t mean you have to get married at 18. In the end it’s just a personal choice.”

– By Manya Koetse

©2017 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 History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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