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“The Biden Era is Approaching”: Discussions of U.S.-China Relations under the ‘Sleepy King’

Now that the electoral storm has somewhat settled, the issue of what Sino-American might look like under Biden is much discussed in Chinese online media.

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Joe Biden on the Great Wall, CCTV 拜登到中国爬长城 http://news.cctv.com/world/20081105/123682_3.shtml

Now that the storm of jokes and memes surrounding the American elections has settled, more serious discussions regarding Biden’s win and what it might mean for China are surfacing in China’s online media environment. These commentators and academics approach the subject from different angles.

The American elections have been a major topic of discussion in the Chinese social media environment over the past weeks.

For many netizens on Weibo and beyond, the presidential race was one between the ‘King of Understanding’ (懂王, also ‘King of Knowing’) and the ‘Sleepy King’ (睡王).

Trump’s quotes on the things he knows and understands “more than anyone else” have become somewhat famous on Chinese social media (“people are really surprised I understand this stuff‘”), earning him the ‘King of Knowing’ nickname.

Trump’s nickname explained by Global Times.

Joe Biden got his nickname for dozing off during a speech and for an edited (fake) video that went viral in which Biden was seemingly falling asleep during a live interview.

But the Democrat has more nicknames on Chinese social media, including ‘Grandpa Bai’ (Bài yéyé 拜爷爷), or the cute ‘Dēngdēng‘ (登登).

His name in Chinese is usually written as (Bàidēng 拜登), although netizens have made up many more creative ways to write his name (拜灯, 白等, 败蹬).

Now that it has become clear that former Vice President Joe Biden has won the 2020 US presidential race, Chinese media, bloggers, and netizens are reflecting on the Biden victory with a more serious tone, with the phrase “the Biden era is approaching” recurringly popping up on social media.

There are many articles and posts in China’s online media sphere that focus on Biden’s journey to the presidency, including how he faced family and personal tragedy during his political career.

But, as noted in our previous article on Chinese discussions on Trump versus Biden, most of the online articles and posts about the outcome of the American elections focus on what the shift in power might mean for China and Chinese–U.S. relations.

Over the past few days, Chinese media outlets have posted several interviews, op-eds, and videos of Chinese experts discussing the future prospects of Sino-American relations under Biden. We have selected some of these that have become popular on Weibo or news app Toutiao.

 

Hu Xijin: “The shift of American leadership has no intrinsic meaning for Sino-American relations.”

 

“Is anyone under the illusion that Biden’s rise to power will lead to a major U.S.-China détente? I’m certainly not. And neither is anyone in my circles, whether they’re journalists, academics, or officials.”

Hu Xijin (胡锡进), the editor-in-chief of the Global Times – a daily newspaper under the auspices of Party news outlet People’s Daily -, has over 23 million fans on his Weibo account. He frequently posts lengthy texts about his views on current news developments, both on Chinese social media as on Twitter (@HuXijin_GT). (For more about Hu Xijin, also check out this SupChina article.)

On November 9, Hu posted about the Biden win, writing:

Along with China’s further development, America’s strategic precautions against China will only get heavier. China only needs its own continuously growing strength to draw a baseline for the United States in its relations with China. The shift of American leadership has no intrinsic meaning for Sino-American relations. I reckon this already is the general consensus of China’s mainstream society.”

This view, that it does not really matter whether Biden or Trump leads the U.S. for the next four years, was also reiterated in a recent blog post published by Global Times in which the author wrote: “Regardless if it’s the Democrats or the Republicans, both hold a negative stance when it comes to the China issue. (..) No matter who comes to power in the future, there is a high probability that they will continue to suppress China.”

In his November 9 post, Hu Xijin stressed that the outcome of the American elections is not of great significance for the status-quo of Sino-American relations, but he did add that Biden’s win might possibly positively affect the irregular patterns of current Sino-American relations. The political mistrust and power games that took place under the Trump presidency might make way for a period of U.S.-China relations that is less tense.

One of the most popular comments in response to Hu’s post basically summarized Hu’s message, writing: “America’s goal is to suppress China. The leaders might be different, the methods might not be the same, but the goal remains unchanged.”

 

Prof. Shen Yi: “It’s all for the betterment of the US – not for China.”

 

Shen Yi (沈逸) is the Associate Professor of the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Fudan University. On Weibo, he has over 927,000 fans.

On November 10, Shen commented on Biden’s win through a video that was published on Chinese social media by The Observer (观察者).

Shen’s view is somewhat different than that of Hu. Instead of arguing that it does not matter whether Biden or Trump takes office, Shen argues that Chinese people should not mistake foreign politicians for friends, and remember that U.S.-China relations are all about power politics. Even though Chinese netizens sometimes warm up to American leaders like ‘Grandpa Bai’ (拜爷爷), and jokingly make them part of their daily discussions, their views of them should be more serious.

Shen says: “When the American media announced Biden’s victory, there were even some people in China who ‘shed tears of gratitude’, thinking that Sino-American relations will now get back on track.” But Shen gives a warning to those who sighed with relief about Biden’s win, saying: “You should not forget that Biden is a politician. He is an American politician. (..) He is not a Chinese leader.”

Shen suggests that even if Biden would relax some of the tougher China policies after he takes office, for example regarding trade or technology, he would only do so for the betterment of the U.S., not because it would help China. Trump put ‘America first’, but so will future U.S. leaders: “It’s all for themselves.”

Shen mentions that Chinese people should draw a lesson from China’s position during the Korean War and its ‘Resist America, Aid North Korea’ campaign, when China fought on Korean soil to counter ‘American aggression.’ In the worst-case scenario, he argues, China would again firmly stand ground against U.S. powers: “To combat American hegemony, we can only respond with the only language they can understand.”

 

Prof. Yao Yang: “It’s impossible to go back to how U.S.-China relations used to be.”

 

“During Trump’s four years in office, he’s established a political heritage that can’t be immediately erased – including the worsened relations between the U.S. and China. If Biden takes power, will there be a shift in Sino-American relations?”

Yao Yang (姚洋) is the dean and professor at the National School of Development of Peking University. He previously also taught at the University of Washington and New York.

In a recent op-ed for Beijing News, the professor writes that in these initial discussions of what Biden’s office might mean for the future of the relations between Beijing and Washington, it must first be acknowledged that Chinese-U.S. relations will never go back to how they used to be.

Whereas Hu took a stance from the perspective of the people, and Shen discussed the upcoming Biden era from the stance of international power relations, Yang approaches the subject through a more historical lens.

Yang argues that the tensions between China and the U.S. did not start with Trump. Obama’s “pivot to Asia” strategy, which tried to peacefully contain China’s ambitions, disrupted the general tranquility that existed before 2008. “China started to be seen as a rival,” Yang writes, adding that this idea of the U.S. and China being geopolitical competitors was continued under Trump and is expected to remain the same under Biden.

Looking back at half a century of U.S.-China relations, Yang claims that the friendly relations between the two countries in the 1970s and 1980s were because of the changing relations with the Soviet-Union and that the U.S. policy of engagement with China from the 1990s to 2010 was based on the hope that China would become more like the United States.

When, around 2010, it became clear to the U.S. elite and leadership that China was not going to be Americanized and that the Chinese path to development was actually successful, the response was one of resentment. Yang asserts that the China policies during the four years under Trump show this angry response towards a China that has taken a different route than America had hoped for during the decades preceding 2010.

Does this mean that nothing will change for U.S.-China relations under Biden? Not necessarily so. Although the two countries will remain to have a competitive relationship, Yang does expect China and the U.S. to have more peaceful relations under the administration of Biden, which will shift away from Trump’s “Cold War mentality” towards China.

 

Zheng Yongnian: “Biden’s China Policy will be much more predictable.”

 

An interview with Chinese political scientist and political commentator Zheng Yongnian (郑永年) was posted by 21st Century Business Herald (21世纪经济报道) on November 11, focusing on American politics and Biden.

Zheng holds similar views on the upcoming Biden era as the other commentators mentioned in this article, namely that the general state of China-US relations will not be drastically changed when Biden comes to power.

Zheng does stress, however, that Biden’s win might have a positive impact on the international community at large, bringing more rationality and an intention to cooperate. In that regard, the Biden era will probably be more similar to the Obama presidency, Zheng says.

Although no major changes are expected under Biden when it comes to U.S.-China relations, Zheng does assert that Biden’s win is positive for Chinese leadership because this president will be much more predictable than Donald Trump.

“Biden’s foreign policy will probably be a basic continuation of the Obama era. So of course there will be some change in Sino-American relations. There’s no fear of hard-line [policies], there are mainly worries about unpredictability. Trump would constantly create these black swans, there’s just no way to predict it. The predictability of the Biden team will be stronger than that of Trump.”

More from What’s on Weibo on China–United States relations here.

By Manya Koetse

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Insight

Goodbye 996? Weibo Discussions on Changes in Overtime Work Culture

Beijing made it clear that working overtime is illegal, but netizens are concerned about the realities of changing working schedules.

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Many people are tired of being forced to log long hours, but are also worried about how a national crackdown on ‘996’ working culture could impact their workload and income.

In late August of 2021, China’s Ministry of Human Resources & Social Security (人社部) and the Supreme People’s Court issued a joint clarification on the country’s legal standards of working hours and overtime pay.

Their message was clear: the practices of ‘996’ (working 9am-9pm, six days per week) and ‘007’ (working 24 hours seven days per week, referring to a flexible working system worse than 996) are illegal, and employers are obliged to obey the national working-time regime.

On Weibo, China’s state broadcaster CCTV published a 10-minute long video illustrating the 10 typical cases of overtime work laid out by the ministry and the top court. The moment was marked as the first time for the state-owned broadcaster to publicly comment on overtime work practices.

The Weibo post pointed out that “striving for success is not a shield companies can use to evade legal responsibilities,” and made it clear that employees have the right to “say no to forced overtime.”

The topics of overtime work and China’s 996 work culture generated many discussions on Weibo, with the hashtag “Ministry of Human Resources & Social Security and the Supreme Court Clarify 996 and 007 Are Illegal” (#人社部最高法明确996和007都违法#) generating over 420 million views on the social media platform.

 
“Without implementation and enforcement, the law is useless”
 

The current labor law in China bars employees from working more than 44 hours a week, and any overtime work must be paid.

Although the 996 practice is technically prohibited by law, many companies still enforce the hours informally.

Many employees revealed online that, although the 996 practice is legally prohibited, they were nevertheless being assigned job tasks that exceeded the prescribed working hours.

“Just finished work,” one Weibo user (@介也没嘛) posted with this picture, showing it’s nearing 11PM.

“I wonder if the workload will decrease after all. If it doesn’t change, it means people will now have to work voluntarily,” one Weibo user commented.

People also indicated that, since the start of the pandemic, remote work has become a new norm. Many companies have moved from office to working at home, making it harder to draw the line between regular working hours and overtime hours.

“What really matters is whether working from home includes overtime hours,” one Weibo user wrote. Many netizens complained that their companies wouldn’t explicitly stipulate a 996 schedule; instead, most of them disguise the overtime hours as ‘voluntary’ work.


Many commenters say it takes more comprehensive legislation and tougher law enforcement to really solve the issue of overtime work.

“These regulations are good, but they are basically impossible to implement. Even if they ban ‘996’ and ‘007’ there is no way to regulate the so-called ‘voluntary work,’” one Weibo user wrote.

Some people said that their companies have various performance assessments and that they feared that refusing to work more hours would make them lose their competitive advantage: “The burn-out (内卷 nèijuǎn, ‘involution’) is severe. It is too difficult for us. I have only one day off during the week and I’m so tired,” one person commented.

 
“We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours”
 

China’s 996 work culture has been championed by tech leaders and denounced by workers for years, and it has become an unwritten standard – not just in the tech sector but also in other industries.

While working long hours has been ingrained in Chinese workplace culture since the early days of the country’s internet boom, it later also started to represent ‘a road to success’ for Chinese tech entrepreneurs.

Many Chinese netizens blame Alibaba’s Jack Ma for praising the ‘996’ work system. In 2019, Ma called the 12-hour working day a “huge blessing,” causing much controversy online. During his talk at Kyiv International Economic Forum, Ma said: “(..) ‘996 is the spirit that I encourage Alibaba people to follow. If you want to have a bright future, (..) if you want to be successful, you have to work hard.”

On another occasion, the tech mogul reportedly said: “If you join Alibaba, you should get ready to work 12 hours a day, otherwise why do you come to Alibaba? We don’t need those who comfortably work 8 hours.”

Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group described 996 as a ‘blessing’.

However, after the shocking death of one Chinese delivery man working for food delivery platform Ele.me and the widespread discussions about the ‘996 ICU’ project – which called on tech workers to add names and evidence of excessive hours to a ‘blacklist,’ – the 996 work culture has come under increased scrutiny.

Some people argue that the overtime culture is draining employees and creating an unhealthy work-life balance; others argue that they work for themselves and believe that putting in extra hours will eventually translate to individual success.

While economic growth has slowed down during the pandemic, most companies are persisting with long working hours because they are under pressure to achieve results.

According to an online survey conducted by an influential tech blogging account (@IT观察猿), more than one-third of participants claimed to have one day off per week, and more than one quarter claimed they didn’t have any weekend days off.

 
“The workload is the same, but the income has reduced”
 

Starting from August 1st, ByteDance, the Chinese company behind the popular short-form video app TikTok, dropped its ‘big and small week’ (大小周) – a schedule that previously required employees to work six days in a row every other week.

ByteDance is not the only Chinese tech company that has begun to cut back on its long working hours. More and more companies have decided to drop grueling work schedules.

Kuaishou, another Chinese short-form video app company, stopped scheduling weekend work in July. Since early June, Tencent – China’s largest game publisher – has encouraged people to clock out at 6 pm every Wednesday.

Although these changes seem to signal a positive development, there are also many people who do not support the new measures. When Bytedance announced the changes to its working schedule, news came out that one-third of the employees did not support the decision (#字节跳动1/3员工不支持取消周末加班#).

Those relying on overtime pay said abolishing overtime work will cut their take-home pay by around 20%. Indeed, the first pay-out after the new implementation at Bytedance showed an overall drop of 17% in employees’ wages.

“The workload is the same, but the income has reduced,” one Weibo commenter complained.

One trending discussion on Weibo focused on the question “Do companies need to make up for employees’ financial loss after the abolition of weekend work?” Many comments revealed the situation faced by thousands of struggling workers who value free time but value their income more.

Many on Weibo still wonder whether a company that abolishes ‘996’ will come up with an alternative to compensate those employees who will otherwise inevitably lose vital income.

By Yunyi Wang

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Arts & Entertainment

‘Call Me By Fire’ All-Male Variety Show Becomes Social Media Hit

‘Call Me By Fire’ is the male version of ‘Sister Who Make Waves’ and it’s an instant hit.

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A Chinese reality show starring 33 male celebrities titled Call Me By Fire (披荆斩棘的哥哥) has become an instant hit after its premiere on Mango TV last week.

The show is considered the male version of the hit variety show Sisters Who Make Waves (乘风破浪的姐姐, read more here) but with different rules. The contestants, ranging from age 27 to 57, are all in the entertainment industry; the group includes pianists, singers, dancers, actors, hosts, and rappers.

List of contestants, Mango TV.

They are required to perform individually and in a team for the first episode’s performances. Chinese viewers were surprised to see some of the high-quality performances, which then went viral on social media.

Li Chengxuan (@李承铉 a.k.a. Nathan Lee), who was previously mostly known for being the husband of Chinese actress Qi Wei (戚薇), rapped in a low voice and wowed the audience. The hashtag about his first stage performance on the show garnered more than 120 million views ( #李承铉天上飞舞台#). A video of his performance can be found here.

Li is a former member of the South Korean boy band TAKE. In 2014, the Korean-American pop star married Qi, who later gave birth to their first daughter Lucky. When Qi went back to focusing on her career, Li decided to be a stay-at-home dad.

Just like some of the other show contestants, Li also appeared on the talk show Definition (定义), where he spoke to the female journalist Yi Lijing about his life as a full-time father. In that show, he expressed how he used to think being a full-time parent would be easy. “It takes a lot of time and energy to take care of the baby and the family, but as a result, it always looks like you haven’t done anything all day.”

He describes how he experienced a time of depression during which he tried his best to be a good parent but sometimes just could not control his temper. Li explains how he would regret these moments of anger and then would cry at night when his daughter was asleep.  (Interview video here.)

Li’s experiences as a full-time parent struck a chord among Chinese netizens, especially among stay-at-home moms. The hashtag “Li Chengxuan Was Depressed for Over a Year As a Full-Time Dad” (#李承铉当全职爸爸抑郁了一年多#) received more than 600 million views on Weibo. Under the hashtag, commenters shared their experiences and struggles in being full-time parents.

One netizen wrote: “This is so true. We do so much when taking care of our children, but other people often feel like it’s nothing. When you lose your temper in front of the kid, you feel terrible inside and start to question yourself about why you failed to control yourself, and then you make another promise not to lose your temper anymore.”


Another Weibo user wrote: “See, when a mom looking after her kids feels depressed, it is not because she is weak and sensitive! It is because the job itself will make any human being depressed.”

Li later responded on his Weibo account, saying he just did his part as a parent, and this is what any new mom or new dad will face. That post also received thousands of comments and over 285,000 likes.

So far, the hashtag of the Call me By Fire TV show has received a staggering 4.4 billion views on Weibo (#披荆斩棘的哥哥#).

Image via Sina News.

The show’s performances and Li sharing his struggles as a stay-at-home dad are not the only reasons for the show’s massive success on Chinese social media. Some other related issues also made the show gain more attention.

Even before Call Me By Fire aired, the show already made headlines when the 55-year-old Taiwanese singer Terry Lin Zhixuan (林志炫) reportedly fell off the stage while filming.

Later, one of the contestants left the show after some social media drama. Chinese singer Huo Zun (霍尊) announced his withdrawal from the show after his ex-girlfriend accused him of being a cheater and leaking some WeChat conversation screenshots to prove that he actually disliked the show.

The remaining 32 contestants will enter the real ‘elimination stages’ in the following episodes. The show and highlight clips can be viewed on the Mango TV official site here.

 

By Wendy Huang

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©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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