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The Detainment of Canadian Ex-Diplomat Michael Kovrig Triggers (Censored) Discussions on Weibo

“You take one of ours, we take one of yours,” some commenters write.

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The detainment of former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig is generating major discussions on Chinese social media – but many comment sections have now been locked.

The news that former Canadian diplomat Michael Kovrig has been detained in Beijing is not only generating mass attention on Twitter and in English-language newspapers today; on Chinese social media, thousands of people have also responded to the issue.

Kovrig, who is known as Kang Mingkai (康明凯) in Chinese, served as a diplomat in Beijing and Hong Kong until 2016, and currently is a Hong Kong-based Senior Adviser at the International Crisis Group, where he works on foreign affairs and global security issues in Northeast Asia.

News of his arrest in mainland China came out through the International Crisis Group. In a media release on December 12, the International Crisis Group called for the immediate release of Michael Kovrig, and stated that Kovrig was detained on Monday night in the Chinese capital by the Beijing Bureau of Chinese State Security.

According to the Washington Post, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang (陆慷) told reporters during a regular press briefing on Wednesday that he had nothing to say about the issue, and that China and Canada have maintained “normal consular communication.”

Lu Kang during Wednesday’s press briefing.

Lu further said that the International Crisis Group was not legally registered in China, and that the organization had “violated Chinese laws” because “it was not registered.”

On Weibo, a post of the state tabloid newspaper Global Times on the issue became the most-read post on the account (17,7 million followers) on Wednesday. At the end of the day, it had more than 34,400 comments, 158,000 ‘likes’ and over 36,000 shares.

The post says:

[Foreign media: “Former Canadian diplomat Kang Mingkai has been detained in China”] According to Reuters, the International Crisis Group stated on Tuesday that its senior adviser in Northeast Asia and former Canadian diplomat Kang Mingkai (Michael Kovrig), has recently been detained by the Chinese government. According to the resources, Kang Mingkai is a former diplomat in Canada and in Hong Kong, who held a position as a strategic communications expert at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, and is able to speak Mandarin. He joined the International Crisis Group last year as a senior adviser to Northeast Asia to study and analyze foreign affairs and global security issues in China, Japan, and the Korean Peninsula. He criticized China many times, and advocates a hard-line approach towards China.

Despite the many comments, the post’s comments section was locked for viewing by the Global Times on Wednesday night local time, only allowing some comments to remain visible, such as one saying: “This is most likely an old spy on a special agent mission.”

Other posts on the issue that generated much attention, such as the Beijing News post that received approximately 5000 comments, or the Toutiao post that received 11,000 comments, were also locked for viewing.

A later post by Global Times (China time December 12, 23:07) stated:

Confirmed! This Canadian is held for legal investigation. – Reporters have learned from relevant departments that Canadian citizen Kang Mingkan (Michael John Kovrig) is suspected of engaging in activities that are harmful to China’s security. As of December 10, he is held by the Beijing National Security Bureau for investigation according to law. Currently, the case is under investigation.”

“Well done,” a typical comment said, with many accusing Kovrig of being a spy.

But there are also more critical comments, with some saying: “This might not be a good thing,” and others suggesting that Kovrig is a “political prisoner.”

Elsewhere on Weibo, the many comments on this issue are also open, with one popular one saying: “They are using a legal way to tell Canada their behavior is illegal.”

On both Weibo and Twitter, as well as in the English-language media, Kovrig’s detainment is linked to the recent arrest of Meng Wanzhou (孟晚舟), the financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technology – which happens to have been founded by her father, Ren Zhengfei (任正非).

According to many, the detainment of Meng in Canada is linked to the detainment of Kovrig in Beijing.

Meng was detained on December 1st during a transit at the Vancouver airport at the request of United States officials. She is accused of fraud charges for violating US sanctions on Iran. According to CNN Business, Meng allegedly is accused of helping Huawei get around sanctions on Iran by misleading financial institutions into believing that subsidiary company ‘Skycom’ – which is active in networking and telecommunication in Iran – was a separate company in order to conduct business in the country.

Chinese officials, demanding Meng’s release, have called the arrest “a violation of a person’s human rights.” Meng has been released on bail on Tuesday, December 11.

“You take one of ours, we take one of yours,” one commenter replied to news relating to Kovrig’s detainment.

“Are we exchanging hostages like North Korea?” one Weibo user responded.

On the Weibo account of the Canadian embassy, there have been no direct mentions of Kovrig, but the embassy did dedicate a post to the celebration of human rights on December 12th, saying: “We commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Canada, China and all member states of the United Nations support this basic document of the United Nations.”

By Manya Koetse

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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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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    Sangwidge

    December 15, 2018 at 3:35 am

    We, Canada, should have ignored Trump’s paranoia regarding Huawei and China’s success and let Ms. Meng go on to Beijing in the first place. Our authorities should have let her pass through Vancouver and go home, and told Trump and his mess of a government we missed her. We should let her go now. The USA wanted her in the first place. We should have nothing to do with this. Now two Canadians might never be seen again. We are stuck between two superpower bullies.

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China Insight

Chinese Netizens’ Response to New Zealand Mosque Attacks

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The shocking New Zealand mosque attack, killing at least 49 people, is making headlines worldwide. On Weibo, it is the top trending topic today. A short overview of some of the reactions on Chinese social media.

At least 49 people were killed and 20 wounded when an attacker opened fire at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Friday. According to various media reports, one man in his late 20s had been arrested and charged with murder. Three other people, two men and one woman, have also been arrested in relation to the attack.

Footage of the brutal shootings, which was live-streamed by the gunman, has been making its rounds on social media. Although the videos are being taken down from Facebook and Twitter, people are still sharing the shocking images and footage on Weibo at time of writing.

The gunman, who has been named as the 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, reportedly also posted a 70-page manifesto online expressing white supremacist views.

On Chinese social media platform Sina Weibo, the New Zealand mosque attack became a number one trending topic on Friday night, local time, with the hashtag “New Zealand Shootings” (#新西兰枪击案#) receiving at least 130 million views, and thousands of reactions.

“It takes the collaborate efforts of all people to work on a beautiful world, it just takes a few people to destroy it,” one Weibo user wrote.

“Extremism is incredibly scary,” others said. “I saw the livestreaming video and it’s too cruel – like a massacre from a shooter video game.” “I’m so shaken, I don’t even want to think of the panic these people must have felt.”

“I’ve seen the footage, and this is so horrible. It makes me want to cry. It’s a massacre.” Other commenters also write: “This is just so inhumane.”

One aspect that especially attracted attention on Chinese social media is that, according to many people posting on Weibo and Wechat, the main suspect expressed in his manifesto that the nation he felt closest to in terms of his “political and social values” is “that of the People’s Republic of China.”

Journalist Matthew Keys reportedly uploaded the main suspect’s manifesto, which was published on January 21, 2019. This article says that to the question about whether he was a fascist, Tarrant indeed wrote that “the nation with the closest political and social values to my own is the People’s Republic of China.”

Some netizens wrote that, in mentioning the PRC, the shooter “also vilified China.” Others also said that the shootings definitely “do not correspond to the values of China.”

There are also dozens of Weibo users who blame Western media for the attacker’s comments on China corresponding to his own values. “What he appreciated is what Western media is propagating about our management of Muslims in Xinjiang,” some say: “He was influenced by the foreign media disseminating that we’re anti-Muslim.”

“He sympathized with the China portrayed by foreign media, not with the real China.”

“Western governments and media have demonized China for a long time, what they are making Western people believe about what China is, this is what the New Zealand shooter felt closest to in terms of his values,” one person wrote.

“These kinds of extreme-right terrorists would be destroyed in China,” others wrote.

Among all people expressing their disgust and horror at the Christchurch shootings, there are also those expressing anti-Muslim views and hatred, with some comment sections having turned into threads full of vicious remarks.

Then there are those criticizing the Muslims that are also commenting on Weibo: “The Muslims in China were quiet when it was about the [islamist extremist] attacks in Kunshan, but now that this massacre happened at the pig-hating mosque, they are all bemoaning the state of the universe and are denouncing terrorism.”

Among the thousands of reactions flooding in on Weibo, there are countless comments condemning those who turn the shocking attack into an occasion for making anti-Muslim or political remarks. “This is a terrorist attack. The victims are ordinary people. Why would you make malicious comments?”

One Weibo user simply writes: “The world has gone crazy.” “A tragic event. I hope the victims will rest in peace.”

By Manya Koetse 

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.

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In China’s “Kua Kua” Chat Groups, People Pay to Be Praised [Updated]

Money can’t buy you love, but in these ‘kua kua’ groups, they can buy you praise.

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Social media is often called a battlefield, but in these Chinese WeChat ‘Kua kua’ groups (夸夸群), people will praise you no matter what you do or say.

A new phenomenon has become a hot topic on Chinese social media these days. ‘Kua kua’ groups (夸夸群) are chat groups where people share some things about themselves – even if they are negative things – and where other people will always tell them how great they are, no matter what.

Kua kua groups (夸 ‘kuā‘ literally means ‘praise’) have become all the rage in China. People seem to love them for the mere fact that it makes them feel good about themselves.

The format is clear. Person A tells about something that is on their minds, and asks people for positive feedback. Person B, C, and D will then come forward and tell them how good or pretty they are, sometimes based on their profile photo.

One could say: “Hi everyone, I’ve just turned down a job offer, but now my future is full of uncertainty, please compliment me.” Then people in the chat group will respond and say things such as: “You look like the type of person who knows exactly what they want.”

The Kua kua praise group phenomenon allegedly began within the online community of Xi’an Jiaotong University – although some claim it was Shanghai’s Fudan University – when one person asked others in a chat group to compliment them. The idea started to compliment and praise others, and so a trend was born; first, in university (BBS) chat groups, and now on WeChat and beyond the realm of universities.

The phenomenon has been around for at least six years, but only recently started gaining widespread attention on Chinese social media. According to China’s Toutiao News, virtually every college now has its own ‘praise group.’

But the praise does not always come for free. Although many (college-based) chat groups are free to join, people who want to be complimented and are not yet a member of an existing group can join Kua kua groups when they pay for it. On Chinese e-commerce platform Taobao, there are various online shops that sell a ‘Praise group’ membership starting from 50 yuan ($7,5) per person, going up to 188 yuan ($28).

The time of praise is limited to five minutes unless you pay more. The quality of the compliments you’ll be getting also depends on how much you pay. Some groups allegedly consist of “students of great talent,” and the number of people complimenting one person could reach up to 500 people.

The contents of the praise could literally be anything. A simple “I want to be praised” comment could get a variety of reactions from “your hat looks nice” to “the fact that you’re so honest and straightforward about what you want is something that is hard to come across in this day and age,” to “you used a period mark [at the end of your sentence], you must be someone who is very persistent in reaching your goals.”

The fact that the “Kua kua” phenomenon is such a success in China might relate to its culture, where humility and modesty are considered ideal in day-to-day communications. When given a compliment, it is common in China to deny it or to suggest that the person giving the compliment is much better than they are (also see Cheng 2003, 30).

These chat groups, however, break away from the dominant cultural interactions: people don’t have to be polite in responding to the compliments and can wallow in the praise they paid for.

Although not as big as the “Kua Kua” group phenomenon, these kinds of groups also exist in the English-language social media sphere. On Reddit’s “Toast Me” page, for example, there are some 92,000 subscribers participating in asking and giving positive feedback to others, albeit unpaid.

The people giving compliments in the Chinese Kua kua groups are random people, some students, some staff of Taobao stores, who get hongbao, red envelopes with digital money gifts, for contributing to the group. According to some reports, some ‘customers’ end up staying the group and become a part of the team themselves.

We will follow up on this later: we booked a ‘five-minute praise session’ ourselves, but are still awaiting admission to the group…

 

Update: Our Kua Kua Experience

 

So what is the Kua kua experience like? We decided to try out for ourselves and purchased a 5-minute praise session through Taobao for 50 yuan ($7,5) from a seller that had a good rating.

After the purchase is completed, the seller will contact you with details asking for your WeChat ID. After adding, they will ask you what your ‘problem’ or issue is, and you will be put in a virtual queue until your turn comes up to be praised.

You’ll then be added to a WeChat group that has your name in the headline (ours was something like “Manya you can do it”) and that has around 200 participants.

The message posted by us was:

Hello, I’m Manya (Dutch). I’ve been studying Chinese for more than ten years. In fact, I’m afraid to say it may even be more than 13 years, but I still often don’t understand what Beijing taxi drivers are saying. Even studying every day won’t help. I’ve been learning for so many years, yet I often still don’t understand what the old people in Beijing are saying. It’s a bit embarrassing. I think my Chinese is still not good enough. I can’t understand the ‘crosstalk’ [comedy sketches] during the Spring Festival Gala at all. It makes me feel a little dispirited.

Within a matter of seconds, the screen then just fills up with positive feedback and emoji. There are dozens of comments, and they almost go too fast to read them all.

Some of the responses:

You’re great, and even I don’t understand Beijing taxi drivers.

Stay confident in yourself!

You’re so cool.”

You can type so many Chinese characters, who’d say your Chinese is not good enough?!

Manya, you’re so fantastic.”

None of us understand what old people in Beijing are saying.

Chinese is just not easy to study, the fact that you’ve been doing it for so long already shows how great you are.”

It’s incredible that you’ve already come this far.”

A woman who is so motivated about studying really moves me, you’re my role model, you make me want to study more English.”

During the praise session, the group leader will occasionally post a hongbao [envelope with money] for the participants to receive in return for their compliments.

After five minutes, the session ends, and the people will send out some last words of encouragement. The group leader will personally thank you for being part of the group, and later, you’ll be removed from the group as the people will move on to the next person who is waiting in line to be praised.

How does it feel to be praised by some 200 people, receiving hundreds of compliments? It’s overwhelming, and even though you know it’s all just an online mechanism, and that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you say, it still makes you glow a little bit inside.

Although some experts quoted by Chinese state media warn people not to rely on these praise groups too much, there does not seem to be much harm in allowing yourself to be complimented for some minutes from time to time.

Other people reviewing the same Kua kua group apparently feel the same: “I’m super satisfied, the result is amazing.”

By Manya Koetse  and Miranda Barnes

Featured image via hexun.com.

References

Cheng, Winnie. 2003. Intercultural Communication. Amsterdam, John Benjamins Publishing.

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.

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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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