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“This is Swedish Police!” – Sweden under Fire in China for “Brutal Abuse” of Chinese Tourists

Swedish police drag Chinese tourists out of hotel – some call them thugs, but others say it is the Chinese who were misbehaving.

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The maltreatment of a Chinese family in Stockholm earlier this month has ignited major discussions on Chinese social media, and has led to the Chinese Embassy in Sweden issuing a safety alert for Chinese tourists visiting the country. Many netizens are skeptical of the trending incident.

Over the past few days, an incident that took place in Sweden earlier this month has attracted major attention on Chinese social media.

Bystander videos going around Chinese social media show how a Chinese man is dragged out of a hotel by Swedish police, and later shows a woman and young man are crying on the street outside of a hotel (see embedded video below).

According to various Chinese news reports, the incident involves the Chinese family Zeng (曾), a younger man and his two senior parents, that was traveling to Sweden’s capital Stockholm on September 2nd.

When they arrived at their hotel, the Generator Stockholm hostel, it was not yet check-in time. The family suggested they would pay a fee to the hotel as long as they could wait in the lobby until they could check in to their hotel rooms. Zeng’s father reportedly is 67 years old and suffers from cardiovascular disease.

Sina News reports that the hotel refused the family’s request and even called the police to have the Chinese tourists removed from their lobby in the middle of the night, though both parents claimed they were feeling sick.

State media outlet ECNS writes that the police also denied the family’s request to stay at the hotel, and dragged his father out of the lobby and threw him to the ground outside.

The man later claimed on Chinese social media that his father consequently lost consciousness and that his body started twitching. Zeng and his parents were allegedly taken away from the hotel in a police car and were dropped off near a cemetery in the city’s suburbs.

The family then received help from bystanders in getting back to the city center, where they reported the incident to the Chinese embassy.

 

THE AFTERMATH

This has inevitably raised questions over Sweden’s ability to protect human rights and conduct law enforcement in a civilized manner.

 

Chinese media are greatly criticizing Swedish authorities for how they have handled the incident; both that night and during the aftermath. Swedish authorities did not respond to the issue for two weeks after it occurred.

On Friday, September 14, the Chinese Embassy in Sweden 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.

A day later, the Chinese Embassy in Sweden also issued a statement regarding the “brutal abuse of Chinese tourists by Swedish police,” writing:

Around midnight on 2 September, three Chinese tourists were brutally abused by the Swedish police. The Chinese Embassy in Sweden is deeply appalled and angered by what happened and strongly condemns the behavior of the Swedish police. The Embassy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China have made solemn representations to the Swedish government respectively in Stockholm and Beijing, stressing that what the police had done severely endangered the life and violated the basic human rights of the Chinese citizens. We urged the Swedish government to conduct thorough and immediate investigation, and respond to the Chinese citizens’ requests for punishment, apology and compensation in time. We cannot understand why the Swedish side has not given us any feedback. We hope that the Swedish side will handle the case in accordance with law, and urge the Swedish side again to take immediate actions to protect the safety and legitimate rights and interests of Chinese citizens in Sweden.”

Swedish media first reported the incident on Saturday, September 15 (Aftonbladet). On Sunday, September 16, the Swedish Embassy finally responded to the issue.  A statement on their official Weibo account said that the Embassy is aware of the case and is assigning a special prosecutor to investigate the case and to determine whether or not the Swedish police have used improper violence. As clarified by a spokesperson of the Embassy of Sweden to What’s on Weibo: “The Embassy has not assigned the special prosecutor, as you can read in our statement. Instead, the prosecutor is assigned automatically every time an incident of alleged police misconduct is reported.”

According to a column on the website of English-language Chinese state broadcaster CGTN, the incident is now also one about a Swedish human rights protection:

(..) the way the local police in downtown Stockholm conducted themselves during the incident in a city hotel and on the streets on September 2 has inevitably raised questions over Sweden’s ability to protect human rights and conduct law enforcement in a civilized manner.”

 

SOCIAL MEDIA RESPONSES

Is this the police or the criminal underworld?

 

On Chinese social media, responses to the incident have been mixed. Many people feel that the family unnecessarily “made a big scene,” and condemn the young Mr. Zeng for “falling down on the ground as a crying baby.” They also say that these Chinese tourists are a “disgrace”: “They might as well have buried them at the graveyard,” some commenters write.

But there are also those who do not understand why the Swedish police handled the case in this way, taking the family in a police car and dropping them on a suburban curbside some six kilometers away, instead of bringing them to the police station or another hotel for the night.

“Perhaps the behavior of these three Chinese citizens was not very appropriate, but two of them are old people, they are not familiar with the area. To throw them out in the early morning, miles away at a cemetery where there are no hotels or stores, is really incorrect behavior by the Swedish police.”

From hotel lobby to suburban curbside; screenshot posted by Chinese netizens.

One well-known law blogger (@易辩任煜) wrote on Weibo: “It’s ok to enforce law and to bring people back to the police station and to give them a fine or something like that, but to throw them out like that? Is this the police or the criminal underworld?

There are also Chinese (micro-) bloggers who claim that the fact that this incident is making headlines in Chinese state media now relates to the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to Sweden, writing: “China just needs a reason to put pressure on them.”

“This is all about the visit of the Dalai Lama Sweden on the 12th,” many others claim.

By now, the hashtag “Chinese Tourists Maltreated by Swedish Police” (#中国游客遭瑞典警察粗暴对待#) has received more than 100 million views.

This is not the first time the maltreatment of Chinese tourists abroad receives mass attention in Chinese media. In January of 2016, pictures and a video of two Dutch boys emptying boxes of milk powder over Chinese tourists in Amsterdam also ignited major discussions.

The milkpowder incident.

In 2017, a video of a Chinese-looking man being dragged out of an overbooked United Airlines flight also went viral online in China, attracting tens of thousands of outraged posts on the discrimination of Chinese abroad. It later turned out that the passenger involved in the incident, now called the “United Express Flight 3411 Incident“, was not a Chinese citizen, but a 69-year-old Asian-American doctor from Kentucky.

About this incident, some Chinese social media users say that they think it will affect international relations between China and Sweden.

Update: since this original article was published on Sunday (Sept 16), this news item has made international headlines. For the latest developments and news facts in this matter check, for example, this Washington Post article.

By Manya Koetse
With contributions by 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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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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17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Joachim Plahn-Andersson

    September 16, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    wow…china,the rest of the world is laughing at you….

    • Avatar

      Eric

      September 16, 2018 at 7:12 pm

      Really funny bro, I am laughing at how Donald Trump is manhandling the EU with a leash around its neck like a good little doggy.

  2. Avatar

    youstinkofwhitepoop

    September 17, 2018 at 12:55 am

    why would they go to a Europe anyway if they cant even speak the local language? he can barely speak English let alone Swedish. if you’re gonna go, then you make sure you have a local Swedish guide to meet you there or you go as part of a tour group for safety. you don’t just show up with two old folks if you can’t speak the local language, you’re asking for trouble.

    • Avatar

      World Traveler

      September 17, 2018 at 1:27 pm

      > why would they go to a Europe anyway if they cant even speak the local language?

      Please tell us, how many tourists going to Africa can speak the local Swahili language?

      What’s the percentage of tourists traveling in Japan are fluent in the Japanese language?

      Has there been a law requiring all tourists to India to speak and write in Hindi?

      Please answer. Thanks !

  3. Avatar

    Ingrid Lindquist

    September 17, 2018 at 7:55 am

    The place Skogskyrkogården is a metrostation 9 minutes drive from the center of Stockholm. They did not walk into the very beautiful cemetary close to the metro.
    It would have been better if the chinese tourists communicated with the police instead of rolling around on the ground yelling. You can see how puzzled the police are. Another solution is that Chinese Embassy could set up a telephone service line to contact so the police could drive them there if the tourists want so. For chinese tourist acting normal there is no problem but if you travel alone you must be able to communicate if you cant its better to travel in a group.

  4. Avatar

    Zoe

    September 17, 2018 at 8:03 am

    This article acts as though social media accounts are reputable sources…. They’re not. Most of this is just hear say

    • Avatar

      admin

      September 19, 2018 at 5:51 am

      What’s on Weibo reports on Chinese social media trends and news media. We clearly state where we used what sources.

  5. Avatar

    Matin Smith

    September 17, 2018 at 7:13 pm

    ugly chinese every where, they are obnoxious, dirty and greedy people

    • Avatar

      A.Person

      September 18, 2018 at 4:44 am

      Martin Smith what a sad and ignorant racist you are. I pity you.

    • Avatar

      Jerry

      September 27, 2018 at 2:45 am

      Please don’t make personal attacks. There are many police will help you in English, if you make trouble in China. So if the police can ask politely and gently, maybe it won’t be happened. (Advice from Chinese.)

  6. Avatar

    Michael

    September 19, 2018 at 5:14 am

    I would recommend updating this piece. As another commenter mentioned, a lot of hearsay seems to have been taken for fact. For some better reportage and details, I recommend http://inbeijing.se/bulletin/2018/09/17/all-the-details-you-need-on-the-chinese-tourists-who-were-brutality-handled-by-swedish-police/, which actually links to this piece. That article contains a lot of information, and video, that would be helpful in updating this article.

    • Avatar

      admin

      September 19, 2018 at 5:54 am

      We’ve updated briefly; since we first published this piece on Sunday, the case has now been widely covered in international media with the latest developments. Thanks for the link.

  7. Avatar

    NB

    September 19, 2018 at 4:34 pm

    you mistranslated the swe embassy statement…

    • Avatar

      Info@whatsonweibo.com

      September 20, 2018 at 4:43 am

      Please refresh the page. The translation has been changed on Wednesday, but the browser will cache the website. If you refresh the latest version appears. Regards, admin

  8. Avatar

    Mauricio

    September 22, 2018 at 12:05 am

    China is helping Maduro in Venezuela. I think that’s worse.

    • Avatar

      Clive

      September 24, 2018 at 8:35 am

      What does abuse of Chinese civilians have to do with the Chinese government’s relation with Venezuela?

  9. Avatar

    Alex

    October 2, 2018 at 5:54 am

    Yup. You guys were brutalized. Not being total assholes like you normally are. Please stay home.

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China Insight

Blazing Memories: About the Comparison of the Notre Dame Fire to the Burning of the Old Summer Palace (Op-Ed)

Understanding why the Yuan Ming Yuan went trending in China after the Notre Dame fire.

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A What’s on Weibo news article on Chinese online responses to the Notre Dame fire attracted very mixed reactions on English-language social media this week.

After the fire at the Notre Dame in Paris earlier this week, What’s on Weibo published an article describing Chinese online responses to the devastating blaze, and the ubiquitous comments that compared the destruction of the iconic French cathedral to the burning of the Chinese Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan) in Beijing by the Anglo-French army in 1860.

There have been many reactions to this story on various social media platforms. From one side, there were those who questioned why we would even publish an article like that, suggesting that our position in covering this trend was biased. On the other side, there were those who jumped into the discussion, blaming Chinese for playing the victim and ignoring the destruction of old historical buildings or Mosques within their own country over recent years.

The reactions to this article and overall trend show the polarized stances on social issues and media in China, and how to cover them. Some suggested that it was not fair to write down the “negative social media opinions of a few Chinese commenters,” saying that it “reflected badly” on China overall, or that they were “irrelevant.”

Covering the voices of a few dozen ‘trolls’ and presenting them as an ‘overall sentiment’ is not what we do at What’s on Weibo.

Some people pointed out that the comparison of the Notre Dame blaze to the burning of the Old Summer Palace was not something that most Chinese agreed with. As also covered in our article, there were indeed many commenters, including historians and Key Opinion Leaders, who opposed to the Yuan Ming Yuan trend in light of the Notre Dame fire.

The fact of the matter still is that the Old Summer Palace became a massive topic of online debate following the Notre Dame fire. Ignoring such a trend in covering Weibo responses to the tragic Paris incident would be a huge blind spot problem.

Instead of condemning these Chinese online responses, ignoring they are there, or trivializing their relevance, it is perhaps more constructive to consider where they come from, and understanding that the history of the Old Summer Palace is still deeply ingrained in the collective memory of the Chinese people and nation.

Before further elaborating on this, let’s first go back to the trend itself.

 

From Notre Dame to Yuan Ming Yuan

 

As news of the catastrophic fire that engulfed the Notre Dame Cathedral (巴黎圣母院) in Paris on Monday made headlines across the world, the Old Summer Palace (Yuan Ming Yuan 圆明园) suddenly became a trending topic on Chinese social media.

Besides all the people who mourned the destruction of the historic cathedral, and those who posted photos of their previous visits to the scenic spot, there were many Chinese netizens who started addressing the plundering and burning down of the Yuan Ming Yuan (“Garden of Perfect Brightness”) in 1860, leading to the Notre Dame and the Old Summer Palace becoming top trending topics on Weibo at the same time.

As Notre Dame goes trending on Weibo, so does the Old Summer Palace (top 4 top trending).

On April 18, WeChat self-media account Fang Zhouzi (方舟子) wrote about the reaction: “On Chinese internet, a peculiar response started to emerge, as many people suddenly started remembering the burning of the Yuan Ming Yuan by the Anglo-French forces 159 years ago, and thereupon saying that the Notre Dame deserved to be burned.”

It is unclear who first drew a comparison between the Notre Dame and the Yuan Ming Yuan, but on April 16, actor Zhou Libo (周立波) wrote on Weibo that “compared to the Yuan Ming Yuan, the Notre Dame is just a garden.” A former editor at the Phoenix News Military Channel, Jin Hao (金昊), also published an article on WeChat titled “Mourning it, my ass! I’m pleased with the big fire at Notre Dame” (“哀悼个屁!巴黎圣母院大火,我很欣慰!”) (since deleted).

On other social media sites, such as Douban, people also started posting blogs with titles such as “the Notre Dame collapse makes me think of the Old Summer Palace” (“巴黎圣母院的倒塌让我想起了圆明园”).

An exploration of search queries on Chinese search engine Baidu shows that at the time when ‘Notre Dame’ peaks as a query on April 16, so does the term ‘Yuan Ming Yuan.’ Similarly, on Google Trends, the Chinese query ‘Notre Dame’ shows the Yuan Ming Yuan Park as the number two related topic in its overview of the past week.

Baidu trends show that both the search terms ‘Notre Dame’ (A) and ‘Yuan Ming Yuan’ (B) simultaneously peak on April 16.

At time of writing, there are dozens of pages on Weibo filled with comments relating to the Notre Dame/Old Summer Palace comparison. We won’t list many of them here, but some of the comments include reactions such as: “Now you can also experience how it feels when art and culture are burned,” “I might have a narrow sense of patriotism, but seeing the Notre Dame burn makes me happy inside,” and “even a hundred Notre Dames still don’t make the Old Summer Palace,” with many netizens claiming that the loss of the Old Summer Palace was just as bad, or rather worse, than the destruction of the Notre Dame.

These collective responses to the Notre Dame fire also drew much criticism. State media outlet CCTV published an article that condemned the comparison of the Notre Dame and the Old Summer Palace, stating that people “should not vent their emotions in the name of history” (Li Xuefei 2019).

Various other news channels also published critique, including one article titled “The Notre Dame fire as retribution for the burning of Yuanmingyuan? Please stop this inhumane line of reasoning” (“巴黎圣母院大火是烧圆明园的报应?快停下反人类思维”).

As covered in our previous write-up, there were also many voices on Weibo denouncing the trend. One of them was Yan Feng (严锋), a professor at Fudan University, who posted:

The Notre Dame cathedral was constructed in 1163, the Yuan Ming Yuan was destroyed in 1860. The people who burned the Yuan Ming Yuan were not the people who built the Notre Dame of Paris. They were separated by 700 years. The French feudal separatists were in no way French according to modern-day standards. Every injustice has its perpetrator and every debt its debtor, why should you let the Notre Dame bear the responsibility of burning down the Yuan Ming Yuan?

“First of all, we are people, then we are Chinese,” another popular comment said: “The loss of such a historical cultural gem is a loss for all mankind.”

 

Collective Memories of Yuan Ming Yuan

 

In October of 1860, British and French troops sacked and burned the Old Summer Palace, which was once a massive complex consisting of more than a hundred buildings, pavilions, and scenic spots, built since the 17th century for the Qing emperors.

The event took place at the end of the Second Opium War. Unsatisfied with the Treaty of Nanjing and, among others, demanding more Chinese cities and ports to open for trade, the Anglo-French army invaded Beijing in 1860. They plundered the Yuan Ming Yuan, which was filled with books and art treasures. The burning came afterward, to destroy the evidence of their looting. The fire blazed for three days and three nights, leaving the enormous palace grounds in ruins (Chey 2009, 79).

The site of the once magnificent Old Summer Palace is now the Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park, an initiative that was set up in the 1980s after decades of neglect. In “The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan,” Haiyan Lee calls the site a “national wound” (2009). It is a symbolic space, where the ruins remind visitors of the injustice China once suffered at the hands of Western powers.

This injustice is an important incident in China’s so-called “Century of Humiliation,” the time from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s during which China was attacked, weakened, and torn by foreign forces.

The “Century of Humiliation” still plays an important role in China today, as young people are also taught that this historical consciousness is important. The four character slogan “Wù wàng guóchǐ” (勿忘国耻), “Never forget national humiliation”, is frequently repeated in Chinese media, museums, schools, documentaries, and in popular culture.

Young Chinese students carrying a sign “Never Forget National Humiliation”, image via Xinhua.

As described in the insightful work by Zheng Wang, Never Forget National Humiliation, the historical memory of China’s era of humiliation has become part of Chinese national identity, promoted in official discourse, and often unconsciously yet profoundly influencing people’s perceptions and actions. This is also what collective memory is: an accumulation of memory-forming processes that take place on both conscious and non-conscious levels (Koetse 2012, 10).

The Yuan Ming Yuan Park is a particularly significant cultural heritage site where the remembrance of the humiliations and injuries China suffered at the hands of foreign imperialists comes to life through the ruins (Lee 2008, 169).

 

Blazing Memories

 

Collective memory and nations are tied together in many ways, as historical memories serve as an important vehicle to unify the nation. They also play an important part in how people from different communities, societies, or nations will interpret big or important events that happen in the world today.

When certain news makes headlines, it is not uncommon for people to reflect on it speaking from their own experiences and the collective memory of their own nation or bigger community – especially when the place where it happens is far removed from them.

This is not unique to China. To grasp, process, and comment on faraway incidents, it is sometimes easier to relate it to something that is closer to you.

Former American first lady Michelle Obama visited Paris earlier this week for her book tour, and told the audience about how shocked she was about the Notre Dame blaze, briefly comparing the incident to the devastating American 9/11 attacks.* Does it make sense to compare the burning of the Notre Dame to the 9/11 attacks? Perhaps not. Yet Obama was not the only one to raise the 9/11 events; some on Twitter even called the burning of the Notre Dame “a cultural 9/11” disaster.

Seeing the overwhelming responses to the Notre Dame fire on Chinese social media, where so many people linked it to Chinese history, the reaction perhaps should not be whether these online responses and media discussions were either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – instead, it is important to understand where they come from, and how people from various backgrounds, cultures, or religions, often use their own cultural or social frameworks, historical narratives, and dominating ideas to make sense of what is happening around them.

As the Notre Dame trend on Chinese social media shows, but what’s beyond the scope of this article, is that the mechanisms of online nationalism and anti-foreign sentiments often also come into play once these memory-machines start running.

In the end, the Notre Dame fire actually has nothing to do with the history of the Old Summer Palace. But the news of the Notre Dame blaze was enough reason for many Chinese netizens to trigger and bring up this memory of Chinese suffering that still exists in the minds of the people today.

Instead of condemning that, or trivializing news reports on these trends, one could try to understand it, and then see it as a completely separate issue from the Notre Dame fire – as many people on Weibo also do.

By Manya Koetse

Recommended reading:

References

Fang Zhouzi 方舟子. 2019. “巴黎圣母院和圆明园有什么关系?” April 18, Fang Zhouzi / Self-Media WeChat link[4.18.19].

Koetse, Manya. 2012. “The ‘Magic’ of Memory. Chinese and Japanese Re-Remembrances of the Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945).” Research Master thesis, Leiden University.

Lee, Haiyuan. 2009. “The Ruins of Yuanmingyuan – Or, How to Enjoy a National Wound.” Modern China 35 (2): 155-190.

Li Xuefei 李雪菲. 2019. “巴黎圣母院火灾怎能与火烧圆明园混为一谈 狭隘的民族主义可休矣.” April 16, CCTV,Sina News https://finance.sina.com.cn/roll/2019-04-16/doc-ihvhiqax3118848.shtml [4.18.19].

Ong, Siew Chey. 2009. China Condensed: 5, 000 Years of History & Culture. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish International.

Weatherley, Robert D., and Ariane Rosen. 2013. “Fanning the Flames of Popular Nationalism: The Debate in China over the Burning of the Old Summer Palace.” Asian perspective 37(1):53-76.

Zheng Wang. 2012. Never Forget National Humiliation: Historical Memory in Chinese Politics and Foreign Relations. New York: Columbia University Press.

* Segment on Michelle Obama in Paris from Dutch “Talkshow M” of April 17th, 36.00 min.

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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China Insight

‘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?

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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.

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