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Tianjin Explosion Shocks Weibo

An enormous explosion took place in the harbour city of Tianjin on August 12, injuring hundreds of people, according to reports of Chinese state media.

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An enormous explosion took place in the harbour city of Tianjin on August 12, injuring hundreds of people, according to reports of Chinese state media. The explosion occurred during Wednesday evening around 11 pm local time, and immediately became trending on social media under the hashtag of   #Tianjin Explosion (#天津爆炸#) or Tianjin Binhai Explosion (#天津滨海新区码头爆炸#).

The explosion reportedly occured in Tianjin’s Binhai District, at Diwudajie and Yuejin Street, approximately 170 kilometers from Beijing, at a petrol storage station at the new development zone. The cause yet remains unknown, but explosions are said to have started at a warehouse belonging to Ruihai Logistics (瑞海国际物流有限公司, see image below), where hazardous cargo is shipped. The number of wounded people is also unknown, although some report that there are over a thousand injured.

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Weibo users are currently posting pictures and videos of wounded people lying on the streets around the explosion area, and injured individuals walking around. Others post pictures of the current situation inside the Tianjin hospital.

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According to the China Earthquake Network Center, there were two explosions recorded, with the second one larger than the first. The map below shows the Tianjin area where the explosion allegedly took place, near Yuejin Road (around the S217).

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The news on Chinese television seems to be falling short compared to that on social media. During the night shortly following the explosion, Tianjin TV was airing a game show with Chinese speaking foreigners (see image). Although CCTV is reporting on the Tianjin News, it is also reporting other news. Netizens on Weibo say they did not know about the news until they logged on to social media.

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On Weibo, there are now requests for people to donate blood to help out the injured in Tianjin’s various hospitals, such as Tianjin Taida Hospital. Outside the hospital in Tianjin’s Binhai district, over 400 people are reportedly lined up to donate blood.

Recent footage of the Tianjin explosion:

For one Weibo netizen from Tianjin, the night ends with some bittersweet relief, as she writes: “Many people have died today, I have seen so much blood. I hope to never experience again what I did today at the moment of the explosion. I am so happy I was not alone today, or else I would not have known what to do. I am so grateful no family was inside the houses that have been ruined by the explosion. I’m so thankful my parents were not in Tianjin. I am happy my Tianjin friends are safe, and I am grateful for all of my friend’s worries and inquiries- I am safe now, and I wished everyone was.”

– By Manya Koetse

[box] This is Weiblog: the What’s on Weibo short-blog section. Brief daily updates on our blog and what is currently trending on China’s biggest social media.[/box]

©2015 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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Chinese Construction Worker Left Jobless after Exposing the Dangers of Flimsy Safety Helmets

No one seems willing to hire the day laborer after he exposed the substandard quality of workers’ helmets.

Gabi Verberg

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A video of a Chinese construction worker showing the shocking difference in quality between the safety helmets of laborers versus those of their supervisors went viral on social media earlier this month. Chinese netizens praised the whistleblowers’ push for equal safety standards, but he is now left jobless and ignored.

On April 11, a Chinese day laborer by the name of Dou (窦) published a video on Kuaishou exposing the low-quality safety helmets for frontline construction workers.

In the video (embedded below), Dou shows two helmets. The yellow one, he claims, is the one worn by construction workers. The red one belongs to their supervisors. As he smashes the helmets together, Dou shows how the yellow one is immediately crushed, while the red one remains in perfect condition.

Dou’s message was simple and strong: the helmets worn by supervisors are of much higher quality than those of construction workers, exposing them to considerable dangers while working.

The video was viewed at least 100 million times and sparked major online discussions on the safety of Chinese construction workers before it was taken down from video platform Kuaishou on April 18.

At time of writing, the hashtag “The Contrast between the Safety Helmets of Workers and Supervisors” (#工人和领导安全帽对比#) has been viewed 250 million times on social media platform Weibo, where netizens have collectively expressed their sympathies for vulnerable laborers whose “safety first”, apparently, is not a priority at many construction sites.

The topic also made headlines in Chinese state media. State-owned broadcaster CCTV investigated the quality of Chinese safety helmets, and discovered that some available construction hats, priced as low as 4 RMB (0.59 U.S.$), did not meet safety standards.

A lawyer quoted by Global Times advocated that China’s relevant government departments should launch a campaign to crack down on “inferior helmets” and “clean up illegal products from the source.” The state-run newspaper also reported that workers wearing unsuitable helmets was “a norm in the construction industry,” according to an industry insider.

China’s Ministry of Emergency Management (中华人民共和国应急管理部) released a public statement on Weibo in response to the issue, reminding construction supervisors to abide by legal safety regulations.

But despite the overwhelming support for Dou, the day laborer is now left jobless and worried. In an interview with Chinese media outlet The Paper, Dou says that he can no longer find work since his video has gone viral: “I used to be able to find work every day,” he said: “Why can’t I find it now?”

In the interview, Dou suggests that his online fame over unequal safety helmet standards has made contractors afraid to hire him: “Even contractors that I used to work for are all declining my services.” The situation has left Dou, father to three children, in financial troubles that have forced him to return to his hometown.

When reporters asked Dou why his viral video and earlier videos exposing the flimsy quality of construction hats were taken offline, he reportedly answered: “I need to live.” Perhaps hoping to prevent further exclusion from the construction job market, Dou also claimed he had purchased the helmets in the video himself, and that his employer was not to blame.

 

In the first few years of our lives we learn how to speak, and then we spend the rest of our lives learning to stay quiet.”

 

News of Dou’s predicament has attracted the attention of netizens. Earlier this week, the hashtag “Flimsy Safety Helmet Man Responds” (#脆皮安全帽当事人回应#) received more than 180 million views on Weibo, with many commenters expressing their worries over Dou’s situation after addressing serious workplace safety issues.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “If this [unemployment] is the price you pay for speaking the truth, then who is willing to do so in the future?!” Another Weibo user wrote: “If you have nothing to hide, you’d have no problem hiring him.”

“In the first few years of our lives we learn how to speak, and then we spend the rest of our lives learning to stay quiet,” another commenter wrote.

Despite the public outcry against the injustice suffered by Dou, there are also those who point out that social media discussions can have an actual impact.

Some netizens referred to another incident that occurred last weekend when a video of a woman sitting on the hood of a brand-new Mercedes-Benz went viral.

The woman had just purchased the Mercedes, and as the car was still standing in the showroom, it was leaking oil. After the dealer told her that she had to pay for the repairs, she climbed on the hood of the vehicle and, in tears, refused to get down.

A video of her protest immediately went viral, and millions from all over the country expressed their support for the woman. In light of the public controversy, Mercedes launched an investigation and suspended the showroom for violating regulations.

On Weibo, many people take the Mercedes incident as an example of how justice can prevail as long as netizens unite. But whether the power of social media will also have a positive outcome for Dou is yet uncertain. “He probably won’t be able to find any work for the time to come,” some Weibo users predict.

UPDATE 25 APRIL: Shortly after publishing this article, the hashtag “Flimsy Safety Helmet Man Finds Work” (#脆皮安全帽当事人已找到工作#) has taken off on social media platform Weibo. Dou has received the help of a friend in finding work at a local construction site in Qingdao, the same city where he previously worked.

By Gabi Verberg, Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or 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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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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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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