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Top 5 of Popular Children’s Books in China after Crackdown on Foreign Storybooks

The topic of children’s books in China recently made international headlines following a crackdown on foreign storybooks in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explores the status quo after the ban: has Peppa Pig really left the building? What is the current top 5 of popular children’s books in China?

Manya Koetse

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The topic of children’s books in China recently made international headlines following a reported crackdown on foreign storybooks in the PRC. What’s on Weibo explores the status quo after the ‘Taobao ban’: has Peppa Pig really left the building? What is the current top 5 of popular children’s books in China?

Recently the children’s books market in China made international headlines when the South China Morning Post reported that an order from Beijing will drastically limit the number of foreign children’s picture books published in mainland China this year.

According to The Guardian and other sources, Chinese publishers received orders that foreign children book titles must be lowered or even halted to prevent an “ideology inflow” and to protect and promote children’s books written by Chinese authors. In the New York Times, Hannah Beech also called the crackdown an “ideological crusade.”

On March 3rd, days before the South China Morning Post reported the news, China’s largest e-commerce platform Taobao issued an official statement that, as of March 10th, it was halting resales of all books published overseas to “create a safe and secure online shopping environment.”

 

STATE MEDIA: ALL ABOUT CULTURE

“The Ministry of Culture hopes that Chinese children will be more in touch with cultural products that reflect Chinese values.”

 

Chinese media responded to the international news reports in mid-March, saying that they were “fabrications” by foreign media to make China look bad. On Wednesday, state tabloid Global Times published an article written by a Global Times commentator Shan Renping, writing:

“Recently a number of Western mainstream media have started a hype about China controlling the import of foreign children’s books, suggesting this is China’s way of reducing the influence of the outside world on China, and ridiculing that our “boycott of foreign forces starts with small children.”

According to the column, the imposed limit on foreign children’s books is not necessarily related to “ideology” or other political matters – as children’s books are allegedly “not much of an ideological field” – but that the reason is cultural.

In the past, the author writes, the ratio of imported children’s books versus Chinese ones was 9:1 in 2000. While this gap between foreign and Chinese children’s books has already decreased from 6:4 (2011), officials hope to further develop the local children’s books market.

Children’s book section at Beijing bookstore in 2015. Many of the books featured are translations of foreign publications.

As the article says: “The Ministry of Culture (..) [also] hopes that Chinese children, throughout the course of growing up, will be more in touch with cultural products that reflect Chinese values.”

Children’s books on sale in Beijing (2015) by a Dutch author.

But besides the cultural motives for limiting foreign publications in China, the Global Times column also hints that there might be economic motives involved, as it mentions the growing market of children’s books in China, and that storybooks play a leading role in the publishing industry.

Chinese edition of The Hungry Caterpillar.

In the Chinese Book Market 2016 report by the German Book Office Beijing, 21.9% of China’s online book trade is listed in the category of children’s books: a booming and growing market.

 

WEIBO RESPONSES

“When I think about the garbage we had to read when we were little, I really cannot even imagine that books like these will be banned.”

 

On Weibo, some netizens responded to the crackdown on foreign children’s books with great disappointment. Before March 10, some people also said they would quickly buy foreign books for their kids before the Taobao ban would be implemented.

It is probable that some comments about the ban have been censored; one Weibo user also indicates that a previous post about the limitations “has been deleted.”

Microblogger (@大耳朵猫妹) writes:

“When you look at how kids read children’s books, what I find most surprising is how these foreign children’s books do not seem to have any meaning but just really fit in with children’s minds. I used to read a book to my children about a crocodile family; a daddy, mommy and little crocodile that eat bananas every day. One day, the little crocodile stopped and said he did not want to eat any more bananas, so his parents asked him what he wanted to eat. When he said he wanted to eat humans, his parents laughed. He then angrily left the house and on the street, he met a small child, and said: “I want to eat you.””

Chinese edition of “I’d Really Like to Eat a Child” by Sylviane Donnio (originally a French children’s book).

“The child just laughed out loud and together with his little friends took out some bananas and threw them at the small crocodile, and then laughingly ran away. Later, the little crocodile took the pile of bananas home, and ate them with his parents while wiping away his tears. What does this story explain and teach us? Nothing. But it corresponds with children’s desire to explore the outside world and try new things. My kids really liked it. (..) I really love these cute and fresh children’s books, and when I think about the garbage we had to read when we were little, I really cannot even imagine that books like these will be banned.”

The question is: will these books really be banned? Let’s first take a look at the current top-ranked lists of children’s picture books.

 

MOST POPULAR CHARTS

“The reported restrictions seem to be more symbolical than substantive.”

 

What children’s books rank highest in the popular book charts on Weibo after news of the PRC crackdown has come out?

#1. ‘Chinese Year’ Original Picture Book Series (中国年原创图画书系列)

The top ranking children’s book at the time of writing is a book series called Chinese Year, which is written by author Cao Cong (alias Wuke Lili), a Renmin University graduate specialized in children’s psychology.

The books contents and illustrations are focused on Chinese family life and traditions. This particular story is about Chinese New Year and how it is celebrated.

2. Guess Who I Am? (猜猜我是谁)

This book is aimed at the youngest children (2-4 years old) as a little ‘hide and seek’ game with holes in it, allowing children to look through them and see different things. The book is published by the Chinese People’s Publishing House.

3. Fantastic Book (奇妙的书)

This is another made-in-China children’s book, published by Guangxi Normal University.

It is themed around many different animals. From alligators to penguins, they all look at life in a different way.

4. Paw Patrol (汪汪队立大功)

Who has not heard of Paw Patrol? This children’s book about a boy named Ryder who leads a pack of rescue dogs known as the PAW Patrol is derived from a Canadian animated television series, and is thus a foreign children’s book with no Chinese themes. The book is popular on Weibo, where it is rated 9.1 out of 10 stars.

5. The Princess Kite (公主的风筝)

Although the authors of this book are not all Chinese, the story does focus on ancient China and has a Chinese kite as its central subject – making it a truly Chinese story, published by the Chinese Yellow River Publishing & Media Group.

The top 5 of Weibo’s most popular children’s book of this moment seems representative of the ‘popular’ or ‘recommended’ lists of China’s biggest online bookstores such as Taobao or Dangdang, where there are still many foreign children’s books for sale, but where the originally Chinese children’s books seem to dominate the main lists of book suggestions.

Searching for ‘foreign children’s books’ was possible on all sites – including on Dangdang, Kongfz, JD.com, and also on Taobao – after March 10. There is a wide selection of foreign books available from these sites, from Little Rabbit Couldn’t Sleep to Peppa Pig.

Foreign children’s books still sold on Taobao.

Also in the category for older children (8-12), translations of books like Pippi Longstocking (长袜子皮皮) or Harry Potter (哈利·波特) are still freely available on Taobao.

Seeing that the announced Taobao ban has not really gone into effect, there is a probability that the ‘ban’ on foreign children’s books and the reported restrictions for publishing firms to publish any foreign picture books for children this year are more symbolical than substantive.

 

TONING DOWN THE HYPE

“Chinese children can enjoy Paw Patrol or Pippi Longstocking, along with those books themed around Chinese New Year or Chinese folklore.”

 

On Thursday, Global Times published another article that seemed to want to tone down the hype, quoting the deputy dean of Cultural Studies at Peking University Chen Shaofeng: “Unless the foreign media can name particular children’s books that are banned from being imported, their accusations should be seen as groundless.”

The Beijing Bookstore online: the shop features a Frozen Disney book in its header on the children’s book page.

The article also mentioned a Beijing-based publisher nicknamed ‘Coco’, who reassured worried parents that books that have already received approval to be published would continue to be available, regardless of whether or not import limits (not bans) are introduced in future.

The way things stand now, it seems that it is business as usual for children’s books in China. It is likely that foreign children’s books will not be completely banned from China in the near future. Instead, we can expect a heightened focus on Chinese books for children (especially those themed around Chinese stories and traditions), making it easier for publishers to get approval for those titles.

To make final conclusions about the eventual effects of the announced regulations, however, we will have to wait another year. In the meantime, Chinese children can enjoy Paw Patrol or Pippi Longstocking, along with those books themed around Chinese New Year or Chinese folklore. Perhaps to the disappointment of some parents, Peppa Pig has not left the building (yet).

– By Manya Koetse

©2017 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the 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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  1. Avatar

    Bruce Humes

    March 20, 2017 at 8:56 am

    If foreign analysts are waiting for written proof that there is a ban or specific limits on the import and sale of foreign books for children, they are likely waiting in vain.

    The authorities in China long ago learned that issuing such specific regulations in black and white makes for bad press. To avoid criticism from abroad, and at home as well, such orders are normally given orally at state-sponsored meetings limited to Chinese-owned publishers, or even by phone to specific publishers/importers. In addition, such orders are permitted to be circulated only among management, and — like so many things such as the amount of pm 2.5 particles in the air in a given city, or gag orders re: what events are to be covered and how they are to be covered in the media — these orders are a state secret. Posting them online is grounds for prosecution and imprisonment.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Top 10 of Popular Chinese Podcasts of 2019 (by What’s on Weibo)

What are Chinese podcast app users listening to? An overview.

Jialing Xie

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As the podcasting industry only seems to become more thriving around the world, What’s on Weibo tunes into China’s podcast market and selects ten of the most popular Chinese podcasts for you.

Ever since it first made its entrance into the entertainment industry, the podcast – a term coined in 2004 – has kept growing in listenership in most Western countries.

The same holds true for China, where podcasts are mainly concentrated on a couple of bigger online audio streaming platforms.

What are the most ear-catching podcast streaming services in China now? While various podcast apps have been competing with each other to attract users with their trending content, Ximalaya is one of the most popular ones as it offers the widest range of content of all major podcast apps in China. The app was first launched in 2013, and has been a top-scoring app ever since.

In terms of popularity, Ximalaya (喜马拉雅) is closely followed by DragonflyFM (蜻蜓FM), LycheeFM(荔枝FM), and a series of other podcast platforms with each implementing different business models.

How do we know what’s trending on these podcast apps? Based on user clicks and other metrics, Ximalaya has its own ranking lists of popular podcasts for five major categories: classics, audiobooks,crosstalk & storytelling, news, music, and entertainment.

DragonflyFM (蜻蜓FM) and other podcast apps also have their own rankings for even more narrowly defined categories, although these rankings often feature the same ‘most popular’ podcasts as Ximalaya and other apps.

To give you an impression and an overview of the kind of podcasts that are currently most popular in China, we have made a selection of trending podcasts across various audio apps, with some notes that might be useful for those tuning into these podcasts as learners of Mandarin (all of these popular podcasts use Mandarin).

Please note that this is not an ‘official’ top 10 list, but one that is compiled by What’s on Weibo based on various popular ranking lists in different categories. Guo Degang’s crosstalk and storytelling podcast, for instance, is ranked as a number one popular podcast on both Ximalaya and Dragonfly FM, which is why it comes in highest in our list, too.

What’s on Weibo is independent and is not affiliated with any of these audio platforms or podcasts.

 

#1 Guo Degang: Crosstalk Collection of 21 Years (郭德纲21年相声精选)

Link to podcast

Category: Crosstalk & Storytelling

Duration: 20-90 min/episode

About:

Guo Degang (郭德纲, Guō Dégāng) is one of the most successful crosstalk comedians in China. In 1995, he founded his own crosstalk society, Deyun Society (德云社, Dé Yún Shè), which aims to “bring crosstalk back to traditional theaters.” Guo Degang has succeeded in making the general public pay more attention to crosstalk (相声, xiàngsheng), a traditional Chinese art performance that started in the Qing Dynasty. Like many other traditional Chinese arts, crosstalk performers are expected to have had a solid foundation that is often referred to as “kung fu” (功夫, Gōngfū) before they can perform onstage. Among the many collections attempted to gather Guo Degang’s crosstalk and storytelling performance, this podcast is probably the most comprehensive attempt thus far to gather Guo’s crosstalk and storytelling – it lists Guo’s best performances throughout his nearly three-decade career.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

This podcast contains a lot of word jokes, special idioms, and cultural and historical context, making it more suitable for advanced Mandarin learners. But beginners, don’t be discouraged! Get your feet wet with Guo’s sense of humor if you like a challenge. Accent Alert: you will hear the Tianjin accent in Guo’s performance, which is also encouraged by the crosstalk & storytelling art genre.

 

#2 King Fafa (发发大王)

Link to podcast

Category: Talkshow & Entertainment

Duration: 1 – 2 hr/episode

About:

This podcast provides a glimpse into Chinese society through the lens of ordinary people and their own stories. These stories range from a Chinese mother going through struggles to give birth to her child in the UK as an immigrant, to the love-and-hate relationship between Chinese youngsters and marriage brokers. Or how about Huawei employees’ personal anecdotes, or a self-made millionaire’s confession on his sudden realization of the true meaning of life? Looking beneath the surface of people’s lives with a compassionate and sometimes somewhat cynical attitude, the talk show podcast Fafa King has won over Chinese podcast listeners.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Enrich your vocabulary and phrases bank with this daily-conversation based podcast. Suitable for medium-level Mandarin learners.
Accent Alert: you will hear mostly Beijinger accents from the two hosts.

 

#3 Chasing Tech, Teasing Arts (追科技撩艺术)

Link to podcast

Category: Technology & Art / Business podcas

Duration: 30 min -1 hr/episode

About:

This Doko.com podcast allows listeners to get new perspectives on technology, art, environmental protection, and business through the voice of aspiring Chinese youths from within China and abroad. Doko.com used to be a digital marketing agency but now describes itself as a “group of people passionate about the internet, a diverse, interesting and exciting place.”

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Doko’s podcast features interviews between the host and guests on topics mainly relating to art and technology in a semi-formal setting. Listen to learn how to discuss these topics in Mandarin. Accent Alert: you will hear the host speaking Mandarin with a slight accent and guest speakers with various accents of their origin.

 

#4 Let Jenny Tell You (潘吉Jenny告诉你)

Full title: Let Jenny Tell You – Learn English and Talk about America (潘吉Jenny告诉你-学英语聊美国), Link to podcast

Category: Education

Duration: 10 – 20 min/episode

About:

Let Jenny Tell You is one of the most popular podcasts around for Chinese listeners to learn English. Hosted by Jenny and Adam, the podcast offers quite rich and unique content, discussing various topics often relating to Chinese culture and news, and of course, diving deeper into the English language.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

As a language learning podcast, this podcast is actually perfect for intermediate learners of Chinese; it works both ways for Chinese-English learners as well as for English speakers who are interested in learning Mandarin. Because Adam speaks English, you always know what the podcast is about. Accent Alert: Jenny (the host) speaks fairly standard Mandarin with minor accents.

 

#5 Stories Across the Globe (环球故事会)

Link to podcast

Category: Society & Culture

Duration: 20 min/episode (length differs on Podcasts App Store)

About:

A skillful narrator digs into stories behind the news, examining various topics involving cultures, history, politics, international relations. This podcast, by China’s state-owned international radio broadcaster, often comes up as a suggestion on various platforms, and also seems to be really popular because of its news-related stories.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Well-paced speech with an intimate tone, this podcast is a good source for learning new vocabulary and improving your pronunciation if you are already an advanced learner of Mandarin. Accent Alert: the host speaks fairly standard Mandarin with a Beijing accent.

 

#6 Watching Dreams Station (看理想电台)

Link to podcast

Category: Interviews & Culture

Duration: 20 – 40 min/episode

About:

A fun and informative podcast with varied content coverage, this podcast has a refreshing tone and smooth transitions between narratives and (expert) interview footage. A great source to learn more about what Chinese ‘hipsters,’ often referred to as literary and arty youth (文青, wén qīng) care about with regular mentions of social media stories.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

This podcast has relatively slow-paced speech covering various topics, which helps to make you more familiar with new vocabulary and practice how to explain things in Mandarin. Accent Alert: you will hear hosts speak fairly standard Mandarin with minor accents.

 

#7 Black Water Park (黑水公园)

Link to podcast

Category: TV & Movies, Talkshow

Duration: 1 – 1.5 hr/episode

About:

Learn what’s commonly discussed among Chinese young adults about movies and TV shows through these entertaining conversations between the two good friends Ài Wén and Jīn Huā-er.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Suitable for medium-to-advanced-level Mandarin learners; highly engaging conversations involving lots of slang and colloquial expressions.
Accent Alert: the hosts speak with recognizable Beijinger accents, so be prepared.

 

#8 The Sketch is Here (段子来了)

Link to podcast

Category: Comedy

Duration: 45 min/episode

About:

With 5.426 billion user clicks on Ximalaya, this podcast featuring funny sketches is super popular and has become a household name in China’s podcast market. It offers a taste of humor appreciated by many Chinese, which is very different from what you’d get from a podcast in the West within the same category.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

Great source to learn colloquial Mandarin and funny ice-breakers, but challenging as humor is intrinsically linked with inside jokes and word play. Accent Alert: the host has what’s considered a soothing voice and speaks fairly standard Mandarin.

 

#9 Ruixi’s Radio (蕊希电台)

Link to podcast

Category: Lifestyle & Bedtime

Duration: 10 min/episode

About:

One way to examine culture is to look at what people generally worry about the most. This podcast, that always starts with the soft voice of Ruixi (the host) asking listeners “Hey, are you ok today?”, focuses on a darker side of society and addresses the social and mental struggles that adults in China are facing. Ruixi’s Radio is one of those podcasts that enjoy equivalent popularity across several podcast platforms, which indicates strong branding. For many people, it’s a soothing podcast to listen just before bedtime.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

The slow-paced monologue using language easy to understand makes a great learning material for beginning learners. Accent Alert: Ruixi (the host) speaks fairly standard Mandarin with insignificant accents.

 

#10 Stories FM (故事FM)

Link to podcast

Category: Stories & Bedtime

Duration: 20 – 30 min/episode

About:

Described by the New York Times as a “rarity in a media landscape full of state propaganda and escapist entertainment,” Gushi FM was launched with the idea “Your story, your voice.” As one of China’s popular audio programs, Gushi FM features stories told by ordinary Chinese of various backgrounds.

Tips if you are a Mandarin learner:

As a collection of monologues that detail stories, describe emotions, and argue ideas, this podcast suits advanced level learners. Accent Alert: in every episode, guests with speaking and telling stories in their own local dialects.

Want to understand more about podcasts in China? We’d recommend this insightful article on the Niemanlab website.

Because there are many more popular Chinese podcasts we would like to share with you, this probably will not be our only list. A follow-up list will also contain other favorites such as Two IT Uncles (两个IT大叔), BBPark (日坛公园), and One Day World ( 一天世界).

Want to recommend another Chinese podcast? Please leave a comment below this article or tweet us at @whatsonweibo, leave a message on Instagram or reach out via Facebook.

By Jialing Xie, with contributions by Manya Koetse

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©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 Arts & Entertainment

‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives

‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.

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Award-winning documentary American Factory is not just sparking conversations in the English-language social media sphere. The film is also igniting discussions in the PRC, where pro-China views are trumpeted, while some critical perspectives are being censored.

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Even as China posts its lowest industrial output growth since 2002, Weibo’s ongoing reaction to Netflix documentary American Factory is rife with declarations of the Chinese manufacturing sector’s impending victory over its US rival. This, however, is not the full story.

The first documentary distributed by Higher Ground Productions, owned by former US President and First Lady, Barack and Michelle Obama, American Factory painted a damning picture of Trump’s protectionist policies.

US manufacturing cannot keep up with the brute efficiency of its Chinese competitors. The story of a shuttering American factory revived by Chinese investment and an influx of Chinese workers, opening up a Pandora’s Box of cultural clashes, paints a telling, but pessimistic, picture of the current strategic conflict between the two superpowers, from the ground-up.

Image via Netflix.

Despite the Great Firewall, Chinese netizens found ways to watch the documentary, that was made by Ohio filmmakers Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert. Temporary links to streaming and subtitle services litter the Chinese Internet, making any accurate count of total mainland viewership nigh-impossible. However, one indication of the film’s popularity among mainlanders was the 259,000 views for a trailer posted on Bilibili.

One likely reason for netizens’ interest is that it neatly plays into Chinese state media rhetoric on the US-China trade war.

The inevitability of China’s rise up the global supply chain (and a corresponding decline on the US side) is a recurring theme in opinion pieces penned by the likes of Xinhua and Global Times, but also an increasingly louder cacophony of bloggers.

 

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing.”

 

One Chinese company (Wind资讯) posted on Weibo that “what Obama means in this film, in a very oblique way, is that anti-globalization will produce a lose-lose scenario.”

The official Weibo account of Zhisland, a Chinese networking platform for entrepreneurs around the world (@正和岛标准) posted a review of the Netflix film titled: “Behind the Popularity of American Factory: Time Might Not Be on America’s Side” (“《美国工厂》走红背后:时间,或许真的不在美国那边了“).

It warns the audience right off the bat to “not assume that this film will promote cooperation between China and the United States. In contrast, it will surely stir up mixed feelings among both audiences.”

American Factory shows that the US will probably lose out to China in manufacturing,” Zhisland writes. The article argues that China will win out due to its lower labor costs, lack of trade unions, and more disciplined managerial styles. “It’s an uneven playing field,” the author continues: “Time may not be on America’s side.”

Toward the end, the author claims: “We are about to enter a new era in which China will gradually become the most dominant player in the global marketplace.”

The fact that many on Weibo shared these kinds of pieces as a reaction to the documentary suggests there is confirmation bias at work here. As is common on Weibo and other social media, comments on the pieces like the above simply rattle unsubstantiated claims, frequently descending into ad hominems.

Another Weibo user (@用户Mr.立早) adds comments when sharing the above article: “The American workers repeat Trump’s mantra, but won’t act on it. They’ve been idling for almost a century. They’re hopeless.”

 

“American Factory tells you: separate the US economy from China, and the US will go bankrupt.”

 

Chinese state media also chimed in on how American Factory proved their most important talking points on the ongoing US-China trade conflict.

Xinmin Evening News, an official newspaper run by the Communist Party’s Shanghai Committee, published an article by Wu Jian called “American Factory Tells You: Separate the US Economy from China, and the US Will Go Bankrupt” (“《美国工厂》告诉你:将美国经济从中国分离,美国会破产“).

In this piece, Jian claims that “in the age of globalization, ties between China and the US cannot be cut. Using high tariffs to force U. S. manufacturing return to the States… is simply not realistic. Separate the US economy from China, and the U.S. will go bankrupt.”

The article was also shared widely on Weibo. Thepaper.cn, an online news site affiliated with Shanghai United Media Group, published a review titled “American Factory: The Things that Are Spelled Out and the Things that are Implied” (“《美国工厂》:那些说出来的,和没有说的“).

The author, Xu Le, writes: “What struck me most about the film was the look on the faces of the American workers. All of them … had the same burnt-out expression… Their faces reminded me of photos of people in the late Qing Dynasty. That dull expression reflects a civilization in decline.”

“We’re a family at Fuyao” American workers listen to a rosy speech from their new bosses.

In the film, When American foremen visit a factory run by glass manufacturer Fuyao in China, they are alarmed to see Chinese workers picking up glass shards without safety glasses or cut-resistant gloves.

A Chinese worker picks up glass shards with minimal safety equipment, shocking his American co-workers.

Xu comments: “Why is it that Chinese workers are able to put up with even more drudgery while being paid far less than their American counterparts? This is something we Chinese are very familiar with.”

 

“Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

 

Qin Hui, professor of history at Tsinghua University, once argued that China’s economic growth isn’t because of economic liberalism or government oversight, but because of China’s refusal to guarantee certain basic human rights.

In Maoist China, the state stripped the underprivileged of all political power in the name of the greater good dictated by socialist dogma. Post-Mao China continues to exploit the underprivileged, but now for monetary gain. He called it China’s “advantage” of “low human rights.”

Despite the nationalism sentiment fanned by American Factory, it has also provoked reflection on China’s advantage of low human rights summarized by Qin Hui.

Weibo user ‘Zhi21’ (@ZHI2i), a recent college graduate, writes on Weibo: “I just finished an internship at a factory. I worked 12 hours a day. More than 11 hours of every shift was spent on my feet without stopping, just to keep up with the assembly line. It didn’t make sense to me. After watching American Factory, I feel like American workers are lucky to only work 8 hours a day. That’s why the production costs are higher in the States. They pay too much attention to whether or not workers are comfortable.”

Another Weibo blogger (@GhostSaDNesS) notes that “in American Factory, Fuyao employees believe that to work is to live. They defend the interests of capitalists while they are actively exploited. Unions in the West chose human rights, Chinese capitalists chose profit, and Chinese workers have no choice at all.”

Some of these posts were apparently censored; threads that displayed as having over 200 comments only showed 12, and users complained that their posts were being deleted or made invisible to other users by Weibo censors. “They didn’t give any explanation,” one blogger wrote: ” I only expressed that I felt sorry for the people at the bottom. I didn’t question the system. I didn’t ask to change society.”

Views like that of @Crimmy_Excelsior (“I was confused. Which country is the capitalist one and which country is the socialist one?“) are apparently sensitive enough to be taken offline – they touch upon the tension between the CCP’s espousal of Marxist-Leninism and the plight faced by hundreds of millions of Chinese that have their working conditions driven down by capitalist markets.

Many users don’t buy into nationalist interpretations of the film, and argue that economic gain achieved at the expense of human rights is shameful. @陈生大王 raises a poignant question: “This is a glorious time for China, but I hope this film inspires you to think about who you really are as an individual. Are you the glory, or are you the cost of the glory?”

“The cost of the glory” is derived from a quip popular on China’s internet. The Chinese government often urges its citizens to rally together, using the rhetoric, “We must win this trade war at all cost.” Some netizens then twisted the phrase, saying, “We must win this trade war at all cost, and we later find out that we are the cost.”

 

“China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.”

 

Even among those in favor of China’s controversial work ethics, there have been concerns over the status quo. Earlier this year, engineers in the tech industry publicly aired their grievances about their “996” lifestyle. The term refers to a high-pressure work schedule of 9am to 9pm, six days a week. This is the kind of life workers in Fuyao are living, with no hope of improvement – they are that the company would find a replacement in no time, making any form of complaining moot.

Recent events in mainland China only increase the credibility of this representation. Factory workers at Jasic, a maker of welding machinery in Shenzhen, attempted to start a union last year. All those involved were fired. A number of college students and activists who actively supported the workers were detained and persecuted.

According to the “China Labor Movement Report (2015-2017)” by China Labor Bulletin (a NGO based in Hong Kong that promotes and defends workers’ rights in the People’s Republic of China) “intensification of social conflicts, including labor-capital conflicts, has crossed a tipping point, and directly threatens the legitimacy of the regime.”

More conspicuously, there are netizens that don’t buy the narrative that Chinese workers are innately “tougher” than their American counterparts. As user @胡尕峰 observes: “(In the film), a new Chinese CEO explains to his fellow Chinese that Americans have been encouraged too much growing up, and can’t take criticism. Chinese born after 2000 have been raised the same way! In my circle of friends, some mothers nearly faint when their babies are finally able to poop. Is China going to end up the same as America?”

American Factory’s objective portrayal of cultural shocks between American and Chinese workforces clearly generated thoughtful reflections and incisive criticism from a sizeable number of netizens, while also being another reason for Chinese state media to highlight the rise of China in the global market.

The chairman of Fuyao Group, Cao Dewang, made headlines this week with the quote: “China’s prosperity did not just happen overnight – Chinese people worked hard to make it happen.” “We indeed worked hard for it,” some commenters agreed: “That’s definitely true.”

By Anna Wang and Eduardo Baptista

Edited by Eduardo Baptista

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