A video showing parents sending their daughters off for a suicide bombing mission in Syria has become a top trending topic on Sina Weibo on Friday. The footage shows a man and a burqa clad woman with two girls, reportedly aged 7 and 9, saying their goodbyes before the girls leave to bomb themselves.
The video was spread on Twitter earlier this week. According to The Daily Mail (December 21), the video was filmed by the Jihadi father of the two girls, of which one is suspected to have blown herself up at a police station in Damascus on December 16. In the video, the alleged father of the two girls tells them how to carry out suicide bomb attacks and to praise Allah before they are embraced by the woman in the burqa.
The news was taken over by Chinese state tabloid Global Times on December 22 and was soon shared thousands of times on Weibo. The topic “Sending a 7-Year-Old Off For Suicide Bombing” (#送7岁女儿做人肉炸弹#) then became trending, receiving over 5,5 million views before Friday afternoon.
The trending news triggered discussions between Weibo users on the topic of terrorism and Islam. The main debate was twofold; many linked the problem of terrorism to the religion of Islam, while others defended the religion and called the terrorists the ‘rotten apples.’
“The Islamic belief has an inherent problem, and it needs to undergo a change, like Christianity did in Europe after the Middle Ages.”
The online discussions on the topic of Islam and terrorism have especially been surging on Chinese social platforms such as Weibo over the past two years. In 2014, China implemented several measures to keep religious expressions to a minimum after a string of terrorist attacks committed by Chinese muslim extremists.
Although China is a predominantly atheist society, there are five official state-approved religions: Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Christianity, and Protestantism. Islam is thus permitted in China, as long as it conforms to state-approved principles. Instead of guaranteeing free exercise of religion, the Chinese constitution only guarantees freedom of religious belief. China has a muslim community of 20 million, of which the majority lives in the northwestern regions of Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu and the Qinghai provinces.
After the 2015 attacks on Charlie Hebdo, officials increasingly expanded restrictions on ‘promoting religious extremist ideologies’, and the ban on wearing burqa’s or ‘face masking veils’ (面罩袍) was legally approved. These events sparked debates on the cultural identity of Chinese muslims and their religion at large.
News reports from Europe and America, such as the Paris shootings, Brussels attack, Orlando nightclub incident, or the Cologne mass sex attack, but also political discussions such as that over the refugee crisis or the burkini ban in France, all became trending topics in Chinese social media and gave rise to discussions on the topic of the influence of the islam religion or the identity of muslims in China.
“They identify themselves through their religion,” Weibo users said about Chinese muslims: “They only identify themselves with Islam. But we identify them as Chinese.”
About the religion in general, other web users said: “The Islamic belief has an inherent problem, and it needs to undergo a change, like Christianity did in Europe after the Middle Ages. If not, Arabic society will not progress.”
“The rise of aggressive anti-Muslim sentiments on social media is a worrisome step in the wrong direction.”
In the fall of this year, The Diplomat reported on anti-Muslim sentiments taking over China’s social media scene. According to author Mu Chunsan, there is a surge of hostility on China’s social media toward muslims.
The author connects this hostility to an alleged fear of the Han Chinese, China’s main ethnic group that makes up 90% of the population, that their position as the dominant group might be threatened and that China will become Islamasized.
“The rise of aggressive anti-Muslim sentiments on social media is a worrisome step in the wrong direction,” Mu writes.
At the same time, however, there has also been a rise in Muslim activity on Chinese social media. Earlier this year, What’s on Weibo reported on the rise of ‘Weibo imams’ with verified accounts from which they post videos or microblogs about Islamic teachings to thousands of followers.
Besides online imams, there are also a myriad of other accounts on Weibo that support local mosques and propagate the Islamic belief.
The rise of both strong anti-muslim sentiment on the one hand, and an increase in online activities promoting Islam on the other, has created an online environment where heated debates on the topic of Islam frequently take place, especially after an extremist attack.
“There really is just no way to avoid becoming prejudiced about Islam.”
The trending video of the Jihadi father is another topic that has given rise to widespread discussions on Islam religion and terrorism. Many Weibo users express their shock on the video, feeling sorry for the children.
“What did these children do to deserve this? Terrorist organizations really have no conscience,” one user (@北方汉子的邮局) said. “This just makes me cry,” another person wrote.
“Is this called a ‘Holy War’? It is despicable, cruel and inhumane. I am happy we live in a peaceful country,” another commenter (@成利国际) replied.
Many other Weibo users discussed the religion at large and expressed anti-Islam sentiments.
“There really is just no way to avoid becoming prejudiced about Islam,” one person (@丁花狗他爸) said. “This religion is like a cancer,” another (@雪天宇瞻) commenter wrote.
“Is it not time for the world to declare war on muslims?”, one commenter named ‘Waffen’ said: “Don’t talk about political correctness, and don’t talk about terrorists being just a small group among muslims. This religion is an evil cult.”
But there are also many netizens, also muslims, who defend their religion and say that terrorist actions have nothing to do with Islam.
“Is this what Allah teaches you? Under the Islam flag, you bring shame upon the religion of Islam!”, one popular commenter (@我就是小懒蛋呀) said.
“The majority of terrorists are muslim – this contributes to an unstable society.”
One Weibo user (@产粮君) responds: “I’ve just spoken to a true muslim girl, and these sorts of [extremist] things really are in the Koran. But the Koran is not a doctrine, it is a wartime classic book, which is why it contains extreme content. For them, it is a historical book and the actual religion is not like this (…) It is a mistake to equate the Koran to the Islamic religion.”
Another female Weibo user (@脸蛋胖乎乎) says: “I study in the Southwest. My dormmates are Xinjiang Uygur, Ningxia Hui, and Qinghai Hui [Chinese muslim minorities/regions]. According to the comments here, my life is supposedly in danger every day. However, the fact is that I’ve been happily eating their local specialties for the past four years. I accompany them to the Muslim canteen to eat, and they don’t care about me eating takeaway pork. There’s good and bad people, don’t kill them all with one stick.”
“Don’t exaggerate, people. There are good and bad people within this religion, more good than bad. Nobody’s born with a passion for killing other, it’s how they were raised,” – one person (@草地长青) writes.
Many Weibo netizens seem worried about the connection between Islam and terrorism:
“These parents who send their children off as suicide-bombers also think they are respecting their religion. You muslims really contradict yourself! Let me ask you, don’t you support the terrorists who want to start an Islamic State in the name of Allah? Sorry, but I have no respect for your religion (..) that brainwashes the masses,” – (@草莓布丁星冰乐).
“The majority of terrorists are muslim, and muslims are all quite extreme – this contributes to an unstable society,” another commenter said.
“Wait, not all muslims are terrorists,” one person (@江南第一妖僧) sarcastically added: “The nephew of the 7th uncle of my neighbor’s classmate is a moderate muslim! Don’t discriminate them! There’s good and bad people.”
One of Weibo’s popular imams (Ma Guangyue) writes: “Muslims who hurt other people do not qualify as Muslim. Muslims who do not hurt others qualify as Muslim. Only those who are non-violent and help others are good Muslims.”
For many netizens, the debates seem to have a happy and simple outcome: “I am just so happy to be Chinese,” many say.
©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at email@example.com.
Looking at Your Phone While Crossing the Road Will Now Cost You Money in Zhejiang
Pedestrians looking at their phones while crossing the road are getting a red light in Zhejiang.
Zhejiang Province in eastern China has recently launched a new policy: pedestrians crossing the road while looking at their phone risk getting a 50 RMB ($7) fine.
The policy has been attracting the attention of netizens on Chinese social media, where the so-called “Bowed head clan” (dītóuzú 低头族) – a slang word for smartphone-addicted people – has been a recurring hot topic.
People paying more attention to their phone than watching traffic while crossing the road can lead to very dangerous situations. Some graphic videos making their rounds on Weibo today show security camera footage of people getting run over by cars while looking at their phone.
The majority of people responding to the hashtag “Should people be fined for looking down to their phone while crossing the road?” (#低头玩手机过马路该罚款吗#) agree that this kind of behaviour is a risk to traffic safety, but some wonder if a small fine would be effective in combating this problem.
Some cities in China have introduced sidewalks with a “phone lane” and “no phone lane” over previous years, with Chongqing being the first city to do so in 2014.
As of earlier this year, the Pedestrian Council of Australia is also looking to implement a law that makes it possible to fine pedestrians who cross the road while looking at their phones.
In Honolulu, the ‘distracted walking law’ already makes it illegal for people to be distracted by their cellphones while walking in a crosswalk.
“Fine them!”, some commenters on Weibo say: “And also fine those people using their phone while driving their electric bicycles!”
“I’m not sure about the fine,” another person says: “I only know I bumped into a tree today walking looking at my phone..”
For many commenters, however, the issue is a no-brainer: “Just don’t use your phone while crossing the road. Personal safety comes first.”
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‘American Factory’ Sparks Debate on Weibo: Pro-China Views and Critical Perspectives
‘American Factory’ stirs online discussions in China.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Edited by Eduardo Baptista
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