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Trending Video Triggers Weibo Debate on Terrorism and Islam

Shocking footage showing Syrian parents sending their daughters off for a suicide attack has sparked widespread debate on Chinese social media on the topic of terrorism and Islam.

Manya Koetse

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A shocking video that shows how parents bid their young daughters goodbye before a suicide mission in Syria, has sparked widespread debate on Chinese social media on the topic of Islam – an increasingly recurring subject of discussion on Weibo, where anti-Islam sentiments are on the rise.

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.

imam

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.

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– By Manya Koetse
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

 

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Lee signa

    December 24, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    With Binfer there is no need to compress videos. They can be sent in their original quality. Another nice option to send big videos.

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China and Covid19

Announced Changes in Nucleic Acid Testing and Further Easing of Covid Measures Across China

Bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate.

Manya Koetse

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On Monday, directly after that noteworthy unrest-filled weekend, the hashtag “Multiple Locations Announce Nucleic Acid Testing Changes” (#多地核酸检测通知发生变化#) went trending on Chinese social media, receiving over 660 million clicks by Monday evening.

Immediately following demonstrations in Beijing and a second night of protests in Shanghai and elsewhere, various Chinese media reported how different areas across the country are introducing changes to their current Covid19 testing measures.

On Wednesday, November 30, China’s vice-premier Sun Chunlan made remarks at a meeting on epidemic prevention, underlining the importance of “constantly optimizing” China’s Covid-19 response and talking about a “new stage and mission” – without ever mentioning “zero Covid.”

This is what we know about easing Covid measures thus far:

▶ Strict lockdowns have been lifted in Guangzhou, Zhengzhou, and Chongqing.

▶ On November 28, Guangzhou announced that people who do not actively participate in social life will no longer need to participate in continuous nucleic acid screening. This includes elderly people who stay indoors for long periods of time, students who take online classes, and those who work from home. The change will apply to residents in seven districts, including Haizhu, Panyu, Tianhe, and Baiyun (#广州7区无社会面活动者可不参加全员核酸#).

▶ Guangzhou, according to Reuters, also scrapped a rule that only people with a negative COVID test can buy fever medication over the counter.

Harbin will follow the example of Guangzhou, and will also allow people who are mostly based at home to skip nucleic acid test screenings.

▶ Same goes for Shenyang, and Taiyuan.

▶ In Chongqing, various districts have done widespread Covid testing campaigns, but the local authorities announced that those communities that have not had a positive Covid case over the past five days do not need to participate in nucleic acid screening anymore. This means an end to district-wide testing.

▶ On November 30, Beijing also announced that it will start exempting some people from frequent Covid testing, including those elderly residents who are bound to home and other people who do not go out and have social interactions. This also includes younger students who are following classes online.

▶ Starting from December 5, bus and subway operators in Beijing will no longer refuse entry to passengers without a 48-hour negative nucleic acid certificate (announced on December 2nd).

▶ Although not officially announced, there have been various social media posts and reports about Covid-positive people in Beijing being allowed to quarantine at home if they meet conditions.

Chengdu Metro announced on December 2nd that it will no longer check passengers’ nucleic acid test reports. Passengers still need to scan their travel code and those with a green code can enter. Other public places will reportedly also start to accept the ‘green code’ only without a time limit on nucleic acid testing.

Tianjin metro announced that the 72-hour nucleic acid certificate check will be also be canceled for passengers on the Tianjin metro lines. As in other places, people will still need to wear proper face masks and undergo temperature checks.

▶ In Hangzhou, except for at special places such as nursing homes, orphanages, primary and secondary schools, people’s nucleic acid tests will no longer be checked in public transportation and other public places. They will also stop checking people’s Venue Codes (场所码).

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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