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Trump Versus Biden –The Sentiments on Chinese Social Media

Is Biden the preferred candidate for most Chinese, as is often claimed? An overview of discussions on Trump vs Biden on Weibo.

Manya Koetse

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With nearly three billion views on the hashtag page, the ‘American elections’ are top trending on Weibo (#美国大选#). What are the current Chinese online sentiments towards Trump versus Biden?

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, see Goethe.de: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet.
 

“Congratulations, it’s a boy!”, many social media users in China joked when Donald Trump was elected in November of 2016.

At the time, What’s on Weibo was closely following how Chinese web users were responding to the news of Trump’s election, and found that many were quite positive.

It was Trump’s “war on political correctness” and his new, pragmatic way of approaching politics that many said they appreciated. “A new broom sweeps clean,” was a recurring comment at the time. There was a sense of excitement about this new American president, this “funny businessman,” stirring up turmoil on the world’s political stage.

There were also those saying that Trump was not the ideal candidate, but just that Hillary Clinton was much worse. With her focus on human rights, the feminist movement, and internet freedom, many thought of her as the most ‘anti-China’ candidate, and for that reason alone, were happy that Trump was elected instead of her.

But in 2020, Chinese sentiments towards Trump – and the US in general – have shifted. As people all over the world are watching the developments surrounding the American elections with great interest, let’s go over some of the main views that surface in China’s social media sphere regarding ‘Trump versus Biden.’

 

Shifting Views on Trump

 

Although it seemed that people on Chinese social media, and even official media, showed a somewhat favorable stance towards Trump in the early days after the 2016 election, this generally positive view shifted to a more negative one after the president’s controversial phone call with Taiwanese president Tsai Ing-wen and the 2016 Fox interview in which Trump challenged the One China Policy. Many Weibo users called Trump an “idiot” and said he had “zero understanding of how diplomacy works.”

In 2017, Trump’s then 5-year-old granddaughter Arabella, who had been learning to speak Mandarin, seemed to be part of America’s diplomatic ‘charm offensive’ in China. The little girl, daughter of Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner, featured in a short video that was shown to President Xi Jinping and ‘Chinese First Lady’ Peng Liyuan during an informal tea with Trump at the Forbidden City. Arabella, dressed in a Chinese-style dress, sung songs in Mandarin and recited some poetry.

The video received millions of views on Chinese social media and was widely shared by netizens and Chinese official media outlets such as Xinhua, People’s Daily and CCTV. Many viewed the video and Arabella’s efforts to learn Chinese as a sign of better China-US friendship in the future, calling it “the best present” Trump could bring during his Beijing visit.

But over the past two years, views on Trump have soured along with the deteriorating US-China (trade) relations.

When the U.S. Justice Department officially filed charges against Chinese smartphone maker Huawei in 2019 for allegedly stealing trade secrets, seeking the extradition of chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou (the daughter of the company’s founder), the online narrative – reiterated by Chinese state media – was that the United States was using the judicial system for a battle that was actually politically motivated; it was not about Huawei, but all about China’s rise as a competing technological power.

That same idea was spread by officials, media, and netizens, when Trump issued an American ban on Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat earlier this year. Many deemed that it was not about national security at all, but rather a fight over technological leadership.

What also made Donald Trump more unpopular among Chinese was the fact that he pointed the finger at China after the outbreak of the new coronavirus pandemic, repeatedly calling it the “Chinese virus.”

When news came out in October this year that President Trump and his wife Melania tested positive for COVID-19, it immediately became top trending all over Chinese social media.

The news came right after China’s National Day, during the Golden Week holiday, and some jokingly said that the positive COVID-19 test was “Trump’s way of congratulating China during the national holiday.” Because the American president previously downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 crisis and continuously shifted the blame on China, the popular view on Trump getting infected was a simple ‘what goes around, comes around.’

Donald Trump is often nicknamed Chuān Jiànguó (川建国) on Chinese social media, which basically means “Build the Country Trump.” The name is just one among many existing memes and jokes about the U.S. president on the Chinese internet. A reason to call him Chuān Jiànguó is to make fun of Trump’s words and actions, suggesting that his leadership only brings America down and in doing so, also further accelerates the rise of China. In doing so, Trump is sarcastically called “America’s gift to China.”

 

‘Pupu’ versus ‘Dengdeng’

 

As the second and final presidential debate of the election campaign has finished and Election Day is nearing, the ‘Trump versus Biden’ topic is much discussed on Weibo, WeChat, and also on other Chinese social media platforms, such as the Chinese question-and-answer website Zhihu. In these online discussions, the two men are sometimes also jokingly referred to as ‘Pupu’ (普普) and ‘Dengdeng’ (登登), cute abbreviations for their Chinese names ‘Chuanpu’ (川普) and ‘Baideng’ (拜登).

Although it has been reported by various international media that Beijing allegedly would prefer Democratic candidate Joe Biden over President Donald Trump, this supposed official stance is not necessarily reflected in social media discussions in mainland China.

Western critics are also divided over whether or not Biden is the preferred candidate for the Chinese leadership. Some argue that Trump, who has weakened America’s traditional international alliances and has seemingly not been too concerned with human rights issues, is actually favored over Biden for basically strengthening China’s position in international society.

Despite the fact that views on Trump have shifted throughout the years, the discussions on Weibo and other platforms are still multifaceted when it comes to the American president. Many are not impressed by Biden’s performances either. The Democratic presidential nominee is praised by some for being “mild,” “scholarly” and “refined”, but others criticize him for using a lot of “empty words” and “talking in cliches.”

Some netizens support Biden merely for being “the enemy of an enemy.”

“Trump’s pragmatic and business-like style is very convincing,” one blogger from Beijing wrote about the second presidential debate: “I think he did better than Joe Biden, who is all about talk and no action (..) I hope Trump wins.”

In a recent lengthy WeChat blog about the US elections posted by state tabloid account Global Times, the author claims that when it comes to China, it actually does not really matter who wins the elections: “Regardless if it’s the Democrats or the Republicans, both hold a negative stance when it comes to the China issue. (..) No matter who comes to power in the future, there is a high probability that they will continue to suppress China.”

The author further suggests that there might be “a difference in style” between Trump and Biden regarding China policies: “If Trump wins, we’ll see more of what we have already been seeing now, without much international support. If Biden wins, he will be more likely to seek international consensus to target China and make use of international organizations to put pressure on Beijing. Also, Biden is probably more concerned about human rights and democratic values than Trump is.”

There are many Chinese web users who, for this reason alone, would rather see Trump win than Biden – it’s the ‘Build the Country Trump’ kind of reasoning. As one Weibo blogger from Dalian writes: “I hope Trump gets re-elected. It would just be better for China.”

An online poll that was held by a popular Weibo blogger earlier this year asked people if they would like to see Trump be reelected. Of the 8736 people participating, 74% said they hoped Donald Trump gets elected again. Only 5% said they hoped he would not be reelected. Another 21% said they felt indifferent about the American elections, as it would not make much difference for China anyway.

Although many people do care about the American elections, mostly because of how the outcome would affect China, others just enjoy watching the spectacle of U.S. politics. “I love how confident and unruly Trump is,” one commenter writes: “He is legendary. If Biden comes to power, the coming four years are going to be much more boring.”

Image of Trump shared on Weibo (@香港文匯網)

“Without Trump, the world’s just gonna be a lot less fun,” another person agrees.

But there are also those who do not care for any more Trump memes, jokes, and spectacle. “Everyday I check my phone, it’s all about Trump,” popular U.S.-based Weibo blogger Zheng Jun writes: “I really hope that once the elections are over, I don’t need to look at any more Trump news.”

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

 
This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.
 

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.

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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About Lipstick King’s Comeback and His ‘Mysterious’ Disappearance

After Li Jiaqi’s return to livestreaming, the ‘tank cake incident’ has become the elephant in the room on social media.

Manya Koetse

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Earlier this week, the return of China’s famous livestreamer Li Jiaqi, also known as the ‘Lipstick King’, became a hot topic on Chinese social media where his three-month ‘disappearance’ from the social commerce scene triggered online discussions.

He is known as Austin Li, Lipstick King, or Lipstick Brother, but most of all he is known as one of China’s most successful e-commerce livestreaming hosts.

After being offline for over 100 days, Li Jiaqi (李佳琦) finally came back and did a livestreaming session on September 20th, attracting over 60 million viewers and selling over $17 million in products.

The 30-year-old beauty influencer, a former L’Oreal beauty consultant, rose to fame in 2017 after he became a successful livestreamer focusing on lipstick and other beauty products.

Li broke several records during his live streaming career. In 2018, he broke the Guinness World Record for “the most lipstick applications in 30 seconds.” He once sold 15000 lipsticks in 5 minutes, and also managed to apply 380 different lipsticks in another seven-hour live stream session. Li made international headlines in 2021 when he sold $1.9 billion in goods during a 12-hour-long promotion livestream for Alibaba’s shopping festival.

But during a Taobao livestream on June 3rd of this year, something peculiar happened. After Li Jiaqi and his co-host introduced an interestingly shaped chocolate cake – which seemed to resemble a tank, – a male assistant in the back mentioned something about the sound of shooting coming from a tank (“坦克突突”).

Although Li Jiaqi and the others laughed about the comment, Li also seemed a bit unsure and the woman next to him then said: “Stay tuned for 23:00 to see if Li Jiaqi and I will still be in this position.”

The session then suddenly stopped, and at 23:38 that night Li wrote on Weibo that the channel was experiencing some “technical problems.”

But those “technical problems” lasted, and Li did not come back. His June 3rd post about the technical problems would be the last one on his Weibo account for the months to come.

The ‘cake tank incident’ (坦克蛋糕事件) occurred on the night before June 4, the 33rd anniversary of the violent crackdown of the Tiananmen student demonstrations. The iconic image of the so-called ‘tank man‘ blocking the tanks at Tiananmen has become world famous and is censored on China’s internet. The control of information flows is especially strict before and on June 4, making Li’s ‘tank cake incident’ all the more controversial.

But no official media nor the official Li Jiaqi accounts acknowledged the tank cake incident, and his absence remained unexplained. Meanwhile, there was a silent acknowledgment among netizens that the reason Li was not coming online anymore was related to the ‘tank cake incident.’

During Li’s long hiatus, fans flocked to his Weibo page where they left thousands of messages.

“I’m afraid people have been plotting against you,” many commenters wrote, suggesting that the cake was deliberately introduced by someone else during the livestream as a way to commemorate June 4.

Many fans also expressed their appreciation of Li, saying how watching his streams helped them cope with depression or cheered them up during hard times. “What would we do without you?” some wrote. Even after 80 days without Li Jiaqi’s livestreams, people still commented: “I am waiting for you every day.”

On September 21st, Li Jiaqi finally – and somewhat quietly – returned and some people said they were moved to see their lipstick hero return to the livestream scene.

Although many were overjoyed with Li’s return, it also triggered more conversations on why he had disappeared and what happened to him during the 3+ months of absence. “He talked about a sensitive topic,” one commenter said when a Weibo user asked about Li’s disappearance.

One self-media accountpublished a video titled “Li Jiaqi has returned.” The voiceover repeatedly asks why Li would have disappeared and even speculates about what might have caused it, without once mentioning the tank cake.

“This cracks me up,” one commenter wrote: “On the outside we all know what’s going on, on the inside there’s no information whatsoever.”

“It’s tacit mutual understanding,” some wrote. “It’s the elephant in the room,” others said.

Some people, however, did not care about discussing Li’s disappearance at all anymore and just expressed joy about seeing him again: “It’s like seeing a good friend after being apart for a long time.”

By Manya Koetse 

Elements in the featured image by @karishea and @kaffeebart.

 

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More Than Just a Visit: Explaining the Chinese ‘Cuànfǎng’

‘Cuànfǎng’ became a popular word on Chinese social media and in official Chinese discourse this year. But what is it?

Jin Luo

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Since Pelosi’s stopover in Taiwan, the word ‘cuànfǎng’ has been all over Chinese social media to refer to this controversial visit. But ‘cuànfǎng’ is more than just ‘visiting’ alone. Jin Luo explains.

It was a sleepless night for many Chinese people when U.S. House Speaker Pelosi flew to Taiwan on August 2nd of 2022. A new Chinese word created in recent years, cuànfǎng (窜访) appeared in the official statement that was issued by the Chinese Foreign Ministry at 11 pm that night, and subsequently it appeared all over social media.

Meanwhile, a pop song released more than 30 years ago titled “Tonight, Are You Coming or Not” (“今夜你会不会来”) suddenly became a Weibo hot topic before it was taken offline. What is this word lost in translation, and why did people suddenly get nostalgic over an old romantic song?

 
Cuànfǎng: A ‘Sneaky Visit’
 

Here is the original wording in Chinese and the official translation to English from the statement of the Chinese Foreign Ministry on the evening on 2 August:

In disregard of China’s strong opposition and diplomatic discontent, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi visited China’s Taiwan region” (“美国国会众议长佩洛西不顾中方强烈反对和严正交涉,窜访中国台湾地区.”) The word ‘visited’ in Chinese that is used here is “cuànfǎng” 窜访.

While the English verb “visit” is a neutral word by itself, the Chinese “cuànfǎng” 窜访 has much stronger connotations. According to the Wiktionary, the word is a derogatory, officialese way to say “to visit.” But it is not an easy word to translate, as there is no direct equivalent in English, and both the literal and implied meaning of the word need to be understood.

Cuànfǎng is actually a compound word: cuàn 窜 refers to fleeing, escaping, hiding, or running away; fǎng 访 refers to inquiring, seeking, or visiting.

Cuan as a compound character (Sohu).

To make matters more complicated, cuàn by itself is also a compound character. It is written as ‘竄’ in traditional Chinese: the top radical ‘穴’ means ‘hole,’ and the lower part is the character ‘鼠’ which means ‘mouse.’ The character, having the shape of a mouse hiding in a hole, therefore has the meaning of ‘hiding’ and ‘escaping.’

The origins of the character ‘cuan’ explained, image via Sohu.com.

The mouse or rat is an animal that is more often associated with negative things in Chinese culture. They are often considered sneaky, dirty, running around everywhere, and able to reproduce quickly. With mice so often carrying a negative association, cuàn ‘窜’ also refers to a kind of hiding and escaping that is negative or objectionable.

The second character fǎng 访 is a neutral word that simply means “to visit.”

At the New York Times, Chris Buckley captured the underlying meaning of this word in writing: “The Chinese word used in the official statements for ‘visit’ — cuanfang — connotes a sneaky or illicit encounter, not an aboveboard meeting.”

 
The Evolution of Cuànfǎng
 

Although it is a relatively new word, cuànfǎng already existed before the Pelosi incident and was not created in light of this controversial visit.

Since the word’s first appearance, translators have had some difficulties in properly translating the term into different languages.

Research papers in translation studies and international relations in China suggested that cuànfǎng is a “new derogatory term invented in recent years, specifically for the purpose of maintaining national security and unity, and condemning and exposing the national separatists” and “demonstrated the big wisdom of Chinese diplomatic discourse users; vividly described the image of the separatists, that they go on the run sneakily, just like thieves and mice” (source, in Chinese).

Other sources interpret it as “the unjust, improper visit conducted in order to reach hidden political agenda, to agitate and peddle the separatist ideas,” and:

1. You went somewhere where you were not supposed to go;
2. The visit was not accepted or welcomed by the (Chinese) government;
3. The purpose is to shake justice and create conflicts
” (source, in Chinese).

Cuàn was mainly meant to add an emotional aspect to the term and shows the contempt of the person who uses it.

Image via Wainao.

The word was first prominently used in Chinese official discourse when the Foreign Ministry in 2006 referred to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Israel. Since cuàn has the meaning of fleeing, it is especially suitable when referring to political dissidents who went into exile overseas.

Since then, it has been used again for further visits of the Dalai Lama to other countries (US 2014, Mongolia 2017), as well as for Rebiya Kadeer, Lee Teng-hui, Shinzo Abe, Joshua Wong, and others.

Although it is clear that the term is not only applied to Chinese dissidents, it is generally applied to those who conducted visits that were perceived to be hostile towards China, with Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit serving as a clear example.

Since the Dalai Lama has been living outside of China and conducted numerous visits to other countries, cuànfǎng was previously mostly used in this context until Pelosi’s visit, which ended up being good for more than 80% of the search results of cuànfǎng on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.

If cuànfǎng is a word with such strong emotional connotations, why was it simply translated as “visit” in official English-language documents? Some say it is because of the mere difficulty to translate this word, while others say it is the routine sanitization of English translations by the Foreign Ministry.

David Gitter, president of the Center for Advanced China Research based in Washington D.C., said that the external goal of Beijing can be different from the internal goal towards the nationalist domestic audiences, and that “more accurate yet counterproductive translations … [often] breach normal diplomatic language.”

At this point, it remains up for debate whether this is a linguistic constraint or a political choice.

 
Tonight, Are You Coming or Not?
 

While the term cuànfǎng has been widely used in official discourse, it has also become a popular online word. Chinese netizens seemed to be as passionate as the Chinese Foreign Ministry – and perhaps even more so –  in condemning Pelosi’s Taiwan visit and demanding radical countermeasures.

Chinese netizens were watching the entire event unfold with mixed feelings – on the one hand, there was a strong sense of patriotism and anger, on the other hand, the massive attention to the event also turned it into something that was almost as exciting as a celebrity drama.

On that specific evening of Pelosi’s nearing arrival in Taipei, Chinese netizens were doing two things: watching real-time tracking of Pelosi’s flight, and listening to a classic pop song released in 1991 titled “Tonight, Are You Coming or Not” (今夜你会不会来) (video). Back in the previous century, Hong Kong singer Leon Lai expressed the emotions of someone waiting for his lover to arrive in this melodic song, singing:

“你是否愿意为我停留

Would you be willing to stay for me

今夜你来告诉我

Tonight, you tell me

你是否愿意陪我走过我的梦

Are you willing to accompany me through my dream?

我的所有

My everything

(Chorus)

今夜你会不会来

Tonight, are you coming or not?

你的爱还在不在

Is your love still there or not?

如果你的心已经离开

If your heart has left already

我宁愿没有未来

I would rather not have a future

今夜你会不会来

Tonight, are you coming or not?

你的爱还在不在

Is your love still there or not?

别让我所有的等待

Don’t let all my wait

变成一片空白

Go all in vain

 

In the middle of the uncertainty about whether Pelosi would come to Taiwan or not, this song served as entertainment for netizens and became a “collective carnival” of people jokingly applying the song to Pelosi, turning her into a ‘mysterious lover’ that might or might not show up. (Later, some were unable to play the song anymore, although it remains unclear if this was due to geographic restrictions or because the song was actually taken offline by censors.)

“Taiwan has been preparing for your cuànfǎng ‘sneaky visit’, are you coming or not tonight?” some netizens wrote, combining the title song with the cuànfǎng term. In doing so, Pelosi became both a ‘sneaky mouse’ and ‘mysterious lover’, both a target of condemnation and subject of fun and banter.

All jokes and cuànfǎng references aside, Pelosi did end up realizing that visit, and its aftermath, including a second Taiwan visit by a U.S. congressional delegation, has had a substantial impact on U.S.-China relations that were already strained before the move.

Will there be more cuànfǎng to Taiwan? It’s likely not an issue of if, but when. For next time, at least we’ve got cuànfǎng covered.

 

By Jin Luo 

Featured image by Alexa from Pixabay

 

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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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.
 

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