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“Congratulations, It’s a Boy!” – China’s (Mixed) Reactions to President Trump’s Election Victory

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In the morning of November 9 (Beijing time), the whole world received the news of Donald Trump winning the American presidential election. What’s on Weibo offers an insight into Chinese responses to the election of American’s unconventional new president. From Chinese (official) media to Weibo’s netizens, the reactions to Trump’s triumph are favorable, critical, humorous, but most of all: mixed.

Chinese media have been closely following and reporting the American presidential election through social media over the past two days.

Although most media reports appear to be factual, they are not completely unbiased; their construction and tone reveal their attitude toward the newly-elected President Trump.

While most official Chinese state media reports put America’s new “unconventional” president in a subtle favorable light, economic newspaper The Observer responded with a critical view, while Sina Weibo netizens mostly responded with banter, with many of them expressing a favorable view of Trump presidency.

 

OFFICIAL STATE MEDIA

“What Chinese Americans Say About Trump’s Victory: ‘Now I can finally safely go to the toilet'”

 

State broadcaster CCTV News (@央视新闻) and People’s Daily (@人民日报, official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party) released the news of Trump’s victory as a factual newsflash, writing that Republican candidate Donald Trump has defeated Democrat candidate Hilary Clinton, and has become the 45th President of the United States of America.

Both news outlets used a relatively neutral image of Trump, who appears to be speaking in front of a red background.

Image: from People’s Daily Sina Weibo account.

Image: from People’s Daily Sina Weibo account.

Some Chinese media also compare the somewhat unexpected outcome of America’s elections to that of the Brexit referendum, after which voters later expressed regret over the outcome (the ‘Brexit regret‘).

Global Times (@环球时报, China’s state ‘tabloid’) is more explicit in its attitude towards Trump. Shortly after the election results were out, Global Times released an article titled “What Chinese Americans Say About Trump’s Victory: ‘Now I can finally safely go to the toilet’” (“特朗普赢了,美国华人怎么说?——终于可以安全上厕所了”).

The overall tone of the article shows a favorable view of Trump, as it features a female interviewee who expresses her joy that Trump will allegedly abandon Obama’s liberal policy for the LGBT [Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] community, so that she “does not need to go to the same toilet as a man (..) who believes he is a woman.”

The article also features another interviewee who believes Trump will bring more equality in society due to his crusade against political correctness.

Two other Global Times articles argue that the victory of Trump, as a businessman who knows what pragmatism is, will not radically change the future of Sino-American relations. They also state that present-day China is steady and flexible enough to not to be affected by this presidential change (see: Refuse to Talk about South China See- what is Trump’s Attitude; Wholesale victory of Trump- a hard lash on traditional American politics).

Image of Trump as used by Global Times.

Image of Trump as used by Global Times.

Global Times uses a “strong” image of Trump for their news posts- one of them shows Trump holding his fist in a gesture of resolution and victory, with American flags on the background.

 

THE OBSERVER

“American ordinary people are simple and closed-minded; they are not interested in international affairs and have very little knowledge about it.”

 

The Observer (观察 – influential Chinese economics newspaper backed by Shanghai think-tank) features a lengthy column about Trump, titled “Eight Reasons Why Trump Has the Last Laugh” (八大因素令特朗普笑到最后), written by commentator Song Luzheng (宋鲁郑). Different from the majority of reports from Chinese official media, the column suggests a general disapproval of Trump’s victory.

In the column, Song argues that Trump’s unexpected victory can be explained in various ways. He starts off by pointing out that as unlikely as Trump’s victory may be, considering his background and media portrayal, it statistically is unsurprising for the mere fact that it is very rare for American parties to win a presidential election after they have been the ruling party for the previous 8 years.

Song also speaks from his own personal experiences in the USA, saying that Trump’s triumph can be explained through the growing rich-poor divide that, for the first time in history, has made the American middle class a minority. This has led to huge changes in public opinion, Song argues. With people being dissatisfied with America’s current economic system, and the rise of terrorism and influx of illegal immigrants, it is mainly white people who support Trump, Song says: “I personally went to the American election (..) and those who publicly oppose Trump are black people and Muslims, while there are very few white people opposing him.”

the-observer

The author goes on to say that America’s ‘one-person-one-vote’ democratic system cannot avoid the emergence of populist political figures, and he implicitly compares the current situation to that of Hitler being elected in the 1930s. He points out the dangers of democracy, stating: “To drive, you must have a driver’s license and understand the traffic laws. But the democratic system gives each person the power [to vote], but does not require the responsibility that comes with it.”

He further emphasizes this point by writing: “The last time I went to the United States I found the ordinary people to be very simple and closed-minded; they are not interested in international affairs and have very little knowledge about it. This creates the conditions for the rise of such characters as Trump.”

Song makes some clear points about Trump’s election in The Observer, but a poll underneath the article shows that the majority of readers do not agree with his stance, calling it “absurd.”

 

SOCIAL MEDIA REACTIONS

“Congratulations, it’s a boy!”

 

The American elections became the number one trending topic (#美国大选#) on Sina Weibo on November 9.

number-one

Many netizens understand Trump’s triumph, saying they support him: “This shows that the [rural] country overlays the cities, they’ve finally won national victory the revolutionary way,” one happy netizen responds.

“I speak for the entire Weibo population,” one netizen writes: “and I would like to express sincere congratulations, and would like to welcome you to Chinese social media.”

For a majority of Weibo users, the election outcome is a source of banter. Some commenters said: “Congratulations! It’s a boy!” Another netizen said: “Hi, I am Hillary, and now that I’ve lost I have no money to go home. Could someone wire me 2000 dollars?”

Xinhua (@新华网), the official media outlet of the People’s Republic of China, joined in the banter by publishing a humorous post on Weibo that asked whether American people would change their mind and be willing to exchange Trump for the three baby pandas that are leaving the USA for China.

xinhua

Title: “American Netizens wish to Exchange Trump for Three Chinese Giant Pandas.”

“The American people would probably want to [trade in Trump], but we’d refuse,” one netizen responds. Another person commented: “If Trump would stay in the zoo, I’d be willing to!”

The humorous social media reactions in China about the Trump triumph are similar to those after Brexit, when netizens also used humour and entertainment to discuss the situation. We can expect more Trump memes and jokes to come up on Chinese social media in the coming few weeks.

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

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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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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China and Covid19

The ‘Blank White Paper Protest’ in Beijing and Online Discussions on “Outside Forces”

As people in Beijing, Shanghai, and other places take to the streets holding up white papers, some have dubbed this the “A4 Revolution.”

Manya Koetse

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A majority of social media commenters support those who have recently taken to the streets, using blank sheets as a sign of protest against censorship and stringent Covid measures. But there are also online voices warning Chinese young people not to be influenced by ‘external forces.’

Over the past few days, there have been scenes of unrest and protest movements in various places across China.

While there were protests in Shanghai for the second night in a row, Beijing also saw crowds gathering around the Liangmahe area in the city’s Chaoyang District on Sunday night.

Some videos showed crowds softly singing the song “Farewell” (送别) in commemoration of those who lost their lives during the deadly inferno in Urumqi.

Later, people protested against stringent Covid measures.

“The crowds at Liangmahe are amazing,” some people on Weibo commented.

Photos and videos coming from the area showed how people were holding up blank sheets of white paper.

Earlier this weekend, students in Nanjing and Xi’an also held up blank paper sheets in protest of censorship and as the only ‘safe’ way to say what could otherwise not be said. This form of protest also popped up during the Hong Kong protests, as also described in the recent book by Louisa Lim (Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong).

The recurring use of blank paper sheets led to some dubbing the protests an “A4 Revolution.”

“When can we have freedom of speech? Maybe it can start at Beijng’s Liangmahe,” one person on Weibo wrote on Sunday night.

Another Beijing-based netizen wrote: “Before going to sleep I saw what was happening in Liangmahe on my WeChat Moments and then I looked at Weibo and saw that the Xicheng area had added 279 new Covid cases. I started thinking about my own everyday life and the things I am doing. I can’t help but feel a sense of isolation, because I can’t fight and do not dare to raise my voice.”

“I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in 2022. I didn’t dare to believe this is happening in Beijing. I do not dare to believe that again it will all have been useless tomorrow morning,” one Weibo user commented.

During the night, various people at the scene shouted out things such as “we want to go out and work,” and other hopes they have. One person yelled: “I want to go out and see a movie!”

“I want to go and see a movie.”

The phrase “I wanna go watch a movie” (“我要看电影”) was also picked up on social media, with some people commenting : “I am not interested in political regimes, I just want to be able to freely see a movie.” “I want to see a movie! I want to sit in a cinema and watch a movie! I want to watch a movie that is uncensored!”

Despite social media users showing a lot of support for students and locals standing up and making their voices heard, not everyone was supportive of this gathering in Beijing. Some suggested that since Liangmahe is near Beijing’s foreign embassy district, there must be some evil “foreign forces” meddling and creating unrest.

Others expressed that people were starting to demand too many different things instead of solely focusing on China’s zero Covid policies, losing the momentum of the original intention of the protest.

Political commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also posted about the recent unrest on his Weibo account on Sunday night:

The people have the right to express their opinions, and you may have good and honest aspirations and have the intention to express legitimate demands. But I want to remind you that many things have their own rules, and when everyone participates in the movement, its direction might become very difficult for ordinary participants to continue to control, and it can easily to be used or even hijacked by separate forces, which may eventually turn into a flood that destroys all of our lives.”

Hu also called on people to keep striving to solve existing problems, but to stay clear-headed, suggesting that it is important for the people and the government to maintain unity in this challenging time.

The term “outside forces” or “external forces” (外部势力) increasingly popped up in social media discussions on late Sunday night.

“I worry a lot of meddling by external forces. Let’s be vigilant of a color revolution. I just hope things will get better,” one netizen from Hubei wrote.

“Young people should not be incited by a few phrases and blindly follow. Everyone will approve of people rationally defending their rights, but stay far away from color revolutions.”

The idea that foreign forces meddle in Chinese affairs for their own agenda has come up various times over the past years, during the Hong Kong protests but also during small-scale protests, such as a local student protest in Chengdu in 2021.

The term “color revolution” is recurring in these kind of discussions, with some netizens suggesting that foreign forces, such as the CIA, are trying to get local people to cause unrest through riots or demonstrations to undermine the stability of the government.

“It’s not always external forces, it can also just be opposition,” one person on Weibo replied: “In every country you’ll have different opinions.”

“What outside forces?” another commenter said: “I’m not an external force! I am just completely fed up with the Covid measures!”

Read more about the “11.24” unrest in China here.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

If you appreciate what we do, please subscribe here or support us by donating.

 

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