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.
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).
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.
“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 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!”
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.
“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.
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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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