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Pay Attention, Confused Foreigners: ‘Wan’ (卍) is Not a Nazi Symbol

Japan wants to get rid of the Buddhist manji-symbol (卍) on city maps, as foreigners associate it with the Nazi swastika. In China, where the symbol is known as the ‘wan’ character, some netizens seem to find the controversy entertaining.

Manya Koetse

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Japan’s official map-making organization wants to get rid of the Buddhist manji symbol (卍) that marks the location of temples on city maps, as foreigners associate it with the Nazi swastika. In China, where the symbol is known as the ‘wan’ character, some netizens seem to find the controversy entertaining.

This week several international media, including
the BBC, wrote about the decision of the Japanese map-making association to change its manji symbol on tourist maps.

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The 卍-symbol indicates the location of temples, but is often seen as the Nazi swastika by foreigners. With the Rugby World Cup and Olympics taking place in Japan in 2019 and 2020, Japanese authorities deem it is better to remove the symbol in order to avoid any misunderstanding amongst international visitors.

 

“Ignorant foreign travelers simply don’t understand Buddhist traditions”.

 

The news was also reported by Chinese media. The manji symbol is used in China as well, where it is a character pronounced as ‘wàn’.

China’s Sohu news writes that the Japanese manji is actually not the same as the Nazi swastika: the first has arms going anticlockwise (卍) whereas the arms of the Nazi symbol go clockwise (卐).

The article says that Hitler’s Nationalist Socialist Party designed the swastika that way because the German words for state and society both start with an S. This is allegedly why they designed the swastika in an S-shape.

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Another difference, according to Sohu, is that the Buddhist swastika usually is gold, whereas the Nazi symbol is black.

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The confusion between the two symbols is mostly created by foreigners, Sohu writes, who do not know the difference. Japanese netizens reportedly complain about “ignorant foreign travelers”, who simply “do not understand Buddhist traditions”. They should not protest its use – “When in Rome,” they say: “do as the Romans do.”

 

“By all means, don’t let them come to Chinese Buddhist temples. They’ll go crazy”.

 

On Chinese social media network Sina Weibo, a netizen called Wuguaixing seems entertained by the news. The micro-blogger, a PhD student at Tokyo University with over 100,000 Weibo followers, writes on his account:

“Ha ha! The much used Buddhist ‘wan’ (卍) character that marks temples on Japanese maps is opposed by foreigners, who think it is the Nazi ‘卐’ symbol. They now want to get rid of it.”

Other Weibo users commented on the post, saying: “Foreign tourists are just not culturally educated at all!” And: “By all means, don’t let them come to Chinese Buddhist temples. They’ll go crazy!”

The symbol can be found in many of China’s temples, either depicted on the Buddha or in ornaments.

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The writer of one of the post’s most popular comments wonders why the manji symbol is a problem at all: “Does this centuries-old symbol really need to make way for the Nazi symbol, that is just some decades old?”

One Weibo user remarks: “If this was about any other Asian country, it would be no problem. But because of Japan’s past war crimes, the issue is very sensitive.”

 

“Where did everyone’s IQ go?!”

 

Some Weibo users address the history of the symbol: “Strictly speaking, this is an old Hindu symbol that was then used by Buddhism.” This comment is backed up by a netizen nicknamed Black & White, who writes: “The 卍 and the 卐 are two different characters, and they both read as ‘wàn’.”

According to Brittanica Academic, both symbols, either clockwise or anti-clockwise, are referred to as a swastika. It comes from the Sanskrit svastika meaning “conductive to well-being”, and is an ancient symbol of prosperity and good fortune. It represents the revolving sun, fire, or life, Buddhas Online explains.

According to the Encyclopedia Brittanica:

In the Buddhist tradition the swastika symbolizes the feet, or the footprints, of the Buddha. It is often placed at the beginning and end of inscriptions, and modern Tibetan Buddhists use it as a clothing decoration. With the spread of Buddhism, the swastika passed into the iconography of China and Japan, where it has been used to denote plurality, abundance, prosperity, and long life.

The swastika was used as a sign of ‘Aryan race’ in the 19th century, and was adopted by Nazism in the 20th century (Quinn 1994, x).

“Where did everyone’s IQ go?!” one Weibo user wonders.

China’s Ifeng news wrote an article about the swastika and the issue of the clockwise and anticlockwise arms. It explains that Buddhism actually uses the sign in both ways, and they both represent wisdom and compassion.

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Although the issue seems more nuanced than a simple (anti)clockwise explanation, for some netizens, it’s not complicated at all: “The 卍 is a Buddhist symbol, and the 卐 is a Nazi symbol, please don’t mix them up.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Quinn, Malcolm. 1994. The Swastika: Constructing the Symbol. London/New York: Routledge.

Featured image from Flickr: https://c2.staticflickr.com/6/5179/5435812352_e2578ba5b8.jpg

©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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9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Roger Guindon

    January 22, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    Being a foreigner in another country I certainly would not want a country to change ay any cost, a symbol that has thousands of years of history.. History is history that’s why we travel to educate ourselves on other cultures. :O)

  2. Avatar

    Charuko Nakamachi

    January 23, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    I find this article to be interesting. So much angst over a symbol used for thousands of years with benevolent intent, usurped by one malevolent group a mere ninety four years ago, and troubled over today.

    I find myself both torn and mystified by this symbol. It seems harsh to me in it’s appearance with it’s sharp angles, but the Buddhist usage is one of benevolence. My sense is that the NAZI usurpation of this symbol has taken it out of its context, and stolen it from kinder hearts.

    Beyond that, it’s a very Japanese decision to remove it from maps that visitors would be using. The idea is to promote harmony and to make visitors as comfortable as possible. I believe that’s an exceptionally benevolent and laudable thing to do.

    • Avatar

      Domonique Brown

      May 28, 2019 at 4:51 pm

      That’s ignorant. Stop defending white supremacy. You should check your privilege. You probably think the “okay” hand gesture is safe to use. #BLM

  3. Avatar

    Peter Herz

    August 17, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    I am an American who is 1/2 Central European Jewish. My father, God rest him, knew of family who perished in the Shoah. But it did not take me long to recognize the wanzi as a symbol of Buddhism, not Naziism, when I lived in Taiwan. I would tell Japan to keep the wanzi, or however the Japanese pronounce it, to mark temples on their maps, and I would tell the rest of the world to learn some history other than that of Europe over the past three centuries.

  4. Avatar

    Andy Tithesis

    August 27, 2018 at 4:37 pm

    Most westerners have a Pavlovian response to anything relatable to the Nazi regime. We in America are taught very little of history outside a handful of our own believed victories. Few pay attention to even that I am afraid. As with most humans if you give them a cultural green light to despise and condemn something they will do so without a thought. Nobody wants to learn the details when they can act aggressively and spew venom as it is much more fun for most. Mankind will always have is beast not far from his heart but separated almost completely from his brain. I consider myself a Buddhist even though I am said to be tainted by my upbringing in western culture. I actually agree with that. Eastern thought is a rare thing these days worldwide. If you are on the computer reading this you to are more than likely tainted by the western influence. Still though there is redemption for those who can take it all in and turn something new and benevolent outwards. This symbol should never be taken down if put up for non radical reasons related to ignorance and racism. You should not be upset with the foreshadowed foreigners you should be upset with your own powers bowing to the almighty currency they greedily see coming. Your map company is a traitor to it’s own roots and you should let them know how you feel. Shall everything be made for sale to outside influence? It seems the way of the world as of late and it is sad and depressing. I have every religion in my heart and consider myself a student to them all if they will teach me wisdom beyond what our current world has to offer. Which really sets the bar pretty low actually but I shall remain hopeful that we as a species and a single race, the human race, can rise above the capitalist swindle and put a stop to such moronic and shameful sell out tactics such as this. This bewilders me and there should really be more articles like these on our side of the pond but sadly there is not. This is my opinion anyways. I thank you for your time. All are my brothers and sisters. Good luck to you all always. ♥

  5. Avatar

    jamey james

    January 6, 2019 at 9:32 pm

    I am in agreement that one should respect traditional history. I have watched a lot of showlin stuff and had worked the fact out for myself of the difference between the two symbols being clockwise and anticlockwise. This also includes the colours gold and or black. I think that one should educate them self and learn the proper history before condemnation application.

  6. Avatar

    Laura

    January 25, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    You MUST keep your traditions and wanzi. Don’t let the Occident tell you what you have to do. If the foreigners don’t like that, they can go back home ! Both Swastika have NOTHING to do with Nazism. We must stop this propaganda and protect the culture all over the world.
    In Europe it becomes also very difficult. For example in Latvia, where the swastika is a very old worshiped symbol.
    A french friend

  7. Avatar

    Rancid Boar

    July 9, 2020 at 7:58 am

    This article doesn’t do a great job representing the Swastika.. The Swastika is clockwise and Suawstika is counterclockwise. Both were used since ancient times… The first person to use the Sanskrit word swastika and describe it was the Sage Panini. Su=Good Astik=To be, therefore the swastika means to be good… Nazis didn’t design thiers since they just bastardized the design and meaning. Still it isn’t an anti-Semitic, ignore that aspect. Your selective attention and cognitive dissonance has already let you ignore the Christian Cross and Sword of Islam as anti-Semitic symbols, despite the fact that those were actually used to crucify and kill Jews. Only Western mf with identity crisis can make a auspicious symbol a hate symbol, and a torture device a ‘holy’ cross… Makes perfect sense… The Swastika is eternal and will be used as long as humanity exists.

  8. Avatar

    salesh Prasad Mishra

    October 9, 2021 at 7:02 am

    Oh wonderful This again.. You know folks, if you happen to one day read media not made by the west, or controlled by the west? Maybe you will open your eyes one day.
    and for the rest of you you should stop actually swallowing whole would Western media is shoving down your throat.
    it must also concern you that there are religions and even Nations that are older than your Bible but of course that doesn’t matter to you does it I know it’s a shocker.

    even everything that you read on Wikipedia has a very Western vibe to it and by that you know exactly what I mean they’re always talking about our lease to them. You have to start learning how other people and other cultures actually work once you do you realize exactly what kind of mind virus has been implanted in your brain.

    think freely

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China Insight

Why Russia Is Nicknamed the “Weak Goose” on Chinese Social Media

Multiple Chinese (military) bloggers started using ‘weak goose’ (菜鹅) term in light of Russia’s fading victory.

Manya Koetse

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While the latest developments in the Russia-Ukraine war are closely watched by millions of Chinese social media users, the ‘Weak Goose’ meme is becoming more popular among military bloggers and Weibo users, signaling a shift in online sentiments regarding Russia’s position and its military competence.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the latest developments regarding the war in Ukraine are a big topic on Chinese social media, where military bloggers, academics, political commentators, and ordinary netizens have been sharing their views on the conflict over the past seven months.

Back in February of 2022, many Weibo commenters expressed anti-war sentiments and worries about the situation of the Ukrainian people and Ukraine-based Chinese compatriots.

At the same time, there was also a growing group of Chinese netizens who said they supported Russia. One top commenter at the time wrote: “I resolutely support the Russian military action! This is the evil result of Ukraine following the Yankees (美国佬). We should seize the opportunity to liberate Taiwan and to recover the Diaoyu Islands.”

Those speaking out in favor of Putin and the Russian military mainly focused on anti-Western sentiments, and this online discourse was only strengthened by media narratives that also framed the Russia-Ukraine war – commonly referred to as Russia’s “special military operation” – within a Chinese context that stressed the humiliation and injustice suffered by China at the hands of the very same Western powers that were now condemning Russia and were trying to get China on their side (read more in this article).

Others also saw the Russian military invasion of Ukraine as a warning to Taiwan, semi-jokingly writing that Chinese troops could arrive in the morning, that unification would be completed by noon, and that they would all be raising the flag and singing the national anthem together the next day.

But now, seven months and nine days later, it is clear that Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine is anything but a quick ‘victory.’

 
“We’re Witnessing History”
 

This week, after Russia proclaimed the annexation of four territories in Ukraine, the Russia-Ukraine war has reached a pivotal phase and this is receiving a lot of attention on Chinese social media.

After a series of so-called “referendums” which supposedly showed it was the “will of the millions of people,” Putin claimed that Luhansk, areas of Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia were now part of the Russian Federation. Using increasingly threatening rhetoric, Putin said in his September 30 speech that Russia would defend these areas with “all the means at our disposal.” On Weibo, the topic received over 220 million views (#普京签署顿涅茨克等四地入俄条约#).

That very same day, Ukraine applied for fast-track NATO accession, and Ukrainian President Zelensky said that they are ready for peace talks with Russia, but only with a different Russian president. The topic of Ukraine’s application to join NATO became a trending topic on Weibo, receiving over 190 million views on Saturday (#泽连斯基签署乌克兰加入北约申请#).

When Jake Sullivan, the U.S. President’s National Security Advisor, stated that it was “not the right time” for Ukraine’s admission to the alliance, China Daily initiated the hashtag “Ukraine’s Application to Join NATO Is Met with a Cold Shoulder by the U.S.” (#乌克兰申请加入北约遭美国冷遇#).

On Sunday, news of President Zelensky declaring the key eastern Ukrainian town of Lyman “fully cleared of Russian forces” also became trending. A Weibo hashtag dedicated to the topic of Russian forces retreating from Lyman (#俄军从红利曼撤退#) received over 150 million views.

“We’re witnessing history,” some Chinese netizens commented, with others replying: “We’ve been witnessing history for the past two years already.”

 
Shifting Online Sentiments
 

But the online sentiments regarding the war in Ukraine have shifted over the past months, and there is now more emphasis on the weakness of the Russian military strategy. There are also more voices criticizing those who cheer for Putin.

Qu Weiguo (@曲卫国), a professor at Shanghai’s Fudan College of Foreign Languages and Literatures, denounced fellow Chinese who seemed “happy and excited” about Putin signing the decree annexing four regions of eastern Ukraine and who called it a “checkmate move” that put the West in a difficult position.

According to Qu Weiguo, these “patriotic” fellow Chinese – “I am not sure whether they actually love China or Russia,” he wrote – were overseeing the fact that it is not just the West that is being affected by the annexation, of which the legality is more than questionable. Qu mentioned the 2013 PRC-Ukraine Treaty of Friendship & Cooperation, which conveys Chinese support for Ukraine’s “sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity.” Qu suggests that in this context, China could not possibly recognize the four annexed territories as being part of Russia; and Beijng would also be obliged to support Ukraine in case it would be attacked by Russian nuclear weapons.

Author Du Zijian (@杜子建) also spoke out on Weibo, saying the referendum regarding the four regions claimed by Russia cannot be recognized: “It’s Ukrainian territory, it can’t be stolen by anyone.”

Image posted by Littlepigpig

Military blogger ‘Littlepigpig’ (@用户littlepigpig1), who focuses on the war in Ukraine, provided another perspective on the recent developments, suggesting that Putin’s nuclear rhetoric is just bluff and likely stems from despair over Russia’s inability to defeat Ukraine: “What would be the point of sending hundreds of thousands of Russians to Ukraine to be brutally slaughtered before launching a nuclear strike!?”

 
The ‘Weak Goose’ Meme
 

There are more people who now express that they see little chance of Russia winning this war. One regular Weibo user wrote: “The soldiers have no morale, the country has no money, and their equipment technology lags behind NATO.” “They’re so disappointing,” others wrote.

One term that recurringly comes up in these discussions, from Weibo to Zhihu, is that of ‘Weak Goose’ (菜鹅 cài’é).

The term, that has been surfacing for a few months, is a wordplay on 菜俄 (also cài’é), which means ‘Weak Russia’ and is short for “the weak Russian army” (“俄军很菜”).

Although ‘菜’ (cài) actually means ‘vegetable,’ it is also slang for ‘poor’ or ‘weak’ when used as an adjective (see this video for explanation.)

This image is another word play on ‘weak goose’, turning it into a ‘vegetable swan’ instead.

According to Jikipedia, ‘Weak Goose’ started to be used by Chinese political and military bloggers after they found that the Russian army advanced much slower than they had expected. They came up with the word to make fun of Russia struggling with basic military mistakes and low military capabilities.

Recently, instead of ‘weak goose,’ the term ‘weak Russia’ has also been used more often (so 菜俄 rather than 菜鹅; just for clarity, we’ll translate them both as ‘Weak Goose’ here). Russia is usually also nicknamed ‘big goose’ in China (大鹅) since the words for ‘goose’ and ‘Russia’ sound the same.

The past week, multiple Chinese (military) bloggers have started using this term again in light of Putin’s fading victory and the retreat from Lyman. Reports about Russian recruits allegedly being instructed to use tampons and pads on war wounds in light of a shortage of military supplies further strengthen the Weak Goose meme: “Who thought the ‘Weak Goose’ was so weak?”

Those using the ‘Weak Goose’ term are definitely not necessarily anti-Russian and also not pro-Ukrainian – they are just using the word as a joke and comic relief in a military conflict that has been dragging on for much longer than Chinese netizens had anticipated.

 
“The Russia-Ukraine conflict is not entertainment”
 

But not everyone on Weibo appreciates these kinds of jokes. “The Russia-Ukraine conflict is not some entertainment variety show,” one blogger (@Aglaia柒y) with over 220,000 fans wrote, criticizing those who are using the war as a source of drama and entertainment with Putin starring as the main “idol.”

Others also reminded people that the ‘Weak Goose’ is actually very resilient. Well-known finance blogger Liu Zhongling (刘忠岭), known under the alias of @笑看红绿, noted that there were many Chinese people cheering for the latest victory of the Ukrainian army recently. But according to Liu, it is not necessarily something to cheer about: “All the progress that the Ukrainian army is making now, comes at the cost of many injuries and military casualties. Considering that this war is going to take a long time, soldiers are far more important than weaponry.”

He added: “The ‘weak goose’ army is getting worn out (..) but by pulling back they are also preserving strength and that is not a bad choice. People who know their history already anticipated the Russians would get pulled down, but they also know the ‘Weak Goose’ is actually tough.”

Although the ‘Weak Goose’ meme is one that is just alive within particular online circles, it is telling of a shift in sentiments on Chinese social media regarding a conflict in which many initially believed Russia was like a strong brown bear fiercely attacking Ukraine, rather than a worn out goose nibbling on its neighboring country (reference post).

Chinese well-known political commentator Hu Xijin stirred away from any jokes. In his recent post on Weibo, he warned that “the world must be prepared for a further escalation of the war in Ukraine, even beyond Ukraine.”

By Manya Koetse 

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

 

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China Brands & Marketing

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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