“Please stop knocking on the watermelons; they will not respond to it!!!” – this is the Italian supermarket sign that has recently caused much amused discussion amongst Chinese netizens. Over the past few days, the Italian notice has become the topic of conversation on Chinese social media as it was shared by netizens thousands of times.
The “watermelon knocking” notice can be seen sticking out of a cart of watermelons in what allegedy is an Italian supermarket. The picture has especially created much discussion since multiple Chinese media reported it was a notice specifically aimed at Chinese customers.
Many netizens, however, do not believe it and suggest that “watermelon-knocking” is a global practice.
The picture has been posted on Chinese social media by many different Chinese news media with the additional tag “Italian supermarket’s note to the Chinese”. Chengdu Commercial Paper (@成都商报) and Sina Tianjin (@新浪天津), for example, both posted the following blog:
“Italian supermarkets set up a sign for Chinese customers: “Dear customer, please do not tap the watermelons again. They really will not respond!!!” If you are there, what do you want to say to the Italian supermarket?”
The Chengdu Commercial Newspaper post alone already was shared 7700 times within a day, and the watermelon discussion continues on many different Weibo accounts. Many netizens find the picture amusing and stress the importance of “melon-knocking” to pick a good melon.
“We have been communicating with watermelons for thousands of years. We can hear their life story with a simple knock”, joked one netizen.
“I just want to say hello. If it does want to not respond, it’s their own business. At least I can show my passion”, another netizen remarked.
Some netizens believe that “watermelon-knocking” is an exclusive practice of the Chinese, and find the supermarket advice unreasonable: “Knocking before eating is the basic respect we show watermelons. Respect, do you understand? No, you don’t understand. Only we from the land of politeness can understand”, writes one netizen.
While some netizens seem to have much fun by participating in the “melon communication” discussion, many other netizens simply want to know the truth behind the news reports, asking: “Excuse me, but which word actually means ‘Chinese’?”
A few netizens are angry at the media for spreading rumors. One netizen writes under the Chengdu Commercial News post: “This is mainstream media talking negatively about its fellow countrymen. I suppose you don’t even understand what is written on the board? (..) Aren’t you ashamed of yourself, using such tricks to attract attention?”
There are also people who are angered that Chinese abroad are often associated with negative things: “When people see anything negative in foreign countries, they immediately associate them with things at home. So deplorable!”
In the meantime, there has been some clarification about the picture. Chinese media channel iRead (@壹读) stated that the notice targets customers in general, and provided evidence of how knocking is a global practice of melon testing in the form of an American chef explaining that a good melon should “feel heavier than it looks” and should have a “nice hollow sound when you hit it”.
That watermelon-knocking is a serious issue became clear in 2013, when Chinese students developed a special ‘pick a good watermelon app’. The Chinese app, simply titled ‘Listen to the Watermelon’ (听西瓜), determines whether or not a watermelon is ripe based on its tapping sound (SCMP 2013).
Despite the different online reactions, discussion of the Italian watermelon sign shows that many Chinese are sensitive to how they are perceived abroad. The recent news hoax on Chinese people selling human meat in Africa, or the 2015 news about Switzerland introducing special trains for loud Chinese tourists all became big topics on Chinese social media. Many Chinese netizens have stressed that they are aware of the negative stories surrounding their overseas tourists, and often speak about improving their global image.
In this case, however, Chinese netizens can be rest assured that the watermelon knocking sign is not specifically directed at them. Watermelon knocking is something everybody apparently does – whether or not the melon will respond does not seem to be an issue.
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Beijing Medical Graduates Open BBQ Diner, Offer Discount for Every Academic Publication
These Ivy League medical graduate students from Beijing love the academic world and barbecued meat. They will give you a discount if you’re the author of a recent scientific publication.
Wang Jian (王建) and Cheng Si (程丝), top medical graduate students from Beijing’s most prestigious universities Beida and Tsinghua, have operated hand in hand with sixteen other former classmates in opening up their own barbecue joint in the capital’s city center.
The restaurant, “The Lancet BBQ” (柳叶刀烧烤), named after one of the world’s oldest and best known general medical journals, is located near Xizhimen and Beijing Jiaotong University and was opened in April of 2017.
On October 10, the ‘Lancet BBQ’ became a top trending topic on Chinese social media after a WeChat article by the restaurant’s owners received much attention by Chinese media and was read 100,000 times within an hour.
On Weibo, the hashtag ‘Top Students from Beida & Tsinghua Open BBQ Place’ (#北大清华学霸合伙开烧烤店#) received 840,000 views on Tuesday.
The post says:
“Since three months ago, we started with a promotion at our restaurant. (..) It is meant to encourage everyone’s research and is also meant for those people who have had their academic paper published and want to celebrate it at our restaurant.”
“Every person who is the author of a publication in an academic journal listed in the SCI, SSCI, or CSSI within the past five years, can come to the restaurant, show us the proof, and obtain a discount.”
The restaurant owners have a special way of calculating academics’ discounts, namely: “Total Bill – Impact Factor * 10 = Discounted Price” (“总费用-影响因子*10=优惠价格). The impact factor is a measure of the frequency with which a scientific journal has been cited.
To give an example, a recent publication in the Cancer Research journal will give you ten points for impact factor, meaning a 200 RMB (30 US$) restaurant bill will get a 100 RMB (15$) discount.
If your publication was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, it will give you a 20-points impact factor. If the total costs at the restaurant are 200 RMB (30 US$) you will then get the entire bill for free (200 – (10 * 10) = 0).
For a publication in the Lancet, that has a journal impact factor of 47, you could get the biggest discount.*
From performing surgery to roasting meat
The idea to start the barbecue restaurant came from Wang Jian. The young doctor and fresh graduate found himself short of money in 2016 and decided he needed a side job. His love for Xuzhou cuisine led him to the idea of starting a Xuzhou barbecue diner.
China Youth Daily writes that it took Wang Jian some time to convince his partner Cheng Si, also a young doctor, to open up the restaurant together. But within a time frame of six months, Wang turned himself into an expert on the restaurant business and was able to gather a group of fellow graduates to raise the capital and start up the restaurant.
Although the 12-table restaurant might seem like any other barbecue place, the medical background of its owners does seep through. Cheng Si will sometimes say: “There are two new patients at the door,” when the restaurant has two new customers.
Besides serving healthy foods, the restaurant reportedly also upholds the best hygiene standards.
Despite the recent attention for the restaurant on Weibo and in Chinese media, some netizens are critical about the owners’ double job. “You’re already doing the brainy jobs, let the common people do work like this,” some say.
“How is being a doctor not enough to provide for your income?”, many wonder.
According to China Medical News, a typical doctor at a large tertiary level hospital in Beijing will officially earn about 46,000 yuan (US$7500) a year. But in reality, they note, doctors earn more than three times that – about 180,000 yuan ($29,000) a year – due to, among others, bonuses and commissions.
But some people do not seem to mind much, saying they would prefer to have a doctor who also happens to be a BBQ cook, than a BBQ cook who also happens to be a doctor.
* The discount explanation on WeChat is as set out here, but in an interview with China Youth Daily the owners say the discount can be up to 30% of the total meal bill, and that this discount can be shared with everyone at the table.
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The Anti “Halalification” Crusade of Chinese Netizens
Discussions on the so-called ‘halalification’ of China have flared up after delivery app Meituan introduced separate boxes for its halal food deliveries this week. Many netizens see the growing prevalence of halal food in China as a threat to a unified society and feel that featuring special services for Muslims is discriminatory against non-Muslims.
The “halal-ification” (清真泛化) of food products in China has been a hot issue on Chinese social media over the past two years. Discussions on the spread of halal food in China broke out again this week when food delivery platform Meituan Takeaway (美团外卖) locally introduced a special halal channel and separate delivery boxes for halal food.
What especially provoked online anger was the line used by Meituan to promote its new services, saying it would “make people eat more safely” (Literally: “Using separate boxes for halal food will put your mind at ease.”)
Many netizens said the measure discriminates against non-Muslims. They called on others to boycott Meituan and to delete the app from their phone. In response, the topic ‘Is Meituan Going Bankrupt?’ (#美团今天倒闭了吗#) received over 3.7 million views on Weibo, with thousands of netizens discussing the issue under various hashtags.
RAISING AWARENESS ABOUT ISLAMIC DIETARY LAW
“China is a secular country ruled by an atheist Party, and firmly boycotts Islamic laws.”
A popular Weibo imam called Li Haiyang from Henan wrote a post in March titled “Raising Awareness about Islamic Dietary Law” (“关于清真食品立法的几点认识“), in which he discussed the importance of national standards on halal food in China.
Li Haiyang, who is part of China’s Henan Islam Society (河南省伊斯兰教协会), wrote that all Muslims should follow the classic rules and abide by their beliefs, of which Islamic dietary laws are an important part, and that the PRC cannot discriminate against Muslim ethnic groups by refusing to legally protect Muslim halal food.
At the time, the imam’s post was shared over 500 times and besides much support, it also attracted many comments strongly opposing the imam’s views. A typical comment said: “China is a secular country ruled by an atheist Party, and firmly boycotts Islamic laws!”
“Halalification is not good for national harmony and not conducive to the healthy development of Chinese Islam.”
In Chinese, the word for ‘halal’ is qīngzhēn 清真, which also means ‘Islamic’ and ‘Muslim.’ The two characters the word is composed of (清 and 真) literally mean ‘clean’ and ‘pure.’ The various meanings of the Chinese word for ‘halal’ somewhat complicate discussions on the matter.
In the halal food debate on Chinese social media, the term qīngzhēn fànhuà (清真泛化) is often used – a new term that popped up in Chinese media in 2016. It basically means ‘halal-ification’ or ‘halal generalization,’ but because qīngzhēn also means ‘Islamic,’ it can also imply ‘Islamization.’
And that is precisely what is at the heart of the discussion on the spread of halal food on Chinese social media: those who oppose the spread of halal food in the PRC connect the normalization of Islamic dietary laws to an alleged greater societal shift towards Islam. The spread of ‘Islam’ and ‘halal food’ are practically the same things in these discussions through the concept of qingzhen.
Another issue that plays a role is the idea that ‘qingzhen‘ stands for ‘clean and pure’ food. This distinction between halal and non-halal food implies that while the one is clean food, non-halal food is ‘unclean’ and ‘dirty,’ much to the dismay of many net users. Some people suggest that the name of ‘halal food’ should be changed to ‘Muslim food.’
On Baike, Baidu’s Wikipedia-like platform, the page explaining the term qīngzhēn fànhuà 清真泛化 says: “The term [halalification] originally only referred to the scope of the specific diet of [Muslim] ethnic groups, and has now spread to the domains of family life and even social life beyond diet, including things such as halal water, halal tooth paste, and halal paper towels.”
The Baike page explains that halal products are hyped by companies that are merely seeking to gain profits. It also says that halalification is “not good for national harmony” and “not conducive to the healthy development of Chinese Islam.”
Although there are no official government records of how many people practice Islam within the PRC, it is estimated that there currently are around 23 million Muslims in China, which is less than 2% of the total population. According to Pew Research (2011), because China is so populous, its Muslim population is expected to be the 19th largest in the world in 2030.
“State-financed products should not be religious.”
Most Chinese food ordering apps now have a special halal section; Chinese supermarkets provide a wide range of products labeled as ‘halal’ and there are ample halal restaurants in Chinese cities.
But many people on Chinese social media feel that the spread of halal products is going too far. Legal service app Ilvdo (@律兜) published an article on Weibo this week that mentions that many Chinese consumers might buy halal products such as halal ice cream or milk without even knowing it: “You perhaps drank [halal] water and indirectly funded Islam religion – because the companies that have halal certifications have to pay Islamic organizations for them.”
On Weibo, there are some popular accounts of people opposing the spread and normalization of halal food in China. An account named ‘No Halal’ (@清真发言) has over 143.500 followers. The ‘No Halal Web’ (@非清真食品网) account has nearly 90.000 fans. These accounts regularly post about halal products in Chinese shops and restaurants and link it to the spread of Islam religion in China.
The account ‘No Halal Web’ recently posted a photo taken at a Shanghai restaurant that shows a table with a sign saying “Reserved for Halal Customers Only.”
The ‘No Halal Web’ account wrote: “This already is Muhammed’s Shanghai.” They later stated: “In the Islam world, the demands of Muslims are not as simple as just wanting a mosque, they want their environment to be Islamic/halal.”
Verified net user ‘Leningrad Defender’ (@列宁格勒保卫者, 254465 fans) posted photos of a segregated ‘halal’ checkout counter at a Jingkelong supermarket in Beijing’s Chaoyang area, wondering “is this even legal”?
A Weibo user named ‘The Eagle of Great Han Dynasty’ (@大汉之鹰001) posted a photo on July 20 showing a bag of infant nutrition from the China Family Planning Association that also has a ‘halal’ label on it. He writes:
“What is the Family Planning Committee doing? Why is this halal? This is Jilin province, are we all Muslims? What is behind this, can the Committee tell the public? This is financed through the state, the public has the right to know!”
Others also responded to the photo, saying: “State-financed products should not be religious.”
THE MEITUAN INCIDENT
“Only when we as the Chinese people integrate together, can our country be unified as an undivided family.”
Although there is much opposition to the spread and regulation of halal food in China, the halal food industry also provides many business opportunities for companies who are eager to serve the millions of customers wanting to buy halal.
Popular food delivery platform Meituan faced furious backlash this week when it introduced its special halal food services. The so-called ‘Meituan Incident’ (美团事件) became a heated topic of debate on Weibo and Wechat.
One of the key arguments in the debate is not so much an opposition to halal food in itself, but an opposition to a normalization of ‘halal food’ (with the complicating factor that the Chinese qingzhen also means ‘Islamic’ and ‘clean and pure’), which allegedly discriminates against non-Muslims and increases social polarization. Many netizens said that if there are special boxes for food for Muslims, there should also be special boxes for food for Buddhists, Daoists, atheists, etc.
One well-read blog on Weibo said:
“National identity, in the end, is cultural identity (..). What is needed for the long-term stability of a country is integration [of the people] rather than a division [of the people] – let alone isolation. The national law should [therefore] turn ‘halal food 清真食品’ into ‘Muslim special food 穆斯林专用食品.’ This would make sure that Muslims don’t eat anything they shouldn’t eat, and it also liberates those (..) who aren’t religious. The law could confirm that there is a special kind of food designed for Islamic religious people to eat, instead of asking non-religious people to eat it as well. (..) There are more and more atheists. We should no longer distinguish people by saying he is a Daoist, he is Buddhist, that’s a Muslim or a Christian..in the end we shouldn’t even distinguish people as being Han or Zhuang or Miao or Hui or Manchu. Only when we as the Chinese people integrate together, can our country be unified as a harmonious and undivided family.”
The blog, that was viewed over 88.000 times, received much backing from its readers. One person wrote: “As there is now a national resistance against Islamization and religious segregation, how could the Meituan incident not cause anger amongst the people?”
It is not the first time that the separation of facilities/services for Muslims versus non-Muslims triggers online discussions in China. In September last year, the introduction of special “Muslim-only” shower cabins at a Chinese university also provoked anger about alleged “Muslim privilege.”
TRIVIAL MATTER OR SOCIAL SHIFT
“Today it is about separate boxes for food; tomorrow it might be about separate seating areas in restaurants. And what’s next?”
On Thursday, Meituan Takeaway officially responded to the controversy through Sina Weibo, saying that the promotion of halal delivery boxes was a local and unofficial activity by one of its agents in Gansu province. It also said it would strengthen supervision of its agents and their promotional material.
But not all netizens believed Meituan’s explanation. One person said: “I am located in Inner Mongolia, and your Meituan [here] also promotes the two separate delivery boxes.”
Other netizens also posted photos of Meituan’s food delivery rival Eleme also using special “Halal only” delivery boxes.
Among all the negative reactions and the resistance against the spread of halal food, there are netizens who praise halal food for being tasty and who do not get what all the fuss is about. A female netizen from Beijing wrote:
“Why are so many brain-dead people opposing Muslims these days? How does Meituan’s separation of halal food hinder you? What do you care if your yogurt is halal? If you don’t want to eat it, don’t eat it. There are plenty of people who will. Use your brain for a bit. Not all Muslims are extremists; just as not all people from the Northeast are criminals.”
But there are many who think Meituan’s separate boxes are no issue to disregard. One young female writer says:
“(..) Under the current national policy of protecting ethnic minorities, Muslims enjoy special privileges in the name of national unity. If this continues for a long time, the inequality inevitably will spread to other domains of society. Today it is about separate boxes for food; tomorrow it might be about separate seating areas in restaurants. And what’s next? Segregated neighborhoods? Trains? Airplanes? It might seem like a trivial matter, but if you ignore this, then those who are privileged now will go on and get greater privileges. The distancing of Muslims will only grow. I’m not saying this to alarm you. It’s self-evident that unequal benefits and the privilege of an ethnic group will eventually create conflicts between the people.”
Amidst all ideological arguments, there are also those who say it is all about the money. In the article published by Ilvdo, the author says about the Meituan incident: “Why do the boxes need to be separated? Because in general, Muslims feel that what we eat is “dirty” … but the product increase cost is shared by all the customers – so not only does it make us feel “dirty”, we also spend more money.”
They later say: “What we want is national unity, not religious solidarity. (..) You have your freedom of religion, which app I use is my freedom. Separate boxes and other special services will ultimately be reflected in the costs, and I do not want to pay religious tax. Luckily I have the freedom to delete this app and stop using it.”
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