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Weibo Watch: An Explosive Situation

It’s been an explosive week on Chinese social media. Since Tuesday, when Japan formally announced its decision to start releasing waste water from Fukushima, related topics have been dominating Chinese social media platforms.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #12

This week’s newsletter:
◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – A toxic mix of factors
◼︎ 2. What’s Trending – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What More to Know – Highlighting 8 hot topics
◼︎ 4. What Lies Behind – Report on anti-Black racism in China
◼︎ 5. What’s Noteworthy – Yellen’s magic mushrooms
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – China’s “Lord of the Rings”
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Anti-Japanese riots
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Harvesting chives”

Featured header contains work by Weibo creator “A Boy Who Loves to Learn” @一个热爱学习的男孩, and by Toutiao writer “It’s Not That Complicated” @局势很简单

 

Dear Reader,

 

It’s been an explosive week on Chinese social media. Since Tuesday, when Japan formally announced its decision to start releasing waste water from Fukushima into the Pacific, related topics have been dominating Chinese social media platforms.

It’s not that often that you see such huge topics on Chinese social media, swelling like a tidal wave, sweeping through threads, comments, and spanning various sectors of society — engaging state media, businesses, influencers, celebrities, and the public.

Grocery stores experienced an influx of people stockpiling salt, with some even reselling it. Individuals queued for hours to purchase a bag of salt, and some headed to salt manufacturers for bulk purchases.

This salt frenzy stems from collective concerns about the impact of Fukushima water on food safety. Despite an existing ban on Japanese seafood, there’s unease that salt – in the near future and in the decades to come – might also become compromised due to radiation fears. There’s also a believe that salt might help in case of radiation pollution (iodized salt, however, is actually no antidote for radiation).

Some China-based Japanese restaurants made headlines for removing their Japanese decorations, advertising with their “international” cuisine – Our salmon’s from Norway! The sea urchin’s from Russia! -, or just openly telling customers they’re really not Japanese. One popular Weibo post joked that “the Japanese restaurant downstairs has finally admitted they’re not really Japanese.”

The ripple effect included consumers boycotting Japanese beauty products. On e-commerce platforms, tearful fish sellers faced worries about their business future due to contamination fears.

In the English-language social media sphere, critics dismissed the panic as unwarranted, stressing that the disposal is well within safety limits, and the environmental impact on seafood is negligible. “All of this consternation, just because of some low levels of tritium?” some asked.

Well yes.

But when you mix that with collective memories of war and humiliation, profound anti-Japanese sentiments in a deeply cyber-nationalistic environment, a media landscape where state reports on the hazards of Fukushima water amplify existing eco-anxieties, skepticism toward the G7, and a society where official narratives aren’t always trusted and individuals take their own safety precautions..

..you witness a rather explosive scenario, culminating in public unease, panic buying, and social media overflowing with hostile comments targeting Japan.

This weekend, there are many state-led hashtags trying to calm the storm, reassuring the public about salt abundance, managing over-anxiety, and ensuring the safety of domestic fish consumption. Ultimately, the anti-Japanese demonstrations of 2012 have shown the potential impact of online sentiments on real-life situations. As a precaution, the Japanese Embassy in Beijing has cautioned Japanese citizens against speaking Japanese too loudly in public and remaining vigilant. In the end, no party desires online unrest to escalate into physical violence – neither Chinese authorities, Japanese residents in China, business owners, nor everyday individuals who might be affected by such outbursts because of the clothes they wear, the car they drive, or the shop they work at.

This is our 12th ‘Weibo Watch’ newsletter, and I hope you’re enjoying the format and finding it helpful for catching up on key trends in China’s online media scene, alongside our regular website content. We’ve been tweaking the delivery schedule—weekly or every other week—and given the considerable research and effort that go into our articles (especially since I’m still primarily managing What’s on Weibo on my own), I’ve determined that it would work best to send you a more comprehensive newsletter every two weeks, coupled with a quick update on our latest articles every week.

We’ve launched our soft paywall ten months ago and while we’ve made strides (thanks to you!), we still need more subscribers to sustain our operations. If you appreciate what we do, please recommend What’s on Weibo to friends/colleagues. Your input and personal messages have been incredibly valuable, adding to our discussions on Chinese (social) media developments and improvement of the platform – so I’m super grateful for your engagement.

Miranda Barnes, who has a keen eye for the latest trends, and Zilan Qian, who’s been writing about insightful topics all summer, have contributed to this week’s newsletter.

Best,
Manya (@manyapan)

 

A closer look at the top stories

1: Top Trends Surrounding Fukushima Water | There have been furious responses from Chinese media and netizens after Japan started releasing Fukushima water into the ocean: “The entire world will remember what the Japanese government did this day.” Over the past few days, at least five out of the top ten trending topics on Baidu’s hot news lists and the Weibo platform are linked to the discharge from the nuclear plant and its potential direct and indirect consequences. We explain the top 5 biggest hashtags on Chinese social media, and what’s behind them.

Read more
 

2:The Voice of Coco Lee | Another explosive topic this week is the scandal surrounding The Voice of China, also called Sing! China. A leaked audio recording of the late superstar Coco Lee discussing her negative experiences with the Chinese talent show became the no 1 searched topic on Weibo earlier this week. The accusations against the popular show have shaken up China’s entertainment circles and the online condemnation of ethical standards in the industry also has offline consequences.

Read more
 

3: Empty Hall, Full Buzz | A local Sichuan Bureau of Civil Affairs, where couples register and obtain their marriage certificate, launched a livestream to celebrate the marriage registration ceremony for new couples on August 22, marking the occasion of the Qixi Festival, often referred to as the Chinese equivalent of Valentine’s Day. The celebratory livestream gained immense traction on Chinese social media, albeit for all the unintended reasons. Instead of a much-anticipated marriage boom (结婚潮), online viewers saw an awkward empty ceremony stage.

Read more
 

4: Two Blazes, Same Day | It was a noteworthy Tuesday in Tianjin this week. After a major fire broke out in the Xintiandi high-rise office building, Tianjin residents soon found out that another blaze was occurring not far away, causing the plumes of smoke from both incidents to be visible from multiple locations. These successive fires stirred a certain level of unease, further fueled by online rumors falsely suggesting a third fire was in progress. Although there are not many news reports on what exactly happened, the local fire brigade reported no casualties.

Read more
 

 

What More to Know

Highlighting 8 hot topics

“There’s something wrong with this water” meme.

◼︎ 1. China Responds to Japan’s Fukushima Water Disposal. The biggest topic of the week is, without a doubt, the Chinese response to Japan’s Fukushima water disposal and the anti-Japanese sentiments that have surfaced in online discussions along with a general public unrest. The first related trending topics already started on Tuesday when Prime Minister Fumio Kishida stated that, despite existing regional worries and opposition, they would begin releasing water from the ruined Fukushima nuclear plant on August 24. Although the move meets the safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, China strongly opposes it. Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Wang Wenbin responded that ‘relevant departments’ in China would take necessary measures to ensure food safety. China already has tight import controls on Japanese food and has now taken extra measures to ban Japanese aquatic products. (Hashtag: “China Responds to Japan’s Formal Decision to Start Discharging [Water] Into the Sea #中方回应日本正式决定启动排海#, 320 million views).

◼︎ 2. BRICS Summit. The 2023 BRICS Summit (Aug 22-24) has remained a significant focus throughout the week in Chinese news and on Weibo, where related hashtags surged to the top of trending lists. While in Chinese media, mostly positive news was coming from South-Africa in light of Xi Jinping’s state visit and the Summit, international media were more concerned with the fact that Xi did not read his own speech for the Business Forum in Johannesburg. Instead, China’s commerce minister Wang Wentao spoke in his place. On Weibo, news of Xi’s speech was presented in a way that didn’t explicitly indicate he hadn’t given it himself. Another noteworthy moment showed how Xi Jinping’s security guards were blocked from entering the venue. However, this moment wasn’t showcased on Chinese social media. The annual summit was marked by discussions of expansion: Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have been invited to become full members starting from January 1st next year. (Various related trending hashtags on Weibo, such as ‘BRICS Times’ #金砖时刻# or ‘Xi Jinping’s South Africa Journey’ #习主席非洲之行#, 410 million views).

◼︎ 3. Prigozhin’s Private Plane Crashes. Weibo saw a flurry of discussions regarding the reported demise of Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin in the early hours of August 24 after reports indicated that he was listed as a passenger on a plane that had crashed in the Tver Region of Russia. Chinese state media outlets soon shared the footage showing the plane plummeting from the sky. Drawing parallels to history, some likened Prigozhin’s situation to that of Lin Biao, a powerful politician who met his untimely demise in a 1971 airplane crash that many believe was deliberately orchestrated. (“Russian Media Report Prigozhin’s Private Plane Crashed” #俄媒称普里戈任的私人飞机坠毁#, 310 million views).

◼︎ 4. Trump in Custody.“History seems to unfold right before our eyes these days,” remarked a popular Weibo comment this week, reflecting the surge of major events. Amidst the Fukushima water disposal, BRICS, and Prigozhin’s passing, the attention also turned to the news of former U.S. President Donald Trump and his now-iconic mug shot. This image was captured as he surrendered to an Atlanta jail, facing charges of seeking to overturn Georgia’s 2020 election results. On Chinese social media, Trump has always been a source of banter (link, link, link), and that was no different now. Some people imagined that with all this political intrigue, he’s become like a star in a South Korean soap opera (Weibo hashtag “Trump in Custody” #特朗普被收押#, 150 million views).

◼︎ 5. The Voice of China Stops Broadcasting. Following the online leakage of an audio recording in which the late Chinese celebrity Coco Lee expressed her dissatisfaction with the treatment she received from the production team of The Voice of China (also known as Sing! China), the reality TV show has emerged as a significant online topic. While the program initially dismissed the controversy surrounding the leaked recording, suggesting potential manipulation and ill intentions, the situation has now escalated to the point where the show’s broadcast has been suspended as of August 25th. Zhejiang TV, the broadcasting platform, issued a statement on Weibo, announcing an ongoing investigation. Consequently, the airing of the show has been temporarily put on hold. (Hashtag “The Voice of China Suspends Broadcasts” #中国好声音暂停播出#, 730 million views).

◼︎ 6. China’s 239 Million Singles during Qixi Festival. Talk of love was in the air this week, as China celebrated the Qixi festival, often referred to as the Chinese Valentine’s Day. While couples celebrated their love for each other, attention also turned to the growing number of single individuals in the country. The figure now stands at a staggering 239 million. This revelation surfaced from the China Population Census Yearbook (2020), which additionally revealed that the average age for first marriages has shifted to 28.67, marking a 3.78-year increase compared to 2010. “There are more people who don’t want to find a partner, and for those who want to, finding a partner has become more difficult,” one top commenter wrote. (Hashtag “China Has 239 Million Singles” #我国单身人口2.39亿#, 210 million views).

◼︎ 7. Banned for Life from Visiting Pandas. Perhaps it’s time to do another update to our ‘Meanwhile in Panda News‘ series, as there’s been quite some trending panda news again. There was the news that baby panda Fan Xing, who was born in a Dutch zoo, will soon be returned to China. Another trending news item concerns two visitors who fed bamboo shoots and peanuts to pandas in Chengdu. While other zoos in China hold less strict rules, the Chengdu Research Base is not to be messed with – the safety and well-being of the pandas is their top priority. Feeding the pandas resulted in a permanent ban for these two visitors from revisiting the Chengdu zoo. (“Two Tourists Get Lifetime Ban on Visiting Panda’s in Chengdu” #2游客被终生禁入成都大熊猫基地#, 19 million views).

◼︎ 8. Switzerland Hands Seized Cultural Relics Over to China. A handover ceremony in which Switzerland returned lost cultural relics to China, including a Ming Dynasty vase, and pottery from the Han and Tang Dynasties, became a number one trending topic on Douyin on August 25. During the handover ceremony, Ambassador Wang Shiting praised the collaboration between China and Switzerland in the field of cultural relics. Both countries underlined their commitment to combat illegal import and export of cultural relics. (Douyin hashtag “Switzerland Hands Over 5 Lost Cultural Relics to China 瑞士向中国移交5件流失文物).

 

What’s Behind the Headlines

Notes from the team

Screenshot shared on Weibo of VOA’s article on the HRW report.

Human Rights Watch: Addressing Anti-Black Racism on Chinese Social Media

A recent report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) argues that China needs to take more robust measures to combat anti-Black racism on social media platforms. The report suggest that both major social media platforms and Chinese authorities systematically fail to properly address this issue.

The assertion made by HRW that Chinese social media serves as a breeding ground for anti-Black racism is not new. This issue has previously attracted international criticism. Last year, BBC released a documentary titled “Racism for Sale,” exposing an online market for racist videos featuring African children made to dance and sing degrading phrases in Chinese such as “I am dumb” or “I am monstrous.” Afterward, Chinese e-commerce sites closed shops engaged in trading such videos, Weibo shut down numerous accounts sharing racist content, and government officials spoke out against such practices.

But HRW argues that there are many other manifestations of anti-Black racism in China.While the report does not delve deeply into the specifics of the content they consider racist, it does reference videos that perpetuate racial stereotypes, content that belittles interracial relationships, accounts that impersonate Black people, and state media shows featuring performers with skin darkened by makeup. Platforms like Bilibili, Kuaishou, Weibo, and Xiaohongshu should intensify efforts to remove this kind of problematic content, it argues.

While the HRW report raises significant concerns, its approach also falls short in effectively conveying this message to the Chinese people. It lumps together various issues and shows a lack of understanding of China’s online media environment and Chinese perspectives, and how China’s differing pace in addressing racial equality and anti-Black racism also stems from drastically divergent historical and social contexts (read). Telling the country in the world with the least internet freedom that they should censor more is not only somewhat Orwellian, it also strengthens existing frustrations in China that the West often acts as a morally superior enforcer on the global stage. Within this context of distrust, many suspect that when Western powers accuse China of being racist, particularly against black Africans, they actually mean to disrupt China-Africa relations because they fear China’s growing global influence.

Predictably, the common response among Chinese netizens to the report was that ‘the West’ was once again revealing its true intentions by pointing fingers at China, despite ongoing instances of racist violence occurring within their own nations. Consequently, the report ultimately misses the mark by not effectively raising awareness about anti-Black racism in China. Instead, it fosters a sense of distrust regarding the genuine motivations behind a report published with good intentions.

 

What’s Noteworthy

Small news with big impact

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Yellen Had ‘Magic Mushrooms’ in Beijing |

It’s been weeks since the US treasury secretary visited Beijing, but her July visit has become a topic of discussion again after Yellen conducted an interview with CNN in which her noteworthy first meal in the Chinese capital was discussed. The restaurant where she had dinner is the Yunnan-themed ‘In and Out’ (一坐一忘), a local favorite in Beijing’s Sanlitun near the embassy area. Among other things, Yellen was served spicy potatoes with mint and stir-fried mushrooms, leading to online jokes about how the food would affect her.

The mushroom dish that is discussed here – and which has since become more popular – is called jiànshǒuqīng (见手青), which literally means “see hand blue” (in reference to turning blue when handled). It is the lanmaoa asiatica mushroom species that grows in China’s Yunnan region and is considered hallucinogenic, causing visions that locals call “xiǎorénrén” (小人人), literally: “little people,” referring to visual hallucinations where people see tiny humans. The fact that Yellen chose to eat such risky food on her first night in Beijing, ahead of important US-China talks, caused a great deal of hilarity on Chinese social media.

To prevent the mushrooms from causing poisoning and “seeing little people,” they must be handled with care and cooked thoroughly. Yellen claimed she did not have any ill effects from eating them, calling them “delicious.” Read more here.

Read more
 

 

The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

China’s ‘Lords of the Rings’ Needed Extra Support | Despite its initially underwhelming performance, the Chinese film Creation of the Gods I (封神第一部) has become a major summer box office hit in China, and the topic has become trending multiple times over the past week. With a planned budget of 3 billion yuan (approximately US$410 million), the mythological epic stands as the most ambitious and costly production in Chinese film history, having been in the works for years. Because director Wu’ershan first got the idea for this film when watching The Lord of the Rings in 2001, this first movie within the trilogy of the fantasy epic Creation of the Gods, also known as Fengshen Trilogy (封神三部曲) is also referred to as the “Chinese Lord of the Rings.”

However, despite the grand scale and hefty budget, the film struggled to capture much attention upon its theatrical release, and it took over two weeks for significant box office numbers to materialize. Social media played a pivotal role in its eventual box office success as viewers lauded the blend of traditional Chinese mythology with cutting-edge cinematic techniques. A devoted online community of fans contributed to the surge in ticket sales. This phenomenon is also called zìláishuǐ (自来水). This literally means ‘tap water,’ but it is a label for those netizens who spontaneously promote a film or artist without getting paid for it. Read more here.

Read more
 

 

What’s Memorable

Best reads from the archive

2012 Anti-Japanese Riots This week, the Japanese embassy in Beijing warned Japanese nationals not to loudly talk in Japanese in public and to be careful when going out. Although many ridiculed the warning on Chinese social media, the current anti-Japanese tensions in China might remind some of September 2012, when tensions eventually led to violent anti-Japanese protests (反日游行) in different cities across China, including in Beijing, over the status of the Senkaku/Diaoyu island group. The long-standing dispute reached a zenith after the Japanese government nationalized control of three of the largest islands, triggering people to take to the streets across the country to vent their anger.

The protests led to excessives; people ravaged Japanese businesses, smashed Japanese-branded cars, threw rocks at the Japanese embassy, and burned Japanese flags. There was also a mass boycott of Japanese goods. One man from Xi’an was hit in the head by demonstrators for owning a Japanese car. In 2016, four years later, he was still hospitalized for head injury. At the time, What’s on Weibo published an article about it which you can read in our archive here.

Read more
 

 

Weibo Word of the Week

The catchword to know

“Harvesting Chives” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is “割韭菜” (gē jiǔcài), which translates to “reaping chives.” This term refers to a situation in which inexperienced or uninformed individuals, symbolized by chives, are taken advantage of by more knowledgeable or manipulative people, often leading to financial losses for the less informed parties.

The term is widely used in the context of finance and investment, where a handful of market manipulators deceive numerous regular investors, who are often referred to as chives (“韭菜”), into buying overpriced assets. The manipulators then profit from these investments as prices suddenly plummet. The enduring vitality of chives as a plant serves as a metaphor for the unceasing influx of new investors who become ensnared in the manipulators’ schemes after the previous ones have already suffered losses and left the market.

“Harvesting Chives” or “Reaping Chives” has been frequently used amidst China’s recent property crisis, exemplified by major events like the payment suspension by Zhongzhi Enterprise Group and the potential bond default by Country Garden. Those affected by the crisis humorously label themselves as “chives” that have been harvested by a select group of senior figures within these enterprises, who are believed to have already transferred their ‘fruitful harvest’ elsewhere.

This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed last week’s newsletter? Find it here. If you are already subscribed to What’s on Weibo but are not yet receiving this newsletter in your inbox, please contact us directly to let us know.

Stories that are authored by the What's on Weibo Team are the stories that multiple authors contributed to. Please check the names at the end of the articles to see who the authors are.

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Featured

Weibo Watch: The Last ‘T’ Standing

The last ‘T’ standing, Gaokao week, and why Chinese publishers are boycotting JD’s 618 festival.

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PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #30

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – The Last T-Word
◼︎ 2. What’s New and Noteworthy – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What’s Trending – Hot highlights
◼︎ 4. What’s On Screen – Top TV Shows to watch
◼︎ 5. What’s Remarkable – Taiwan students lack knowledge on Chinese history
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Will China save Lululemon?
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – Divorce peek after Gaokao
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Sunscreen Warriors”

 

Dear Reader,

 

This week marked the 35th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, a time when censorship and online control in China intensify.

Ten years ago, around the 25th Tiananmen anniversary, I was browsing a bookstore in Beijing when I came across a book titled My Homeland in the 1980s (我的故乡在八十年代), its cover showing students reading and sitting at Tiananmen Square. The book, featuring dozens of interviews, was supposed to discuss the events of the 1980s in China, reassessing the era’s impact on the country today.

I immediately bought the book, as I was curious to see how this work, published in 2013, would narrate the events of the summer of 1989. Perhaps I was naive, but after carefully hopping from chapter to chapter, from page to page, I was stunned to discover that while the Tiananmen Square was referred to several times throughout the book, which thoroughly discussed happenings from 1980-1990, there was no reference to the student protests or June 4th at all. Not one single sentence—it was as if it had never happened.

Of course, the surprise wasn’t that big. I was well aware of the so-called ‘Forbidden Ts,’ highly sensitive and often censored topics which are closely tied to the end of Twitter in China and the rise of Weibo in 2009.

These ‘Three Ts’—which even have their own Wikipedia page—refer to Chinese taboo topics: Tiananmen, Tibet, and Taiwan. You might even call it the ‘Four Ts’ if you include Xinjiang (for T’s sake, borrowing the T from its old reference as East Turkestan).

 
“The Last ‘T’ Standing”
 

Many things were happening in the summer of 2009, following a period of a relatively free Chinese internet since 2006 that saw a flourishing of new BBS sites and social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter. The year 2009 was a year of change and key events: the Jasmine revolution was taking place, there was growing unrest in Xinjiang including the Urumqi riots, and it was the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown.

That year, online censorship was particularly strict, and various websites and discussion boards became inaccessible around June 4th. Some sites displayed a message stating they were “closed for maintenance,” leading to the day sarcastically being nicknamed “Chinese Internet Maintenance Day” (中国网站维护日).

For some sites, their temporary ‘maintenance’ became permanent. While American Twitter disappeared from China, the domestic Sina Weibo emerged—a new social media platform designed to keep information flows under control by censoring sensitive topics and hiding posts containing blocked keywords.

The ‘Four Ts’ remained highly sensitive, and often there would be no results at all when searching for a term like ‘Xinjiang.’

Throughout the years, however, in line with China’s rising importance on the world stage and its growing assertiveness under Xi Jinping, wolf warrior diplomacy, new strategies in digital propaganda, and other factors, most of the forbidden Ts have become not so taboo nor forbidden at all anymore.

There have been various extensive online discussions about Tibet or about Xinjiang – and what Western media are getting wrong about these topics. Nowadays, even the words for ‘Taiwan independence’ – once a censored term – are ubiquitous in China’s online environment as part of the intensified Taiwan reunification social media campaign.

The primary change in these topics is how official accounts now control the narrative, framing them in ways that are not politically sensitive but rather vehicles of Chinese pride and nationalism. This shift enables these subjects to be addressed because there is now an official online discourse providing a context for the conversation.

Tiananmen, however, is the last ‘T’ standing.

If anything, censorship surrounding this ‘T’ has seemingly only grown stricter. During the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen student protests in 2019, there was a complete shutdown of searches for this term on Weibo. As in previous years, Weibo quietly removed the candle icon from its collection of “frequently used emoticons” just before June 4, and also started removing other emojis deemed remotely sensitive, such as the leaf, the cake, the ribbon, and the present.

 
“Internet Maintenance Day”
 

During the Tiananmen anniversary in 2022, Weibo saw an uptick in posts using the English phrase “It’s my duty,” relating to a video of a young student in 1989 Beijing answering a foreign reporter on why he was off to march at Tiananmen Square (“Why? I think it’s my duty” – see video). Following this, any mention of the “It’s my duty” slogan was meticulously scrubbed from Chinese social media.

The term ‘May 35’, which became a code word for ‘June 4,’ is also censored, like so many other plays on words. No matter if it’s numbers, different characters, English phrases, or emojis – once a creative way to commemorate Tiananmen’s June 4 becomes popular on Weibo or other platforms, it’s swiftly removed.

This year is no different. As described by Alexander Boyd, the breadth of censorship in China during this 35th Tiananmen anniversary was “breathtaking.”

And so it was somewhat noteworthy when New Zealand national Andy Boreham, a Chinese state media (Shanghai Daily) worker, posted a long thread on X [Twitter] this week about the “Tankman” and Tiananmen, in which he attempted ‘to set the record straight’ by claiming that the idea of the “Tiananmen Square Massacre” is “a U.S.-led myth based on a very real set of events over a few weeks in 1989.”

The first part of Boreham’s now-deleted X thread, screenshot via Fergus Ryan @fryan.

The ‘T-word’ is obviously not censored on X, where Boreham tweets for a foreign audience, not a domestic one. But considering Boreham’s position within the Chinese state media apparatus and the guidance that comes with it,[1] his lengthy discussion of Tiananmen was still unusual. Boreham wrote about the protests and did not deny that there were many casualties, while mainly focusing on the alleged “Tiananmen Square massacre,” which he claimed did not occur. (DW News reporter Monir Ghaedi explains more about Boreham’s post here).

A day later, after Boreham’s post was shared over 5000 times, the entire thread was suddenly deleted.

Although he posted another tweet about Americans dying from gun violence on June 4th, Boreham did not address the deletion of his detailed Tiananmen thread.

Instead, he wrote: “It seems the world isn’t ready for the truth, or even just to face the idea that what they believe is only one version.”

Not a single mention of the deleted post—it was as if it had never happened. Perhaps Boreham’s response had a double meaning when he wrote “it seems the world isn’t ready for the truth”, including how China isn’t ready for this T, even if it’s happening on X. Maybe he had his own private “Internet maintenance day” this June 4th.

Best,
Manya

 

[1]Ryan, Fergus, Matt Knight, and Daria Impiombato. 2023. “Singing from the CCP’s Songsheet: The Role of Foreign Influencers in China’s Propaganda System.” Australian Strategic Policy Institute, 35-36. https://ad-aspi.s3.ap-southeast-2.amazonaws.com/2023-11/Singing%20from%20the%20song%20sheet.pdf?VersionId=mdVBVPrFokz_xlEyhQdz0H3ZPmRs76el.

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: Students vs. Chatbots | It’s Gaokao time! Over 13.4 million Chinese students are taking the national college entrance exams this week. For the first time, China’s Gaokao essay topic is about the latest AI developments, sparking discussions on social media platforms about whether AI is actually making life easier or not.

Read more
 

2: The Cost of Cheap Books | Interesting discussions are emerging ahead of JD.com’s major 618 shopping festival this year, following a joint statement from Chinese publishers declaring that the price war on books is no longer sustainable. Of course, bookworms always love getting a good deal on books, but when the deals are just too good, it could harm the publishing industry.

Read more
 

3: Uncle Wang Goes Phnom Penh | Various tribute videos are circulating on Chinese social media this week following the announcement that MFA spokesperson Wang Wenbin is starting his new post as China’s new ambassador to Cambodia. Wang served as the 32nd MFA spokesperson from 2020 to 2024. While some perceive his new role as a “downgrade,” it is more likely a reflection of his importance given the strengthening of Sino-Cambodian relations and Cambodia’s role as a key strategic partner to China in the region.

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

  • THURSDAY 30 MAY
    • 270 million views for the hashtag “Gou Zhongwen Suspected of Serious Disciplinary Violations and Illegal Activities” #苟仲文涉嫌严重违纪违法#.
    • Gou Zhongwen is a Chinese politician who served as director of the State General Administration of Sports from 2016 to 2022. He is under investigation for suspected severe violations of Party discipline and the law.
    • The probe involving the retired Gou, who is currently being held in custody, is part of a wider government crackdown on corruption in sports. Read more on Caixin here.
  •  

  • FRIDAY 31 MAY
    • After a New York jury found Trump guilty on all 34 counts of falsifying business records in his hush-money criminal trial, his historic conviction – making Trump the first former U.S. president to be found guilty of felony crimes – went top trending on Weibo.
    • On Chinese social media, the Trump trial is seen as a spectacle to enjoy, a “historical performance” featuring “Comrade Trump” as the leading figure.
    • Political commentator Hu Xijin also commented on the issue, stating that the case triggers the curiosity of Chinese people because they mostly wonder about two things:
      1. Will Trump actually go to jail?
      2. Can he still run for president?
  •  

  • MONDAY JUNE 3
    • The topic “China has stopped giving away pandas for free for over 40 years” went trending on Weibo, garnering over 440 million views.
    • This refers to the policy shift in the 1980s when China stopped gifting pandas to friendly nations for free and switched to “lending” them for shorter periods, with all pandas and their offspring remaining Chinese property.
    • The policy, widely supported among Chinese commenters, sparked discussions because of Fu Bao, a panda born in 2020 as South Korea’s first naturally-bred panda.
    • •As part of China’s “panda diplomacy” program, Fu Bao was returned to China in early April, but South Korean netizens have now set up a petition to ‘bring back’ their beloved panda.
  •  

  • WEDNESDAY JUNE 5
    • Chinese streaming platform iQIYI faced an online storm this week after asking its paying members to pay an additional fee to watch a livestream of an event related to its hit show, “Become a Farmer.”
    • Adding to the frustration, the event itself was free for offline participants, leading to the hashtag “iQIYI – offline free, online paid” (爱奇艺 线下免费线上收费), which garnered 200 million views on Weibo.
    • The criticism comes at a time when members are already dissatisfied with price hikes and additional charges for higher streaming quality and early access to content.
    • To read more on the hit show “Become a Farmer,” check out our article here.
  •  

  • FRIDAY, SATURDAY 7&8 JUNE
    • Over 13.4 million students sat down for their Gaokao, the national college entrance exams, which started this week and dominated trending topics on Chinese social media.
    • Platforms like Weibo and Douyin saw a flood of videos featuring relieved students emerging from the exam room. For many, it’s finally time to relax after weeks of intense studying.
    • Some provinces and regions, including Henan and Jiangsu, are offering freebies for those who took the exam, such as free entrance to scenic areas.
  •  

    What’s the Drama

    Top TV to Watch

    The latest TV drama to create a lot of buzz and discussion this week is The Double (墨雨云间 Mò Yǔ Yún Jiān), a superdramatic romance/costume series starring, among others, Chinese actress Wu Jinyan (吴谨言), and Chinese actors Wang Xingyue (王星越) and Chen Xinhai (陈鑫海). Wu stars as the female lead, Xue Fangfei, the daughter of a county magistrate who leads a happy and privileged life until everything changes and she gets buried alive by her husband. Don’t worry, she’ll assume another identity to go on a quest for revenge.

    To know:

    ▶️ The series is adapted from the Chinese web novel “Marriage of the Di Daughter” (嫡嫁千金) by Qian Shan Cha Ke (千山茶客).
    ▶️ The Double immediately became top ranking on Youku’s drama list for 2024, becoming the fastest drama this year to hit 10,000 on Youku’s “heat index.” The series is also scoring well outside of China, scoring 8.5/10 on MyDramaList.
    ▶️ The drama is a true social media hit: its hashtag has received a staggering 1.59 billion views on Weibo.

    The Double is available with English subtitles on Viki here.

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

    Chinese state media have recently taken a new approach in the discourse surrounding cross-straits relations, highlighting how students in Taiwan lack knowledge about Chinese history and are victims of a “de-Chinafication” education policy. This policy is supposedly embedded in the Chinese history education in Taiwan.

    On May 30, state broadcaster CCTV News released a street interview video with Taiwanese students after their college entrance exams, asking them about Chinese history. Some students mentioned that Chinese history was only covered in one or two questions, while others responded with “What is Chinese history?” This topic quickly became the number one trending topic on Weibo (#台湾高中生问中国史是什么#).

    In online discussions, many netizens argued that Taiwan’s “pro-independence” education curriculum is purposely distorting views on Chinese history, allegedly leading to a lack of identification with being ‘Chinese,’ raising concerns about the long-term impact of such ‘educational policies.’

     

    The latest buzz in arts, marketing & pop culture

    American athletic apparel brand Lululemon has recently been trending on Chinese social media for two reasons. First, reports highlighted significant growth in the Chinese market. In the first quarter of 2024, Lululemon’s sales increased by 10%, with a notable 45% surge in revenue from China. Second, the company’s stock price recently dropped due to concerns over its outlook, exacerbated by the departure of a key executive, Sun Choe, and the significant slowdown in revenue growth in the Americas market in the final quarter of 2023.

    These developments have led to speculation in China about whether the Chinese market might be the one to ‘rescue’ the American brand, sparking conversations about the willingness of Chinese consumers to purchase the relatively pricey activewear brand.

    However, on social media, many believe Lululemon’s success in China might not be everlasting. Searching for ‘Lululemon alternatives’ on China’s online shopping platforms, some argue that a 50-yuan sweater ($7) is just as comfortable as the original, which costs over 1,000 yuan ($138). Chinese sellers claim that the Lululemon alternatives produced by Chinese OEM factories are indistinguishable from the real product at a much better price. This sentiment is echoed by many Chinese consumers, who find the cheaper made-in-China alternatives to Lululemon just as satisfactory. A related hashtag received over 140 million views on Weibo this week.

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

    For this pick from the archive, we revisit an article from 2018 about the post-Gaokao divorce trend. For millions of Chinese students and their parents, the national college entrance exams – taking place this week – are incredibly stressful. To support their child’s performance, some unhappy couples decide to postpone their plans to divorce, leading to a spike in divorce rates shortly after the exams end. Read more here.👇

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

    “Sun Protection Warriors” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is fángshài zhànshì (防晒战士), translated as “sun protection warriors” or “sunscreen warriors.”

    In recent years, China has seen a rise in anti-tan, sun-protection garments. More than just preventing sunburn, these garments aim to prevent any tanning at all, helping Chinese women—and some men—maintain as pale a complexion as possible, as fair skin is deemed aesthetically ideal.

    As temperatures are soaring across China, online fashion stores on Taobao and other platforms are offering all kinds of fashion solutions to prevent the skin, mainly the face, from being exposed to the sun.

    On the social lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, women share all kinds of strategies to avoid sun exposure, from enormous sunhats to reverse hoodies. This extreme anti-sun fashion has led some users to label themselves or others as “sun protection warriors.”

    Some people think the trend is going too far, saying that fashionable women nowadays are more like “sunscreen terrorists” (防晒恐怖分子, fángshài kǒngbùfènzǐ).

    Image shared on Weibo by @TA们叫我董小姐, comparing pretty girls before (left) and nowadays (right), also labeled “sunscreen terrorists.”

    To see more examples of extreme anti-tan fashion and read more about this phenomenon, click here 👇

    Read more
     

     
    This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed last week’s newsletter? Find it here. If you are already subscribed to What’s on Weibo but are not yet receiving this newsletter in your inbox, please contact us directly to let us know.

    Featured image: Part of the image is based on photo taken by photographer Liu Xiangcheng, depicting dozens of students sitting down at Tiananmen Square.

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Newsletter

Weibo Watch: Telling China’s Stories Wrong

“Quick, give me a ‘like’ so I can get my credit score up.”

Manya Koetse

Published

on

PREMIUM NEWSLETTER | ISSUE #29

 

This week’s newsletter:

◼︎ 1. Editor’s Note – Telling China’s Stories Wrong
◼︎ 2. What’s New and Noteworthy – A closer look at the featured stories
◼︎ 3. What’s Trending – Hot highlights
◼︎ 4. What’s On Screen – Top TV Shows to watch
◼︎ 5. What’s Remarkable – Wang Wenbin said “farewell”
◼︎ 6. What’s Popular – Versace’s new brand ambassador
◼︎ 7. What’s Memorable – The social media spectacle of the military drills
◼︎ 8. Weibo Word of the Week – “Back to the root”

 

Dear Reader,

 

This week, various English-language newspapers featured noteworthy headlines about a new Chinese chatbot launched on Monday.

The South China Morning Post appears to have been the first English-language newspaper to report on Tuesday that “China rolls out a large language model AI based on Xi Jinping Thought.”

Barely a day later, others started popping up like mushrooms. “China’s latest answer to OpenAI is Chat Xi PT,” headlined the Financial Times, writing: “Beijing’s latest attempt to control how artificial intelligence informs Chinese internet users has been rolled out as a chatbot trained on the thoughts of President Xi Jinping.”

These articles suggested that China had developed a new chatbot to counter free speech and create a Chinese rival to OpenAI’s ChatGPT.

“China chat bot trained to think like Xi Jinping,” the headline by Asia Financial reads. Other news sites featured similar ones: “Meet Chat Xi PT, the new AI chatbot that gives answers based on the Chinese president’s thinking,” and “What next? Kim-Jong-AI?”

The actual story is far less sensational. In reality, there is no Xi Jinping chatbot, no Chinese ‘Chat-GPT’ trained on his thoughts, and it’s untrue that the only Chinese version of a ChatGPT-like application would be run by the Party.

In our latest article here, we explain the true story behind the application, which is essentially an AI tool for people working or doing research in the field of Chinese cybersecurity and online information.

The name of the application is not ‘Chat Xi PT’ but the ‘Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application,’ which is based on domestically available pre-trained language models and sources from seven major specialty knowledge bases, including one on ‘Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism’, the corpus of political and economic ideas/theory developed by Xi Jinping which was incorporated into the Party Constitution in 2017.

 
Chinese Whispers
 

Over the years, I’ve observed how stories like these seep into the English-language media landscape and take on a life of their own, spreading like wildfire until it’s nearly impossible to correct misconceptions. It’s almost like the game “Chinese Whispers,” where a message is passed around in whispers, often resulting in a completely distorted version of the original.

The English-language news discourse on China’s Social Credit System is a prime example of this game. The Social Credit System became a prominent news topic in the West since 2017, and reports like this one by abc.net.au made sure that Orwellian stories about “personal scorecards” and dystopian nightmares popped up in every newspaper until people outside of China actually started believing they were true.

Unfounded reports about the Social Credit System became so rampant that even sources usually known for sticking to the facts got it wrong. Another time, one American news outlet reported that China’s Social Credit System was now tracking people eating dinner at Haidilao in Canada, creating a bizarre mix of credit scores and Chinese hotpot.

To this day, scholars like Jeremy Daum and Vincent Brussee are busy refuting the claims made in numerous articles and telling the actual realities of the Social Credit System, which, spoiler alert, is far less dramatic than the gloomy sci-fi headlines suggest. (Read more on social credit here).

How do journalists get it so wrong? It’s likely a combination of factors. In Dutch, we say, “to hear the bell toll but not know where the clapper hangs,” meaning someone has heard of something but doesn’t know the specifics. They report on something they’ve read but misunderstand and conflate things, leading to grossly inaccurate articles. For example, some reporters apparently believed ‘Chat Xi PT’ was the actual recent application’s name and that ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ referred to Xi’s private thoughts rather than a body of theories. Similarly, the Social Credit stories perpetuated the false claim that China has a centralized database where every citizen gets a ‘score’ based on their behavior.

But there’s more to it. The news media industry is tough, and some publications need clickbaity articles to attract readership. While stories about dystopian camera systems and Xi Jinping chatbots are popular, few would care about the launch of China’s “Cyberspace Information Research Large Model Application” (which is why this story is attracting zero attention in China).

Moreover, these China stories resonate with fears people in the US and Europe have about extensive digital surveillance and omnipresent technology in their own societies, as noted by Jeremy Daum in various interviews. These fears are intensified by the ongoing discourse about a ‘US vs China AI war,’ leading to exaggerated perceptions of China’s capabilities.

 
Telling China’s stories well
 

Under Xi Jinping, the idea of “telling China’s stories well” became a key task in foreign policy and news reporting to enhance China’s international image and strengthen its global influence through external propaganda.

This initiative includes creating (news) stories and narratives that align with Party goals; highlighting Chinese accomplishments, promoting the “Chinese dream,” showcasing traditional Chinese culture, presenting China’s rise as beneficial for global cooperation, and countering Western negative coverage of China.

The inaccurate and often sensationalized stories we see about China are problematic in many ways. They not only reflect biases and laziness among reporters and demonstrate tendencies to project worries onto China’s emergence as an AI powerhouse, they also increase misconceptions about the factual stories that need to be told. In doing so, they inadvertently strengthen China’s efforts to control its narrative and tell China’s stories “well” by making it so easy to discredit those who are telling China’s stories “wrong.”

At the same time, these stories fuel anti-Western sentiment on Chinese social media. Bloggers use these exaggerated accounts as evidence of foreign hostility toward China.

Sometimes, however, it also leads to some online banter about ‘silly foreigners’ buying into bogus stories. One popular Weibo post that received thousands of likes said:

There’s this online rumor which some foreigners believe, that China operates this system of “credit points” similar to Sesame Credit and that everyone’s closely monitored. If you behave badly, points will be deducted, and if your score’s too low, you’ll be locked up, and that and these “credit points” can be transferred to each other.

One top commenter responded:

Oh my god, this is just too funny hahaha! Quick, give me a ‘like’ so I can get my credit score up.”

Even ‘Chat Xi PT’ couldn’t dream this stuff up.

Best,
Manya

 

A closer look at the featured stories

1: About that story | This is the write-up I did this week about the ‘Xi Jinping chatbot’ following the many English-language media reports. It includes a full translation of the Chinese text the reports were based on and some key takeaways.

Read more
 

2: ‘One China’ Campaign 2.0 | Following the inauguration of Taiwanese president Lai Ching-te and China’s military exercises, Taiwan has been a trending topic on Chinese social media all week. Within a single day, the hashtag ‘Taiwan must return’ received a staggering 2.4 billion views on Weibo. Read all about China’s intensified social media propaganda campaign here.

Read more
 

3: “Retaliate against Society” | Earlier this week, a tragic stabbing incident at Mingde Primary School in Wenfang Town, Guixi City, Jiangxi, went viral on Weibo. The suspect, a 45-year-old local woman, was detained by police after attacking innocent people, including children, with a fruit knife, resulting in two fatalities.

Read more
 

 

What’s Trending

A recap of hot highlights

  • MONDAY 20 MAY
    • The tragic story behind the recent suicide of a 21-year-old Chinese gamer nicknamed ‘Fat Cat’ went viral earlier this month, touching upon broader societal issues from unfair gender dynamics to businesses taking advantage of grieving internet users.
    • The story went viral once again this week after local authorities issued a lengthy report to clarify the timeline of events and details surrounding the death of “Fat Cat,” which, among other conclusions, stated that there was no illegal fraud involved in the relationship that supposedly drove “Fat Cat” to his suicide. Read more here.
  •  

  • TUESDAY 21 MAY
    • Just a day after a woman attacked various people, including children, at a primary school in Guixi, another knife attack went trending on Tuesday.
    • The incident happened In Zigong, Sichuan, when a 52-year-old man assaulted a bus driver and a passenger with a knife after supposedly “suffering a seizure” on the bus. The man has been detained and the case is currently under investigation by local authorities. The two victims have been hospitalized and are not in critical condition.
  •  

  • WEDNESDAY 22 MAY
    • The social media accounts of three prominent Chinese influencers known for flaunting their wealth were blocked and banned from Douyin, Weibo, and Xiaohongshu this week.
    • Wang Hongquanxin (王红权星), Baoyu Jiajie (鲍鱼家姐), and Bo Gongzi (柏公子) were known for putting their luxury lifestyles on display on the internet. Together, they had millions of followers.
    • Chinese news outlet The Paper called the crackdown a “mini earthquake” for China’s luxury influencers. Read more on WWD here.
  •  

  • THURSDAY 23 MAY
    • A female student majoring in pharmacy at Peking University went viral on Thursday for using academic literature from CNKI to drastically improve her 800-meter track run time within a one-week timeframe. She found out that energy sources stored in muscles was crucial, and focused on improving her anaerobic endurance.
    • She improved her 800-meter running time from over four minutes to 3 minutes and 29 seconds. If you have access to Chinese academic literature and would like to see where she got her information from, the title of the journal article is “论中跑和长跑训练的生理机制和生化特点” authored by Liu Baoguo 刘保国.
  •  

  • FRIDAY 24 MAY
    • The death of the 14-year-old Japanese shiba inu dog Kabosu, known for inspiring the “doge” meme, went top trending on Weibo on Friday. The dog became a internet sensation in 2013 after a photo shared by its Japanese owner went viral. Kabosu’s popularity led to the creation of the Dogecoin cryptocurrency, and she became an internet icon globally.
    • In China, doge became a special emoji on major social media platforms like Weibo, WeChat and Douyin, mostly used as a symbol of sarcasm.
  •  

  • SATURDAY 25 MAY
    • Hunan TV’s singing competition “Singer 2024” remains a hot topic! The show has captured viewers’ attention by incorporating international talent and pitting them against renowned Chinese performers.
    • On Friday, American singer-songwriter Adam Lambert joined the competition, not only competing against Chinese stars but also against Chante Moore and Faouzia, who joined earlier and are still in the running. Read more about the show in our article here.
  •  

    What’s the Drama

    Top TV to Watch

    The highly anticipated second season of Joy of Life (庆余年) has been a hot topic in Chinese entertainment circles this week, especially as it topped the rankings among Chinese TV channel evening drama programs. This drama, touching upon themes of time travel, politics, power struggles, and romance, follows the journey of a contemporary man who wakes up as a baby in Southern Qing.

    To know:

    ▶️ The series is adapted from a Chinese web novel originally published from 2007 to 2009 by the successful author Mao Ni (猫腻).
    ▶️ The first season, which premiered in 2019, gained immense popularity and received praise from both audiences and critics.
    ▶️ Describing the anticipation for this show as “much anticipated” would be an understatement. The first season ended with a cliffhanger, leaving fans eagerly awaiting a second season for the past five years. The announcement of the second season was made in May 2023.

    Joy of Life 2 is available with English subtitles on Viki here.

     

    What’s Noteworthy

    Small news with big impact

    You might not expect it, but China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesperson Wang Wenbin (汪文斌) has a large fanbase on Chinese social media, where netizens are creative in editing images of Wang, adding quotes or drawings, and making special fan videos. Wang is often praised for his looks and expressions, with fans saying his facial features are “handsome,” “cute,” “adorable,” and saying that ‘Uncle Wang’ is just too “cool.” The widespread admiration for China’s MFA spokespersons like Wang has various social, cultural, and historical reasons, and nationalism also plays a big role in this.

    Wang Wenbin took on his role as spokesperson in 2020, but his online fan clubs report that he is now saying goodbye to take on another role. During his May 24th regular press conference, Wang ended with a serious ‘farewell,’ stepping down and shaking hands with the reporters in the room (see video here). Hundreds of netizens are sad to see their favorite diplomat go, and are wishing him well: ‘Goodbye, Uncle Wang. Wish you all the best in your new position. Thank you for speaking out over the past four years.'”

    A while back, I wrote an extensive report about the online fan culture surrounding Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin and the overall popularity of Chinese diplomats. You can check it out here.

     

    The latest buzz in arts & pop culture

    Chinese singer-songwriter and dancer Cai Xukun was a big topic of conversation on Weibo this week after news came out that he had become the global brand ambassador for Versace. In a joint post with Versace, Cai posted a photo of his Versace campaign with the phrase: “Be a Versace Man.” That post received a staggering 1.8 million likes in one single day.

    The post was noteworthy for multiple reasons. Just a year ago, Cai found himself embroiled in scandal following allegations that he had engaged in a one-night stand with a young woman who then turned out to be pregnant—and that he had demanded an abortion. The entire event led to a wave of comments from fans who expressed their disappointment with their idol.

    The news was not just a comeback for Cai; it also marks a definite pivot in Versace’s brand strategies away from Hollywood-focused faces. In 2023, the Italian fashion house announced South Korean rapper and singer-songwriter Hyunjin as a new Versace face: their first-ever Korean global brand ambassador. Other brand ambassadors, such as Chinese celebrities Zhao Lusi (Rosy Chao) and Ningning, also make it clear that Versace is focusing on speaking to new generations all across the world.

     

    What’s Memorable

    Best reads from the archive

    For this pick from the archive, we revisit an article from 2022, during the previous round of China’s major military exercises around Taiwan. Much like the current military drills, the online communications about it are arguably just as important as the exercises themselves. The social media spectacle surrounding the Taiwan military exercises is not a one-dimensional media effort but a dynamic interplay where state-led propaganda and grassroots nationalism meet. Read more here.👇

    Read more
     

    Weibo Word of the Week

    The catchword to know

    “Back to the Root” | Our Weibo Word of the Week is Dāngguī (当归), freely translated as “back to the root” in this week’s context of the propaganda campaign surrounding reunification with Taiwan.

    Since earlier in 2024, this term is used by Chinese state media in the slogan “Táiwān dāngguī” (#台湾当归#), which means “Taiwan must return [to the motherland].

    Separately, the two characters in dāngguī 当归 literally mean “should return.”

    However, the slogan is a play on words, as the term dāngguī (当归) as a noun actually means Angelica Sinensis, the Chinese Angelica root or ‘female ginseng,’ a medicinal herb commonly used in traditional Chinese medicine, native to China and cultivated in various East Asian countries.

    This play on words is also evident in the poster disseminated by People’s Daily, where Taiwan is depicted on the left and resembles a piece of the yellowish ‘female ginseng’ root.

    New poster by People’s Daily. ‘Taiwan’ on the left side resembles a piece of Chinese Angelica root (looks like ginseng). It is part of the character “归” (guī, to return, go back to). The remainder of the character consists of various slogans commonly used by Chinese official media to emphasize that Taiwan is part of China.

    Because of this context, where dāngguī 当归 both refers to the discourse of Taiwan returning to China and to the female ginseng root, a creative translation would be “back to the root.” If you want to be less creative, you could also say it’s the Taiwan “should return” campaign.

     
    This is an on-site version of the Weibo Watch newsletter by What’s on Weibo. Missed last week’s newsletter? Find it here. If you are already subscribed to What’s on Weibo but are not yet receiving this newsletter in your inbox, please contact us directly to let us know.

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