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Weibo’s Keyboard Warrior Olympics: Online Attacks against Chinese Athletes

These Chinese female athletes particularly suffered cyberbullying on Weibo this week.

Manya Koetse

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China’s success at the Tokyo Olympics is all the talk on Weibo. But it’s not all praise for Chinese athletes, as perceived flaws in their behavior can soon lead to online attacks by angry trolls.

The Tokyo Olympics are dominating the top trending lists on Chinese social media this week. On the fifth day of the Summer Olympics, China was ranking first in the live medal table with a total of 11 Gold medals, 5 Silver, and 8 Bronze.

Despite all the social media users supporting the Chinese athletes, there are also some who are speaking out against them. These Chinese female athletes particularly suffered cyberbullying on Weibo this week.

Wang Luyao (王璐瑶), a favorite to win the women’s air-rifle competition, was the first one to be attacked online after she failed to make the finals on Saturday. After the 10-metre air rifle event, the 23-year-old athlete posted a picture of herself on her Weibo account, writing: “Sorry everyone, I’m sorry, I admit I chickened out, see you all in three years” (“各位抱歉,很遗憾,我承认我怂了,三年后再见吧”).

The post triggered many comments and led to the “Wang Luyao Says See You in Three Years” hashtag (#王璐瑶说三年后再见#). Instead of supporting Wang, many netizens turned against her instead.

As also reported by Global Times, some criticized the athlete because they felt her post wasn’t showing “the spirit of sports.” Some threads on Weibo are filled with harsh criticism of the athlete, with many arguing that her post was “frivolous,” that she has a “bad attitude,” and that she was behaving more like a pop star instead of an athlete.

Facing online attacks, Wang deleted her own post shortly after. On July 28, she followed up with another post in which she says she will begin her life back in Beijing again with a fresh start.

Yang Qian: Attacked over Nike Shoe Collection

Another female athlete experiencing an online storm this week is Yang Qian (杨倩). Even though the Chinese sport shooter won the first gold medal for China in these Olympics, there was a shift in online attitudes when it turned out she owns a collection of Nike shoes.

Yang posted pictures of her Nike shoe collection on December 31st of 2020.

Yang’s apparent love for Nike was brought to the light by Beijing Television (BTV) director Liu Hao (刘昊), who commented on Yang’s old post: “Chinese athletes, why would you want to collect Nike shoes, shouldn’t you take the lead in boycotting Nike? Aren’t our domestic brands such as Erke, Li Ning, and Anta good enough [for you]?”

Nike and other Western brands received backlash in China this year for no longer sourcing cotton from China’s Xinjiang region. Chinese brands have also been cast in a more positive light over the past few years due to more controversies involving Western brands. Showing off one’s love for Nike, rather than the Chinese Li Ning for example, could come across as being ‘unpatriotic’ for some (read more about this trend here).

Discovering Yang’s apparent like for the Nike brand, many Weibo users started to leave angry messages.

Although some Weibo users were quick to criticize Yang, it soon came out that Yang’s post on her shoe collection dated from before Nike triggered controversy in China, and, noteworthy enough, that the BTV director who criticized her also seemed to have been a fan of Nike herself before; a Weibo post from 2017 was dug up by some social media users showing Liu’s love for the brand.

Top-Notch Athletes

The online condemnation of Wang and Yang shows just how quickly public sentiment can turn against those who are in the limelight. Despite these occurrences, there is still a majority of people showing their support for their athlete heroes.

Shortly after Wang’s post triggered online controversy, another hashtag supporting her received over 550 million views: “Wang Luyao Is Still Our Amazing Zhejiang Girl” (#王璐瑶仍是浙江了不起的姑娘#).

“If you can go to the Olympics, you’re already excellent,” some wrote: “They are our top-notch athletes.”

For the past three days, the hashtag “Strongly Oppose Cyberbullying of Athletes” (#坚决反对网暴奥运选手#) has been making its rounds on Chinese social media, with netizens condemning those who are using these athletes to vent their own anger via social media.

Some posters labeled the angry netizens as ‘keyboard warriors’ (键盘侠) with nothing better to do: “Keyboard warriors only have their keyboard.” “They can’t even manage to throw their keyboard in their trash bin.”

Weibo users attacking Yang and Wang were not just criticized by other social media users, they were also punished by Sina Weibo. Besides removing dozens of posts, the platform banned a total of 33 accounts for up to 180 days for comments they made towards Wang. A total of 32 Weibo accounts that posted “malicious” comments about Yang were also temporarily suspended from the platform and made public by the Weibo regulators.

These harsh penalties also made some netizens wonder if they could still criticize the Olympic team at all. “Can I still vent about the women’s team soccer coach, or will I be banned for doing so?”, one Weibo user wondered.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 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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China History

Mourning Jiang Zemin, Weibo Turns Black and White

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang Zemin became a recurring part of Chinese memes.

Manya Koetse

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Following the announcement that Jiang Zemin (江泽民), the former president of the PRC, has passed away, various Chinese online platforms have turned into ‘grey’ mode as a sign of mourning. Jiang Zemin died due to leukemia and organ failure. He was 96 years old.

Besides Weibo, the home page of major Chinese websites such as Baidu, Sogou, Taobao, Alipay, Xinhua, People’s Daily, The Paper, and many others all turned into black-and-white mourning mode on Wednesday.

Bilibili turns into grey mode on November 30.

Search engine Sogou also in black and white mode.

On Weibo, one post about Jiang Zemin’s passing received a staggering one million reposts and over two million ‘likes.’ The hashtag “Comrade Jiang Zemin Passed Away at the Age of 96 in Shanghai” (#江泽民同志在上海逝世享年96岁#) had received over 2,5 billion clicks by Wednesday night.

Jiang Zemin was appointed as President of the People’s Republic of China in 1993. In the years before, the former Shanghai Party chief already held official positions as the chairman of the Central Military Affairs Commission and general secretary of the Party. In 2003, Jiang Zemin retired and was replaced by Hu Jintao (Sullivan 2012).

Since the rise of Chinese social media, Jiang became a recurring part of Chinese memes. Jiang had created a wide group of online fans, who are commonly referred to as ‘toad worshippers’ as the online phenomenon of ‘worshipping’ Jiang Zemin is called mo ha (膜蛤), ‘toad worship’ (Fang 2020, 38). The entire phenomenon has become its own subculture that is called ‘mo ha culture’ (móhá wénhuà, 膜蛤文化).

What started as a joke – nicknaming Jiang a ‘toad’ due to his big glasses, signature pants, and wide smile, – became an actual online movement of people who were appreciative of Jiang Zemin.

They loved him, not only because the former leader spoke many languages and other talents, and because of his unique appearance, but mainly because he was not scared to show his emotions, was very expressive, and good at telling stories.

One famous example of this, is when Jiang Zemin got upset with a Hong Kong journalist in 2000 and told them off using three languages (link to video, also here). The much-repeated quote “too young, too simple, sometimes naive” comes from this noteworthy moment as Jiang told journalists that they still had a lot to learn, whereas he had gone through “hundred of battles,” saying “I’ve seen it all.” This also led to Jiang later being called ‘the Elder’ (长者) by netizens.

Another popular Jiang Zemin video is when he met with American journalist Mike Wallace in August of 2000 in Beidaihe. During the interview, the two discussed sensitive topics including the Falun Gong and Tiananmen protests. The interview reportedly was one of the longest ever between an American journalist and a Chinese head of state (watch here).

A study by Kecheng Fang (2020) about ‘China’s toad worship culture’ suggests that for many online fans of Jiang, the cult around him is apolitical, playful, and part of a shared digital cultural tradition.

For some, however, it does hold some political meaning to ‘worship’ Jiang, who only became a popular online meme around 2014, after Xi Jinping took power as a conservative strongman who is not as emotionally expressive. Fang describes how one meme creator said: “We couldn’t express our criticism through normal channels, so we turned to other indrect ways, including lauding Jiang’s personality and characteristics in various ways” (2020, 45).

Although Jiang became popular among younger Chinese on online platforms over the past decade, he was not necessarily that popular at the time of his leadership, and opinions vary on the legacy he leaves behind. Jiang continuously pushed for reform and opening-up after Deng Xiaoping’s rule.

As summarized by Foreign Policy, Jiang oversaw two crucial transitions that shaped and improved the lives of the people of China: “First, he peacefully guided his country out of the shadow of China’s founding revolutionaries, who had spent decades purging one another and at times caused great pain and sorrow for everyone else. Second, although hesitant at first, Jiang came to embrace the market economy.”

As various places across China have seen unrest and protests over the past few days, the announcement of Jiang’s death comes at a sensitive time.

Many on Chinese social media are burning virtual candles in memory of Jiang Zemin today. “I will fondly recall your style and manners,” some say.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

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References:

Fang, Kecheng. 2020. “Turning a communist party leader into an internet meme: the political and apolitical aspects of China’s toad worship culture.” Information, Communication & Society, 23 (1): 38-58.

Sullivan, Lawrence R. 2012. Historical Dictionary of the Chinese Communist Party. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press. See page: 3-43, 208.

 

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China and Covid19

Chinese Students Are Making Their Voices Heard, from Nanjing to Xi’an

“Tonight is the night when students are flooding the internet,” some on Weibo said during a dark night filled with students’ bright lights.

Manya Koetse

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The Communication University of China in Nanjing (南京传媒学院, abbr. CUCN) is trending on Weibo on Saturday night, with one hashtag receiving over 180 million views on Weibo before 23:00 local time.

Students at the university gathered on Saturday evening, chanting slogans such as “long live the people” and turning on the lights on their phone as a tribute to victims of the fire in Urumqi.

Over the past few days, there has been ongoing unrest in various parts of China. The fire that occurred in Urumqi on November 24 triggered waves of anger online (read here), and at the same time there have also been other incidents that further intensified the anger, which some also took to the street.

Another incident that attracted a lot of online attention this week happened in the Shunde District of Foshan, Guangdong, on November 24. Online, the incident was referred to as a “stampede,” but the hashtag “Foshan Stampede” (#佛山踩踏#) was soon taken offline. According to China Daily, the incident happened when a crowd of people gathered at a Covid testing place in the Xincheng community of Leliu subdistrict at about 8:30 am. The situation became chaotic when people fell down due to the slippery ground, but nobody reportedly was injured.

Nevertheless, the incident surely did not help to calm the growing tensions, especially this week when we also saw protests and unrest at Foxconn in Zhengzhou and the third consecutive daily record for new Covid cases in mainland China following by local (semi-) lockdowns across the country.

Meanwhile, on Saturday night, Weibo flooded with comments in support of the students who stood up to make their voices be heard.

“I’m not there with you, but I’m there with you,” one commenter wrote, with others posting: “Brave young people. This society is no longer giving them a way to live. History is repeating itself. If we don’t do this now, it’s our children who will have to struggle.”

“CUCN come on!” some cheered, while others wrote: “We’re proud of you.”

Some screenshots claiming to come from people at the scene said that it was the students’ intention to show solidarity with the people who passed away in the Urumqi fire and those in Xinjiang who were treated unfairly in light of the ongoing lockdowns the region saw since August of this year.

An anonymous poster warned people not to believe rumors regarding the protest being a conflict between the school leadership and the students: “The school is protecting its students, although some on the internet would like you to believe otherwise.”

Lights at the CUCN scene were allegedly turned off to prevent students from being identifiable on videos and photos.

As soon as the live commenting section on the CUCN protests was shut down by Weibo, another topic came up before midnight.

Students at the Xi’an Academy of Fine Arts (西安美术学院) were also taking their anger to the campus streets, where they allegedly demanded for freedom amid Covid lockdowns.

One commenter wrote: “Tonight is the night when students are flooding the internet, their fire [torch] will burn forever, what a magnificent night!”

“The students are very brave, they are the first to stand up. I hope the workers will stand up, and finally, all people will stand up.”

Many people on Chinese social media posted references to La Jeunesse (New Youth), a Chinese literary magazine that was founded in 1915 by Chen Duxiu and also influenced China’s May Fourth Movement (sometimes referred to as the Chinese Enlightenment), which was all about the Chinese youth being the catalyst for transformation.

“You are the heroes of the awakening,’ others wrote.

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

For more articles on the Covid situation in China, check here. If you appreciate what we do, please support us by subscribing for just a small annual fee.

By Manya Koetse , with contributions by Miranda Barnes

 

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