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“What The F*ck is Communism?” – Discussion on Communism Takes over Weibo

A discussion on communism has taken over Weibo, as opinion leader Ren Zhiqian publicly stated that communist slogans have deceived Chinese people for over 10 years. His post instantly became trending: “What the f*ck is Communism anyway?”

Manya Koetse

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After reports of an overall declining faith in communism, the Communist Youth League reiterated their strong believe in communism on Weibo, under the slogan: “We are the successors of Communism”. Chinese opinion leader Ren Zhiqian publicly critiqued their stance. His post instantly became trending, igniting a hot online debate on communism.

On the 21st of September, the   Communist Youth League (共青团) posted a China Youth Daily article about “faith” on their official Weibo account, claiming that communism is at the heart of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and the Chinese nation at large. The article was written by famous Marxist scholar Wang Xiangming (王向明).

The Communist Youth League is the youth movement of the People’s Republic of China, run by the CPC.

 

“Let us hold up the flag of communism, because we are the successors of communism.”

 

“For us, communism is our highest ideal, and we are on the road to achieve it,” they write on their official Weibo page. “At the present stage, we are realizing the great rise of the Chinese people, and are building on modernizing the powerful and civilized socialism. Let us hold up the flag of communism, boldly and confidently, because: we are the successors of communism.”

With their Weibo post, the Communist Youth League use the hashtag #We Are The Successors of Communism (#我们是共产主义接班人#), referring to a 1961 theme song that has been used by the League since 1978.

Mainland China’s popular real estate entrepreneur and opinion leader Ren Zhiqian (任志强, nearly 34 million Weibo fans) publicly responded to the article with his own post titled: “Are We the Successors of Communism?” [Edit March 5, 2016: This post is no longer accessible since Ren’s Weibo account has been removed, but you can find a screenshot of his post here.]

In the post, he critiques the Communist Youth League’s article, saying: “We’ve been deceived by these communist slogans for years!” Ren’s post has been viewed over a million times, and has received messages of sympathy from thousands of Weibo users, instantly becoming the top trending Weibo message of the day.

 

“Communism, what the fuck is communism?”

 

A user called “Chinese Moviemaker” responds: “Red Guards, oh Little Red Guards, the young people of China have been fooled!!”

An employee of a Henan real estate company bluntly stated: “Communism, what the fuck is communism?”, while others stated that “Communism is the biggest catastrophe in human history”.

In his article, Ren Zhiqian explains his experience with communism in the past, and shares his views for it in the future.

I am responding to the ‘We are the Successors of Communism’ Weibo post,” he writes: “We have been hearing our elder brothers and sisters singing this “We are the Successors of Communism” song since childhood, and we grew up with it.”

When I was in the third grade, wearing a red neckscarf, I also learned this song. Every time we saw the five-starred red flag raised, we saluted it with our right hand, and sang this song. Our hearts were full of confidence and hope!

 

“We dreamed of being seen by Leader Mao Zedong: a real successor of communism”

 

When I went to Middle School in 1964, the first thing we did every day was practice marching,” Ren writes: “For the National Day parade, celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the founding of the New China, I became a proud member of the Young Pioneers of China, as the young drummer. We dreamed of being seen by Leader Mao Zedong, a real successor of communism.”

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We lined up by the East Chang’an Avenue Beijing Hotel on the 1st of October, a bit over 5 AM, anxiously waiting for the National Day salute to go off. It was a moment of dreams coming true. On the sound of the drum, we walked to Tiananmen Square. Because I was a short kid at the time, I was the first in the row, and I felt proud that I would be nearer to Mao Zedong at Tiananmen’s City Gate than the others. My parents were also there, I wanted to see them, and I hoped they would see me.”

He continues:

But when the moment came, I was so nervous, that when we passed the eastern marble pillars, and the sound of the drums and cheers came up, I could only look down at the white line underneath my feet. I was afraid that it would affect the entire formation if I did not walk straight. I did not look up at all, not even at the Tiananmen City Gate. I just saw it from the corner of my eyes. When we finally reached the western pillars, and I stopped the drums, and it was already too late to look back.

Once I returned to school, I regretted not seeing Mao Zedong and I secretly cried. But I felt very proud to be successor of communism.”

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But then Ren’s happy memories of communism change as the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) begins, and his parents are accused of being capitalists.

I never thought that when the Cultural Revolution began a few months later, my parents would become ‘capitalist-roaders’, and I would be the child of criminals, and get the glorious title of a ‘son of a bitch’. My dream to grow up to be a next generation communist changed to being a child who had to be rehabilitated.

 

“We have been deceived for years.”

 

We’ve been deceived for years. The Cultural Revolution only let me know the class struggle under a proletarian dictatorship. And that there is no next generation of communism.”

Ren writes how him and his parents turned from city people into farmers during their rehabilitation. Despite the hardships, people still had trust in the nation:

We were more determined to join the Communist Party of China, and had confidence in rescuing people in need. We remained convinced that the great leader Chairman Mao was correct. All the problems in China were caused by those people hidden in the Party who were on Khrushchev’s side, and were doing bad things.”

 

“The invincible Mao Zedong thought has let thousands of people starve to death.”

 

But when Deng Xiaoping resigned, weeks after the Tiananmen events, the society started thinking. It was not until the overthrow of the “Gang of Four”, and the Third Plenum of the CPC and the ‘70% right 30% wrong’, that we got to know more errors from the once Great Leader.

Ren tells how China changed after the death of Mao:

Rightists who were overthrown were politically rehabilitated. The People’s Communes were dissolved. Farmer’s land was redistributed. The errors caused by the Cultural Revolution were corrected. The ‘Four Olds’, that were first knocked to the ground, were put back on their feet, and we again had a comeback of tradition (..) The capitalist class, that were first overthrown by the revolution, now became an important force in China’s economic development.”

The invincible Mao Zedong Thought has let thousands of people starve to death, and we don’t even know who many people died through persecution during the Cultural Revolution. Maybe even more people died because of wrong political policies than because of the war.”

 

“The Communist Youth League who now wants to welcome communism – are you joking?”

 

But China’s reform and opening has completely freed people of any food and clothing problems. The Reforms and Opening of China has re-established the confidence and trust in the Chinese leadership and the Communist Party. It also let the world know China. Everyone hopes the Communist Party of China will realise its promises of democracy, freedom, equality, and the rule of law, and lead the Chinese people to prosperity. They hope even more that they achieve the great ideal of communism. I also hope that communism can be realized. But what is the path to achieve it?

History has taught us that a violent revolution does not work. It has also taught us that public ownership does not work. That planned economy does not work. And that the absence of democracy and rule of law does not work!

Deng told us that China is still in the primary stage of socialism. It make take several generations to go to an intermediate stage. And it might take who-knows-how-many generations before we reach the higher goal. Deng Xiaoping also told us that it might take many generations before the wealth of some people turn into common wealth. If there is no step-by-step expansion of the middle class, it is impossible to achieve common prosperity.”

However, the impatient Chinese people cannot wait for generations without results , and want to achieve the goal of common prosperity.(..) It took 1000 years to go from feudal to capitalist society. It has not even been four decades since China’s primary stage of socialism. The Communist Youth League who now wants to welcome communism – are you joking? The only way to possibly ever achieve the ideal of communism is a long, long road, taking the effort of dozens of generations.

 

“Without democracy and freedom, how can we achieve equality under the law?”

 

Ren concludes his article by emphasizing the need for democracy: “Without democracy and freedom, how can we achieve equality under the law?”, he writes.

Perhaps there are many theoretical and institutional issues that gradually need to be reformed and resolved. Perhaps we need to understand that achieving communism is a very far-reaching and hard goal. But most of all, there needs to be a clear understanding that reaching communism is not just a very far-reached and ambitious goal, but that it will not be realised by this generation, or the ones after.

We can have ambitious goals, but it is more important that we live in reality. We first need to solve the system’s immediate problems. First, Chinese people should be confident in a system that allows people to share democracy and freedom. First, stable incomes need to be achieved. First, we need laws that can really protect people’s lives and property. First, the Chinese people need to join the system of values shared by the world. Otherwise, how could communism be ever reached?

Ren’s article has caused much commotion on Weibo. While some criticise communism and the system in general, others call for more a more nuanced discussion on the future of communism in China.

User Luo Qiang says: “After reading Ren Zhiqiang’s brilliant text, I am overwhelmed with emotions. I can’t help but also want to ridicule the system.” Weibo netizen Qinghua Sun Liping says:
“It’s good to say that communism is our ideal. It is better to have some ideals than to have none at all. (..) But to achieve communism, we need to concretise our targets.”

Ren’s article has got over 1 million views, was shared on Weibo over 13,780 times, received 8850 comments, and got over 15,000 ‘likes’.

By Manya Koetse

Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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Backgrounder

Coronavirus on Chinese Social Media: The 8 Major Trends in Times of the 2019-nCoV Crisis

The 8 main trends defining the online responses to the Wuhan coronavirus on Chinese social media.

Manya Koetse

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Since the outbreak of the new coronavirus becoming big news in China and around the world, there have been few other topics going trending on Chinese social media than those related to 2019-nCoV. What’s on Weibo gives an overview of the most noteworthy online media trends in China regarding the corona-crisis.

 
By Manya Koetse, further research and news-gathering by Miranda Barnes
 

From panic to patriotism, the outbreak of the coronavirus has led to a wide range of different responses from Chinese netizens and online media outlets over the past few weeks.

Although the first reports on the emergence of a pneumonia-like illness in the city of Wuhan came out in late December, it wasn’t until mid-January that the new virus, belonging to the coronavirus family, started dominating the top trending lists on social media in China and beyond.

The hashtag “Nationally Confirmed Cases of New Pneumonia” (#全国确诊新型肺炎病例#) became one of the biggest news-related topics we have ever seen on Weibo, receiving eight billion views by January 25, and reaching a staggering 13,5 billion views by February 2.

As of February 6th, approximately 28,200 cases of the new virus were confirmed, with over 170 cases reported in countries outside of China. The death toll also became much higher than days before, rising to 564. With these numbers, the coronavirus has exceeded the scale of the 2003 SARS outbreak in terms of infected patients.

Along with the quick spread of the new coronavirus across the country, the general mood and direction of the discussions and trends in the Chinese online media environment have also been in constant flux.

At What’s on Weibo, we have been glued to our social media screens, but because editor-in-chief Manya Koetse has been flooded with daily media requests we have not been able to update the site with regular updates (meanwhile, @manyapan did post regular updates on Twitter).

Here, we will highlight some of the main social media trends we spotted during the outbreak of the new Chinese coronavirus, now and over the past weeks.

 

TREND #1:

Online Backlash against the Eating of Wild Game

As an online media panic broke out around January 20, when a third person had died of the new Wuhan virus, one of the main trends to come up on Chinese social media was an online backlash against the eating of wild game (as reported here by Jessica Colwell).

The backlash flooded Weibo after the downtown Wuhan Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market (武汉华南海鲜批发市场), selling a wide range of dead and alive wild animals – anything from snakes and crocodiles to rats, hedgehogs or bats, – was identified as the suspected source of the deadly coronavirus outbreak.

Image posted by Sina Parenting on February 1st.

Since Chinese researchers linked the novel coronavirus (nCoV-2019) to bats, videos and images of bat dishes and people eating bat soon made their rounds on social media.

Many of these videos were actually unrelated to Wuhan, but were used in condemning the practice of eating (illegal/unsafe) wild game in general.

Around January 23, hashtags such as “Support the Banning of Wild Game Markets” (#支持禁绝野味市场#), “Refusing Eating of Wild Game Starts with You” (#拒吃野味从我做起#), “Control Your Mouth, Refuse Wild Game” (#管住嘴拒绝吃野味#) went viral on Weibo.

As images or videos of people eating bats or other exotic animals soon also spread to Twitter and other non-Chinese social media, some English-language media labeled them as “xenophobic” or “racist” – ignoring the fact that the anti-wild game storm actually started in the Chinese online media environment.

Online information leaflet spread by People’s Daily, “Resisting the Consumption of Wild Game Starts with Ourselves”

State media outlets such as People’s Daily, for example, played a role in the online dissemination of information against the eating of wild game and actually hosted some of these hashtag pages on Weibo.

The main argument behind the backlash is that those eating (unsafe, illegal) exotic and/or wild animals could risk their own health and that of their community and that what you eat is also your responsibility in keeping others safe.

A news story of a man hunting wild animals for consumption made its rounds on Weibo this week.

The backlash against the eating of wild game and online anger against people hunting or illegally buying wild animals for consumption is still ongoing, with some directing their anger against Wuhan people in specific.

This has also triggered discussions on Weibo about discrimination – not against Chinese people in general, but against Chinese netizens discriminating against Wuhan people or even against people from the Hubei province.

 

TREND #2:

Fake News and Censorship

Chinese social media platforms such as Weibo are tightly controlled online environments. When certain sensitive topics pop up, such as the anniversary of the Tiananmen protests, the Hong Kong demonstrations in their early phases, or big political events, virtually all related posts and news sharing will sometimes be removed by online censors.

In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, this was not necessarily the case. From the start, there was a lot of reporting, sharing, and discussion of the virus online.

However, there certainly has been ongoing censorship of the topic. This was mainly done in the case of netizens reposting videos of chaotic situations in streets or at hospitals, but also in the case of ‘fake news’ posts (mostly called “starting rumors”).

Posts that could potentially trigger unrest or panic also were censored. One hashtag that made its rounds around January 22 was “Escaping Wuhan” (#逃离武汉#), with people trying to leave Wuhan before the city would go on lockdown. That hashtag page was soon completely removed from Weibo.

The comments sections of some posts reporting on controversial or sensitive news were also completely turned off (such as this report addressing local authorities in Wuhan allegedly taking donated face masks).

One Weibo user (@魔女小稀), an alleged nurse, posted a video of people in a hospital hallway on January 24th, claiming that “three [dead] bodies” had been lying in a Wuhan hospital for the entire afternoon covered in white sheets without being removed.

The post and the Weibo user were completely removed from the platform on January 25. By that time, however, the video and allegations were already picked up and reposted internationally.

According to Sina News, the post had been completely false; there were no bodies lying around this Wuhan hospital. If there were people covered in white sheets, it was merely people sleeping in the hallway after waiting for a long time.

This is but one of many examples of ‘fake news’ floating around Chinese social media over the past two weeks, with images and videos being placed in a misleading context, people claiming that patient or deceased numbers were much higher than those reported by the official media, and some even bringing up conspiracy theories about the source of the coronavirus (e.g. that the Americans started it, that it leaked from a biolab in Wuhan, etc).

The problem in this issue is, of course, when do we call it ‘fake news’ and when do we call it ‘censorship’? Amid the chaos and uncertainty of the coronavirus outbreak, it is not always easy to separate the two.

This is also a contributing factor in the general distrust in official media reports that clearly surfaced on Weibo over the past weeks. “I don’t believe it,” is a sentence popping up everywhere on social media.

Spreading online “rumors” is a crime under China’s Criminal Law and is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Although some foreign media outlets, such as this one, make it seem as though it is illegal to share fake news about the coronavirus in particular, it is actually illegal in China to share fake news in general.

 

TREND #3:

Virus Vigilantism

Another trend we noticed on social media during the wake of the coronavirus outbreak is not just a distrust in official media and authorities, but also distrust in fellow citizens.

One clear example that blew up on Weibo is that of a young woman from Wuhan who posted about her traveling to France – and enjoying nice food – despite suffering from a fever and cough. Because she took fever reducers, she claimed to have passed airport temperature monitors without issue.

The post sparked great anger among Chinese netizens and triggered the so-called ‘human flesh search engine,’ with people digging into her personal details.

The incident even led to the Chinese embassy in France investigating the matter. The woman turned out not to have been infected with the virus.

But there are many examples of people exposing and doxing those who allegedly are hindering the collective goal of minimizing the risk of a further spreading of the virus, for example by not self-isolating after visiting Wuhan.

There’s also been widespread online condemnation of people stealing tissue paper from public elevators. Many apartment buildings around China now provide a box of tissue paper for hygienic reasons so that people do not need to touch the elevator buttons.

Surveillance videos of people stealing these boxes have been making their rounds on Weibo and WeChat, such as this lady in an elevator in Chongqing, with thousands of netizens expressing their anger over their behavior – and sometimes naming and shaming them.

 

TREND #4:

Social Media as a Practical Communication Tool

Soon after the scale of the coronavirus outbreak started to become clear, social media platforms such as Weibo were started to be used as practical communication tools for authorities, (medical) organizations, and individuals to spread information or to ask for help.

Social media is now widely used as a practical communication tool for very general matters in the coronavirus crisis (e.g. providing information on how to avoid getting the virus), but also for more specific issues.

Various hospitals in Wuhan, for example, spread digital leaflets online summing up their specific shortages in supplies (face masks, surgical gloves, etc), and how people and organizations can contribute.

Another example is how authorities at various times use social media to search for people who were on board of certain trains or where passengers were later diagnosed with the virus.

But we have also seen individuals reaching out through social media. One woman, for example, reached out to netizens online after she and her husband fell ill and needed someone to look after their children.

Through the help of social media, there are now also local volunteers who help taking care of people’s pets while they are unable to return home to feed them.

One of the hashtags increasingly receiving attention online since early February is “Rescuing the Pets Left Behind in Wuhan Homes” (#武汉滞留家中宠物救援#).

Since January 26, Tencent’s WeChat has also opened a special “epidemic supervision” channel within its app where WeChat users can go to get the latest local information about the virus in their area or ask for medical help.

 

TREND #5:

Propaganda, Pride and Patriotism in Times of Crisis

The outbreak of the coronavirus coincided with the most important holiday of the year in China: the Spring Festival. On Friday, January 24, the CCTV broadcasted its annual Spring Festival Gala (Chunwan), a 4-hour long show that has been airing since 1983. The show is the biggest live TV event in the world, with a viewership of one billion.

The show is usually meticulously planned up to every second – with rehearsals starting months before -, but this year, for the first time ever, it included a segment on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. It showed scenes from inside a Wuhan hospital, and the show’s main presenters paid their respects to all the medical workers working day and night.

The event became trending on Weibo under the hashtag “For the First Time in History, ‘Chunwan’ Includes a Non-Rehearsed Segment” (#春晚历史上首次没有彩排的片段#)

It was during this time, with twenty million people under travel lockdown, that the sentence “Jiayou Wuhan, Jiayou Zhongguo” (“Come on Wuhan, Come on China”) was propagated by state media and became widely used on Chinese social media.

By now, the hashtag “Go Wuhan!” (#武汉加油#, hosted by Party newspaper People’s Daily) has over 12 billion views on Weibo.

“1.4 billion Chinese salute you”

Starting from the Spring Festival weekend, Chinese state media began to propagate more positive, patriotic, and nationalistic messages online during the corona crisis, focusing on the unity of China and the dedication and resilience of common Chinese people, with a specific emphasis on medical and army staff.

It is not uncommon, or actually rather common, for Chinese authorities and state media to propagate nationalism in times of hardship (also see our article on online propaganda during the Hong Kong protests).

 

TREND #6:

Quarantine Boredom: From Panic to Humor

From late January, the first humorous memes and videos starting flooding Chinese social media in light of the coronavirus.

Around January 25, there were over forty confirmed deaths due to the new coronavirus and over 1380 known infected patients. Along with the travel lockdown, most of the major tourist attractions across China had shut down, and driving bans were implemented in the city of Wuhan to restrict people’s movements in efforts to contain the outbreak.

What was supposed to be a time of joy and reunion and entertainment (the Chinese New Year) turned into a time of fear and self-isolation for many families in Wuhan and beyond.

Practically locked up in their homes, some people used humor as a ‘defense mechanism’ in times of coronacrisis.

The videos embedded in the thread below are some examples of people making the most of their times in lockdown.

But besides the creative solutions of people avoiding boredom inside the home, there were also many memes going around WeChat and Weibo making fun of the extreme measures taken by people and authorities, such as this photo below that was allegedly taken at a station in Yiwu, Zhejiang, saying: “Some people got off the train in Yiwu but thought they’d ended up in Saudi Arabia.”

There was also this viral image below of an office canteen where people were self-isolating for safety reasons, saying: “Eating at the cantine of my unit now feels more like taking an exam.”

Videos and images of people using sanitary pads, bras, plastic bags, or even fruit to protect their faces due to a scarcity of face masks also continue to make their rounds on social media, with people sometimes mocking neighbors, their friends or family, or even themselves in the extreme and sometimes silly measures they are taking to avoid getting the coronavirus.

 

TREND #7:

Anger against Local Authorities and Illegal Lock-Ins

As panic over the spreading coronavirus has become bigger over the past few weeks, the voices criticizing local authorities and organizations for mishandling the situation have also grown louder.

While loud criticism of the central government is usually censored before triggering bigger discussions, there has been ample criticism of provincial, city, and county authorities and organizations – and not without consequence.

In Hubei, local authorities have been criticized for, among others, initially censoring reports of an emerging new illness in December of 2019.

The mayor of Wuhan, Zhou Xianwang, became a major target of netizens’ anger. In late January, Zhou admitted that he had failed in disclosing information in a timely manner and also “did not use effective information” to improve the local government’s work.

The Hubei branch of the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC, 中国红十字会) also received massive criticism online in early February when it turned out that, while the public donated medical supplies and money, most of it remained in the Red Cross warehouse.

On February 4, Chinese state media reported that the Hubei Red Cross deputy director had been removed from office and dismissed from the leading Party members group of the RCSC branch.

On village and prefecture-level, there has also been public condemnation of how authorities are handling the corona crisis.

Some videos going around social media showed how people, seemingly against their will, were locked up inside their own homes by local authorities after returning from Wuhan (“武汉返乡人员”).

China Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League of China, also condemned these practices as “illegal” and “inhumane” in an article that has since been deleted.

Through a new WeChat function mentioned earlier in this post, Chinese netizens can now also report any mishandlings of the coronavirus situation.

At the time of writing, there seems to have been some increased censorship, but nevertheless, criticism on local authorities keeps flooding Weibo.

“While people are busy helping themselves and each other, what are the leaders of Hubei and Wuhan doing?”, some people wonder: “Supplies in the hospitals are still scarce, there are still people who are unable to receive help!”

 

TREND #8:

Corona Panic Buying

It was around January 21st when the coronavirus panic reached a peak in China; a third infected patient had died of the virus the day before, the first cases were confirmed outside of China, and several big travel platforms had started to offer refunds or change flights via Wuhan.

Similar to the SARS outbreak in 2003, news of the coronavirus led to waves of “scare shopping” – a trend that also became very visible on social media.

Medical face masks soon sold out in Chinese pharmacies and on e-commerce platforms: around 80 million face masks were sold on Alibaba’s Taobao platform alone on January 20 and January 21st. Those (online) shops still offering face masks exploited the shortage of face masks, and would only sell them at exorbitant prices.

Twenty dollars for a face mask?

Although Alibaba soon announced it would remove sales of face masks from shops that were selling them at unstable prices, the sales and availability of (disposable) N95 masks is still an issue across China, with netizens complaining about it on Weibo every single day.

Another example of consumer panic followed the Jan 31st reports by two medical research institutions on the TCM oral medicine Shuanghuanglian, which would allegedly be effective in combating the new coronavirus.

Shortly after the reports came out, the herbal remedy sold out in stores across the country.

Chinese state media now warn people against “irrational purchases,” saying that the effectivity of herbal remedies such as Shuanghuanglian is still unsure.

Panic buying is a trend that is not just visible on Chinese social media, it is a trend that also seems to be triggered through social media, with rumors and reports of existing shortages of certain products leading to panic.

A clear example is the February 5 run on toilet paper in Hong Kong after rumors spread that the coronavirus outbreak would lead to insufficient supplies.

 

As there are still many new developments and news reports coming out concerning the coronavirus, we will keep on publishing more on What’s on Weibo about what’s trending on Chinese social media. (Also read: Distrust and despair on WeChat and Weibo after the death of Wuhan whistleblower Li Wenliang).

If it’s quiet here, please also follow us on Twitter here and here.

By Manya Koetse, additional research and news-gathering by Miranda Barnes
Follow @whatsonweibo

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“I’m One of 1.4 Billion” Goes Trending as China’s Population Now Tops the 1.4B Number

China’s total population is up, but its birth rate has fallen to the lowest level.

Manya Koetse

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According to the latest numbers, China’s birth rate has hit a new low, but state media are instead highlighting the fact that China’s population has now surpassed 1,4 billion.

This Friday, official data, released annually by the National Bureau of Statistics, shows that the total Chinese mainland’s population has surpassed 1.4 billion at the end of 2019.

In light of this news, Chinese state media outlet People’s Daily launched the hashtag “I’m One of 1.4 Billion” (#我就是14亿分之一#), propagating a sense of unity among such a massive population.

This message was also reiterated by other accounts, such as the Shenzhen Police, that said: “We’re all one big family, our name is China, we have a lot of brothers and sisters.”

China’s Birth Rate Falls to Lowest

While People’s Daily is publicizing the 1.4 billion number, the annual statistics also show that China’s birth rate has fallen to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Although only 14,65 million were born in mainland China in 2019, the death rate of the country was also lower than before – meaning that the total population number still went up from 1,39 billion to 1,4 billion in the last year.

One thread started by People’s Daily on Weibo received nearly 530,000 likes by Friday afternoon, with thousands of Weibo users posting a response to the latest numbers.

Many netizens responded to the news in a similar fashion, saying: “There are already enough people [in China] now, I don’t need to have children anymore,” or: “Good, there’s so many people, I don’t have to worry about having kids.”

China’s marriage rates hit a new low in 2019 after dropping year by year.

Over recent years, various trends in Chinese (online) media have highlighted the existing social issues behind China’s dropping marriage and birth rates.

The rising costs of living and the fact that many among Chinese younger generations “prefer to marry late,” are often mentioned as an explanation for China’s decline in marriage rates and the interrelated lowering birth rates.

But China’s so-called ‘leftover’ single men have also been pointed out as a “crisis,” with China having millions of more men than women of marriageable age – partly a consequence of the one-child policy and general preference for baby boys.

Although Chinese couples are allowed to have two children since 2015, the new regulations have not had the desired effect, with many couples simply not wanting a second child or not being able to afford it.

For some years, ‘leftover women’ were mentioned as a reason for China’s declining marriage rates; China’s well-educated, career-oriented, urban single women were sometimes singled out for making it harder for China’s unmarried men to find a wife because of their ‘choice’ to postpone marriage and family life. This has increased the pressure on China’s single women to get married, which has become a recurring topic of debate on Chinese social media.

Today’s responses on Weibo seem to indicate that many young people are still not very eager to have children. “Let’s not add to the population, it’s enough burden for the planet,” some say.

Others say the number of 1,4 billion make them or their action seem “irrelevant” and “tiny.”

There are also those with entirely different concerns about the number: “There are 1,4 billion in China now, and yet I’m still not able to find a boyfriend!”

By Manya Koetse
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