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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.”

cultural-revolution-H

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.”

mao_1492354c

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 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 Insight

A Snowball Effect: How Cold Harbin Became the Hottest Place in China

Part of Harbin’s enormous success can be attributed to a snowball effect, but the hype is also the result of a well-coordinated campaign.

Manya Koetse

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There is one topic that has been dominating Chinese social media recently: Harbin and its remarkable influx of tourists. How can the buzz surrounding this frosty city be explained?

The new year has just started and Harbin already seems to be the hit of 2024. The capital of China’s Heilongjiang Province, which is famous for its Ice and Snow Festival and Russian heritage, has been dominating trending topics on Chinese social media from late December well into this second week of January.

Every day recently, there’s another hashtag about Harbin that is hitting the hot charts on Chinese social media platforms Weibo, Douyin, and Xiaohongshu. Whether it is about Harbin travel, food, or funny memes, there seems to be an endless stream of stories and topics coming from the city in China’s northeast.

The sudden hype surrounding Harbin is similar to that of Zibo in 2023. The Shandong city, known for its local BBQ culture, became all the rage in spring of last year for its joyful atmosphere and post-pandemic celebratory mood.

Is Harbin the ‘Zibo’ of this 2023-2024 winter season? How come the historical city became such a social media phenomenon?

 
Harbin’s Hottest Festival
 

This year marks the 40th edition of the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival (哈尔滨国际冰雪节), which is the largest ice and snow festival in the world. The official opening ceremony on January 5th not only celebrated the milestone of the 40th edition but also highlighted Harbin’s role as the host city for the 2025 Asian Winter Games. This will also be the first festival after the end of China’s ‘Zero Covid’ policy (the event was previously still held but kept much smaller).

Harbin winters are tough, with temperatures plummeting to as low as minus 30 degrees Celsius (minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit) or even colder. The idea for a Harbin ice festival first emerged in the late 1950s, when local officials wanted to cheer up the city and its residents in the dark and gloomy winter days.

They therefore introduced a winter festival centered around the idea of ice lanterns, of which the history goes back to the fisherman on the Songhua River using candles inside frozen blocks to give light on long winter nights. The festival was successful from the start; nearly 250,000 people participated in the 1963 edition (Dewar et al 2001, 524).

First edition of the Snow and Ice Festival in 1963.

After the Cultural Revolution put a halt to the festivities in 1966, local authorities reviewed the festival again in 1984, and revived it as an event to boost the local economy. About a decade later, it had already become one of the biggest of its kind globally, with its ice sculpting competitions and snow sculpture parks, including thousands of ice structures and spectacular lantern venues.

This 2023-2024 season turns out to be another important moment for Harbin and its ice festival. In November of 2023, the city launched a press conference in which they stressed the importance of strengthening the city’s position as an (international) leader in the field of ice and snow tourism in this post-pandemic era and fully focus on turning the season into a “people’s festival” and a “people’s event” (“使冰雪季和冰雪节真正成为人民的节日、百姓的盛会”).

From string quartets to hot air balloons, Harbin is going all out to entertain and impress visitors this year, and all the efforts are paying off.

More than two million people are expected to visit Harbin for this year’s festival, including its ‘Ice and Snow World’ (哈尔滨冰雪大世界) which opened on 18 December and will run until late February. This amusement park is a major attraction within the larger festival, and this 25th edition, with its 810,000-square-meter, is the largest-ever held.

In a time when Chinese domestic travelers are exploring their own country in new ways, from Special Force travel style to show-inspired journeys, the latest buzz surrounding Harbin is something that many simply do not want to miss out on, causing the coldest city to become one of the hottest destinations of the moment.

 
Turning Bad Publicity into Something Positive
 

On December 18, Harbin officially opened its Ice and Snow World to the public, welcoming thousands of visitors. This is also when the city and its festival first started trending on social media, but not necessarily in a good way.

Visitors initially complained that despite making reservations, they had to wait in lines at the entrance for hours, and that the time slot reservation system (分时预约) – introduced in Covid days – actually made things more difficult rather than facilitating a smoother crowd management process.

People also complained when Ice and Snow World issued a notice that they couldn’t accommodate more than 40,000 people and had already reached their limit during the early afternoon, therefore halting further ticket sales on the 18th. The 40,000 people limit seemed strange to many, who commented that other events and venues across China, such as Shanghai Disneyland, could welcome much more visitors.

People who had been waiting in line for hours starting shouting that they wanted their money back, and that incident went viral online as the “ticket refund incident” (#哈尔滨退票事件#, 170 million views on Weibo).

Not only did these incidents generate more public attention for the events taking place in Harbin, Snow World’s response also became a hot topic as they soon issued an apology, swiftly canceled the time slot reservation system, gave ticket refunds, and introduced a ‘first come first served’ system (#冰雪大世界取消预约制#, #哈尔滨冰雪大世界致歉#, 370 million views).

A side effect of this incident and how it was handled was that a so-called “underdog effect” became visible on social media, where many people started defending Harbin and Snow World. Supporters questioned whether visitors would similarly express frustration while waiting in lines at Disneyland or Universal Studios.

One Weibo blogger (@刘成春) wrote: “Please do not dismiss Harbin’s Ice and Snow World just because of some minor shortcomings. A group of simple, honest, hardworking people have spent days on end creating these sculptures with ice taken from the Songhua River at temperatures below minus 20. They’ve been making so much efforts, and Harbin just wants to present these works as gifts and the city’s signature to the people (..) Please don’t discredit the only snow and ice landmark of Northeast China.”

After the incident, this sentiment echoed widely on Chinese social media, where many believed in Harbin’s genuine efforts to make its snow and ice season a success, recognizing the sincerity and goodwill of those involved. The idea that Harbin really deserves to shine this season was further strengthened because of videos emerging on social media of previous Covid years, when the smaller festival looked empty and staff still worked hard to try and entertain the few visitors that were there.

 
Southern Little Potato Hype
 

On New Year’s Eve, videos showing celebrations in Harbin rapidly gained traction online, showing that Harbin was doing everything it could to entertain and create a welcoming atmosphere for its visitors.

These visitors have also become part of the buzz surrounding Harbin this season, mainly the emergence of the so-called “Southern Little Potatoes” (南方小土豆 nánfāng xiǎo tǔdòu). This term refers to the increasing influx of tourists from China’s warmer southern regions who are making their way to the snow-blanketed north.

The term “Southern Little Potatoes” humorously describes these southern tourists, especially women, who are frequently spotted sporting light-colored down jackets and hats. Their short height, distinct travel attire makes them stand out among the typically taller and darker-dressed locals in northeastern cities, leading to the playful potato comparison by northerners.

One of the ‘Southern Little Potatoes’ memes (via 21jingji.com).

As “Southern Little Potatoes” became a trending term online, southern tourists also started using it to make fun of themselves and it came to be used to highlight the warm and sometimes funny exchanges between the north and south.

The “Southern Little Potatoes,” who are not used to not used to ice, snow, and extremely cold weather, are also known to get into tricky situations, needing locals to help them out. On January 9, one tourist from the south went viral for stepping out of the train as he quickly wanted to experience licking a metal pole in freezing temperatures. The moment his tongue got stuck, the train staff kindly helped him get unstuck.

For locals, these silly southern tourists are a great business opportunity. One street seller started offering a supervised metal pole licking experience: you can lick a small metal pole for 5 yuan ($0.70), a bigger one for 10 ($1.40), and the tallest one for 15 ($2) (photo below).

Metal pole licking experience.

The Southern Little Potato trend has set off the online meme machine, as well as sparked a small local economy. Some Harbin taxi drivers, for example, promote themselves as being designated “little potato drivers” to serve their ‘friends from the south.’ Street sellers selling ‘little potato’ plush toy keychains for 15 yuan became all the hype.

Little Potato merchandise sold in the streets of Harbin (via 21jingji.com).

You could say that this general trend has also strengthened ties between the north and south. In Chinese, Harbin (Hā’ěrbīn 哈尔滨) is now affectionately shortened to ‘Ěrbīn‘ by visitors and netizens, with the dropping of the ‘Ha’ reflecting a more casual, friendly familiarity with the city.

 
A Snowball Effect
 

Although part of Harbin’s enormous (online) success can be attributed to a snowball effect that began after December 19/20, with people showing their appreciation for the city and joining the hype, the attention on social media was also a result of a well-coordinated campaign.

As described by Chinese media outlet The Paper (澎湃新闻), Heilongjiang Province’s Cultural and Tourism Department Party Secretary and Director He Jing (何晶) recently stated in an interview: “This year’s popularity [of Harbin] isn’t accidental; we’ve been preparing for a year.” He explained how, since early 2023, they started focusing on new media and social media strategies to promote Heilongjiang and Harbin in multiple ways.

For this season, Harbin Snow World made sure there were several online influencers and celebrities promoting the festivities, such as Chinese influencers Kiki (陈洁Kiki) and Barbin (Barbin.ili芭比) or Olympic champion speed skaters Fan Kexin (范可新), Zhang Hong (张虹), and Zhang Yuting (张雨婷). There are also various brand collaborations, such as with Tencent and its Game for Peace (和平精英). Local official media channels and big state media accounts also collaborate with Harbin in posting a lot of promotional videos related to festivities.

This year, Harbin also introduced all kinds of activities and venues to increase their appeal. The ice-made terracotta warriors, for example, or the hot pot restaurant housed within an ice structure, where even the tables are sculpted from ice. These are just some of the many ‘must-experience’ attractions in Harbin that have garnered attention on Chinese social media (#哈尔滨把火锅玩出了本地特色#).

There is also a 20-meter high snowman wearing a red hat, that has come to serve as a must-go photo opportunity for visitors. The local tourism ambassador, the Exploring Pinguin (淘学企鹅), with its cute appearance and orange backpack, is also one of those things that further adds to the appeal of Harbin and its Snow World.

Local authorities, including the tourism department, also pulled out all the stops to ensure visitors felt welcome and accommodated. They made sure local hotels and other business maintained fair prices despite the surge in tourists and to increase the focus on customer service.

They also made sure to listen to (online) feedback and quickly act on complaints. For example, after so many tourists from the south arrived at Harbin Airport and had to change into warmer clothing in the chilly central hall, they increased the number of airport dressing rooms, equipped with seats, mirrors, and carpets. This kind of attention to detail and drive to serve visitors is a strategy that has greatly contributed to Harbin’s current success.

You now see that the combined efforts of local authorities and businesses in Harbin, both online and offline, have cultivated a unique festive atmosphere. This atmosphere is contagious; it motivates locals to actively contribute to maintain the standards while also encouraging visitors to actively promote the city. This leads to new groups of visitors getting enthusiastic to travel to Harbin.

While this success is partly orchestrated, with authorities and state media being key players, there is also that ‘special something’ — a kind of genuine charm, sincerity, relatability, and likability — which is much harder to schedule through strategies. It’s an organic ingredient that is a major part of the buzz. In this way, Zibo and Harbin are very much alike.

Despite some criticisms about prioritizing short-term fame and social media hype for Chinese tourist destinations, it seems that Harbin’s success will be long lasting. As some social media users say: “I can’t make it this year, but I definitely will go to Harbin for the next season. I’ve never even seen snow in my life.”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Ruixin Zhang and Miranda Barnes

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References

Dewar, Keith, Denny Meyer, and Wen Mei Li. 2001. “Harbin, Lanterns of Ice, Sculptures of Snow.” Tourism Management 22 (5): 523-532.

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China Insight

Red Cross Society of China in Bad Light Due to Online Rumors after Gansu Earthquake

Even though the rumors surrounding the Red Cross might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

Manya Koetse

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A handwarmer for 500 yuan ($70), a tent for 2200 yuan ($308), a blanket for 100 yuan ($14)? An online list detailing items supposedly procured by the Gansu Red Cross for earthquake relief efforts has ignited controversy on Chinese social media in recent days. Although the Red Cross has denied all rumors, the incident underscores public skepticism towards the organization.

After the devastating 6.2-magnitude earthquake struck Jishishan (积石山), a county in China’s Gansu Province’s Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture, on December 18, Chinese social media platforms were flooded with news related to the disaster. The overnight earthquake killed at least 148 people and left hundreds injured.

News of the earthquake resonated deeply throughout the country, and the ongoing search and rescue operations and relief efforts, hindered by landslides, ruined infrastructure, and freezing temperatures, have attracted major attention online.

While much of the discourse revolves around the goodness of the people contributing to charities and doing all they can to help victims in the affected areas, there is also public distrust surrounding the motives of some charities or helping organizations that might use the disaster as an opportunity to make a profit.

One hotly debated topic revolves around the Red Cross Society of China, after a list surfaced online of items allegedly purchased by the Gansu Red Cross for relief efforts in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake.

Image published on Weibo via Red Cross Society of China (@中国红十字会总会).

The procurement list raised controversy due to the high prices of the common items listed, and because of a supposed “management fee” (管理费) of 1.6 million yuan ($224k).

In response, the Red Cross refuted these claims, asserting that they had not issued any such list (#甘肃红十字称没发布任何物资清单#). On December 24, the Gansu Red Cross took to Weibo (@甘肃省红十字会) to clarify that the circulating information was “grossly inaccurate.” They assured the public that all donations would directly aid earthquake relief efforts, without incurring management fees.

The Red Cross statement on Weibo.

Even though the procurement list might be false, the public concerns surrounding charity efforts are real.

“Why does the Red Cross end up in the top trending lists every time?” one commenter wondered: “Their information should be more transparent and timely.”

Others also suggested that merely denying the rumors was not enough, and that they hoped that the Red Cross would provide more details and information to show netizens, of whom many donated money, how their charity money is being spent to help relief efforts in the affected areas in Gansu and Qinghai.

The fact that the Red Cross Weibo post did not allow any commenting did not help: “Why are you afraid to let us openly discuss this?”

 
Red Cross Society of China: Tainted by Suspicion
 

The Red Cross of China, the nation’s largest charitable organization, continues to grapple with a tarnished reputation that partly stems from the 2011 “Guo Meimei Incident.”

Guo Meimei (郭美美), whose real name is Guo Meiling, became an infamous internet celebrity in the summer of 2011 after flaunting her excessive wealth online whilst claiming to work as a “commercial general manager” for the Red Cross Society of China.

The issue severely eroded the society’s credibility, which has been designated by the government as the central public donation organization during times of disasters (Cheng 2016). From luxury handbags to sports cars, the 19-year-old Guo showed off her money on Weibo, and quickly went viral on various message boards as people were angered over corruption and potential misuse of charity money.

Guo Meimei

Despite efforts by the Red Cross Society to debunk these rumors and distance itself from Guo, speculations persisted. Many speculated about Guo’s potential ties to the organization, even if she did not officially work there. As highlighted by Cheng (2016), the public’s negative sentiment toward the Red Cross triggered “a chain of credibility crises” and even spread to other charitable groups in China.

During the 2020 Wuhan Covid outbreak, the Red Cross faced scrutiny for allegedly stockpiling public donations of medical supplies in warehouses rather than promptly distributing them to frontline medical personnel facing shortages.

The current allegations against the Red Cross of China in the aftermath of the Gansu Earthquake also echo other past controversies, such as the one they dealt with after the 2008 Sichuan quake. Red Cross officials were then also accused of misusing donations by purchasing needlessly expensive tents and vehicles.

 
Donations for the ‘Underdog’: The Han Hong Foundation
 

The growing public distrust towards the Red Cross has arguably paved the way for other Chinese charities to gain prominence. A prime example is the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation (韩红爱心慈善基金会), established in 2012 by renowned Chinese folk singer Han Hong (韩红, 1971).

Although Han Hong has been engaged in charity for many years, during which she invested a lot of her own money, the charity she established became more known after the Han Hong Love Charity Foundation was committed to aid efforts during the Wuhan Covid outbreak in 2020 and the Henan floods in 2021.

Han Hong (center), picture via Xiaohongshu fan of Han Hong.

After the earthquake in Gansu on December 18th, Han Hong’s organization immediately organized rescue teams and provided people in the affected areas with clothes and (medical) supplies. Hang Hong was able to rake in millions thanks to her reputation of being compassionate and altruistic, as well as through her strong network in China’s entertainment industry, leading numerous Chinese celebrities to support her relief efforts.

But Han Hong’s organization is also affected by the public distrust surrounding charity in China. On December 23, it was rumored that her Charity Foundation was officially asked to leave the disaster area as well as to hand over a portion of their donations.

The foundation refuted these claims by issuing a statement on December 25 (#韩红基金会辟谣#).

Statement by Han Hong Love Charity Foundation refuting rumors that their charity work was hindered by officials.

In the public view, there seems to be a big difference between perceptions of large entities like the Red Cross and other ‘official’ charitable organizations versus smaller, more independent initiatives like the Han Hong foundation, which operates as a private charitable entity.

Reflecting on the rumors surrounding both the Red Cross and Han Hong’s foundation, one Weibo commenter noted: “These rumors come into existence because so many of these so-called charitable foundations actually treat charity as their business. And so, they become ‘competitors.’”

Meanwhile, Han Hong’s organization stresses that it operates under the guidance and oversight of the party and government, and only provide emergency support through their support.

In online discussions on the power of the Red Cross versus Han Hong’s organization, some commenters suggest that it is time for the government and authorities to reflect on why a private organization would be more trusted than the Red Cross, a government organized NGO.

One Weibo commenter wrote: “What Han Hong does is true charity instead of business.” Another person replied: “The biggest disaster here is actually the erosion of public trust.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Cheng, Yang. 2016. “Social Media Keep Buzzing! A Test of Contingency Theory in China’s Red Cross Credibility Crisis.” International Journal of Communication, June 2016: pp. 3241+.

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