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Why a “High-Speed Train Slapping Incident” Went Viral on Chinese Social Media

An altercation between passengers on a high-speed train to Chengdu has caused a stir on Chinese social media, sparking discussions about some long-standing social issues.

Manya Koetse

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An explosive argument between two female passengers on a high-speed train has gone viral on Chinese social media this week. The fight has triggered widespread discussions on the issue of ‘mutual assault,’ the problem of ‘brat children,’ and why it might be wiser to avoid intervening in these types of disputes altogether.

An argument between two female passengers on a Chinese high-speed train has recently attracted a lot of attention on Chinese social media. (See video, around the 4:10 mark.)

The incident, which has been dubbed “the high-speed rail slapping incident” (“高铁掌掴事件”), happened on the C6276 train on May 2, 2023, between Meishan East Railway Station and Chengdu East Railway station.

Two female passengers seated on the train got into an argument after one woman (Wang 王) got angry over the other woman’s children kicking against the back of her seat. She turned around and scolded them, after which the mother (named Yang 杨) got upset. Both women took their phones and argued while filming each other.

The situation soon escalated from there, and the argument turned physical when Yang first slapped Wang in her face. Several videos of the incident that have since gone viral show that Wang then also slapped Yang in the face, and did it again shortly after.

Train staff and other passengers tried to mediate the situation and calm the women down. One man in specific raised his voice to mediate, while also condemning the parents for not correcting their children’s behavior.

Wang posted about the incident on social media on the night of May 2nd, and it has blown up since then.

Wang was later summoned to the police station and reportedly was fined 200 yuan ($30) by the police for her role in the incident. On the night of May 4th, Wang arrived at the police station at 8 pm, and did not leave until 3.30 am.

In a video posted online, the woman explained that she refused to reconcile with the other party, insisting that they should receive the appropriate punishment for their actions (#高铁上被掌掴女孩坚决不和解#). She said she would accept the fine she received, but stressed that the party that initiated the fight should be punished more harshly.

“To give each one a flogging of fifty strokes” (各打五十大板)

One of the main reasons why the case became so big is because the incident was ruled as “mutual assault” (hù’ǒu 互殴). On Chinese social media, many netizens express that the judgement is not correct since Yang was the first to attack and Wang defended herself (zhèng dàng fáng wèi 正当防卫).

The issue of self-defense being ruled as a ‘mutual assault’ is a recurring one in Chinese social media discussions. A popular opinion is that the police often rule something as ‘mutual assault’ to just settle the matter and be done with it. This is also referred to as gè dǎ wǔshí dà bǎn (各打五十大板), a Chinese idiom that translates to “each person gets a flogging of fifty strokes,” meaning the guilty and innocent are being punished in the same way.

One post about the issue by Sina News received nearly 225,000 likes on Weibo.

Since the slapping incident continued to trigger discussions online, the Chengdu Railway Police issued a statement on May 10, in which they provided exact details on how the incident unfolded. They concluded that both parties were guilty of assault, and that Wang had received the 200 yuan ($30) fine while Yang had received an administrative penalty of 500 yuan ($72).

Still, many people feel that punishing the instigator as well as the person who strikes back is not fair, since it allegedly prevents people from trying to defend themselves.

“The woman who was beaten showed great perseverance,” one person commented: “Hopefully, this case can serve as a milestone event, thoroughly correcting the society’s long-standing habit of taking this approach [of ruling it as ‘mutual assault’] to smooth things over.”

In 2020, Jeremy Daum at China Law Translate published an article about self-defence and on how cases related to the right to protect oneself can evoke passionate public responses. The article describes how then-released guidelines help authorities navigate cases involving the right to protect oneself and the determinations of when such a defense is justified.

As Daum points out, one remarkable feature of the 2020 guidelines is their explicit concern for public opinion. In light of some cases triggering massive public debates, the guidelines call for greater transparency in explaining the law to the public and on how verdicts are reached.

The 2020 guidelines are evident in this specific ‘train slapping incident,’ as it is clear that the reason for penalizing both parties was clearly communicated to the public as the incident went trending online.

“Brat children” (熊孩子)

Another reason why this particular incident received so much attention has to do with the issue of so-called “brat children.” In Chinese, they are referred to as xióng háizi (“熊孩子”), which literally means ‘bear children’ and is used to describe unruly, naughty children (often boys) who are prone to cause trouble.

In The Historical Dictionary of Chinese Culture (Sullivan & Sullivan 2021), it is explained that the rise of the “xióng háizi” phenomenon in China during the 2000s was due to the prevalence of a parenting style known as “soft-touch parenting.”

This approach to parenting was significantly different from previous decades and emphasized gentle and nurturing methods. As a result, many of these children, who are often only children who are pampered by doting grandparents, developed a reputation for their disruptive and self-absorbed behavior in public places (p. 130).

The behaviour of these “little brats” often makes headlines. Like the time when security cameras captured how a young boy urinated in an elevator and broke it, or when a little kid crashed and destroyed a Lego sculpture within an hour after it was displayed in a Chinese mall.

Many commenters on social media say that they have had it with these “little brats” and their parents. In one of her social media posts, Wang argued that there should be designated carriages for passengers traveling with children on high-speed trains to avoid bothering other passengers.

Brat children on the train (via

Regarding the incident, many people believe that the intensity of the argument was due to the fact that people have become increasingly intolerant of unruly children and their parents who fail to discipline them. Although Wang also slapped Yang, many people still side with her, saying they understand her frustrations and supporting her right to criticize the children and their parents.

One commenter (@陌川_MC) writes: “Lots of things are happening every day, yet why do we always see incidents involving ‘brat children’ pop up in the trending lists? The basic reason is that it strikes our travel pain point: we constantly get annoyed by little brats. Behind every ‘bear child’ there is a ‘bear parent.’ People are very disgusted with such parents, but can not do anything about it, which is why they cannot help but feel indignant when they see these types of incidents happening.”

“I was on a high-speed train for three hours yesterday, and all of these three hours a brat child was crying. Didn’t it wear him out? Even I was exhausted by listening to his cries, and the train attendants didn’t do anything about it.”

The hashtag “Should Trains Set Up Special Carriages for Children” (#列车有必要设置携带儿童车厢吗#) received comments from many people who applaud the idea.

“Dongbei Brother” (东北大哥)

One of the other reasons why the train slapping incident has become such a big topic is due to the role played by one of the passengers who stepped in and ‘mediated’ during the fight. As he comes from Northeast China, the man has now come to be known simply as the ‘Dongbei Brother’ or ‘Northeastern big brother’ (东北大哥).

During the incident, the man came up and meddled in the argument. Although ‘Dongbei Brother’ has become an online celebrity, netizens also accuse him of taking sides during the altercation, labeling the child as a troublemaker and completely ignoring the fact that Wang was filming the children and yelling at them.

Others suggest he only intervened to gain attention for himself and increase his social media following.

The man approaching in the yellow jacket is “Dongbei brother.”

In response to these accusations, then man said on a recent livestream that he only stepped in because he saw the two parties arguing and wanted to prevent the altercation getting any worse. The man also stated that he received a call from the child’s mother, thanking him for his intervention. Neverthless, in light of all the negative comments he received, he also stated that he would not intervene in similar situations in the future. That topic also went trending (#东北大哥称不想再管吵架事件#), receiving 180 million views on Friday.

Some people took the backlash against ‘Dongbei Brother’ as a lesson, suggesting that it might be wiser to avoid intervening in these types of disputes altogether.

Lastly, the recent incident not only sparked discussions on the issue of “mutual assault” and “brat children,” as well as the role of those who intervene, but it has also shed light on the issue of cyberbullying. The individuals involved in the incident have all faced online abuse, highlighting the harmful impact of cyberbullying.

Despite all the people who have strong opinions about the incident and the various people involved, there are also those calling on netizens to stay reasonable above all else. After all, the best thing people can do to set the right example for so-called “brat children” is to try and stay civilized online.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

References

Daum, Jeremy. 2020. “Standing your ground, China Style.” China Law Translate, October 5 https://www.chinalawtranslate.com/en/standing-your-ground-china-style/ [May 12, 2023].

Sullivan, Lawrence R. and Nancy Sullivan. 2021. Historical Dictionary of Chinese Culture. New York and London: Rowman & Littlefield

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©2023 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 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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