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Why Russia Is Nicknamed the “Weak Goose” on Chinese Social Media

Multiple Chinese (military) bloggers started using the ‘weak goose’ (菜鹅) term in light of Russia’s fading victory.

Manya Koetse

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THIS IS A PREMIUM CONTENT ARTICLE

While the latest developments in the Russia-Ukraine war are closely watched by millions of Chinese social media users, the ‘Weak Goose’ meme is becoming more popular among military bloggers and Weibo users, signaling a shift in online sentiments regarding Russia’s position and its military competence.

Since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the latest developments regarding the war in Ukraine are a big topic on Chinese social media, where military bloggers, academics, political commentators, and ordinary netizens have been sharing their views on the conflict over the past seven months.

Back in February of 2022, many Weibo commenters expressed anti-war sentiments and worries about the situation of the Ukrainian people and Ukraine-based Chinese compatriots.

At the same time, there was also a growing group of Chinese netizens who said they supported Russia. One top commenter at the time wrote: “I resolutely support the Russian military action! This is the evil result of Ukraine following the Yankees (美国佬). We should seize the opportunity to liberate Taiwan and to recover the Diaoyu Islands.”

Those speaking out in favor of Putin and the Russian military mainly focused on anti-Western sentiments, and this online discourse was only strengthened by media narratives that also framed the Russia-Ukraine war – commonly referred to as Russia’s “special military operation” – within a Chinese context that stressed the humiliation and injustice suffered by China at the hands of the very same Western powers that were now condemning Russia and were trying to get China on their side (read more in this article).

Others also saw the Russian military invasion of Ukraine as a warning to Taiwan, semi-jokingly writing that Chinese troops could arrive in the morning, that unification would be completed by noon, and that they would all be raising the flag and singing the national anthem together the next day.

But now, seven months and nine days later, it is clear that Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine is anything but a quick ‘victory.’

 
“We’re Witnessing History”
 

This week, after Russia proclaimed the annexation of four territories in Ukraine, the Russia-Ukraine war has reached a pivotal phase and this is receiving a lot of attention on Chinese social media.

After a series of so-called “referendums” which supposedly showed it was the “will of the millions of people,” Putin claimed that Luhansk, areas of Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia were now part of the Russian Federation. Using increasingly threatening rhetoric, Putin said in his September 30 speech that Russia would defend these areas with “all the means at our disposal.” On Weibo, the topic received over 220 million views (#普京签署顿涅茨克等四地入俄条约#).

That very same day, Ukraine applied for fast-track NATO accession, and Ukrainian President Zelensky said that they are ready for peace talks with Russia, but only with a different Russian president. The topic of Ukraine’s application to join NATO became a trending topic on Weibo, receiving over 190 million views on Saturday (#泽连斯基签署乌克兰加入北约申请#).

When Jake Sullivan, the U.S. President’s National Security Advisor, stated that it was “not the right time” for Ukraine’s admission to the alliance, China Daily initiated the hashtag “Ukraine’s Application to Join NATO Is Met with a Cold Shoulder by the U.S.” (#乌克兰申请加入北约遭美国冷遇#).

On Sunday, news of President Zelensky declaring the key eastern Ukrainian town of Lyman “fully cleared of Russian forces” also became trending. A Weibo hashtag dedicated to the topic of Russian forces retreating from Lyman (#俄军从红利曼撤退#) received over 150 million views.

“We’re witnessing history,” some Chinese netizens commented, with others replying: “We’ve been witnessing history for the past two years already.”

 
Shifting Online Sentiments
 

But the online sentiments regarding the war in Ukraine have shifted over the past months, and there is now more emphasis on the weakness of the Russian military strategy. There are also more voices criticizing those who cheer for Putin.

Qu Weiguo (@曲卫国), a professor at Shanghai’s Fudan College of Foreign Languages and Literatures, denounced fellow Chinese who seemed “happy and excited” about Putin signing the decree annexing four regions of eastern Ukraine and who called it a “checkmate move” that put the West in a difficult position.

According to Qu Weiguo, these “patriotic” fellow Chinese – “I am not sure whether they actually love China or Russia,” he wrote – were overseeing the fact that it is not just the West that is being affected by the annexation, of which the legality is more than questionable. Qu mentioned the 2013 PRC-Ukraine Treaty of Friendship & Cooperation, which conveys Chinese support for Ukraine’s “sovereignty, security, and territorial integrity.” Qu suggests that in this context, China could not possibly recognize the four annexed territories as being part of Russia; and Beijng would also be obliged to support Ukraine in case it would be attacked by Russian nuclear weapons.

Author Du Zijian (@杜子建) also spoke out on Weibo, saying the referendum regarding the four regions claimed by Russia cannot be recognized: “It’s Ukrainian territory, it can’t be stolen by anyone.”

Image posted by Littlepigpig

Military blogger ‘Littlepigpig’ (@用户littlepigpig1), who focuses on the war in Ukraine, provided another perspective on the recent developments, suggesting that Putin’s nuclear rhetoric is just bluff and likely stems from despair over Russia’s inability to defeat Ukraine: “What would be the point of sending hundreds of thousands of Russians to Ukraine to be brutally slaughtered before launching a nuclear strike!?”

 
The ‘Weak Goose’ Meme
 

There are more people who now express that they see little chance of Russia winning this war. One regular Weibo user wrote: “The soldiers have no morale, the country has no money, and their equipment technology lags behind NATO.” “They’re so disappointing,” others wrote.

One term that recurringly comes up in these discussions, from Weibo to Zhihu, is that of ‘Weak Goose’ or ‘Noob Goose’ (菜鹅 cài’é).

The term, that has been surfacing for a few months, is a wordplay on 菜俄 (also cài’é), which means ‘Weak Russia’ and is short for “the weak Russian army” or “the noob Russian army” (“俄军很菜”).

Although ‘菜’ (cài) actually means ‘vegetable,’ it is also slang for ‘poor’ or ‘weak’ when used as an adjective (see this video for explanation), also comparable to the ‘noob’ internet slang term (meaning “newbie”, “inexperienced player”).

This image is another word play on ‘weak goose’, turning it into a ‘vegetable swan’ instead.

According to Jikipedia, ‘Weak Goose’ started to be used by Chinese political and military bloggers after they found that the Russian army advanced much slower than they had expected. They came up with the word to make fun of Russia struggling with basic military mistakes and low military capabilities.

Recently, instead of ‘weak goose,’ the term ‘weak Russia’ has also been used more often (so 菜俄 rather than 菜鹅; just for clarity, we’ll translate them both as ‘Weak Goose’ here). Russia is usually also nicknamed ‘big goose’ in China (大鹅) since the words for ‘goose’ and ‘Russia’ sound the same.

The past week, multiple Chinese (military) bloggers have started using this term again in light of Putin’s fading victory and the retreat from Lyman. Reports about Russian recruits allegedly being instructed to use tampons and pads on war wounds in light of a shortage of military supplies further strengthen the Weak Goose meme: “Who thought the ‘Weak Goose’ was so weak?”

Those using the ‘Weak Goose’ term are definitely not necessarily anti-Russian and also not pro-Ukrainian – they are just using the word as a joke and comic relief in a military conflict that has been dragging on for much longer than Chinese netizens had anticipated.

 
“The Russia-Ukraine conflict is not entertainment”
 

But not everyone on Weibo appreciates these kinds of jokes. “The Russia-Ukraine conflict is not some entertainment variety show,” one blogger (@Aglaia柒y) with over 220,000 fans wrote, criticizing those who are using the war as a source of drama and entertainment with Putin starring as the main “idol.”

Others also reminded people that the ‘Weak Goose’ is actually very resilient. Well-known finance blogger Liu Zhongling (刘忠岭), known under the alias of @笑看红绿, noted that there were many Chinese people cheering for the latest victory of the Ukrainian army recently. But according to Liu, it is not necessarily something to cheer about: “All the progress that the Ukrainian army is making now, comes at the cost of many injuries and military casualties. Considering that this war is going to take a long time, soldiers are far more important than weaponry.”

He added: “The ‘weak goose’ army is getting worn out (..) but by pulling back they are also preserving strength and that is not a bad choice. People who know their history already anticipated the Russians would get pulled down, but they also know the ‘Weak Goose’ is actually tough.”

Although the ‘Weak Goose’ meme is one that is just alive within particular online circles, it is telling of a shift in sentiments on Chinese social media regarding a conflict in which many initially believed Russia was like a strong brown bear fiercely attacking Ukraine, rather than a worn out goose nibbling on its neighboring country (reference post).

Chinese well-known political commentator Hu Xijin stirred away from any jokes. In his recent post on Weibo, he warned that “the world must be prepared for a further escalation of the war in Ukraine, even beyond Ukraine.”

By Manya Koetse 

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

 

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©2022 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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    an

    October 4, 2022 at 7:11 am

    In fact, weak goose is not proper. Using “noob goose” is more exact. 菜 have mean for noob(菜鸟 in Chinese)

    from a Chinese netizen

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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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