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“I Will Wash Your Uniform For You” – China’s Soldier-Loving Girls

A photo series titled “100.000 soldier-loving girls”(十万恋军女孩), posted by China’s Military Web in honour of soldiers’ aid during the Wuhan flood, has triggered online discussions about the way in which it portrays Chinese women.

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A photo series titled “100.000 soldier-loving girls”(十万恋军女孩) posted by China’s Military Web in honour of soldiers’ aid during the Wuhan flood has triggered online discussions about the way in which it portrays Chinese women.

While many netizens paid their respects to the young soldiers fighting the disastrous flood in the south of China, Chinese state media outlet Global Times elevated this ‘tribute’ to new heights by sharing pictures of girls holding the message “I wish to wash your uniform for you”.

The photo series, titled “100.000 soldier-loving girls”(十万恋军女孩), was originally posted on China’s Military Web. It triggered online discussions on the submissive female image propagated by Chinese state media.

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This is not the first time netizens collectively respond to how patriotism in women is portrayed by official media. Earlier this year, a comic that was released by China’s Youth League also caused some controversy.

 

“Thank you, our angels”

 

The big flood in Wuhan, the worst since the flood of 1998, has dominated Chinese headlines over the past week. Social media sites overflowed with images of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers fighting the flood. They showed them walking in muddy water to put sandbags in place, evacuating the young and the elderly, or pictured them sitting on the road side, eating plain buns in muddy uniforms.

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Many netizens praised these young soldiers as China’s present-day heroes: “You always come out the first moment whenever problems arise. Thank you, our angels. Hope you are all safe”, one netizen writes.

 

“My soldier brother, I wish to wash your uniform for you”

 

Amidst the widespread online support for and praise of China’s soldiers, state media outlet Global Times (环球时报) published the Weibo post titled “100 thousand soldier-loving girls: my soldier brothers fighting the flood, I wish to wash your uniform”.

The post features pictures of girls holding the message “I wish to wash your uniform for you” in their hand.

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The text of the post reads:

“Our heart goes out to what is happening with the flood, and it also goes out to the young soldiers. What is so touching to us, is your high spirit while confronting the flood; it is your fatigue during brief breaks; it is your running about in the pouring rain. All we want to say at this moment is that we wish to wash your uniform for you – this uniform that has become stained by mud because of all your hard efforts.”

The feminist activist Sina Weibo account Voice of Feminists (@女权之声) responded to the post, saying that “soldier-loving girls seem to have become the most popular ideal female image in the official media.”

 

“He sticks to his belief. He said it is Communism. I do not quite understand. But I support him.”

 

In March of this year, another soldier-loving girl went trending online as the central division Youth League released a comic titled “I Am In Love, With Him” (我恋爱了,和他).

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This comic narrated an ever-lasting romance between a woman and a man from the female perspective. The ‘him’ in the comic was depicted as a young soldier. Some of the comic’s narrations read as follows:

When I first knew him, he was still a poor young man, but I never cared about his poverty.”

He has an unpleasant past. That is his trauma. He does not want to talk about it, and I am always careful to avoid it. After all, who doesn’t have a past?

Sometimes I am attracted to someone else, but that is just for a second! He is forever my idol.

He sticks to his belief. He said it is Communism. I do not quite understand. But it sounds fancy. I support him.

I love him, for his tenderness, for his assertiveness, for his strong character, and for him always walking straight all the way.”

The comic drew much criticism online. On Chinese question-and-answer platform Zhihu (知乎), many netizens responded to it with sarcasm. The post became so controversial that the original post on Central Youth League’s account was later removed.

Under the Global Times’ post, many netizens also responded with sarcasm or critique: “Attention begging, gender stereotyping – so China”, writes one netizen.

 

“Where are our female soldiers?”

 

Many netizens deem the representation of the patriotic female as meek and submissive as insulting to women: “A kind reminder”, says one netizen: “back in the war, when Japanese troops recruited comfort women, they also claimed it was for washing clothes”.

“I wonder who washes the uniforms for our heroines?” one netizen asked.

“The male heroes save the country and resist disasters at the front; the female housekeepers stay behind to do the cooking, washing and providing maternal or female care,” Voice of Feminists author Datu (大兔) writes, summarising how state media construct the female gender in times of disaster.

“I think our female soldiers, doctors and nurses deserve more attention,” one netizen writes.

Despite all controversy, there are also who don’t see what all the fuss is about. As one Weibo user says: “Maybe there are just some girls who really just do want to wash their uniforms!”

-By Diandian Guo 

©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Diandian Guo is a China-born Master student of transdisciplinary and global society, politics & culture at the University of Groningen with a special interest for new media in China. She has a BA in International Relations from Beijing Foreign Language University, and is specialized in China's cultural memory.

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China Insight

Social Media in Times of China’s Flood Disaster: Participation, Profits, and Propaganda

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Posters issued by People's Daily during the Henan floods.

The social media trends during China’s heavy rainfall and floods in July of 2021 show the multidimensionality of online communication in times of disaster. Facing the devastating downpours, Weibo became a site for participation, propaganda, and some controversial profiting.

 
This is the “WE…WEI…WHAT?” column by Manya Koetse, original publication in German by Goethe Institut China, visit Yi Magazin: WE…WEI…WHAT? Manya Koetse erklärt das chinesische Internet. Read this article in German here.
 

Starting on July 17, 2021, China’s Henan Province experienced extreme rain that led to record-breaking flooding and soon forced thousands of people to leave their homes, completely disrupting normal life.

Several places in the region saw unprecedented rainfall. From 8pm on July 19 to 8pm on July 20, the provincial capital Zhengzhou experienced 552.2 mm of rainfall, which is 3.5 times more rain than Germany saw during its heaviest rainfall in 75 years on July 14-15 of this year.

The death toll from the torrential rainfall has risen to at least 302 people, with many remaining missing.

As emergency situations occurred across the region, social media came to play an important role in the response to the natural disaster. Weibo, one of China’s biggest social media sites, was utilized as a communication tool during the floods by regular netizens, official channels, and companies.

While the extreme weather continued, the Henan flood disaster played out on social media in various ways. There were those helping, those profiting, and then there were those profiting from helping. We will highlight some of these dimensions within the social media responses to Henan’s catastrophic floods here.

 

People Helping People


 

There is one hashtag on Weibo that was breaking records in July: ‘Help Each Other During Henan Rainstorm’ (#河南暴雨互助#) received a staggering 16.9 billion clicks just a week after it was first launched.

By creating an online ‘Henan Help’ community, Weibo facilitated active public participation in providing immediate assistance to those affected by the extreme weather and flooding.

As described by Wendy Huang for What’s on Weibo (link), an enormous volume of messages starting pouring in on Chinese social media since the start of the heavy rainfall from people disseminating relevant information on available resources and from those seeking and providing assistance.

Rather than being a messy collection of individual posts, netizens collectively participated in verifying, summarizing, highlighting, and spreading the online help requests posted by people from different locations. In doing so, they helped in speeding up the rescue work.

This is not the first time for Weibo to play an important role during a crisis or emergency. When Sichuan Province was hit by a deadly earthquake in 2013, social media enabled a fast and free grass-roots response to the disaster. The Sina Weibo platform allowed for efficient, immediate crisis communication, leading to teams of volunteers – organized via Weibo – heading out to the disaster zone to deliver donated tents, blankets, water, etc. and provide other forms of assistance (Levin 2013).

During the early stages of the Wuhan COVID19 outbreak, social media platforms such as Weibo and WeChat were also used as practical communication tools for organizations and individuals to spread information or to ask for help. One example is how Weibo helped local volunteers organize teams to assist in taking care of people’s left-behind pets when they were unable to return to their homes due to quarantine or hospitalization.

As soon as the scale of the floods in Henan province became clear, social media users started donating money for flood relief efforts. By July 21st, while the videos of the devastating impact of the heavy rainfalls went viral, Weibo users had already contributed 20 million yuan ($3 million). That number soon rose significantly as more netizens, social influencers, and celebrities also started to donate and promote charity foundations.

Simply posting, replying, forwarding, and making comments itself was also a way of public participation during the Henan floods. While many news reports and social media posts were focused on what was going on in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, the people in the more rural areas such as Weihui in Xinxiang started sounding the alarm by July 21st, pleading for netizens to pay more attention to their situation so that it would also enter the top trending lists. Sharing these posts to draw more attention to them also became a way of providing assistance.

By July 21st, half of Weibo’s top trending topics were related to the Henan floods.

 

Showing Support and Showing Off


 

Chinese netizens made a huge impact on how the Henan flood disaster was handled in the early stages, but companies in China also contributed to flooding relief efforts in many ways, while their actions simultaneously served PR goals.

On July 21st, one major company after the other announced its donation via social media. Tech giants Pinduoduo, Tencent, Meituan, Didi, and Bytedance all donated 100 million yuan ($15.4 million) each to help the rescue operations in Henan. Alibaba topped the list with a 150 million ($23 million) donation.

Besides donating 30 million yuan ($4.6 million), Chinese tech giant Huawei also sent a team of 187 engineers to provide assistance on the front line and 68 of their R&D experts worked on helping local operators in their network repair and maintenance work to ensure a smooth communication network in the disaster area.

The Henan floods also provided an opportunity for Western brands in China to win back public favor. Many Western companies triggered outrage in China earlier this year over their ban on cotton from Xinjiang (link). In light of the Henan catastrophe, Nike and Adidas each contributed 20 million yuan ($3 million), Uniqlo 10 million ($1.5 million), PUMA 5 million ($773,000), Burberry 1.5 million yuan ($230,000), and Zara and H&M each donated 1 million ($155,000).

Adidas, Nike, and Burberry announcing their donations via social media.

Their contributions, however, did not seem to do much for their public image. The donations barely received media coverage, and some social media users who did know about them complained that Zara and H&M did not give enough money. There were also many netizens who praised Chinese sportswear brands for donating money and condemned Nike for giving “zero yuan,” even though the company had already announced donating 20 million yuan.

The company that really managed to win the public’s favor through their Henan donation is Erke (鸿星尔克 ), a relatively small and low-key Chinese sportswear company that seemingly was not doing too well over the past year facing great domestic competition.

When Erke donated 50 million yuan ($7.7 million) to the Henan flood relief efforts, it attracted major attention on Chinese social media. The sportswear brand donated an amount that was ten times higher than, for example, the donation made by major coffee company Starbucks.

Erke announcing its donation via social media (Weibo).

After people found out that the Erke brand donated such a high amount of money to help the people in Henan despite its own losses, its sales went through the roof – everyone wanted to support this generous ‘patriotic brand.’ While netizens rushed to the online shops selling Erke, the brand’s physical shops also ran out of products with so many people coming to buy their sportswear. Some sales assistants were moved to tears when the store suddenly filled up with customers.

People lining up at an Erke shop, photo via UDN.com.

The Erke hype even went so far that Chinese livestream sellers of Nike and Adidas notified their viewers that they actually supported the domestic Erke brand.

Adidas livestream sellers supporting Erke.

Erke profited from helping Henan, but there were also those companies that wanted to profit from the Henan floods without actually helping.

One ad by the local real estate company Kangqiao Real Estate promoting its ‘high lands’ properties led to online controversy. The Kangqiao Group poster highlighted the height advantage to its real estate locations, using the slogan: “Highland – live in the highland and only let the wind and rain be your scenery.”

The company apologized for its insensitive marketing campaign on July 21st, the hashtag (#康桥地产致歉#) received over 130 million views, but the damage to its reputation had already been done. In a similar fashion, two other companies also promoted their “safe” real estate and parking lots during the Henan floodings, with one company using a photo of a flooded car in Henan to suggest what could happen when not using their services. It led to online outrage that these companies would use such a disastrous time for their own marketing purposes.

Other examples of people using the floods for their own publicity also went trending on social media, such as a group of Chinese online influencers who came to affected areas to record themselves, making a show out of the floods (photos below).

On July 27, some online influencers even went one step further to promote their channels and boost viewership. They traveled to Weihui, one of the province’s worst affected areas, and shamelessly stole a rescue boat, and headed into the waters without actually helping anyone. The incident prevented actual aid workers from doing their job and delayed the rescue work by four hours. It caused controversy on Weibo (#网红为拍视频偷救生艇谎称去救人#), with many wondering why these people would want to profit from a situation that was still so critical.

There were also online discussions on situations in which it was less clear to what extent people were in it for ‘the show.’ Chinese celebrities Han Hong (韩红) and Wang Yibo (王一博) both traveled to the affected areas for their charity work, but they were then accused of using the disaster for their own PR benefits. Many did not agree, saying they were “moved by their patriotism.”

 

Official Media Promoting National Solidarity

 

Most hashtags, videos, and trending topics on Weibo from the early moments of the rainfall and floods were initiated by regular netizens. Many people in the affected regions posted photos and videos of the local scenes themselves.

When the cars of the Zhengzhou subway line 5 were submerged in water due to flash floods on July 20, over 500 passengers were trapped. Footage of people in the carriages standing in chest-deep water that was still rising circulated on social media as rescue efforts were underway. Some hours later, rescuers managed to get people out safely, but 14 people did not make it out alive.

These kinds of unfolding events and tragedies were posted and reported on social media in real time by bloggers. Although official media channels and government accounts were also active in reporting incidents and releasing timely information, they soon focused on sending out a message of national unity and emphasized successful rescue operations and the competency of China’s relief efforts.

A similar approach to crisis communication on social media was seen during the outbreak of COVID19 and in other emergency situations – it is a route that has been taken for many years in the Party’s partnership with the media. In Media Politics in China (2017), author Maria Repnikova writes about the response to the Wenchuan earthquake (2008) when she points out how most official coverage concerning crisis management positively portrays the state’s rescue efforts and utilizes emotional projection of national unity and resilience, conveying an overall positive and people-centered narrative (118-121).

This patriotic discourse was also adopted in the social media coverage of the Henan floods by official channels. State media outlets were in unison in promoting hashtags such as “Stand Strong, Henan, We’re Coming” (#河南挺住我们来了#), “Zhengzhou, Hold On!” (#郑州挺住#), or “Shouldering Together with Henan” (#和河南一起扛#).

Online posters for the Henan Floods by CCTV, People’s Daily, and Xinhua.

In their news reporting, official media channels especially spotlighted people-centered stories. Some examples include the story of a 17-year-old boy who cried as he hugged the firefighter who rescued him, the news item on a 3-month old baby who was pulled from the ruins of a collapsed house in Xingyang, or the account of a Zhengzhou policeman who was so dedicated to his work that he hadn’t returned home in over 30 hours.

By July 21st, official Party newspaper People’s Daily had launched a hashtag titled “Touching Scenes of People Helping Each Other” (#河南暴雨中的感人互助画面#), which showed photos and videos of citizens working together in rescuing people from the water.

Another Weibo hashtag was titled “The Power of China during the Henan Rainstorms” (#河南暴雨中的中国力量#), which focused on the solidarity and compassion of the thousands of volunteers and rescue workers, stressing the idea that the people of China are able to get through difficulties together.

“We can get through this together,” online posters by People’s Daily.

The main message that is propagated by Chinese official media and government on social media is one that resonates with the general Weibo audience. Standing together with Henan and uniting in times of disaster is a sentiment that is strongly supported, not just by official channels, but by netizens, celebrities, and companies alike.

As the floods and relief efforts are still continuing in various parts of Henan Province, the messages of support and online assistance are ongoing. “Come on, Henan!” is the slogan that is sent out everywhere on Weibo, with people staying positive: “We can do this together. Everything is going to be alright.”

 

By Manya Koetse
Follow @whatsonweibo

References:

Levin, Dan. 2013. “Social Media in China Fuel Citizen Response to Quake.” New York Times, May 11 https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/world/asia/quake-response.html [7.30.21].

Repnikova, Maria. 2017. Media Politics in China: Improvising Power under Authoritarianism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

This text was written for Goethe-Institut China under a CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE license (Creative Commons) as part of a monthly column in collaboration with What’s On Weibo.

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

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China Military

Mao-Era Military Marriage Regulations Under Fire on Weibo

“The crime of destruction of the military marriage” (破坏军婚罪) apparently is not a crime if you’re cheating from within the army.

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Image via https://www.51ywwk.com/38775.html.

If you have an affair with a military spouse, it is a criminal offense. But if you’re cheating from within the military, it is not considered a crime against military marriage. On Weibo, the story of one military wife has sparked anger among netizens about the Mao-era military marriage regulations.

An online discussion regarding marriage regulations for military personnel in China has been censored following anger over supposed unequal treatment of “the crime of destruction of the military marriage” (破坏军婚罪).

The discussion was triggered by an online post of a military wife who claimed her husband cheated on her with another female army member. It concerns a Chinese serviceman by the name of Gu Yan (顾炎) and a female officer named Shen Jingwen (沈静雯). The hashtag “Gu Yan, Shen Jingwen” (#顾炎沈静雯#) soon went viral on Weibo.

The lengthy story was originally published on Weibo by Gu Yan’s wife, a medical doctor.

According to the online account, Gu Yan and his wife met each other during their junior high school days, and then each went on to study in different fields. Gu Yan trained to join the army; his wife specialized in the medical field and became an anesthesiologist. The couple got married in 2016, had a child in 2017, and their future looked bright until the husband and wife were separated for eight months during the COVID19 epidemic.

According to Gu’s wife, it was during their long time apart that Gu started seeing Shen Jingwen, an army staff member whose father also serves as a commander in the army. The affair soon became serious, and Gu supposedly became more invested in this new relationship than in his marriage, even to the point of blocking his wife, who then contacted his unit to report the affair.

Gu’s wife alleges that Shen Jingwen threatened and bullied her and that she suffered abuse by her husband. Screenshots and phone conversation recordings to prove this behavior towards Gu’s wife were also leaked online.

In her online post, Gu’s wife indicates that the situation between her, her husband and Shen had become untenable but that she had nowhere to turn to since the existing laws mostly protect those who are serving in the army. Even if she wanted a divorce, she could not get one if he would not want to file for divorce.

The ‘destruction of military marriage’ (破坏军婚罪) is a criminal offense in China, but in this case, the law did not apply because it concerned a military officer starting an extramarital relationship with another member of military staff. The law mainly focuses on non-marital acts that occur between non-military personnel and military spouses.

The law is a controversial one. As previously explained by Sixth Tone, it is a Mao-era law to prevent military spouses from straying. In 2016, one man from Beijing was prosecuted under the law for living with a soldier’s wife for two months.

In 2019, one man was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment for living together with a military spouse and also fathering her child with prior knowledge that her husband was a serviceman, as reported by China Military.

Although the regulations on the protection of marriage of soldiers date back much longer, breaking up a military marriage was also listed as a criminal offense under “The Offenses Against Marriage and the Family (Arts. 179-184)” in the Criminal Law that was enacted in 1979.1

Weibo netizens are sharing screenshots of the Baidu Encyclopedia page explaining the law, with one segment clearly stating that “if it concerns an illicit love affair between two members of the army, and their partners are not members of the army, then this does not constitute as a crime of destructing a military marriage [破坏军婚罪].”

Censorship showed the sensitivity of the topic; not only was it removed from Weibo, but also from other sites such as Q&A site Zhihu.com. The sentence from the Baidu page that was highlighted and shared online also no longer shows up on the Encyclopedia page.

A 404 page comes up when clicking on a page dedicated to this topic on Zhihu.

“The moment this hit the Weibo hot search lists, it was gone within minutes,” one person on a Baidu message board wrote.

The sensitive nature of the topic partly lies in the fact that this is about members of the military, who are usually praised as heroes for their sacrifices for the country.

“To me, the word ‘serviceman’ always sounded like a divine word,” one commenter writes on Weibo: “I’d never expected that it could also bring up loathing in me.”

Meanwhile, many alternative hashtags popped up on social media to replace the censored ones. Besides the “Gu Wen Shen Jingwen” hashtag (#顾炎沈静雯#), there are also many others including “Military Cheating Is Not Considered a Crime against Military Marriage” (#军人出轨不算破坏军婚罪#), “Gu Wen and Shen Jingwen Are Shameless” (#顾炎沈静雯不要脸#) and the creative hashtag “Female Jun People Break Jun Marriage” (#女jun人破坏jun婚#), with ‘jun’ being pinyin for the Chinese character ‘军’ (army).

A mainstream sentiment expressed online is that existing laws regarding military marriages are clearly unfair: anyone who cohabitates with a spouse of an active member of the military could be sentenced, while someone within the military could cheat on their wife without any consequences for them nor for their extramarital sex partner.

Many netizens defend Gu’s wife and condemn Gu and his military girlfriend for abusing their power and taking advantage of their position to bully the weakest party, especially while there is a child involved.

“If a military wife needs to rely on netizens to assert their legitimate marital rights and interests, it really is a disgrace to the Chinese PLA [People’s Liberation Army]”, one blogger wrote.

On the evening of March 19, the Weibo account ‘People’s Frontline’ (@人民前线), an official channel of the People’s Liberation Army, responded to the situation. Their official statement confirms that their department previously received a complaint from Gu’s wife about the living situation of her husband within the army, and that both Gu and Shen were given discipline sanctions. Gu and his wife are currently getting a divorce.

The statement also says that the PLA does not condone the actions of individual members of the army who violate social morals and family virtues. The statement was shared over 18,000 times on Saturday.

Some netizens praised the official statement, saying it showed that the army was becoming more “open and transparent.”

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

1 Leng, Shao-Chuan. 1982. “Crime and Punishment in Post-Mao China.” China Law Reporter 2, no. 1: 5-35.

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