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“Without Limits, There is No Freedom” – Controversial French Burkini Ban Goes Trending on Weibo

France’s ‘burkini’ bans recently sparked outrage on Twitter, where many netizens called them “racist” and “oppressive”. On Chinese social media, however, many netizens seem to support the French ban on Islamic swimwear, while other Weibo users just don’t understand what all the “fuss” is about

Manya Koetse

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France’s ‘burkini’ bans recently sparked outrage on Twitter, where many netizens called them “racist” and “oppressive”. On Chinese social media, however, many netizens seem to support the French ban on Islamic swimwear, while other Weibo users just don’t understand what all the “fuss” is about.

On Weibo, various Chinese media recently reported about mayors in different French cities banning the ‘burkini’, a type of Islamic swimwear for women. The news of the ban, and photographs of police allegedly asking a woman to remove her conservative beachwear, were shared amongst Chinese netizens and attracted many comments.

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On Twitter, the ban has led to a stream of angry reactions, with many calling it “oppressive”, “racist” and “absurd”, while defending wearing the right to wear a burkini as “the right to cover up”.

The French burkini bans are based on ideas that the body wear item is “not just a casual choice”, but “part of an attempt by political Islamism to win recruits and test the resilience of the French republic” (Economist 2016). The bans come after a series of deadly terrorist attacks over the past 1,5 years.

Religious neutrality is a value that has been strongly upheld in France, where the government adheres to a strict form of secularism known as laïcité – designed to keep religion out of public life (Economist 2014). Since 2004, wearing conspicuous religious symbols in public schools became illegal. According to Brookings, that law was widely condemned in the United States, where high schools allow students to wear head scarfs, Jewish caps, large Christian crosses, or other conspicuous religious signs.

But French supporters argued that in the existing social, political and cultural context of France, they could not tolerate these religious symbols. In 2010, wearing a full face veil was also prohibited by law.

 

“Don’t you get it? This is all for the safety of the country.”

 

On August 24, Chinese news site The Observer (观察者网) posted on Weibo: “Where are the human rights? French police force women to take off her muslim swimwear. Recently, at a beach in the French city of Nice, French police requested a woman to take off her muslim swimwear, which triggered much controversy. At the time, the woman was wearing a so-called ‘burkini’ (布基尼) while sunbathing. Four tall men went to her while holding their police stick and pepper-spray.”

The post, just one out of many micro-blogs posted on this topic on Sina Weibo, attracted near 6000 comments. The most popular comment (i.e. receiving the most ‘likes’ from other netizens) said: “The rule of France banning clear religious symbols in public does not just apply to muslims. This rule is the same for all religions.”1

1_c885d82e-cd40-436d-8151-ef3dfac32a08_1024x1024A burkini sold on a swimwear website.

The number two most popular comment read: “Don’t blame the police for this! France is afraid to get bombed! They are afraid of people hiding bombs in their clothing in crowded places.”2

“Don’t you get it? This is all for the safety of the country,” the following commenter wrote.3

 

“Freedom is not unlimited, freedom is relative, freedom is limited – without limits, there is no freedom.”

 

Many Chinese netizens see the burkini ban as a direct consequence of the strings of islamist terrorist attack occurring in France over the past 18 months. “This is how it should be, China is the same, there can be no exemptions,”4 one netizen says.

In China, a ban on wearing burqa’s, or ‘face masking veils’ (蒙面罩袍), was legally approved in January of 2015. The prohibition on burqa’s applies specifically to Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, home to the majority of China’s muslims.

A year earlier, Chinese authorities also implemented several measures in Xinjiang to keep religious expressions to a minimum after a string of attacks allegedly committed by Chinese muslim extremists. The measures, amongst others, did not allow fasting for Ramadan, no niqabs, hijabs or large beards in buses.

[rp4wp]

Underneath a Weibo post on the burkini ban by China’s Lifeweek (@三联生活周刊), the number one popular comment says: “To all the people here saying that what you wear is a personal freedom: it was also enforced that women could no longer have bound feet [in China], with the police parading the foot binding cloths out in the streets. Some women felt so humiliated that they committed suicide. Do you also feel that their right needed to be defended? (..) Freedom is not unlimited, freedom is relative, freedom is limited – without limits, there is no freedom.”5

 

” What is all the fuss about?”

 

But not all netizens agree with these views. One micro-blogger, who goes by the name of ‘Demons and Monsters‘, said: “Although I am opposed to the burqa, I am also against the enforcement of wearing less clothing. What if you caught a cold? You are an endangerment to others if you fully cover yourself in a public place, but it is your freedom not to expose too much.”

“What about the West and its human rights? Its freedom of religion?” another Weibo user remarks.6

Noteworthy about the burkini ban issue on Weibo, is that although (state) media seem to denounce it in their reporting (“Where are the human rights?”), the majority of netizens seem to support it. When Chinese news site Jiemian posted the news on Weibo saying: “A setback for freedom? Three cities in France prohibit muslim swimsuits”, it got the response from netizens: “A setback? This is progression!”7, and others saying: “People keep mentioning human rights, and freedom. Take a look at Europe’s terrorist attacks – what does it [still] mean?”8

“When you come to a place, you follow their guidelines and customs. This is normal. It is also a way of showing respect to the local [culture]. What is all the fuss about? Should muslims be an exception to the rule?”, one 45-year-old Weibo user from Shandong writes.

 

“I thought we were talking about facekini’s here.”

 

Another person compares the burkini to the Japanese kimono: “I think a lot of people here do not understand the feeling of French people. For example, what if you would walk down the street and see that in China people are wearing kimono’s? When in Rome, do as the Romans do, or just go back to your own country. Don’t use religion as an excuse.”9

Although the majority of the netizen’s reactions on Weibo are different than those on Twitter, a recurring issue on both social media networks is the focus on ‘freedom’, with some Chinese netizens emphasizing the fact that what you wear is your own freedom. But the most-liked comments on Weibo are those stressing that freedom is relative: “Many people say that a woman can wear what she likes, that it’s her freedom. But did you ever think about whether these women have the freedom not to wear it? They clearly don’t.”10

There are also those who confuse the ‘burkini’ (布基尼) with China’s ‘facekini‘ (脸基尼) (“I thought we were talking about facekini’s for a moment!“), although for now, it is highly likely that neither are welcome on the beaches of Nice.

8f77a4b8jw1f70p7j6qctj20dw07d3z7China’s infamous ‘facekini’

– By Manya Koetse

1 “但其实法国禁止民众在公共场合显露出明显的宗教标志的规定,不只是针对穆斯林。 这个法规对各大宗教是平等的,比如在公共场所佩戴十字架,佩戴佛珠,严格的说,都是不符合法规的。”
2 “别喷警察了!法国是被炸怕了 就怕人群密集的地方 衣服里那么厚有藏炸弹”
3 “那是为了国家安全,你懂个屁[doge]”
4“必须这样,中国的也一样,不能搞特殊化”
5 “评论里谈到穿什么是个人自由,当年女性不能再裹脚也是强制性的,警察们挑着裹脚布招摇过市,无数女性感觉被羞辱自杀,你是否认为她们的自由也应该被捍卫?就是现在很多女性也自愿回家自愿生多胎自愿流产自愿被打死,她们的自由呢?自由不是无限的,自由是相对的,自由是受限的,没有限制就没有自由。”
6 西方的人权呢?宗教自由呢?
7“这是倒退?这是进步!”
8“还有人提人权,自由。不看看欧洲被恐袭搞成什么了么?”
9 “我看很多人不了解法国人是怎样一种感受,打个比方,就跟你走在街上看到中国有人穿和服的时候[微笑]所谓入乡要随俗,不然真的请回自己国家。别拿宗教当借口这里不适合这样的宗教,你为何还来呢?”
10“很多人都说那些女性喜欢穿什么就穿什么,是她们的自由。但是洗地的那些人有没有想过,她们有不穿这个的自由吗,很明显没有”

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

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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 and Covid19

Got Covid? Don’t Panic, Stay Home: China Is Shifting Its Covid Narrative

China changes its Covid approach, and Weibo users are still getting used to the idea: “We are going from one extreme to the other.”

Manya Koetse

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China’s media narratives around testing positive for Covid have dramatically shifted recently. The seemingly sudden change in Covid approach is making some people happy, but many on Weibo also say it is making them nervous.

“What To Do If You Tested Positive [for Covid]?” (#如果阳了怎么办#) was a top trending topic on Weibo on Tuesday, December 6, when the site was still in grey mode over Jiang Zemin’s death.

The topic, initiated by Chinese state media outlet China News Service (中国新闻网), received over 400 million clicks on Tuesday.

The “What To Do If Testing Positive” hashtag was noteworthy for a couple of reasons. Firstly, the fact that it was initiated by state media and included in the top trending lists of the day is part of the recent normalization of getting Covid in Chinese official media.

Another reason why it was noteworthy, is because the original China News Service post that topped the hashtag page compared Covid to seasonal influenza, writing:

The autumn and winter season is the peak season for the flu. Currently, the epidemic situation is still popping up all over the country, and there is a risk in catching Omicron for special populations such as young children, pregnant women.”

The article that China News Service linked to provides more information intended for Covid-positive children and the protection of pregnant women, provided by the expert physician Qiao Jie (乔杰) of the Peking University Third Hospital and Dr. Wang Quan (王荃) of Beijing Children’s Hospital. In the article, the symptoms of the Omicron strain are also compared to those of the flu, saying that they need to be treated in line with other respiratory illnesses.

The article basically advised the following:

– Parents should seek medical attention for children with a continued high fever and persistent cough.
– Children under three months old with a fever should always be brought in to be seen by a doctor.
– Always seek medical attention for children who are lethargic, have severe pain (including abdominal pain), continue vomiting or have frequent diarrhea, are dehydrated (not urinating for prolonged periods), or have trouble breathing.
– Pregnant women without underlying conditions who get Omicron do not necessarily get sicker than regular patients and can also expect to recover within seven days.
– Pregnant women who get infected with Omicron should contact their midwife.
– Couples of childbearing age are advised to get vaccinated against Covid-19 before seeking pregnancy.

One day after this trending hashtag, news came out that Chinese central authorities will further adjust and optimize the country’s Covid response based on a top-level meeting that took place on December 6 (#中央政治局会议要求优化疫情防控措施#). (Read about the ten new rules in our article here.)

One of the biggest changes in the Covid approach is that people who have tested positive but show mild signs or are asymptomatic will no longer be required to go to a centralized quarantine location. Instead, they can recover at home if they meet certain requirements.

Another major change is that nucleic acid test results and health codes will no longer be checked for domestic cross-regional travel. On Wednesday, the hashtag “Health Code” (#健康码#) became top trending on Weibo, receiving over 390 million views by late afternoon.

This major change in policy, which is basically an end to the ‘zero Covid’ policy as we knew it, was preceded not only by the “What To Do If Testing Positive” hashtag, but also by other media reports on people sharing their Covid experience and the well-known political commentator Hu Xijin writing a Weibo post about him preparing to get Covid soon.

China News Service also published an info sheet on Weibo on December 7 informing people on what to do when they test positive and what they can expect.

The state media outlet reassures people that for most, their symptoms will be gone on day seven. If people are staying at home with Covid and see no change and continue to have a high fever after three days, or if they are having difficulties breathing, they are advised to seek medical care.

Otherwise, people are advised to rest and drink plenty of water.

Beijing News Service (北京新闻广播) wrote: “Tested positive? Don’t panic. If you have no symptoms or light symptoms, just stay at home.”

One popular Weibo blogger (@咖啡布偶猫) wrote:

I feel as if the propaganda has seen a sudden change in direction. During the first half of the year and the epidemic in Shanghai, everyone would get scared the moment you talked about a positive case, they wanted to fiercely chase it and thoroughly reach zero cases. Now they are propagating that we should not panic, that we should accept the reality and actively respond to it, as if it is nothing alarming.”

 
A Successful Zero Covid Journey
 

On December 5, Chinese media outlet The Observer (观察者网) initiated the Weibo hashtag “Three Years Since the Fight Against the Epidemic – We’ve Actually Cleared Covid Many Times” (#抗疫3年其实我们清零了很多次#).

The post featured a video (embedded in tweet below) showing China’s fight against Covid by highlighting regions and numbers. Nearly 32,000 cases across the country in early December of 2022 (at time of writing, there are currently over 42,000 confirmed cases); but for a long time during the Covid pandemic, China officially recorded just a few dozen, up to ten, or even zero cases.

One of the top comments on the post said: “Up to the present, I think that regarding an outbreak of an epidemic virus that caused havoc without us even knowing, driving it out of the country within just a few months, and even sustaining it for some time, is worthy of going into the history books.”

Others write: “One fight against the epidemic has concluded, and another one has begun. Letting go, without zero Covid, it has a happy side and a sad side.”

“Although there were plenty of imperfections in this Covid journey, I still feel the country gave us enough protection when the virus was causing havoc in the early stages.”

“It’s really too strange and it’s a bit spooky everywhere,” another person wrote:

It’s like a computer that has been hit by a Trojan horse virus and has decided to download antivirus software and is 90% of the way there. Now it’s suddenly stopping; not only deliberately shutting down all the firewalls, but there’s also a mess of pop-up windows everywhere promoting games that are “very fun, come on and play!”

Another Weibo user writes: “We seem to have witnessed an era in which our joint memories have been taken from us for three years.”

“It’s over! We’re on our own from now on!” others write.

 
Wait and See Approach
 

Although there is relief among those people who have since long supported an ‘opening up’ of China, there are also many other sentiments that are visible on Chinese social media, most noticeable there is a “let’s wait and see” approach.

Some are waiting to see what will actually change to their situation locally, and others are waiting to see what an easing of Covid measures might mean for China’s healthcare system.

Others express that the new situation makes them feel vulnerable and unsafe.

“Can’t all the people who did not want to open up go and live in one community together?” someone jokingly wrote.

Poster shared on social media: “The Fight Against the Epidemic – The End – It Started in Wuhan, it Ended in Guangzhou”

There are also people who wonder about what will really change for them in the time to come.

Today is a day that is worth remembering in history. The epidemic situation has lasted for three years, and looking back, there have been many times of complete confusion and total transformation. In these three years time, people’s lifestyles have seen drastic changes and we’ve come to understand more about ‘online’ life: online meetings, online groceries, online parties, online studying, and online travel. We’ve gradually become to dislike crowds, and we’ve become used to locked-down life.

For some, being Covid positive is an entirely new experience: “Surely enough, we opened up. Even myself – I don’t even go out – tested positive now.”

Meanwhile, people have been stocking up on various medicine and are getting ready to catch Covid anytime soon.

One Weibo user writes: “Actually, it makes me anxious to open up everything so suddenly, why can’t we do it step by step?”

“I’m not sure if I am happy or nervous,” another person writes: “We’re going from one extreme to the other extreme.”

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.

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China and Covid19

The End to Zero Covid: China’s New 10 Covid Rules Are Here

“Everyone is really happy but there is a black cloud heading our way.”

Manya Koetse

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Over the past few weeks, China’s Covid measures have seen gradual changes, and various places across China have eased local rules regarding nucleic acid testing and the accessibility of public transport and venues. Now, central authorities have announced more measures that basically end the ‘zero Covid’ policy as we knew it. The ‘ten new rules’ became top trending on Weibo.

Just a month ago, on November 11, Chinese central authorities released a set of twenty new rules to “further optimize” China’s approach to Covid.

At the time, Chinese media emphasized that the new rules did not mean that China was letting go of its dynamic Zero Covid policy. Now, another ten new rules have been introduced that do indicate that the country is clearly no longer sticking to its ‘zero Covid’ goals.

After a central meeting that took place on December 6, authorities released a 10-point plan addressing changes in Covid measures. National Health Commission spokesman Mi Feng (米锋) announced the measures during a live-streamed press conference of the Joint Prevention and Control Mechanism of the State Council (#国务院联防联控机制发布会#).

On Wednesday, several hashtags related to the new measures went trending on Chinese social media, including “Health Code” (#健康码#), over 450 million views), and “Ten New Rules” (#新十条#, over 440 million views).

 
These Are the 10 Changes:
 

1: Lockdown Changes
Risk areas should be assessed and divided according to science and it should be done precisely. We should no longer see the lockdown of an entire community or residential area; instead, it will be assessed by looking at household units, buildings, and apartment floors. The (temporary) closure of areas will no longer be allowed.

2: Testing Changes
The scope of nucleic acid testing was already limited in the previous adjusted rules, but will now be further limited. Instead of RT-PCR tests, rapid PCR tests will be used more often in accordance with local requirements. Nucleic acid testing will remain in place for high-risk positions and high-risk area personnel in accordance with relevant regulations, and some places including nursing homes, schools, and medical care institutions will still require negative tests, but negative nucleic acid test certificates and health code checks will no longer be necessary for traveling from place to place.

3: Quarantine Changes
People who tested positive but are asymptomatic or only show mild symptoms can isolate at home if they meet local requirements. Centralized isolation centers will still be in operation for more severe cases or those opting in for centralized quarantine. If nucleic acid tests are negative after the fifth day, the isolation period can end.

4: ‘High-Risk Area’ Changes
If no new cases have been detected for five consecutive days, local lockdowns should be lifted.

5: Medicine Availability Changes
Pharmacies should operate normally and cannot be arbitrarily closed. Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines for cough, fever, etc should not be restricted.

6: Vaccination Strategy Changes
The promotion of the Covid vaccination should be stepped up for Chinese seniors, especially in the 60-79 age group, with a clear focus on making sure they get all the vaccinations they need as quickly as possible. In order to boost the vaccination rates, temporary vaccination sites will need to be set up and they will need to be local incentives to get the seniors to vaccinate asap. This was actually also mentioned in the list of twenty optimized Covid measures in November (under rule 12).

7: Medical Classification Clarity
There should be clearer knowledge on the medical status of residents and whether elderly residents have any underlying medical issues and if they have been vaccinated.

8: Focus on the Normal Functioning of Society & Basic Medical Services
If areas are not classified as high-risk areas, people should be allowed to move around freely and have access to basic medical care, and there should be no restrictions on production, work, and business operations.

9: Strengthen Safety Procedures in Epidemic Situations
Buildings [in high-risk areas] cannot block fire exits, unit doors, or community gates under any circumstances. Community management departments should have effective modes of communication systems in place to contact local medical institutions in order to safeguard the medical needs of residents, including seniors living alone, children, pregnant women, and those with underlying conditions.

10: Improved Policies regarding Outbreaks at School Campuses
As also mentioned in the previous updated rules, on-campus epidemic control must be consistent, precise, and in accordance with science. Not only can there be no unnecessarily long lockdowns of campuses, but the risk areas within campuses should be more precisely defined, and normal teaching and living outside these areas should be able to continue as usual. Schools without any outbreaks should carry on normal offline teaching activities, and capus facilities such as supermarkets, cafeterias, libraries, etc. should be open.

 
Online Responses
 

One clear online response to China’s recent ‘optimized’ Covid measures is that people are buying a lot of medication, expecting to be infected with Covid soon. Some online stores had already sold out on the Traditional Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen (连花清瘟), a herbal pill by Yiling Pharmaceuticals which is used for the treatment of influenza as well as Covid.

Sold-out Lianhua Qingwen pills.

One popular Weibo blogger (@咖啡布偶猫) wrote: “I feel as if the propaganda has seen a sudden change in direction. During the first half of the year and the epidemic in Shanghai, everyone would get scared the moment you talked about a positive case, they wanted to fiercely chase it and thoroughly reach zero cases. Now they are propagating that we should not panic, that we should accept the reality and actively respond to it, as if it is nothing alarming. But we should still pay attention to those with underlying medical conditions, those with respiratory issues, asthma, and lung disease. If you haven’t bought cold medicine yet, do so. Right now, some places even have a limit on buying Lianhua Qingwen.”

During the December 7 press conference, Guo Yanhong (郭燕红), director of the National Health Commission’s health emergency division, emphasized that it is not necessary for people to stock up on medication in light of the announced eased Covid measures and that there are sufficient supplies (#卫健委提示没有必要囤积抢购药物#).

“After being sealed for three years, it’s all lifted in a morning, all the prices go up for Lianhua Qingwen, rapid antigen tests increase in price, and if your symptoms get serious you’re still not able to get help anywhere.”

Some jokingly suggest that after messing around for three years, the pandemic is only now really starting.

“Everyone is really happy now but there’s a black cloud coming our way, we will know in a month or so if it is going to be light drizzle or a heavy rainstorm.”

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:

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

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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