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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.

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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 editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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China Local News

On Wuhan’s ‘Reopening Day’, Even Traffic Jams Are Celebrated

As the COVID-19 lockdown has ended in Wuhan, many people are happy to see the city’s traffic finally getting busy again. “I hated traffic jams before, now it makes me happy to see them.”

Manya Koetse

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It was chilly and grey in Wuhan when the coronavirus epicenter city went into a full lockdown on January 23 of this year. On April 8, 76 days later, it is sunny and twenty degrees warmer outside as people leave their homes to resume work or go for a stroll.

The end of the Wuhan lockdown is a special day for many, as the city finally lifted the 11-week-long ban that shut down all travel to and from the city in a radical effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

On Wednesday, city residents returned to work as public transport started again. Roads, bridges, and tunnels were reopened, and the local airport resumed flights.

On Chinese social media, various hashtags relating to the Wuhan lockdown end have become popular topics. Using hashtags such as “Wuhan Lifts the Ban” (#武汉解封#), “Wuhan Open Again after 76 Days” (#武汉暂停76天后重启#), and “Wuhan Reopens” (#武汉重启#), the end of the coronavirus ban is a much-discussed news item, along with the spectacular midnight light show that was organized to celebrate the city’s reopening.

The Wuhan lightshow, image via Xinhua.

“Today has finally arrived! It’s been difficult for the people of Wuhan,” some commenters write.

According to China’s official statistics, that are disputed, over 3330 people have died from the new coronavirus since its outbreak; 80% of these fatal cases were reported in Wuhan. On April 6, authorities claimed that for the first time since the virus outbreak, there were zero new COVID-19 deaths.

Some state media, including People’s Daily, report that the reopening of restaurants and food shops is going smoothly in the city, as people – for the first time since January – are back to buying pan-fried dumplings and noodles from their favorite vendors.

Meanwhile, the fact that the traffic in some Wuhan areas is back to being somewhat congested is something that is widely celebrated on social media.

Some call the mild traffic congestions “great”, viewing it as a sign that the city is coming back to life again after practically turning into a ghost town for all these weeks.

“I hated traffic jams before, now it makes me happy to see them,” one Weibo commenter writes.

“I won’t complain about congested traffic again, because it’s a sign the streets are flourishing,” another Weibo user posted.

While netizens and media outlets are celebrating the end of the lockdown, several Chinese media accounts also remind people on social media that although the ban has been lifted, people still need to be vigilant and refrain from gathering in groups and standing close to each other.

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Manya Koetse (@manyapan)
Follow @whatsonweibo

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©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China Local News

Online Anger over “Special Treatment” for Quarantined Foreigners in China

Are foreigners in quarantine being treated better than Chinese nationals? This Nanjing Daily article has triggered controversy.

Bobby Fung

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On March 27, an article titled “For the Good Health of 684 Foreigners” (“为了684个“老外”的安康”) sparked controversy online over the alleged special treatment of foreign nationals during their mandatory 14-day quarantine period.

According to the article published by Nanjing Daily, Nanjing’s Xianlin Subdistrict set up a special WeChat group for foreign nationals and their families returning to the city after the Spring Festival holiday, which coincided with the outbreak of the new coronavirus.

In special WeChat groups, subdistrict officers, doctors, translators, and property managers provide assistance and daily services to these China-based foreigners. Examples of such “daily services” include delivering fresh bread or contacting pet boarding facilities.

“One young man loved online shopping on Taobao, and once we delivered twenty packages for him within one day,” one member of the service group told Nanjing Daily.

Although foreign residents in China and foreigners with previously issued visas are currently no longer allowed to enter China, they needed to undergo a two-week quarantine period upon entry until the travel ban of a few days ago.

Jiangsu Province, of which Nanjing is the capital, tightened quarantine rules on March 23, making every traveler from abroad subject to a centralized quarantine (e.g. in a hotel) for fourteen days.

The special services for returning foreigners reported by Nanjing Daily triggered controversy on Chinese social media this week. Many netizens criticized it as a “supra-nationals treatment” (超国民待遇).

Under one Weibo post by media outlet The Cover (@封面新闻), which received over one million views, many people are criticizing local officers’ favorable treatment of foreigners. One commenter writes: “Will they provide the same comprehensive services to their compatriots?”

Another person writes: “Why don’t they also adhere to the slogan of ‘Serve the People’ (..) when dealing with Chinese citizens?”

In discussing the supposed inequality between the treatment of foreigners and Chinese nationals in quarantine, many netizens raise a recent example of a quarantined Chinese student who asked the civil police staff for mineral water. In a video that circulated online in mid-March, the girl quarrels with the police for not being offered mineral water. The student, demanding mineral water over the available boiled tap water, was ridiculed for suggesting that having mineral spring water is a “human right.”

Ironically, the Nanjing Daily article explicitly mentions how the Xianlin Subdistrict deals with foreigners drinking purified water: “[This] Laowai [foreigner] wants to drink bottled purified water, [so] we bought four barrels for him (..) and carried them from the community gate to his apartment.”

The contrast in treatment of quarantined foreigners versus Chinese nationals prompted some Weibo users to reflect on their previous remarks on the female student: “I apologize for previously mocking the Chinese student at the quarantine center in Pudong, Shanghai, for demanding to drink mineral water,” one commenter writes.

In response to the online controversy, the office of the Xianlin Subdistrict clarified that Chinese nationals would receive “corresponding services” during their quarantine period. Some netizens question what these alleged “corresponding services” exactly entail.

In another media report, the official reply was that “the Subdistrict treats Chinese and foreign citizens the same.”

Over recent years, there have been many online controversies on the issue of privilege in China. Earlier this year, there was public outrage over two women driving a Benz SUV into the Palace Museum, where cars are usually not allowed.

The issue of the perceived privileges of foreigners in China has particularly triggered anger among netizens. The “preferential treatment” of overseas students and the “dorm disparities” between Chinese and foreign students in China, for example, previously became major topics of online discussion.

A popular WeChat article that comments on the Nanjing controversy of this week also lists examples of special treatment for foreigners, including cases where foreigners were not fined when breaking rules in China or being “treated better” in other ways. By now, the article has received over 100,000 views.

For more COVID-19 related articles, please click here.

By Bobby Fung (@bobbyfungmr)

Follow @whatsonweibo

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.

©2020 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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