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Zhang versus Zhang: An Online Debate over the Value of Studying Journalism in China

Is pursuing a degree in journalism worth it in China? Educational adviser Zhang Xuefeng says no, while professor Zhang Xiaoqiang says yes. Their online debate has captivated millions of people.

Zilan Qian

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Chinese educational internet influencer Zhang Xuefeng (张雪峰) recently sparked a trending discussion by strongly discouraging Chinese youth from pursuing a degree in journalism. While scholars and state media emphasize the merits of studying journalism, a significant number of netizens question its benefits, labeling it as impractical, uneducational, and restrictive.

With the announcement of the 2023 Chinese National College Entrance Examination (Gaokao) scores this week, the process of selecting university preferences has become the focal point for more than 12.9 million families in China.

Zhang Xuefeng (张雪峰), an internet celebrity widely recognized as the “famous teacher for postgraduate entrance exams,” has found himself at the center of an online controversy for advising students against applying for journalism programs.

According to a report by Lianhe Zaobao (联合早报), the incident originated from a livestreamed phone conversation between Zhang Xuefeng and a parent of a student, who was seeking advice.

Upon learning that a science student from Xinjiang had estimated a score of 590 – surpassing the cutoff for admission to first-tier universities, – while expressing an interest in applying for the journalism program at Sichuan University, Zhang Xuefeng reacted with some extreme emotions and remarks.

He advised against pursuing journalism, stating, “Don’t apply for journalism! Any other major you choose blindly would be better than journalism.” He even went as far as saying that if he were the parent, he would “definitely knock the child unconscious if they insisted on studying journalism” (“这孩子非要报新闻学,我一定会把他打晕”).

A screenshot of Zhang Xuefeng’s live stream phone call session in which he dissuaded the student from selecting Journalism. The line reads: “Just don’t select Journalism, ok?”

After a video of their livestreamed conversation was shared by Yan Tu Education, Zhang Xuefeng’s educational company, on their official Douyin account, Zhang’s provocative remarks gained attention from various parties, including journalism scholars and Chinese (state) media outlets.

The ‘Zhang vs Zhang’ online debate started in mid-June when Professor Dr. Zhang Xiaoqiang (张小强) from Chongqing University’s School of Journalism criticized Zhang Xuefeng’s comments, describing them as “harmful and misleading to the public” (“害人不浅,误导公众”).

According to media outlet The Paper, Dr. Zhang argues that the field of journalism is applicable to many different domains, and parents can trust the journalism departments in prominent Chinese universities and colleges.

He believes that the negative perception of the journalism profession stems from the narrow belief that it only leads to careers in traditional media. However, Dr. Zhang asserts that graduates from journalism departments go on to work in various fields.

He suggested that journalism graduates are often recruited for communication roles, and that they can find employment at government organizations, state-owned enterprises, new media companies, or even gaming start-ups. He also cautioned against being deceived by individuals like Zhang Xuefeng, whom he referred to as a mere “internet celebrity.”

 
Three Reasons Not To Pursue Journalism Major in China
 

While there are authoritative voices defending journalism education, there is still substantial support for Zhang Xuefeng’s perspective on discouraging journalism as a career choice.

This support mainly stems from three primary reasons: the perceived impracticality of the profession, doubts about the substantive nature and effectiveness of journalism education, and concerns about the limited freedom and liberal values within the field.

 
1. Not Practical (“无用”)

Firstly, a journalism degree has been deemed as “impractical” as it cannot guarantee good employment prospects.

Zhang Xuefeng dissuades students from pursuing journalism because, according to him, choosing this major would make it hard to secure a livelihood. For families with limited resources, it is important to choose a field of study that is practical and will enable young people to support themselves (“吃上饭”).

He also emphasizes the need to consider real-life circumstances rather than blindly following prescribed norms. Zhang said, “I am not targeting anyone or any specific profession. I am only providing suggestions based on employment situations. If your child cannot find a job, the responsibility lies not with the teachers but with you as parents!”

However, individuals like Dr. Zhang Xiaoqiang strongly oppose such practicalism. On June 17th, during an interview with Fengmian News (封面新闻), Professor Zhang Xiaoqiang stated that the primary consideration for choosing a major should be the student’s interest instead of employability.

Similarly, China Education Daily (中国教育报) published an article titled “Beware of the Misleading Influence of Internet Celebrity Remarks on College Major Selection” (“警惕网红言论误导志愿填报”), condemning Zhang Xuefeng’s statement for being overly arbitrary and shortsighted. The article emphasizes that personal interests and aspirations are also crucial in major selection and encourages young people to dream big and explore uncertainties.

However, many netizens support Zhang’s pragmatic approach and criticize scholars and state media for being overly idealistic and lacking understanding of the difficulties faced by ordinary people, and especially the younger generations, in China today.

The phrase “Why not eat meat?” (“何不食肉糜,” referring to those in positions of power and influence often failing to understand the hardships of common people) has become widely used in this discussion to highlight the discrepancy between scholars and authoritative voices who advocate for choosing majors based on interests and the economic constraints faced by many families.

“The lower the socioeconomic status of the family, the higher the cost of making mistakes in choosing a major, and therefore students should be more cautious in their decision-making,” commented one netizen, contradicting the argument that young people should pursue their passions without considering practicality.

 
2. Non-Educational (“无学”)

Studying journalism in universities has also faced criticism for being seen as “non-educational” due to the belief that a journalism degree is unnecessary to become a journalist and lacks a substantial theoretical foundation.

The non-profit organization ‘Narada Insights’ (@南都观察) posted an opinion piece by Liu Yuanju (刘远举), a research fellow at the Shanghai Institute of Finance and Law, on their Weibo account. In the piece, Liu highlights the failure of journalism education to provide in-depth content. Writing skills in journalism can be acquired by competent high school graduates, and the ability to gather and evaluate information is a fundamental skill that extends beyond the journalism field, primarily developed through life and work experiences. Therefore, Liu argues, it becomes challenging for students to acquire specific journalism-related skills and knowledge in universities.

Furthermore, Liu points out that journalism is often perceived to have a relatively low entry barrier, as many successful media professionals do not hold journalism degrees at all. On the other hand, knowledge in areas such as science, technology, economics, finance, or law can be advantageous for journalism work. In practice, media organizations often prefer candidates with these kind of educational backgrounds, as they are the ones with specialized expertise in specific industries.

 
3. Lack of Freedom (“无自由”)

One third complain and common perception of journalism departments is that they primarily teach students how to align with the state’s agenda, which has led to accusations of Chinese journalism being severely restrictive.

Author Liu Shen Leilei (六神磊磊), a former journalist of Politics and Law at the Chongqing Branch of Xinhua News Agency, shared his thoughts on this topic on Weibo. According to Liu, journalism departments lack substantial theories and instead instruct students to be obedient and comply with authorities.

One journalism graduate agreed with Liu’s post, suggesting that they were being compelled to say what the state wants: “I graduated in journalism, and I have a deep aversion to the field. We not only lack the freedom to speak the truth but are also deprived of the freedom to remain silent.”

Even if students possess enough passion to overcome the ‘impractical’ and ‘uneducational’ aspects of journalism education in Chinese universities, they may be disillusioned when they find that the practice of “journalism” in China does not align with their expectations and ideals.

In response to Liu Shen Leilei’s post, another commenter emphasized the profound challenge of reporting the truth in today’s context and asserted that “journalism has died (新闻已死).” This statement reflects the perception that authentic and truthful reporting has become virtually non-existent. Instead, media outlets are believed to employ various tactics to attract attention and disseminate state propaganda. On social media, there is a frequent suggestion to “rename journalism departments as propaganda departments” to reflect this perceived reality.

 
An End to the Debate?
 

As the Zhang versus Zhang discussion on pursuing a degree in Journalism continued, Dr. Zhang Xiaoqiang recently took to his social media to express his desire to end the debate, acknowledging the overwhelming criticisms from netizens (#张小强称给自己和张雪峰争论画上句号#, #张小强说和张雪峰争论结束#).

“I still firmly believe that journalism and communication are good majors with promising prospects,” he wrote. “However, media professionals and educators need to foster a positive public opinion and social environment for their own development. We must first prove ourselves.”

Meanwhile, on Chinese social media, various hashtags have emerged in light of this discussion. One of them is “Who Do You Support in the Zhang Xuefeng Journalism Studies Debate?” (#张雪峰新闻学之争你支持谁#), which has reached over 130 million views on Weibo by now.

There even is a possibility to vote on whose side you are.

With more than 42,000 votes, it is clear who the majority of netizens agree with most: 39,000 voters agreed with Zhang Xuefeng that studying journalism is not a favorable option for Chinese young people today.

“They’re starting rumors, smooth things over, and oppose the people,” another person criticizes the state of journalism.

While the debate between Zhang Xuefeng and Professor Zhang Xiaoqiang may have temporarily subsided, the ongoing discourse surrounding the significance of journalism in China is bound to continue.

By Zilan Qian

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

Part of featured image via Xigua Shipin.

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.

©2023 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Zilan Qian is a China-born undergraduate student at Barnard College majoring in Anthropology. She is interested in exploring different cultural phenomena, loves people-watching, and likes loitering in supermarkets and museums.

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China Arts & Entertainment

Looking Back on the 2024 CMG Spring Festival Gala: Highs, Lows, and Noteworthy Moments

Reflecting on the highs and lows of this year’s China Media Group Spring Festival Gala, the world’s most-watched television program.

Manya Koetse

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The biggest media spectacle of the Chinese New Year is the annual CMG Spring Festival Gala. The entire week, this four-hour extravaganza featuring forty-six performances has dominated social media conversations.

The 42nd edition of The CMG Spring Festival Gala was broadcasted on February 9th, celebrating the start of the Dragon Year. This year, the show reportedly attracted 679 million viewers.

The annual Spring Festival Gala by the state-run China Media Group (CMG) has become an integral part of the Lunar New Year celebrations for Chinese people since its debut in 1983. As the world’s most-watched live-broadcasted entertainment program, the Gala is now aired across dozens of channels, both in China and abroad, both on television and online.

China’s Spring Festival Gala (中国中央电视台春节联欢晚会) is commonly abbreviated to Chūnwǎn (春晚) in Chinese. Over the past week, the Chūnwǎn became a much-discussed topic on Chinese social media and dominated all trending lists during the Chinese New Year’s Eve.

The Gala, which lasts a total of four hours, shows the very best of China’s mainstream entertainment and Party propaganda and is a mix of culture, commerce, and politics. Through music, dance, art, and comedy, the event serves as a significant platform for the Party to disseminate official ideology. It is also a chance to present the nation’s top performers while showcasing digital innovations.

 

A “No-Covid”, Traditional Gala


 

The phrase “There will never be a worse, just worse than last year [中央春晚,没有最烂,只有更烂]” has become a well-known saying among viewers about the Chūnwǎn, as complaining about the show is very much part of the tradition. However, was this year really worse than last year? Not at all.

This 2024 edition was directed by Yu Lei (于蕾), who also directed the 2023 Gala. The 45-year-old female director previously also served as the general scriptwriter and overall designer for the Gala.

Not only was the director the same as last year, but the five main hosts were also exactly the same. They include Ren Luyu (任鲁豫, 1978), the TV host from Henan who has now become one of the most familiar faces on the show; Sa Beining, also known as Benny Sa (撒贝宁, 1976), who is famous for his CCTV work and for hosting the Gala regularly over the past twelve years; Nëghmet Raxman (尼格买提, 1983), a Chinese television host of Uyghur heritage who has hosted the Gala seven times since 2015; Long Yang (龙洋, 1989), a CCTV host from Hunan who presented the Gala for the third time this year; and Ma Fanshu 马凡舒 (1993), who was the youngest and newest host during the 2022 Gala and has been presenting it since.

The choice of director and presenters suggests that continuity and consistency were important for this year’s Chūnwǎn. Although the Gala’s format is always more or less the same, including songs, dances, cross-talk, sketches, traditional opera, martial arts, magic, etc., this year’s Gala stood out for sticking to tradition.

Over the past few years during the pandemic, several elements of the show were altered to adapt to the new situation. From 2021 to 2023, the show was only broadcast from the Beijing Studio and focused less on big spectacular scenes. Since 2020, the battle against Covid has also been a theme in the show. In 2020, the Gala included a segment that was broadcast live from a Wuhan hospital to show how medical staff were spending their Lunar New Year taking care of Covid patients. That was the first time since 1983 for the Gala to include a segment that was not meticulously rehearsed.

From 2021 to 2023, the nation’s battle against Covid was also a theme in songs and other segments, reflecting on the daily lives of ordinary people. In 2021, for example, Jackie Chan sang “Tomorrow Will Be Better” (明天会更好), which addressed the epidemic situation and honored all who joined in the fight against the virus.

However, the theme of Covid played no role at all anymore in this year’s Chūnwǎn, which focused entirely on celebrating the Year of the Dragon, the home, and the nation (龙行龘龘,欣欣家国). Similar to the pre-2020 Gala, this 42nd edition was broadcast not only from the Beijing venue but also included performances in four other locations: Shenyang, Changsha, Xi’an, and Kashgar. Continuity was also seen in the 46 acts of the night, as many familiar faces, such as Sun Nan (孙楠) and Han Hong (韩红), performed during the night.

 

Highlights of the 2024 Gala


 

The xiangsheng (相声) act “Director’s Worries” (“导演的心事”) was the most-watched act of the entire show according to the viewership ratings – this also relates to the time of the broadcasting. Xiangsheng is a traditional Chinese comedic performance that involves a dialogue between two performers, using rich language and many puns. This act was performed by comedians Jin Fei (金霏) and Chen Xi (陈曦). They were also joined by others, turning it into a “group xiangsheng” (群口相声) that humorously portrayed the mental strains faced by Chinese young people and served as a source for parodies and memes on social media.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Song “Dragon” (龙), performed by famous pop singers Zhang Jie aka Jason Zhang (张杰) and Sun Nan (孙楠) was particularly popular this Gala. The song encompassed the main theme of the Dragon Year, as they sang about how a dragon lies in every Chinese person, representing the spirit and strength of the Chinese nation over the past five thousand years. This song integrated popular entertainment with the essence of the Chinese New Year, cultural heritage, and national pride, making it the perfect anthem for the Spring Festival Gala. One Weibo post by Zhang Jie about his performance received nearly 167,000 comments and over 176,000 shares.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The performance of “Koi Carp” (锦鲤) featuring lead dancer Hua Xiaoyi (华宵一) and the Beijing Dance Academy (北京舞蹈学院) was another standout moment of the Gala. The ‘painting’ dance “Only This Green” (只此青绿) stole the spotlight in 2022, while the ’embroidery’ dance “Splendid” (锦绣) was one of the highlights of the show in 2023. Continuing the tradition of presenting top-notch, artistic dance that merges tradition with technology, the Koi Carp dance had a similar charm, with dancers suspended on spring ropes performing an exquisite aerial dance that made them look like graceful fish underwater.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The creative act “Start Something New” (别开生面) directed by the renowned filmmaker Zhang Yimou (张艺谋) was a highlight in the show for its originality. The act, which combined cooking, dancing, and singing, presented various Lunar New Year customs and food cultures from different regions in China. Besides directing films, Zhang Yimou also has a lot of experience as a creative director of major shows, including the 2008 Summer Olympics opening ceremony, the 2022 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, and the outdoor night show Impression Sanjie Liu.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The Xi’an special segment “Poem for the Landscape of Chang’an” (山河诗长安) performed by Zhang Ruoyun (张若昀), Tang Shiyi (唐诗逸), Zhu Tiexiong (朱铁雄) PACT (派克特), Yang Li (杨力) and conductor Sun Yifan (孙一凡), was among the most spectacular ones of the night. This was an ode to Xi’an and Chinese poet of the Tang Dynasty, Li Bai. Filled with lion and dragon performances, opera, rap, dance, and specially arranged music by the Xi’an Symphony Orchestra, the segment included a virtual version of Li Bai joining the spectacle. On social media, netizens praised the performance and posted many gifs of the Chinese actor Zhang Ruoyun together with the virtual version of the classical poet Li Bai.

Watch on Youtube here

 

The ‘Lows’ of the 2024 Gala


 

The various xiaopin (小品, skits) were not very well-received. Over the past few years, the Gala’s dance and song performances have actually become among the most beloved acts – far more popular than the xiaopin, which did not get much positive feedback this year at all. Some people said they just “didn’t get” the humor or that the sketches were just not entertaining enough.

 
The song “Unforgettable Night” (难忘今宵) was the least viewed part of the show according to viewership ratings, and it marked a departure from tradition in a significant way. Since the 1980s, the final song of the Spring Festival Gala has always been “Unforgettable Night,” sung by Li Guyi (李谷一). Li Guyi rose to fame with the song “Homeland Love” (乡恋) during China’s Reform and Opening Up era, and her songs evoke nostalgia for many viewers. She made her first appearance at the Gala in 1983 and became the most frequent performer at the event. Due to her recovery from Covid in the hospital, she was unable to perform at last year’s Chūnwǎn, and her absence from this year’s show was not only a significant disappointment for many but was also seen as the end of an era. Additionally, many people commented that they did not appreciate the new interpretation of the traditional song.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The PLA song “Decisive Victory” (决胜) drew attention from Taiwanese media outlets, highlighting it as a controversial moment of the Gala. The performance of this military song, delivered by artists from the PLA Cultural and Artistic Center, featured soldiers clad in combat gear marching and dancing on stage, while the backdrop displayed images of rockets, tanks, and other war-like scenes. Taiwanese media framed the song within the context of mainland China’s military threats against Taiwan. Some Weibo commentators also interpreted the performance in this light, particularly noting the sequence where singers from Taiwan and mainland China first sang the song “Etiquette” (礼序) together just before the People’s Liberation Army performed the military song. This was seen as a statement of “diplomacy comes before violence” (“先礼后兵”).

Watch on Youtube here

 

The Noteworthy


 

The magic show “Guarding the New Year Together” (守岁共此时) performed by Liu Qian (刘谦) created quite a buzz. During a card trick involving the audience and Gala host Nëghmet Raxman, it seemed like Raxman’s cards didn’t match as intended. Although everyone was supposed to have matching cards, Raxman’s expression revealed that his two cards did not match. This led to much banter online, and Nëghmet Raxman – and his nervous expression – became a trending topic.

Watch on Youtube here

 
The song “Climbing Spring Mountain” (上春山) performed by Wei Chen (魏晨), Wei Daxun (魏大勋), and Bai Jingting (白敬亭) became one of the most discussed acts in the week following the Gala after a rehearsal video was posted online and netizens noticed inconsistencies in the singers’ attire and positions on stage. It was rumored that Bai Jingting may have intentionally vied for a more prominent position to attract more attention on stage, resulting in choreographic asymmetry and some apparent confusion during the song. One important reason why the main rehearsal video triggered controversy is because a tape of the official rehearsal always runs concurrently with the live broadcast, allowing producers to seamlessly switch to the taped version in the event of a problem or disruption without TV audiences noticing. But because Bai changed his outfit, wearing black while the others wore white, and because he did not give up his main spot during the performance, it might have been impossible for producers to switch to a rehearsed version of the song (even though the lip-syncing during the performance was completely out of sync).

Watch on Youtube here

 
● The song “A Friend Like You” (像你这样的朋友) attracted a lot of attention on Weibo and beyond this week as it was performed by the so-called “0713 Super Boys,” including Wang Zhengliang (王铮亮), Chen Chusheng (陈楚生), Allen Su (苏醒), Zhang Yuan (张远), Lu Hu (陆虎), and Wang Yuexin (王栎鑫). In 2022, these once nearly ‘forgotten’ singers made a remarkable comeback through the reality TV hits Welcome to the Mushroom House (欢迎来到蘑菇屋) and Go for Happiness (快乐再出发). They initially gained fame in 2007 after participating in the singing contest Super Boy but gradually faded into obscurity in the years following their initial success. Their gala performance marks their ultimate comeback.

Watch on Youtube here

 
“Belle” (美人) from the French musical Notre Dame de Paris was performed at the Gala in French by various French and Chinese performers, including Angelo Del Vecchio and Liao Changyong. “Who would have ever expected for Notre Dame de Paris to be performed at the Chūnwǎn in French?” one commenter wrote. The Gala provided some subtitles during the song to convey the general idea of the song. Although the Gala usually incorporates an international element, this was the first time for a song to be fully sung in French. The song was presented in the context of China and France celebrating their 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations this year.

Watch on Youtube here

 
● Dilraba Dilmurat (丽热巴) in “Dances of Xinjiang” (舞乐新疆) was praised by commenters as the most beautiful performer of the night. The Chinese actress of Uyghur ethnicity showcased her dancing skills during the Kashgar segment of the evening. Not only was her performance notable for its beauty and grace, but it also garnered attention online due to a video recorded by an audience member showing Dilmurat slipping and falling on her bum during the show, after which she promptly got up and continued. After all, the show must go on!

Watch the full performance on Youtube here

Want to know more about the previous editions of the Spring Festival Gala? Also check out our articles below:

– 2023: Behind the Short Feature Film of the Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Top 5: The Highlights of China’s 2023 CGM Spring Festival Gala
– 2023: Watching ‘Chunwan’: Liveblog CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2022: Chunwan 2022: The CMG Spring Festival Gala Liveblog by What’s on Weibo
– 2021: Spring Festival Gala Draws Criticism for Gendered Jokes
– 2021: The Chunwan Liveblog: Watching the 2021 CMG Spring Festival Gala
– 2020: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2020
– 2019: The CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2019 Live Blog
– 2018: About the CCTV Spring Festival Gala’s ‘Racist’ Africa Comedy Sketch
– 2018: CCTV Spring Festival Gala 2018 (Live Blog)
– 2017: The Best and the Worst of CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017
– 2017: CCTV New Year’s Gala 2017 Live Blog
– 2016: CCTV’s New Year’s Gala 2016 Liveblog

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes

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©2024 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China History

A Chinese Christmas Message: It’s Not Santa Bringing Peace, but the People’s Liberation Army

On social media, Chinese official channels are not celebrating a Merry Christmas but instead focus on a Military Christmas.

Manya Koetse

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It is not Santa bringing you peace and joy, it is the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Chinese state media and other influential social media accounts have been pushing an alternative Christmas narrative this year, which makes it very clear that this ‘Merry Christmas’ is brought by China’s military forces, not by a Western legendary figure.

On December 24, Party newspaper People’s Daily published a video on Weibo featuring various young PLA soldiers, writing:

Thank you for your hard work! Thanks to their protection, we have a peaceful Christmas Eve. They come from all over the country, steadfastly guarding the front lines day and night. “With our youth, we defend our prosperous China!” Thank you, and salute!

People’s Daily post on Weibo, December 24 2023.

The main argument that is propagated, is that this time in China should not be about Christmas and Santa Claus, but about remembering the end of the Korean War and paying tribute to China’s soldiers.

This narrative is not just promoted on social media by Chinese official media channels, it is also propagated in various other ways.

One Weibo user shared a photo of a mall in Binzhou where big banners were hanging reminding people of the 73rd anniversary of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War: “December 24 is not about Christmas Eve, but about the victory at Chosin Reservoir.”

Mall banners reminding Chinese that December 24 is about commemorating the end of the Second Phase Offensive (photo taken at 滨州吾悦广场/posted by 武汉潘唯杰).

Another blogger posted a video showing LED signs on taxis, allegedly in the Hinggan League in Inner Mongolia, with the words: “December 24 is NOT Christmas Eve, it is the military victory of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir” (“12.24不是平安夜,是长津湖战役胜利日”).

One social media video showed a teacher at a middle school in Chongqing also emphasizing to her students that “it’s not Father Christmas who brings us a happy and peaceful life, but our young soldiers!”

In the context of the Korean War (1950-1953), December 24 marks the conclusion of the Second Phase Offensive (1950), which was launched by the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army against the United Nations Command forces–primarily U.S. and South Korean troops.

The Chinese divisions’ surprise attack countered the ‘Home-by-Christmas’ campaign. This name stemmed from the UN forces’ belief that they would soon prevail, end the conflict, and be home well in time to celebrate Christmas. Instead, they were forced into retreat and the Chinese reclaimed most of North Korea by December 24, 1950.

The Battle of the Chosin Reservoir, also known as the the Battle at Lake Changjin, is part of this history. The battle began on November 27 of 1950, five months after the start of the Korean War. The 2021 movie Changjin Lake (长津湖/The Battle at Lake Changjin) provides a Chinese perspective on the lead-up and unfolding of this massive ground attack of the Chinese 9th Army Group, in which thousands of soldiers died.

Especially in recent years and in light of the launch of the blockbuster movie, there is an increased focus on the Chinese attack at Chosin as a glorious victory and strategic success for turning around the war situation in Korea and defending its own borders, underscoring the military strength of the People’s Republic of China as a new force to be reckoned with (read more here).

This Chinese Christmas narrative of honoring the PLA coincides with a series of popular social media posts from bloggers facing criticism for celebrating Christmas in China.

One of them is Liu Xiaoguang (刘晓光 @_恶魔奶爸_, 1.7 million followers), who wrote on December 25:

Some people are criticizing me for celebrating Christmas Eve, because, by celebrating a foreign festival, I would be unpatriotic and forgetful of our martyrs. What can I say, in our family Christmas must be a big deal, even if I don’t come home it must be celebrated, because my mom is a Christian, and she’s very devout (..) So you see, on one hand I should promote traditional Chinese virtues, and show filial piety, on the other hand I should be patriotic and not celebrate foreign festivals.”

Meanwhile, other popular bloggers stress the importance of remembering China’s military heroes during this time. Influential media blogger Zhang Xiaolei (@晓磊) posted: “It’s not Santa Claus who gives you peace, it’s the Chinese soldiers! #ChristmasEve” (“给你平安的不是圣诞老人,而是中国军人!🙏#平安夜#”). With his post, he added various pictures showing Chinese soldiers frozen in the snow as also depicted in the Battle at Lake Changjin movie.

Throughout the years, Christmas has become more popular in China, but as a predominantly atheist country with a small proportion of Christians, the festival is more about the commercial side of the holiday season including shopping and promotions, decorations, entertainment, etc.

Nevertheless, Christmas in China is generally perceived as “a foreign” or “Western” festival, and there have been consistent concerns that the festivities associated with Christmas clash with traditional Chinese culture.

In the past, these concerns have led to actual bans on Christmas celebrations. For instance, in 2017, officials in Hengyang were instructed not to partake in Christmas festivities and several universities throughout China have previously cautioned students against engaging in Christmas-related activities.

Chinese political and social commentator Hu Xijin (@胡锡进) also weighed in on the issue. In his December 24 social media column, the former Global Times editor-in-chief wrote that there is no problem with Christmas Eve and the Second Phase Offensive victory day both receiving attention on the same day. Even if the younger generations in China view Christmas more as a commercial event rather than a religious one, it’s understandable for businesses to capitalize on this period for additional revenue. He wrote:

In this era of globalization, holiday cultures inevitably influence each other. The Chinese government does not actively promote the rise of “Western holidays” for its own reasons, but they also have no intention to “suppress foreign holidays.” Some Chinese celebrate “Western holidays” and it is their right to do, they should not face criticism for it.”

Although many Chinese netizens post different viewpoints on this year’s Christmas debate, there are some who just don’t understand what all the fuss is about. “December 24 can be both Christmas Eve, and it can be Victory Day. It’s not like we need to pick one over the other. We are free to choose whatever.”

By Manya Koetse

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