Chinese president Xi Jinping blogged for the first time—and 48,000 people commented
Zheping Huang December 28, 2015
Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wave as they visit Dacien Buddhist Temple in Xian, Shaanxi province, China, May 14, 2015. REUTERS/China Daily CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA – RTX1CZ3F
Learning from the master. (Reuters/China Daily)
China’s biggest microblogging site, Weibo, is not unfamiliar to foreign head of states. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, UK prime minister David Cameron, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro—all have opened accounts on the site and have interacted with readers in Chinese. But China’s own leaders are more reluctant to engage with online audiences.
Chinese president Xi Jinping’s limited number of social media contributions include a selfie with Cameron and Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero during Xi’s state visit to the UK in October, while Chinese premier Li Keqiang indulged Modi in a joint selfie, said to be Li’s first, at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven in May. Neither of these were posted by the Chinese leaders on Weibo. Instead, they surfaced on Twitter—a social media platform blocked by China’s elaborate censorship machine.
But finally, on Dec. 25, during his visit to the headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army Daily—a mouthpiece newspaper of the Communist Party and the army—Xi crafted his first post on Weibo. It’s the first Weibo message from any of China’s senior officials, as far as we can tell. Xi wrote the message personally, according to state media.
Here’s a translation of Xi’s message (link in Chinese, registration required):
On the occasion of the new year approaching, on behalf of the Party Central and the Central Military Commission, I wish all PLA officers, paramilitary police forces, and militia reservists a happy new year. I hope everyone to practice the goal of strengthening the army, fulfill missions effectively, and make new and greater contributions for the realization of the Chinese dream and the dream of strengthening the army!
Despite the lack of substantial contents and the fact that Xi didn’t even open his own account, the Chinese president’s first Weibo post quickly went viral—as it offers a first chance for Chinese Internet users to potentially interact with their top leader directly. As of Dec. 28, Xi’s post has been forwarded more than 360,000 times and has garnered more than 48,000 comments.
“If Beijing’s weather could be better, we will be happier. But I still love you, Xi Dada!”
“Strongly looking forward to Xi Dada opening Weibo account—even Obama often posts on Twitter,” wrote blogger Whoops not bad, referring Xi to his nickname (which translates to “Daddy Xi“). Many Chinese bloggers expressed the same wish.
Others took the opportunity to highlight some of the well-documented problems Beijing has had recently with extreme levels of pollution (“If Beijing’s weather could be better, we will be happier. But I still love you, Xi Dada!” wrote Weibo user Little Girl Guan) and with investment scandals that have burned Chinese investors this year (“Please bring justice to E Zubao investors,” wrote the blogger Hope to be loved, referring to China’s biggest online peer-to-peer lending platform, which is now under police investigation).
Some comments were more pointed than others. “All the replies about Yunnan government defrauding 43 billion-yuan funding through Fanya in the past four years have been deleted,” a user known as Sean Elephant complained. “You can delete replies, but can you delete people’s hearts? The heaven knows what you did. Sooner or later retribution will come.”
The tens of thousands of comments attached to Xi’s message almost certainly have been routed through China’s censors. And perhaps some—we can’t tell how many—came from the government-hired Internet commentators known as the “50-cent party,” who try to influence public opinion.
Additional reporting by Echo Huang.
THE POWER IS YOURS
We’re the reason we can’t have nice things on the internet
Whitney PhillipsDecember 29, 2015
We’re all responsible for contributing to a toxic online culture. (Fanqiao Wang for Quartz)
In a recent New York Times piece, Farhad Manjoo laments the increasingly shrill tone of political discourse. “If you’ve logged on to Twitter and Facebook in the waning weeks of 2015, you’ve surely noticed that the internet now seems to be on constant boil,” he writes.
But has the online world really entered a phase of permanent froth?
Vitriolic content may be par for the course in certain political circles. But not every story of online sparring in 2015 ended badly. On Twitter, a Jewish man befriended a member of the notoriously rancorous Westboro Baptist Church because, in his experience, “relating to hateful people on a human level” is “the best way to deal with them.” Using the same platform, a digital activist reached out to an Islamic State sympathizer and, through pointed, thoughtful engagement, convinced him to think differently. Feminist writer Lindy West engaged with one of her most mean-spirited online antagonists, and in the process came to see his humanity as clearly as he came to see hers.
These are inspiring stories. On the surface, they seem to provide heartening counterexamples to Manjoo’s claims. When placed in context, however, they prove to be the exception rather than the rule. The majority of stories about online harassment resist happy endings. Their conclusions tend to be unsatisfying or upsetting, if they end at all.
Women in the gaming and tech industries–women generally, though queer women, trans women, women of color and disabled women are particularly at risk–are ruthlessly targeted on a variety of platforms. School campuses are threatened with yet another shooting spree. Internet users face identity-based harassment and libel and find themselves on the receiving end of unconscionably racist and vitriolic content. The unluckiest of the bunch are subjected to unwarranted police raids.
Sometimes the police identify the most extreme online harassers. (Several of the above cases resulted in arrests.) And sometimes online antagonists are open about their identities. But very frequently, the people subjected to online abuse don’t know who is responsible, or even why they’re being targeted.
The majority of stories about online harassment resist happy endings.
Maybe they’re not being specifically targeted at all. Maybe the abusive behavior is more diffuse, directed at women or people of color generally. Maybe the behavior is targeted but doesn’t meet the legal threshold of harassment. As I braced myself for the response to the publication of my book on trolls, for example, I met with the chief o