Outspoken General Loses First Weibo Battle

People’s Liberation Army General Luo Yuan, who has gained a reputation as a blunt speaker on international affairs, has taken his views to Sina Weibo. There, he has been treated to a heavy dose of netizen skepticism and humor. From The Border Mail:

Major General Luo Yuan, whose recent suggestions include turning the Japanese-administered Islands, known as Diaoyu in China and Senkaku in Japan, into a Chinese target range, entered the microblogging internet fray to debate a university professor who argued he was “crazy” to advocate bombing Tokyo.

[…] In less than a week he has attracted 237,000 weibo followers and his first post alone has attracted more than 33,700 comments and been forwarded 37,800 times as of 2pm Sydney time.

But efforts by propaganda authorities to delete negative comments could not hide that his foray has been a bruising one.

“If weibo is the battlefield between pro-state voices and civil society, then it looks like General Luo has hopelessly lost his first encounter,” said Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder of China Digital Times.

Luo’s appearance on Weibo was a surprise as usually military officers are discouraged from joining the microblogging service. But Luo reportedly gained permission first. From the New York Times blog:

Mr. Luo also wrote in what appeared to be his first post Friday that he had received “permission” (Chinese media reported that it came from the People’s Liberation Army) to set up the account. In the past, members of the military have been barred from opining online, reports said (though some do, including an air force colonel, Dai Xu, who has a microblog).

Some person or persons, possibly high up in the security or propaganda system, seem to have had a change of heart about that general policy, and the man who reportedly said last September that China should cooperate with Taiwan’s military in a “people’s war at sea” — blasting the disputed Diaoyu, or Senkaku, islands “Monday, Wednesday, and Friday,” while the Taiwanese could do it “Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday” — is back, and characteristically vocal.

General Luo is believed to be close to the incoming Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and his father, Luo Qingchang, was an early member of the Communist Party and a senior official and intelligence officer, according to Chinese and overseas Web sites.

But whoever granted him permission to join Weibo may now be regretting it, considering the response from netizens. Caixin reports:

Other Weibo users asked whether it was appropriate for military officials to be involved in the country’s internal affairs and whether the army should serve the Communist Party’s interests first.

Questions were also raised about Luo’s family background and his relatives’ businesses activities. Luo’s father, Luo Qingchang, was a former deputy secretary general of the State Council, China’s cabinet.

Luo’s Weibo account had a bit of a hiccup on February 24. A comment supporting him appeared on the account, but oddly referred to him in the third person. Afterward Sina, the company that operates Weibo, published a statement that said the account was briefly hacked, but was back to normal.

The third-person “hacked” comment supporting Luo called him “a soldier and a scholar,” a catchphrase that netizens quickly latched onto in mocking Luo. From Quartz:

But this, too, may have backfired. First of all, a meme have have been born: Weibo users have already grabbed on to the “Luo Yuan is a soldier and a scholar” quote such that many are typing it into the comments sections of Luo’s new posts.

Then there’s the larger problem with the hacking defense. As the Sydney Morning Herald pointed out, Kai-fu Lee—former head of Google China and major Weibo personality—summed it up this way: “If the national security professional can’t even change his password then the people really should be worried.”

OffBeat China has more on netizens’ reactions to Luo’s posts:

Instead of being excited about a top military officer showing up on Weibo and sharing views on possible strategies, Chinese netizens denounced Luo’s attempt to get the hang of Weibo: “How, in a normal country, is an active military officer allowed to openly discuss politics?”

Luo’s choice of words has been the primary target of criticism. Netizen 徐昕, a law professional as his Weibo profile describes, asked: “General Luo, welcome to Weibo. Your willingness to communicate is worth some applause, but here are a few questions for you. 1. Is it “under the leadership of Xi”, or “under the leadership of the Party led by Xi”? 2. Who are the country’s traitors? Do you have a name list? We netizens are happy to help [if you don’t]. 3. A military officer talking about fighting corruption. It may be effective, but how do you do it? Does this count as the military’s interference in politics? 4. Why [you put] beloved people behind beloved country, beloved Party and beloved army?”

This is just the beginning, the highlight is when netizens started to question Luo’s credentials as a general and his family wealth.

More netizens’ comments on General Luo Yuan’s posts are here on the CDT Chinese.