Mourning Candles & Smileys for Dead Japanese Hostages

At Tea Leaf Nation, Minami Funakoshi considers perceived differences between the Sina and Tencent Weibo platforms based on reactions to an Asahi Shimbun post on Japanese deaths in the recent Algerian hostage crisis.

[… E]ven a reader with no Chinese language skills will notice a troubling difference: [on Sina Weibo], commenters lit virtual candles of mourning; [on Tencent Weibo], reactions consisted of laughter and celebration.

The Chinese people have long had mixed feelings toward Japan. After the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake — the largest ever recorded in Japanese history — hit the island nation, some Chinese Web users expressed condolences, while others rejoiced in Japan’s tragedy. But why is there such a sharp divide between users of two different Weibo platforms? Are Chinese Web users on Sino Weibo more sympathetic toward the Japanese? Does anti-Japan sentiment really run stronger on Tencent Weibo?

Some Chinese Web users certainly think so. “Sina Weibo users are obviously relatively mature,” posted one user, @卟懂_作业先森他不爱我, on Sina Weibo. “This is why I don’t use Tencent Weibo,” commented another user, @姬旦. Defenders of Tencent Weibo, however, attribute the difference in online reaction to the different degrees of censorship. “This is because some posts on Sina Weibo were ‘killed,’” argued @千树枯, “If you look at it from this perspective, Sina Weibo is truly tragic!”

In both cases, however, initial responses may be misleading, and Funakoshi concludes that “Netizen opinion is fickle, time-dependent, and unreliable — especially when viewed as a proxy for Chinese opinion.” For more on the potential pitfalls of Weibo-watching, see ‘Weibo’s Limits and the Ballad of China’s Middle Class‘ at CDT.

Sina Weibo’s candle icon previously appeared on CDT after it was temporarily removed last June so it could not be “lit” in memory of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown.