Translation: Cyber-abuse After “Study Buddy” Controversy

At Inkstone News, Viola Zhou and Cissy Zhou report on a surge of sexist and racist online attacks of a “study buddy” program between foreign and domestic students at Shandong University:

The buddy program at Shandong University was introduced in 2016 to facilitate cultural and language exchange between its foreign and Chinese students.

Controversy erupted this month after social media users criticized the school for allowing students the option of partnering with the opposite sex, saying this gave foreign male students access to Chinese women.

[…] Much criticism was directed at photos showing Chinese women standing alongside brown-skinned men, which were posted last year on the school’s social media account.

[…] “Use all kinds of Chinese goods and beautiful women to please the foreign masters! Trash!” said a user on the Twitter-like Weibo.

[…] Feminist advocates say the online abuse stemmed from deep-rooted racist and patriarchal beliefs.

“The body and sexuality of a nation’s women are properties of the nation’s men, and should not be claimed by foreign men,” writer Li Sipan wrote in an online commentary. “This is the narrow-minded gender and racial discrimination behind the bubbling online discussions.” […] [Source]

On Chinese social networking site Douban, a Shandong University student writing under the name “Utopia” describes the cyber-bullying that many classmates faced following the controversy, refutes some online rumors, and notes that intimidation tactics have also spilled into the real world. CDT has translated the Douban post:

Utopia: I am a student at Shandong University, and I was cyber-bullied for three days straight

I never paid much attention to the “study buddy program,” although I know some people who participated. It’s mostly about communication and helping international students settle in on campus. Just like a regular buddy, it’s totally voluntary. Those online rumors saying that course credits would be deducted for not participating, or that one international student is being matched with three Chinese female students, are all baseless.

I don’t wish to talk much about the study buddy program or having international students on campus. People have long voiced their discontent regarding the issue of international students receiving preferential treatment over domestic students. 

What I do wish to say is that this incident has already transformed into cyber bullying and is an insult against my school and my fellow students–female students in particular. I won’t bother to list all the dirty words thrown about online here. Now that it’s the year of 9102 [inverse of 2019, mocking people with “backward” values], it’s laughable that we still have so many internet trolls who let their imaginations run wild at the very mention of study buddies, or international students, or female students. These people let anything that isn’t personal to them become a carnival of cyber violence.

I never thought that today there are still so many men who treat women as mere resources. When it comes to objectifying women, some of our fellow countrymen have no problem in uniting to throw horrendously offensive phrases.

There are some dumbasses trying to self-promote on TikTok. They are saying on camera that they are here to see the escort school. They are asking how much our female students charge for a night. The campus police chased them away.

This is becoming a threat to the safety of our students.

There are five men from outside who have been taking videos and pictures outside of Women’s Dorm Building No. 9. Central campus police line: 0531-88364110

I live in Building No. 8 and there are also men coming in and out. It’s not safe at all, to be honest. As someone who lives on the first floor, I strongly object. [Chinese]

In a now inaccessible essay posted to WeChat, user @别的女孩, another female Shandong University student, shared her perspective on the controversy, and offered analysis of the sexist, nationalist, and racist roots of the storm against the university’s program. CDT has translated excerpts from the essay, and the full post has been archived at CDT Chinese:

As a female student at Shandong University, I’ve lost my hope for this society after the study buddy controversy

The incident started when a “story” broke: Shandong University is matching three study buddies with every international student. The story comes with a photo of several dark-skinned boys and Chinese girls. Quite suggestive (see above). This ill-willed photo even comes with the caption: “the photo is not relevant to the article.” Then why are you using it?

[…] Then people got riled up. As information was being disseminated, some media deliberately underlined labels like “Chinese female college students” and “black male international students.” They repeatedly said “one man matched with three women.” They even invented suggestive and offensive phrases like “threesome and one,” which are quite disturbing. Soon, the internet was filled with attacks against Shandong University students. SU is said to be a “brothel,” and a “pimp,” and female SU students portrayed as “hookers.” Netizens used all sorts of vile language to attack innocent students, and in doing so, demonstrated a shocking mastery of vocabulary and rhetoric. But the core is about one thing: slut shaming.

What’s more disturbing is that some people are not satisfied by just venting from behind a keyboard. Some more action-oriented people have come to SU campus. They may have smelled a business opportunity, a chance to self-promote. Or maybe they just want to have some fun by personally insulting a female student at SU. Even random passersby are filled with ill will. I know some female students who don’t dare to take a taxi anymore because some drivers have made dirty jokes about women at SU. And those of us who haven’t personally experienced these disturbing things are also being overwhelmed by a sense of darkness–a combination of anger, helplessness, and a loss of dignity.

It’s complicated how the incident boiled down to this. First, this study buddy “story” fueled long-simmering negative public opinion towards international students. Second, discrimination against the “colored races” is deeply rooted in our culture. (Please note that discrimination only applies to the “colored.” White people are more than fine.) Third, some self media/click-driven accounts that have no moral standards are deliberately obscuring the facts.

[…] The source of the harassment, insults, and cyberbullying against SU women is the imagined trend of “foreigners sleeping with our women,” one that hurts both the national ego and male ego. This comes with a tiny bit of historical memory, as well as the collective pain of semi-colonialism and territorial invasion. But the core of it is the most unspeakable “truth” of patriarchy: the possession of women. They won’t get angry just because Chinese women are taken. They only get angry when Chinese women are taken by foreign men.

This line of thought seems “primitive.” One might think of something like the fall of a town during the era of swords, when all the men who lost the war would get killed and their women taken away like goods. But in fact, this line of thought is being constantly repeated in so-called civilized, modern society–because people’s fundamental understanding of nationality and gender hasn’t changed much since tribal times.

[…] As I’m finishing this up, there are still people from outside of our school hanging around near the women’s dorms.  The school has strengthened security measures, requiring everyone to show their school ID before entering campus, and promised to come up with additional measures to protect students. But I am still furious. I cannot accept that I and my fellow female students have to face such injustice.

I wish to say to those who insulted us on the internet: You all owe us an apology, not only for what you said, but also for the fact that your vileness has made us women in our twenties prematurely lose hope for this world.

Even so, I will never let myself become like you. [Chinese]

Translation by Yakexi.


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