Last week on Matters News, user KeketuohaiDeXue (可可托海的雪) published an essay on online public opinion in China. The author argues that it is difficult to glean an accurate understanding of a nation's collective opinion in an environment of tight censorship. (The username means "the Snow of Koktokay, [Altay, Xinjiang]"; their bio describes them as "a person from Xinjiang.") The essay includes a screenshot of a Weibo conversation showing much more nuance in opinion and understanding of a sensitive geopolitical topic than is usually allowed on the highly censored platform. Matters is a blockchain-based Chinese-language forum that aims to give Chinese users a way to express themselves without worrying about censors. CDT has translated the essay in full:
A Great Undercurrent Hiding Beneath the Likes
I have to say that in the wake of Xi Jinping’s ascendance to power, Chinese public opinion has become more and more extreme and confident. It seems that all of a sudden this brand and that country are getting boycotted. This is indeed a fact, and it also reflects certain changes in society.
But if you can only see the surface-level "public opinion," then you will make the wrong judgment.
According to my observations, the most active “little pinks” [xiǎo fěnghóng (小粉红)—online nationalists] are mainly students. This is not to say that only students are little pinks, but that the most active and most radical ones are students.
With the strengthening of the firewall and the increase in China's national strength, this generation has not experienced the relative freedom that existed in the previous era. At the same time, material wealth has greatly increased and many of this generation have traveled abroad, where they witnessed inequality, violence, and drug abuse.
So I have to ask a question: have all Chinese become little pinks?
As the title of this article suggests, the opinions of common Chinese must be found beneath the surface [...].
To clarify to foreign guests who are unfamiliar with China’s conditions, Sina Weibo is currently the largest public discussion platform inside the firewall—if what happens there can be called “discussion” at all. Not only are there accounts that are shut down there, but there are also comments that are prohibited.
Weibo posts published by official media often ban comments and do not allow reposts to be shown. Obviously, the government has good self-awareness, which shows that socialist education has a long way to go.
But some Weibo posts do not forbid comments, likely due to negligence or self-confidence. The scenery in the comment section below these posts may not resemble what it did in the past, when everyone was a flag guard.
I took this screenshot last year. I can’t remember the original text. It roughly had to do with boycotting some brand that treated Taiwan as a country. What did everyone say?
@JiazhouLaoYuehan: Almost all countries in Europe and the United States treat Taiwan as an independent country. To forge iron, you need a strong hammer. It doesn’t help to keep making trouble this way. In fact, they are not trying to be malicious. It’s just a matter of opinion.
@XiongXiaohua: So even comments need to follow the Three Views?
@HaiHangDeShijie: A patient who has broken his finger should go to the hospital to treat his finger. But he just wouldn’t go to see the doctor, forcing everyone around him to agree that his broken finger is still his. If you do not agree, then he will get angry and quarrel with you. A kind-hearted person advised him to stop talking and go directly to the hospital to treat his finger. He immediately frowned, and said “If you think it’s so easy to treat it, then you do it.”
@ShuangFengWanli: Can the airport list Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan as domestic departures?
@LaoshiDunhouDeRouJiang: Boasting everyday about its superpower capability and yet still quibbling over this?
@BanyeLuanjiao: Boycott, resolutely boycott. IKEA’s 1RMB dessert is still good, let’s go shopping there tomorrow.
@ZhaZhaLiangJiaoShou: After reading the comments, it seems that it is not so easy to brainwash those born after the 90s after all hahaha
@YishengPi: What the government is doing everyday is basically paying lip service, this country is already so messed up, yet they still think about recapturing others.
@DahanGuangWuDi: According to the comments, the government’s lack of credibility is entirely the government’s own fault
@Ccmeme666: Apart from shouting slogans, adhering to formalism, and cutting chives there is nothing else.
@UNANaShiWo: I have been working abroad for 6 years, and I have been to some countries. With the exception of mainland Chinese, in the psychology of foreigners—including young Taiwanese—Taiwan is just Taiwan. Sometimes you don't have to argue too much, if you are in full bloom, the breeze will come.
@NewPantsPeking: If someone gets a May Fourth hairstyle in the future, will they all become secret supporters of Tsai Ing-wen?
@XiaoheXiangxi: Who the fuck cares who it belongs to? Improving senior care, housing, and the medical system is what matters. You group of people above should be a bit more practical. What does it have anything to do with you whether Taiwan is returned to China?
@VincentXiaoSong: A large number of the comments really do have the sense of wisdom, of the people being awakened... The most abominable is the mainland media, shameless stuff. Taiwan is good as it is. At least there is no one-party dictatorship, no toxic milk powder, no fake vaccines, no so-called "Public Servants"
@YunShuMianhuatang: If you want to be great then see whether the vaccines are good, whether you can die from a Didi ride. You spend every day in obscene fantasies, really the character of a superpower country.
@DiandiJiYu: The officials, civil society, and the international community all uphold this, it is just that this simply cannot be said in mainland China.
@DuiZhegeShijieSuozhiShenShao: When your son was given a fake vaccine, or your stuff was stolen and the police didn’t care—at those times, I didn’t see you guys come out to fight for your rights. Have you cared about how much tax you are paying for the things you buy? Worrying about nonsense everyday. That is a legally run enterprise that pays taxes and create jobs. You guys with ulterior motives just want to label others Taiwan independence supporters and bring them to their death.
Take a look at the number of likes. Every like is a Chinese person who dares not speak up.
I used to be one of them. I only dared to forward the news in WeChat, but I didn't dare to comment. But now I have decided not to remain silent anymore, I am going to voice my thoughts.
I don't want people in the future to think that today's China consists only of slogan-shouting nationalists and simple-minded neurotics.
We want freedom, but not freedom with guns and drugs.
We don't like the double standards of the West.
We care more about whether or not we will be robbed while walking down the street, than whether or not we are able to access Google.
We don't think that we must pick a side in every matter, that things are either black or white. Everything should be based on reality, pragmatism is paramount.
More importantly, we should not be silent.
Freedom should not be defined by just a few people. [Chinese]
KeketuohaiDeXue’s words about rejecting silence recall another essay translated by CDT last year amid a wave of consternation at the abolition of presidential term limits. In it, Beijing resident Zhao Xiaoli lamented that "hiding in metaphor, hiding in a system of ambiguous language, hiding in silence and furtive glances on the street, this has brought us neither strength, nor space. […] I will no longer be silent. I will not satirize or use sarcasm. I will not complain. I will not use metaphor. I will clearly express my point of view."