Netizen Voices: “With Its Own Actions, China Has Proved That What Chloé Zhao Said Was True”

Chloé Zhao made history on Sunday as the first woman of color to win an Oscar for best director. Her film “Nomadland” also took the top prize as the 2021 best picture. But in , the country of Zhao’s birth, celebrations were muted by a state coordinated blackout of coverage of the , following a nationalist backlash in March, when users dug up a comment by Zhao from 2013 that was critical of China. The Wall Street Journal’s Liza Lin reported on the censored coverage of Zhao’s victory:

Ms. Zhao’s win, just the second time a woman has walked away with best director, unleashed a flurry of congratulatory messages on Chinese social-media sites when it was announced Monday morning Beijing time. By midafternoon, nearly all of the posts had been erased.

Searches for her name on and Sogou, the country’s dominant search engines, produced numerous links to news of her previous accolades but only scattered links to deleted articles about the Academy Award honor.

State broadcaster China Central Television, the official Xinhua News Agency, and Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily stayed silent on the award throughout the day. Two state media reporters told The Wall Street Journal that they had received orders from China’s propaganda ministry not to report on Ms. Zhao’s victory, despite what they described as her status as a Chinese national, because of “previous public opinion.”

Earlier this year, Ms. Zhao was pilloried online in China for critical comments she made about the country in a 2013 magazine . [Source]

In the critical comments discovered by netizens, one of which was later found to be a transcription error, Zhao described China as a place “where there are lies everywhere.” That was enough to see the hashtags #Nomadland and #NomadlandReleaseDate blocked on Weibo in March, while marketing materials for the film disappeared.

On Monday, many Chinese netizens lamented the now missed opportunity to celebrate Zhao’s historic achievement. At Quartz, Jane Li reported on some of the voices on the Chinese internet which looked for alternative expressions of support for Zhao that could get around the censors:

Many people are figuring out ways to celebrate Zhao’s success, without mentioning her name or Nomadland. Qiao Mai, a Chinese novelist with over 1 million followers, posted “joy that can’t be celebrated” on her Weibo page in a supposedly subtle reference to the censorship. Qiao posted the line shortly after she posted a screenshot with a caption that says Frances McDormand, who won best actress for Nomadland stars in Zhao’s film. “This place has become a cyber ‘nomadland,’” one of Qiao’s followers commented under the post. In another post, a blogger said “she made it, like it or not” without mentioning Zhao, a message that was quickly grasped by other commentators who said that even quiet celebration is still a celebration. [Source]

Many netizens seized onto a well-known Chinese verse from the “Three Character Classic” that Zhao cited in her acceptance speech at the . “人之初,性本善,” said Zhao, reciting the first verse of the text, translated in English as: “People at birth, are inherently good.” The verse, taught to almost every Chinese child, was soon blocked on Chinese social media.

Many netizens were quick to point out the second verse: “性相近,习相远” (their natures are similar, but their habits make them different), shared the character in Xi Jinping’s surname, and poked fun at the censorship:

CDT’s Chinese editors collected several more comments by Chinese netizens before they were removed from social media platforms:

文宣中国:People at birth, are inherently good. Their natures are similar, it’s the sensitive characters in their that make them different. Congratulations to director Chloé Zhao!

fangshimin:Because Chloé Zhao and “Nomadland” won the Oscars, “Nomadland” and “Oscar” have both become sensitive works on Weibo and are no longer searchable. Does Chloe Zhao, who no longer exists behind the wall, still believe that “People at birth are inherently good?”

西极南隅:Is Chloé Zhao’s “Nomadland” not an anti-American film? It hands a knife to anti-American foreign forces, exposing American’s dark side. And as a result, the Americans congratulated her, but China blocked her????? I can’t understand it.

LiuDasheng1123:What Nomadland captures is the condition of Americans at the margins of society, the unglamorous side of America. The Oscars are awarded to this “humiliating beauty” of a film, reflecting the self-confidence of Americans and their courage to face their own social problems. It isn’t like this ancient nation in the East, where being insulted means retaliating with a ban.

来自星星的dud:She was censored for expressing her personal feelings one time in 2013. Meanwhile Han Han once said “the red scarf is stained red with menstrual blood,” so why can his movie still premiere on new year’s day?

Kuren2021:With its own actions, China has proved that what Chloé Zhao said was true.

xinxin83:Originally we should’ve been even happier than after last year’s “Parasite” victory… the second woman in Oscar history to win best director, and the third Asian to win best director.

智慧型打骂机器人:The people who come out of places where there are lies everywhere really are amazing.

postern_overwal:”Parasite” criticizes South Korea itself, “Nomadland” criticizes America the imperial power, and it is still censored. This gang of Chinese are bereft of consistency and tolerance.

songma:Chleo Zhao [sic] has not filmed any works featuring China or Chinese people as subjects, “Nomadland” is an exclusive reflection on and record of America. I personally think she has nothing to do with China, except that she was born here.

HioPepper:With the exception of being banned in China, “Nomadland” has nothing to do with China. It is an American filming a picture about Americans in America. [Chinese]

The controversy about Zhao’s comments was not the only source of consternation for Chinese officials at this year’s Oscars. State media was also angered by the nomination of Anders Hammer’s “Do Not Split,” about the 2019 Hong Kong protests, for best short documentary. In Hong Kong, the awards ceremony was not broadcast for the first time in over half a century, and some residents speculated that it had to do with the short documentary’s nomination.

The film ultimately lost out to “Colette,” a short documentary about a 90-year-old former French resistance fighter. But in a nod to “Do Not Split” in their acceptance speech, the makers of Colette said “the protesters of Hong Kong are not forgotten.” Chinese netizens also found their own ways to acknowledge the short film, despite the censorship of its Chinese title.

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