Jiangsu Unicom, a subsidiary of state-owned conglomerate China Unicom, incurred online anger after posting, on two consecutive days, a recipe for egg fried rice with ginger on Weibo. The seemingly innocuous recipe landed the company in the frying pan because it was published on October 23 and 24, the birthday and birthday eve of Mao Zedong’s son Mao Anying, who was killed by American bombs during the Korean War. A persistent, albeit unfounded, rumor holds that the younger Mao exposed his position by making egg fried rice on the battlefield. Some herald November 25, the anniversary of his death, as “China’s Thanksgiving,” celebrating egg fried rice as the dish that saved China from turning into a “West Korea” ruled by a Kim family-style dynasty.
Such rumors about the cause of Mao Anying’s untimely demise are officially “historically nihilist,” according to China’s top internet regulator. Those who share “historically nihilistic misrepresentations” online are subject to unspecified punishments, and “slandering martyrs” online can lead to arrest. Earlier this October, a blogger was jailed for 10 days after posting on social media: “The greatest result of the Korean War was egg fried rice: thank you, egg fried rice! Without egg fried rice, we [China] would be no different from North Korea. Sadly, there’s not that big a difference nowadays.”
Due to the offending post, Jiangsu Unicom’s account was likely issued a “soft ban.” It has not posted since October 23 (the October 24 post has been deleted) and comments and reposts on its last post are not visible—one of the tools in Weibo’s censorship toolkit. The following selection of Weibo comments on the latest egg fried rice controversy offers a case study of the fault lines in online Chinese society. On one side are the frothy nationalists, who view Jiangsu Unicom’s two posts as evidence of a plot to insult China; on the other, many feel that the whole controversy is inane:
前难友睡不醒：They deleted it after posting on October 23, but then posted it again on October 24. Is a recipe that important? Jiangsu Unicom’s business is entirely unrelated to food. Four bowls of rice, one sausage, two eggs: 412. October 24 is martyr [Mao] Anying’s birthday. Egg fried rice is a slanderous rumor about martyrs. The 412 incident. All those factors taken together…sensitive, no?
思想火炬：On the day martyr Mao Anying was sacrificed [Translator’s note: Mao Anying was born, not killed, on October 24], @JiangsuUnicom is insulting heroic martyrs by spreading the rumor that Mao Anying was killed by American bombs because he was making fried rice. (In recent years, netizens have exposed the media for using similar methods to insult martyr Mao Anying). What’s more, posting it on back-to-back days like that is vile. They rushed to delete it after netizens exposed it. But Jiangsu Unicom somehow thinks that deleting it means it’s settled. They didn’t apologize, let alone punish whoever was responsible. They’re playing deaf, dumb, and blind, and hoping just to muddle through it! @ChinaUnicom, are you really going to turn a blind eye to this? Is the government going to let this pass unquestioned?
苍云古齿剑aa：Here’s the ironic thing: the egg fried rice rumor didn’t come from some “public intellectual,” but from Yang Di, who joined the revolution in 1938 and worked his way up to “Head of the Regiment” (equivalent to “General”), which means he’s protected by the Heroes and Martyrs Protection Act and can’t be insulted.
大柳塔新一代：They should write “egg fried rice” into the criminal code.
饥渴的面包兄：Isn’t this crazy? This keeps happening, over and over. Either make a law that bans people from posting anything about egg fried rice on that day, or if there isn’t a law, who cares if they post about it? It’s a bunch of maniacs turning little quibbles into matters of principle [Cultural Revolution-era connotation].
饥渴的面包兄：So… you’re not allowed to eat egg fried rice on this day? [Chinese]
It is now taboo to post about egg fried rice on the days surrounding Mao Anying’s birthday, October 24, and the anniversary of his death, November 25. Yet the ubiquity of fried rice means that unwitting souls stumble into controversy year after year. On November 25, 2019, the Chinese Academy of History made a Weibo post reprimanding those who posted about egg fried rice and roasted apples (an alternate version of the rumor). Just 30 minutes later, the official People’s Daily Weibo account posted about eggs. In 2020, cooking blogger Wang Gang came under attack for posting a recipe for egg fried rice on October 23. The rather bewildered cook issued an apology, writing: “I was only sharing delicious food—I didn’t mean anything else by it.”
Although a minor case, the Jiangsu Telecom affair demonstrates how nationalist mobs and pliant tech companies enforce the Party’s monopoly on speech, even without overt Party intervention. Brow-beating a telecommunications company over a recipe is seemingly a condoned method of constructing an internet that conforms to socialist core values. At Reuters, Brenda Got wrote about the Chinese government’s latest effort to create a more “civilized,” i.e. more socialist, online space:
Cyberspace should be used to promote education about the ruling Communist Party and its achievements, according to guidelines published by the State Council, the news agency reported.
A clear-cut stand should be taken against “historical nihilism”, defined as any attempt to use the past to question the party’s leading role or the “inevitability” of Chinese socialism, and good moral values should be promoted, such as by publicising cases involving model workers, it said.
Behavioural norms in cyberspace should also be strengthened by cultivating ethics and rules that conform to socialist core values, it said, adding that efforts should be made to help young people use the internet “correctly” and “safely”. [Source]