Xi Jinping Given The Finger in Vietnam

Reading between the lines of Xi Jinping’s foreign trips is often a subtle art; not so during his latest trip to Vietnam. China Central Television, the Party-state’s premier broadcaster, unwittingly uploaded a video of a Vietnamese-flag waving member of a welcoming delegation seemingly giving Xi Jinping the middle finger, an obscene gesture often interpreted to mean “fuck you.” CCTV reported that a welcoming group of 400 representatives from across Chinese and Vietnamese society was organized to welcome Xi, his wife Peng Liyuan, and other Chinese delegates at the airport. The middle finger was captured in a 34-second video uploaded to the broadcaster’s web app: 

A screenshot of a CCTV video shows a person waving a Vietnamese flag clearly extending their middle finger, amongst a sea of people waving Vietnamese and Chinese flags.
A screenshot of the original video

Sharp-eyed observers immediately pointed out the middle finger, and screenshots of the image circulated widely on the global internet. In response, Chinese news outlets that shared the video including The Paper, Southcn.com, China Youth Online (a Communist Youth League outlet), and Observing Sichuan deleted the video—an indication that an official directive had likely been issued, instructing outlets to delete the video. CCTV then re-uploaded a 31-second version of the video with the middle-finger portion excised, which some netizens outside the firewall celebrated as CCTV’s endorsement of their (perhaps uncharitable) reading of the middle finger as a deliberate insult to Xi: 

A screenshot of the re-uploaded CCTV video with the middle finger edited out.
A screenshot of the re-uploaded CCTV video missing the middle finger. 

Abroad, there is a cottage industry centered on analyzing China’s closed political system through body language, one subset of which might be called “bird watching.” In 2020, then-Premier Li Keqiang voted for Hong Kong’s National Security Law with his middle finger. The odd choice of digit inspired a number of breathless analyses of a potential rift between the two, although more serious analysts dismissed Li’s choice of finger as a sign of anything other than a sign of his obliviousness: “If you loaned him the balls, he still wouldn’t dare do it”:

A photograph of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang voting. Xi uses his index finger to vote, while Li Keqiang uses his middle finger.
Li Keqiang votes for Hong Kong’s National Security Law with his middle finger on May 28, 2020


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