Chinese Social Media Ablaze With Discussion of Germany Legalizing Weed

A German “pro-China” influencer became the latest target of nationalist ire after her writing on Germany’s legalization of recreational cannabis use was interpreted as a call for China to “live with drugs. Navina Heyden, a China-based influencer of minor repute, recently shared with her 800,000 Weibo followers her opinion that alcohol is more dangerous than marijuana. “As to what policies China should adopt,” she wrote, “this all depends on Chinese social customs, medical advances, and the results of [legalization] experiments everywhere.” Perhaps expecting some pushback, Heyden also added the caveat, “Note: I’m only writing about Germany, Germany, Germany. This has nothing to do with China. Nothing! Nothing at all! I’m not directly or indirectly implying a demand that China move to legalize.”

The post caused an uproar nonetheless. The Chinese government promotes the fight against illicit drugs as a “people’s war, framing it in much the same way as efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic. During the campaign against COVID between 2020 and 2022, the government published strongly worded editorials denouncing those who would “live with the virus” rather than persist with the zero-COVID policy of the times. Online, many used similar language to denounce Heyden for allegedly intimating that China might one day decide to “live with drugs.” Even the Beijing Narcotics Control Commission weighed in on Weibo, writing (seemingly in response to Heyden’s post), “Do not fall under the influence of Western narcotics culture, let alone advocate for the legalization of drugs without considering the national context—or worse, make nonsensical arguments in favor of narcotics legalization.”    

Heyden deleted the post and published multiple explanations attempting to defend herself. Others came to her defense, notably nationalist firebrand Hu Xijin, who suggested that Chinese netizens rally around Heyden to deny Western critics the opportunity to crow over her Chinese nationalist supporters turning on her. Ironically, while Chinese organized crime syndicates are powerful players in the illicit marijuana trade in the United States, the Chinese government has described the legalization of marijuana in other countries as a direct “threat to China,” attributing increased cannabis smuggling into China to international legalization efforts. 

The Chinese social-media debate around Germany’s legalization of cannabis happened to overlap with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s state visit to China. At Reuters, Andreas Rinke reported that a Chinese student asked the chancellor whether visitors to Germany are required to smoke cannabis while studying in Germany:

Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday reassured Chinese students in Shanghai that they did not have to smoke cannabis if they studied in Germany and that Germany had legalized cannabis hoping that consumption would go down.

Scholz made the comments in response to a question from a student at Tongji University, who asked whether he would have to smoke cannabis if he studied in Germany, as the drug was not legal in China.

[…] “We don’t want more people to consume cannabis, we want fewer people to consume cannabis, we want there to be more public education about it,” Scholz said.

“The answer is very simple: don’t smoke. I’ll be 66 this year and I’ve never smoked cannabis.” [Source]

The student was widely mocked on Chinese social media: “This is like asking: Chinese people love baijiu, must exchange students drink it while studying in China? Utter nonsense.”

The student’s question also revived growing concerns that a combination of government censorship, misinformation, and lurid content (some of it blatantly racist or discriminatory) on Chinese social media is impoverishing Chinese citizens’ understanding of the world outside of China. China Media Project recently translated an article (“Who is Seeing the Real America?” by Liu Yi and Yang Jing) that was originally published in the Chinese-language outlet Initium. The article examined how Chinese-language social media has convinced millions that the world outside China is a lawless hellscape

If you live in mainland China and use Baidu to search for what “zero-dollar shopping” is, the first result will tell you: “In China, robbery constitutes a crime regardless of the amount; but in the US, robbery up to a certain amount is not classified as a crime.”

[…] In August 2023, a comic titled “American-Style ‘Zero-Dollar Shopping’ Won’t Stop!” was published online by China Radio International, part of the China Media Group stable under the direct control of the CCP’s Central Propaganda Department. In the original Chinese, it shows a group of thieves fleeing in panic, laden with jewelry and luxury goods, while one proclaims confidently, “I’ve done this so many times, there’s nothing I don’t already have!” Underneath, two lines of text relate that “According to CNN and other US media, there have been dozens of ‘flash mob’ robberies at shopping centers and luxury stores in Los Angeles in the past three days. Similar incidents have also occurred beyond California in Washington, New York, and Ohio, causing panic among businesses and the public.” It’s hard to see the logical connection between this and the cartoon, but that didn’t stop major news portals like NetEase (網易) and ByteDance’s Jinri Toutiao (今日頭條) from republishing it.

[…] Much of the content published by these types of [nationalist] accounts reaches far and wide, with tens of thousands of views, likes, and comments. Most of the comments demonstrate an unwavering belief in the veracity of “zero-dollar shopping” and adopt a mocking tone. Some spice up the original post with more exaggerated claims, writing that “You can take whatever you want but if you exceed the [monetary] limit you’ll be detained.” Others apply anti-Black sentiment to the Chinese context, predicting that they will “soon have the same in Guangzhou,” which is home to Asia’s largest African migrant population. Many others added unabashedly racist comments like “The Blacks are stocking up again” and “Black purchasing agents offer fair deals to everyone.” A few users expressed doubts about “zero-dollar shopping” but were quickly drowned out by the ridicule of others. [Source]


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