With China’s guardians of taste cracking down on everything from televised cleavage to the lyrics of Taiwanese rapper MC Hotdog, Chinese Internet users were provided with alternate entertainment this week: watching the country’s culture ministry get eviscerated on social media.
The Ministry of Culture, which is responsible for the protection and promotion of Chinese traditional culture, launched its official account on the popular social-media platform Weibo Thursday and almost immediately it found itself drenched by a firehose of vitriol. Three messages posted to the feed since Thursday afternoon had attracted over 100,000 comments a day later, most of them unfavorable or outright hostile.
“You manage what we read, what we watch on TV, what movies we see, what we do online, when we drive our cars, what we say, but you don’t manage the quality of our food or housing, our health, or our children’s ability to attend school,” read one comment that attracted more than 23,000 likes. “Everything you should manage, you don’t and what you shouldn’t manage, you do!”
The account was launched on the same day that the official Xinhua news agency released the full text of a landmark speech on arts and literature delivered by Chinese President Xi Jinping. The speech, delivered at a symposium last October, laid out a vision of artists serving the state that closely resembled cultural policies outlined by Mao Zedong seven decades earlier.
Mass trolling of government Weibo accounts, once common, has become rare in recent years as authorities have tightened their grip on the platform. The response reflected widespread frustration with increased censorship and cultural tightening under Mr. Xi, including harsher restrictions online that led to the banning of several popular foreign TV shows and cartoons. Censors, accused by users of deleting thousands of comments in the early going, appeared to have largely given up by Thursday evening.
“I came to see the comments. Enough to keep me laughing for days,” one user wrote in a comment repeated widely on the ministry’s Weibo feed.
The ministry didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Weibo confirmed the account belonged to the ministry but declined to comment on user censorship allegations.
“Hello all netizens, the Ministry of Culture’s official Weibo account is now officially open! In the future, we will publish cultural policies and information here. We’re looking forward to everyone’s support and attention!” read the first message posted to the account. Subsequent messages discussed Mr. Xi’s speech on culture and the opening of a rural songs event in eastern China’s Anhui province.
In addition to illustrating Internet users’ irritation with censorship, the outpouring also reflected confusion about the structure of the government apparatus responsible for controlling the country’s cultural life. While the Ministry of Culture is responsible for cracking down on certain undesirable trends – Japanese cartoons and funeral strippers, for example – many of the complaints it faced on Weibo were more appropriately directed elsewhere.
“Chairman Xi talks about ‘House of Cards,’ and yet you still block it,” complained one user, referring to Mr. Xi’s mention of the Netflix drama during a speech in Seattle last month. The streaming of foreign TV shows online is regulated, not by the Ministry of Culture, but by the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, an agency under the State Council.
In fact, many of those criticizing the culture ministry appeared to be under the mistaken impression that it was in charge of the widely reviled film and TV regulator. Later comments asked the ministry to post a message clarifying the different types of censorship undertaken by different government agencies, while others begged the ministry to convince the film and TV regulator to open its own Weibo account.
Based on the ministry’s experience, China Real Time guesses the regulator would sooner lift its TV cleavage ban than expose itself to social media.
– Josh Chin. Follow Josh on Twitter @joshchin
Not long after touching down in my U.S. hometown of Portland, Oregon, for the summer, I ended up in a conversation with a doctor from New York City who had recently moved to my beautiful Northwest city. I asked her how she was getting on in our unique little metropolis. She said, “Everyone is too nice here.” I thought, is it possible to be too nice?!?
She continued to explain, “Sometimes I want to walk my dog down the street, with my morning coffee, without having to say ‘hello’ to every person I pass. I mean, even the homeless guy that lives on my block says ‘have a good day’ every morning!” I thought, “Wow, our friendly American doctor has culture shock.”
One of the crazy things about coming from a country that is as spread out as the U.S. or China is how culturally diverse it is from one coast to another. That doesn’t stop the rest of the world from generalizing about the culture of the these two geographically large countries.
But the truth is if you spend time in a few different regions you realize that both of these countries have a multitude of different cultures, and that not all Americans are fat, and not all Chinese are rude.
This got me to wondering about the millions of Chinese living in the United Sates because I know from my four years living in China that expats definitely have strong feelings about their experience in China, so Chinese must have a similar experience living in the U.S., right? If only I could get access to a bunch of Chinese expats…
“Bing!” I just had a WeChat epiphany.
So, I got on WeChat’s “People Nearby” and started “friending” people. I ran into some Chinese Americans, a nice Vietnamese woman, but almost everyone else was Chinese. This was the first time in four years I was actually excited that WeChat hadn’t caught on in the United States.
I’m sure some of these people wondered if I was working a scam, or a stalker, but many people actually responded. I had some great “chats” and even made some new friends.
The number one thing the Chinese expats liked about the U.S. was the air quality and general cleanliness of U.S. cities. Which, of course, is one of the biggest complaints from expats living in China.
In my adopted city of Shenzhen the air quality is actually pretty good compared to other first-tier Chinese cities. And even though I am happy that the Shenzhen city government is dedicated to a “greener” city, it pales in comparison to Portland and almost any U.S. city.
Speaking of green, let’s talk trash. No, not about Angelababy’s new Adidas Jade shoes, I mean the stuff that can’t seem to find its way into a trash bin in Chinese cities. Expats in China are constantly baffled by, one, the poor planning in waste management for huge cities, and two, the lack of respect Chinese people have for their own neighborhoods when they throw trash on the ground instead of a nearby trash can.
Expats are not the only ones who notice this. Many Chinese are asking the same question. In fact, recently a Chinese couple actually complemented my friend’s 6 year old boy on using the trash can! So you can imagine that that is one of the things that impressed our Chinese visitors here in the U.S., “[In China] some [Chinese] mainlanders are rude and not well behaved”.
Other things that came up as positives living in the U.S. were that it is “quiet”, “overall quality of life is better”, “the university education has more variety”, and “people are mostly polite and respectful”.
I have traveled all around the United States and I have seen some pretty dirty places. I have lived in places that are not so quiet. And I have run into more people than I care to count that are not so polite or respectful. That said, I have to agree that generally all of what my new Chinese friends say is true.
Coming from America we are taught from a young age that “freedom” and “citizens’ rights” are the most important things in society, and that American style democracy is the best way to ensure that the people are represented. So, I found it curious that only one Chinese expat mentioned this idea of freedom, “I will live here forever… I can do whatever I want… Here [I can] be more myself.”
The other topic that hardly came up was the relative freedom of the internet in the U.S. In China, the daily headache that is “The Great Firewall” is the number one issue for expats. And it, second only to craft beer, amazing wine, great coffee, and fabulous food, is the thing I enjoy most about being back in the States. However, the Chinese expats barely even mentioned it, even though they are all on FaceBook, which is blocked in China.
Of course not all that glitters is gold. It took a while for the Chinese expats to open up about the negatives of the United States. I got the sense that because I am American, they didn’t want to insult me, or their host country. However, some of them finally did.
Many of the people I interviewed said that the most “shocking” thing about America was “all homeless people.” Portland, unlike many American cities is extremely tolerant of the homeless, and so for a small city has a large percentage of homeless. However, I don’t believe that this was actually all that “shocking” since the Chinese news apparatus is constantly knocking the U.S. for its “homeless problem.”
In China, if you ask expats about the relative safety of living there they almost all will say that they feel “very safe.” One women told me, “I love how safe it feels! I haven’t thought about safety in ages… I can literally walk in the street in the middle of the night and not worry.” That’s not to say that there is no crime, or that you shouldn’t always be aware of your surroundings, but yes, all-in-all China feels safe.
Chinese in the United States apparently don’t feel the same sense of safety as the expats in China. Some of this stems, again, from the Chinese media, but again, there is some truth to that story, “…when we were in NYC my friend was robbed.”
Although crime in most American cities is at an all time low, there is the sense that if you walk down the wrong street things could go badly. Also, the Chinese expats, along with much of the international community, feel generally “unsafe” because of our gun control laws.
I asked all of the Chinese expats if they ever felt singled out because they are foreign. A Portland State University student said, “People can be mean,” and went on to say “People say American[s] does not like Asian people”. One women told me, “[Americans] don’t talk to us, because we don’t know English, not much.” Another student said, “Sometimes some people are rude just because you have different skin color or you have an accent.”
I had a University student from Detroit tell me, “…we went downtown…and a black guy yelling at us saying ‘fuck you all’. Of course I said the same to him…I [not] scare of him at all. You know I’m from Detroit”.
The irony is the western expats in China say the same thing on any given day.
I found the language barrier intriguing, because I believe that it is one of the main points of cultural misunderstandings. So, I asked whether they have many American friends. Almost all said “no” or “not many.” One student said he was in a running group and was kind of friends with some Americans.
I asked a student who has been in the U.S. for 3 years if she practices English with Americans. She said she doesn’t know any, so she just practices with her Chinese friends who speak English better than she.
In China I find that, with the exception of dating and marriage, many expats tend to hangout together in the same way the Chinese in the U.S. do. However, I happen to take Mandarin at a Chinese University, and many of the Chinese students there will bend over backwards to help you practice Chinese, especially if you reciprocate.
But China will always be home
I asked my new friends if they planned on staying in the U.S. or returning to China? Almost all said they planned on returning one day. One young women told me she wants to return, but her mother is insisting she stay in the U.S. She is not at all happy about this prospect.
When I asked why, she said, “[Portland, OR is] boring… like in China, people like to go out at night. When turn night [in Portland] people like to stay at home”. Clearly we are hanging out at different places in Portland!
Most of the Chinese expats see China as having greater job opportunities, “no matter what service or product you provide you can always find a huge number of customers.” And of course they miss family and friends, and speaking and thinking in their native tongue. “I video chat with [family] almost every day.”
I have a passion for food, so I asked if they missed their regional cuisine. The answer was a resounding, YES! I asked if they had found any good Chinese restaurants in the cities where they live, and they almost all said “no,” and I have to agree, American Chinese food is not really Chinese. Although I have been told by some Chinese American friends that big cities like L.A., Chicago, and New York have authentic Chinese food.
Besides air quality the only other deterrent that was mentioned about returning home was “too many people, it’s crazy to take a subway in Beijing or Shanghai.”
I wish my new friends luck while they are in the United States. Living abroad can be difficult, especially if you don’t befriend the natives. However, if you embrace where you live, and keep yourself from pining for home daily, then it can also be a grand adventure!
What’s your opinion?
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Filed Under: Survival TipsTagged With: Travel in China