A new social media push calls on netizens to stay vigilant against American meddling.
- By David WertimeDavid Wertime is a senior editor at Foreign Policy, where he manages its China section, Tea Leaf Nation. In 2011, he co-founded Tea Leaf Nation as a private company translating and analyzing Chinese social media, which the FP Group acquired in September 2013. David has since created two new miniseries and launched FP’s Chinese-language service. His culture-bridging work has been profiled in books including The Athena Doctrine and Digital Cosmopolitans and magazines including Psychology Today. David frequently discusses China on television and radio and has testified before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. In his spare time, David is an avid marathon runner, a kitchen volunteer at So Others Might Eat, and an expert mentor at 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based incubator and seed fund. Originally from Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, David is a proud returned Peace Corps volunteer. He holds an English degree from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard University.
August has begun with two more entries in an ongoing campaign to convince Chinese netizens that Western values are existential threats to their country.
In two videos published hours apart on Aug. 1 on Weibo, China’s Twitter equivalent, major government accounts exhorted their followers to keep a wary eye out for the ruinously destabilizing effects of U.S. government interference. Both pieces splice together snippets of news footage with voice-overs warning of American conspiracies, which narrators warn are often carried out under the cover of democracy and rule of law.
The timing does not appear accidental. In another video published early Aug. 1 to a website affiliated with Hong Kong-based Oriental Daily, Wang Yu, a long-detained civil rights lawyer, appears to confess to having accepting foreign aid in an attempt to blacken the name of the Chinese government. Wang said she would not accept a human rights award from the American Bar Association she was slated to receive on Aug 6. “I see it as them using me to blacken the name of the Chinese government,” Wang said. “I’m Chinese; I can only accept the leadership of the Chinese government.”
Wang had been in government custody since June 2015, part of a spate of detentions directed at Chinese lawyers who dared to challenge the government. In January 2016, authorities formally charged Wang with subverting state power, a serious offense. Human rights observers have roundly criticized the government’s treatment of Wang. It’s unlikely she made her latest statements freely; in a statement shared with the Wall Street Journal, family members said Wang’s video appeared coerced.
Hours after Wang’s dubious confessional appeared, the influential Communist Youth League published an uncredited video on Weibo that takes particular aim at China’s “diehard lawyers,” painting them as unwitting tools of Western schemers. (The term “die-hard,” or sike, refers to Chinese lawyers willing to use both the law and social media to take on their government.) Wang Yu, the narrator intones, “was once one of these ‘diehard lawyers.’” Only after her arrest, the voice continues, did the truth come out: Wang was just in it for the legal fees, which her boss used to exchange for foreign currency.
The video also accuses a “mysterious person” under foreign control of abducting Wang Yu’s teenage son, Bao Zhuoxuan, from Inner Mongolia, and smuggling him via through known drug routes into Myanmar. (Western media reported in October 2015 that Bao was under house arrest in his Inner Mongolia home after being abducted from Myanmar, a move intended to give Chinese authorities additional leverage over Wang.) “Fortunately, with the cooperation of local forces, [Bao] was freed,” the voiceover says. After a Chinese investigation, the narrator says Wang “was infuriated to learn” that the “foreign forces she had completely trusted” had orchestrated the kidnapping, using her innocent son against her.
It was only after this awakening, the film states, that Wang understood the importance of cooperating with police, and the West’s use of human rights as a cover to foment social instability. Diehard lawyers were simply the “bullets” in a larger war. Had Wang’s son not been kidnapped, the video concludes, she would never have known that she was being played for a fool.
The video also appears to pick up the simmering conspiracy theory that Chinese nationalist street protesters are actually pro-U.S. agents in disguise. “Do you think they are really ‘patriots?’” the narrator asks of recent protestors who thronged to some KFC restaurants to protest an adverse ruling on China’s interests in the South China Sea. The piece also raises the tragic July death of junior Democratic Party staffer Seth Rich, shot and killed while walking in the early morning in Washington, DC. “Do you really believe staffer Seth Rich was ‘shot dead in a robbery?’” the narrator asks without elaboration.
Another online film (see image above), posted hours later by an official Weibo account affiliated with the Ministry of Public Security, also warns of the dangers of color revolution. It opens with a heartbreaking interview with a young girl who lost her father in combat. A narrator asks, “Have you ever imagined that one day, China could become like today’s Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, or Turkey? What would happen to our children?” The film argues that Chinese should feel lucky that their government is “well aware of the risks of ‘color revolution,’” and citizens should do their part to forfend Western intrusion by working and studying as assiduously as they can.
It’s hard to know whether the videos were intended to complement one another — only one refers to its maker, Dujia Media — but their near-simultaneous release on prominent government platforms suggests an effort to apply a distinctly nationalist gloss to recent events. In its conspiratorial tone and shaky production values, the two propaganda videos echo “Silent Contest,” a controversial film produced with evident People’s Liberation Army assistance that depicts a U.S. conspiracy to contain China and topple its government.
Online reaction to these two latest efforts was generally positive, although comments criticizing the party line are more likely to be deleted. As one popular comment read, “When someone tells you that ‘patriotism’ is just a product of brainwashing, they are brainwashing you.” Another argued that things had changed in China for “public intellectuals,” slang for liberals. “It’s not like it was before; they have become rats crossing the street.”
Image via fair use