It should go without saying that Radio Free Asia (RFA) has as much a political agenda as Xinhua and CCTV are mouthpieces for the Chinese government. As such, this isn’t really a surprise but I still find it distasteful. Those of you who disagree with me taking issue with Western media or Westerners may want to stop reading now.
HONG KONG—Chinese netizens have reacted angrily to a visit to China by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, with large numbers taking part in a campaign on Twitter titled “Kim Jong Il, get out of China!”
If red flags haven’t popped up for you already…
Netizens lashed out at Kim for occupying the presidential suite at the Furama Hotel in the northeastern port city of Dalian, which costs 16,000 yuan (U.S. $2,300) per night, more than the annual per capita economic output of North Korea.
Chinese commenters on the microblogging service Twitter also criticized the wastefulness of the huge limousine motorcade that followed Kim, saying the money spent on the motorcade was taken from the “flesh and blood” of the North Korean people.
Preemptive disclaimer: I’m not a fan of Kim Jong Il or the North Korean government/regime. I don’t like either and I think North Koreans in general are needlessly suffering under them.
Now, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, the problem here is the RFA premising this story on comments collected via Twitter, a service that is blocked and has no wide-spread adoption or use in China amongst the vast, vast, vast majority of Chinese netizens.1
I wouldn’t have a problem with this RFA piece had it clearly and honestly written that it was “some Chinese commenters on the microblogging service Twitter that is blocked and inaccessible for the vast majority of Chinese netizens in mainland China. ” If they replaced “some” with “several“, even better.
Xiamen-based blogger Peter Guo wrote in English under the hashtag #KimGetOut, “Kim Jong Il, get out! get out! get out!”—a tweet passed around Chinese cyberspace for the rest of the day.
That may have been a tweet that was passed around Chinese cyberspace but that was a miniscule portion of Chinese cyberspace that is likely not actually geographically within Chinese cyberspace. It is only “Chinese” insofar as some Chinese Twitter users populate it but they do so via circumvention tools. Chinese “cyberspace” would be the place where Twitter can’t be used and thus a tweet is unlikely to be “passed around”. Or maybe the RFA is suggesting that his tweet was copied and pasted back into normal Chinese cyberspace, onto Chinese blogs, forums, and social networks…but I doubt it.
“Campaigns like this let people know that Chinese netizens really are disgusted with Kim Jong Il … [North Korean] propaganda is shameless, because it turns black into white.”
Let me be the first to say that there is nothing technically wrong with most of the words used in the article. These Twitter users are still Chinese netizens. Them hopping the Great Firewall to go on Twitter to express their opposition and anger at Kim Jong Il does indeed let people know that some Chinese netizens “really are disgusted” with the North Korean leader’s visit, general existence, and use of shameless propaganda that “turns black into white”. All strictly semantically true. In fact, it’s a good thing if Westerners know that there is dissent and a plurality of opinion amongst Chinese people. It’s definitely better than them thinking Chinese netizens are all a bunch of brainwashed drones.
What I find distasteful, of course, is the willingness to let people who don’t know any better make the mistake of thinking these Chinese Twitter users are somehow representative of “Chinese netizens” as a whole. Imagine the offense and outrage that would result from an article characterizing the comments of netizens on Stormfront to be the sentiments of Western or American netizens.2 These RFA writers know better — or they should — if this was about accurately representing “Chinese netizen” sentiments on this issue.
But again, this is Radio Free Asia after all. Code of Ethics and all.
- Small tangent here, just want to recommend this GVO piece featuring statistics on Chinese Twitter Users. It isn’t scientific but its fun nonetheless. [↩]
- If it has to be said: No, I’m not saying Chinese Twitter netizens are like American Stormfront netizens. I’m saying they’re both far from representative of “Chinese netizens” and “American netizens” as a whole respectively. [↩]