Chinese users are beating the censors to talk about Hong Kong
Chinese netizens can only discuss the Hong Kong protests on two Weibo posts, but they make it count
On Sunday, Hong Kong experienced the largest protest rally in the city in more than a decade. Days later, a new round of protests broke out Tuesday and Wednesday. But in mainland China, few dare to talk about events in Hong Kong… except in the comments of two Weibo posts.
Sunday’s rally saw what organizers say was more than one million people marching through Hong Kong, protesting an extradition bill that people fear will allow the Chinese government to seize whoever they want from the city. The protest ended with clashes with the police.
On Wednesday, just before the legislative council was set to discuss the bill, clashes broke out again as protesters tried to barge into a government building. The police responded with tear gas.
Mainland news outlets have mostly remained silent about the protests… mostly. State-run media outlets are still allowed to put their patriotic spin on the unfolding events.
One loud official voice on Weibo is Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of Global Times. In two lengthy Weibo posts, Hu tried to explain that the extradition bill is “normal legislature behavior,” and that the protest was started by opposition groups “maliciously stirring things up with support from the West.”
Most discussion about the protest is either blocked by China’s Great Firewall or is deleted on domestic social media, with some accounts getting completely suspended.
However, Hu’s posts have provided an outlet for people looking to discuss the news. The attempt to frame the protest in a more Beijing-friendly way also had some unintended consequences. Some users commented that they didn’t even know the protest was happening until seeing the posts.
“Why do I feel like Hu is working undercover?” joked one Weibo user in a now-deleted comment. “Only a few people knew at first. Now millions more know since seeing Hu’s post, and they will surely go look on Google.”
Many people obviously didn’t care for Hu’s interpretation of events.
“There is a firewall, anyway,” one Weibo user commented under one of the posts. “Boss Hu can make up whatever he wants!”
“Thousands of lawyers in Hong Kong who know a bit more about law went out in the streets,” another user sarcastically said. “Boss Hu should educate them about the law.”
In another sarcastic comment, a user wrote, “Looks like millions of Hong Kong people are fools and are too easily manipulated. Millions of people don't know as well as Boss Hu! How wise of Boss Hu!”
Others took the chance to complain about the scant information available about the protest inside the mainland’s firewall.
“Boss Hu, please comment on whether it’s a normal phenomenon that the mainland hasn’t received any information regarding the Hong Kong people’s request, thank you,” said one commenter.
“Hu, why not release Hong Kong’s news and let us criticize it?” another user sarcastically asked.
“Hu now holds the information high ground,” another Weibo user said. “For us inside the wall, you are our eyes and mouth, whatever you say is true!”
Some users also mocked the official narrative that interference from Western countries helped spark the protest.
“Western forces are so busy!” one user commented on a People’s Daily Weibo post.
More creative Weibo users have found an outlet outside of state media posts. Some users are expressing themselves through metaphor.
One user compared Hong Kong to a child who was sent away because of the poor condition of his birth parents. The child, the user says, comes back and relies on his birth parents after he comes of age, but he constantly compliments his foster parents while threatening to break off the relationship with his birth parents.
Another user said that it’s wrong to compare politics to people’s lives, with others offering another perspective on the metaphor.
“He grows up and gets kidnapped by his birth parents,” one user amended.