Up until Tuesday, Chinese markets had been pummeled for weeks as the world’s second-largest economy struggles under the weight of a range of problems from slow growth to high unemployment, a battered property sector, and reluctant foreign investors.
China’s netizens have very little space to vent their frustration with the government of its leader Xi Jinping.
The country’s internet and social media sites are heavily scrubbed of critical comments and negativity and authorities have recently been cracking down on those who “denigrate the economy.”
But Friday, when the Shanghai Securities Composite Index fell to a record low, thousands of Chinese netizens decided to speak out using an innocuous U.S. Embassy Weibo post on protecting wild giraffes in Africa. Netizens hoped that the posts would not be taken down or blocked because it was the embassy’s account.
In just hours, the post on giraffes garnered tens of thousands of comments, including direct criticism of China’s government, according to re-posted screenshots that were captured before they were removed.
Some of the captured posts were later shared on X by “Teacher Li is Not Your Teacher,” a Chinese social media influencer who routinely posts online content that has been scrubbed from platforms in China. Some called out “Please help us, this is too much to bear.” Others were more sarcastic: “China is amazing, in a little more than 30 years, you’ve managed to wipe out the market! Master!”
Others chirped at Chinese propaganda that has promised the economy is turning around. On the same day that the market tumbled last Friday, China’s state-run People’s Daily published an article titled “The whole country is permeated with an optimistic atmosphere,” praising China’s many achievements.
Chinese netizens were not amused.
“Singing praises every day, no truth, all falsehoods, high-quality development, has the United States heard of it?”
Others who commented on the U.S. Embassy’s Weibo post jokingly hoped the United States would invade China: “Let’s take advantage of the current public disarray,” it read. “We would rather have a lose-lose situation than let those with power win alone.”
By the time of publication, the number of comments on the giraffe protection post had reached more than 179,000 and almost one million likes.
But after critical comments were removed, what remained were mostly short, benign, and friendly comments such as “I love the United States,” and “Long live China, long live Sino-US friendship, long live giraffes.”
Eric Liu, a former Weibo moderator and now editor of the U.S.-based bilingual news website China Digital Times, told VOA that such large-scale and sharp expressions of political dissent are extremely rare on the Chinese internet, which is heavily censored.
Liu said the U.S. Embassy’s social media accounts are monitored especially closely by China’s censors but the surge in criticism of the Chinese government likely caught Weibo moderators off guard, and not just because it was under a post about protecting African giraffes.
“Because [this incident] involves the U.S., which is why it is special,” Liu told VOA. “If it’s some accounts from China, maybe their comment sections will be shut down immediately. And for an Internet administration department like the Cyberspace Administration of China,” he said, “it cannot just let a person on duty decide to [delete] the embassy’s Weibo posts. So, their response would be very, very slow.”
Liu said that’s why Chinese netizens found a brief opportunity to enjoy freedom of speech in the comment section of the embassy’s Weibo account.
When VOA tried to post in the comment section of the U.S. Embassy’s Weibo post, a message popped up saying the comment was posted successfully, adding that “currently there may be a delay in server data synchronization, so please wait patiently.”
Liu said that message indicates that Weibo has implemented a “review before uploading” policy for the comment sections of the U.S. Embassy’s Weibo account.
Since npeople left comments on the giraffe-related post, VOA has found Weibo has also blocked some related hot-search topics, including “Giraffe Incident,” for violating laws and regulations.
To prevent similar large-scale online criticism from happening again, former Weibo moderator Liu said Chinese authorities would likely be monitoring content discussed by dissidents and media reports outside China’s internet censorship mechanisms, known as the Great Fire Wall, to predict which topics and keywords need to be reviewed in advance.
VOA reached to the Chinese Embassy in Washington for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.
The post Chinese Netizens Criticize Government on US Embassy’s Weibo Post first appeared on The News And Times.