Please Don’t Ask

Once I began studying Chinese, I fairly quickly became fluent at answering the following questions:

  1. Where are you from?
  2. Why are you here?
  3. Are you married?
  4. Why not?

I can’t say that I dreaded the questions (OK, maybe I dreaded #3 and #4 a little), but I certainly knew that they were going to be asked of me over and over and since practice makes perfect, I mastered the answers.

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As people in China prepare to head home for the annual Chinese New Year celebrations, many are dreading the questions that their relatives will pepper them with.

The website What’s on Weibo recently ran a post highlighting some of the most dreaded questions for Chinese New Year. Here’s the list, but be sure to visit their site to see the explanation of each.

  1. How did you score on your final exams?
  2. How much money are you making?
  3. Did you find a boyfriend/girlfriend yet?
  4. Do you have a house and a car?
  5. When are you finally having kids?

In fact, question #3 is such a daunting one that there is a cottage industry of people renting themselves out as boyfriends or girlfriends for the holidays. The Globe and Mail has an in interesting story about this:

For many young women, showing up at home with a pleasant-looking, well-behaved boyfriend – even if your family never sees him again – is better than enduring two weeks of questions about why there’s no marriage or kids on the horizon. (China can be a deeply sexist society – women who are unmarried past the age of 30 are often referred to as “leftover women,” even in official media.)

“There are all kinds of reasons” that women contact a rental boyfriend, Mr. Zhou explains in an interview via instant messenger. “Some are divorced, some want help getting rid of another boyfriend, some don’t want to go to a wedding by themselves.”

But most, he adds, “just want someone to go with them to their hometown for three days, just to meet their parents and let them know they have a boyfriend.”

What questions do you dread?

Image credit: International Business Times

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Jesus and Mao on China’s Internet

On April 7, the online magazine Tea Leaf Nation (one of my favorites) published an article titled Infographic: Jesus More Popular Than Mao on China’s Twitter.

The writer set out to determine the prevalence of religious content vs. political content on Weibo and discovered (much to her surprise, it seems) that “the atheist Chinese Communist Party, known for its sometimes heavy-handed policies towards religions, from Islam to Christianity to Tibetan Buddhism, seems far more willing to allow Christian terminology to appear on Weibo than Communist argot, according to data taken from search results on the platform conducted April 3.”

She did a search for “Bible” and “Quotations of Chairman Mao,” and discovered 17 million recent mentions of “Bible” and only 60,000 mentions of Quotations of Chairman Mao.”

A search for “Xi Jinping” (China’s President and General Secretary of the Communist Party) yielded 4 million mentions, while a search for “Jesus” yielded more than 18 million mentions.

She found 41.8 million mentions of “Christian Congregation,” while “Communist Party” only turned up 5.3 million mentions.

In other words, the words “Bible,” “Jesus,” or “Christian” are NOT considered to be sensitive words on Weibo. This is something that I wrote about on this site last year in an article for ChinaSource titled China’s Online Christian Community.

So far, so good.

Unfortunately, the Tea Leaf Nation article veers off course a bit when the writer highlights the results of her search for the term “underground church:”

“That’s not to say that Christian content is free of censorship. A search for the term “underground church,” referring to Christian congregations in China that refuse to register as one of the state-sanctioned churches, produces a blank search page with a notice reading, “results cannot be displayed due to relevant laws and regulations.””

The implication is clearly that these un-registered churches are outside the bounds on Weibo (and by extension, the Internet in general), and therefore fall into the ‘not permitted’ category.

Here’s the problem:  people in China generally do not use the term “underground church” (地下教会) to refer to congregations that are not registered as state-sanctioned churches. That’s a term used almost exclusively by foreigners. The common term for these unregistered churches is “house church” (家庭教会). This is true even if the church meets in a venue other than a house, such as rented office space.

If she had used the term “house church” instead, she would have discovered thousands, if not millions of mentions, something that would have actually bolstered her findings.

That mistake notwithstanding, her conclusion is spot on:

“Chatter about religion may make the Chinese government queasy, and occasionally terrified, but it’s politics that keeps its leaders (and censors) awake at night.”

Note: This post first appeared on the ChinaSource Blog.

 

New Weibo Posting Rules? Been There, Done That

The local blogosphere was abuzz this week with the news that Sina Weibo, China's main micro-blogging site had posted a 'user contract' (a list of rules, really) that their microblog users must adhere to.

I read through them (you can read them here in English), and just chuckled because it's essentially a re-hash (but with some updated langauge to include social media) of a document that I remember signing when I registered for my very first internet/email account in Changchun, back in 1996.

The internet was new back then (having just been invented by Al Gore), and in order to access this new-fangled thing I had to ride my bike downtown to the Post and Telecommunications Office to sign up. This meant filling out lots of papers and leaving them with a copy of my passport.

I also had to read and sign the 'terms of use' document, which is essentially what this new Weibo contract is ( but maybe a bit more indirect), as I remember Item #1 on the list was simply, "You may not use the internet to harm China."

Nice to have that settled.

Regarding all of this hullabaloo, I tend to agree with this post at a blog called Tea Leaf Nation: 5 Reasons that Sina's New User Contract will Have No Impact.

Well said indeed.