February 28, 2022
BEIJING – As Russian troops started moving into Ukraine, Chinese social media was awash with comments supporting the incursion, forcing censors to work overtime in taking down some of the more extreme views.
While most vocal nationalistic voices appeared supportive of military aggression, a more measured crowd also gained quiet traction, though mostly in the form of “likes” rather than comments.
Others have also taken the opportunity to hit out at Western countries for forcing China to take a stand, with a video of Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying’s rebuke of foreign journalists going viral.
As the Russia-Ukraine crisis escalated over the past week, news of it dominated Chinese social media, with hundreds of millions of views for each hashtag.
Sunday (Feb 27) evening, the top trending topic was the Chinese Ambassador to Ukraine Fan Xianrong postponing the evacuation of some 6,000 citizens because conditions were too dangerous.
The topic drew 330 million views and tens of thousands of comments, most of them praising the ambassador for staying behind in Kyiv.
“China has always been the fastest in evacuating its citizens. During the pandemic too, we always evacuate our people the moment we can,” wrote one user on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform.
As other countries told their citizens to leave Ukraine as soon as possible before war broke out, China had insisted that the country was still safe and that anyone planning to leave the capital city should display the Chinese flag on their vehicles.
After the war broke out on Thursday, Beijing said it would prepare charter flights to evacuate its citizens.
Netizens are also overwhelmingly in support of Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom they call “Emperor Putin”, praising his hyper Alpha image.
“Today is the best day of 2022 because Russia has invaded Ukraine,” posted a female user on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok.
She added: “I’m so happy… Putin is commanding, firm and charismatic.”
China has been working hard to control the narrative online, with a supposedly leaked memo on instructions for media coverage of the conflict.
Moderators have been told to delete posts that are “anti-Russia” and “pro-Western”, according to the document accidentally posted on the Weibo account of Beijing News, a newspaper owned by the Communist Party.
Commentaries urging a more pacifist response have also been removed, including a post by a self-proclaimed millennial writer Tang Yishui.
In his piece – Those Who Advocate War Are Idiots – that went viral on Thursday and Friday, Mr Tang pointed out the human cost of conflict and how the post-World War II relative peace has been shattered by this one event.
“Those netizens who can’t hear cries from afar have tripped over themselves to praise Emperor Putin, as if in 2022, ‘Emperor’ is a term worth celebrating,” he wrote.
The post, along with an open letter written by five university professors urging the Chinese government to condemn Russia’s actions, were among the thousands of posts taken down by censors.
Weibo said 622 posts were taken down for “harmful content”, while 105 accounts were suspended for posting “unsafe content”. Douyin said it removed 6,400 videos and cut 1,620 problematic live streams.
The hashtag “We Accept Pretty Ukrainian Women Refugees”, which had nearly 100,000 views last Friday, was also removed.