The short life of patriotic idol Jiangshan Jiao

In sensitive Covid-19 times, any hint of propaganda elicits a potentially virulent backlash, Chinese authorities learn.
Jiangshan Jiao (right) and Hongqi Man, the short-lived virtual idols of the Chinese Communist Youth League. (Internet)
Jiangshan Jiao (right) and Hongqi Man, the short-lived virtual idols of the Chinese Communist Youth League. (Internet)

Last week, the China Communist Youth League (CCYL) launched its virtual idol, Jiangshan Jiao (江山娇, lovely land). “Her” name comes from a line in a poem called Snow (《沁园春·雪》) by Mao Zedong ⁠— “how lovely is this land” (江山如此多娇). This doe-eyed, long-haired girl with her charming smile looks like an anime character, and her handsome male counterpart Hongqi Man (红旗漫, free-spirited red flag) is also named after a line from Mao.

The authorities’ attempt to stoke fan-like patriotism in young people only led to them saying “I’m a citizen, not a fan!”

These two characters were officially launched on Weibo on the afternoon of 17 February, with the CCYL encouraging China’s internet community to support these two aidou (爱豆 or love beans meaning “idols”) on Weibo. But in less than five hours, over 100,000 netizens had left sceptical and critical messages, and in the end, the couple was taken offline, and dubbed “the shortest-lived virtual idols ever”.

The authorities’ attempt to stoke fan-like patriotism in young people only led to them saying “I’m a citizen, not a fan!” Analysts think this shows the independent world view of the social media generation, especially in the context of China’s fight against Covid-19.

comments
Some comments left by netizens for virtual character Jiangshan Jiao, pointedly calling attention to the situation of women in China. One asks if Jiangshan had given birth to a second child and whether she had an epidural, while another asks how she balances family and work. The last comment asks if she buys her sanitary pads online from digital gadget platform Pocket Noir. (Internet)

CCTV recently live-streamed the construction of the Huoshenshan and Leishenshan hospitals. It showed China’s ability to come together to make things happen and was meant to inspire the people, but some netizens came up with strange names for the construction machinery. Forklifts were referred to as叉酱 (cha jiang, literally fork sauce), presumably a play on 沙茶酱 (shacha sauce/sha cha jiang), a typical Chinese condimentexcavators were called 蓝忘机 (lan wang ji), a play on the phrase 难忘记 (hard to forget) referring to their blue colour and the fact that they do not rest; and cement mixers were dubbed 呕泥酱 (ou ni jiang), literally "vomiting liquid/paste", a likely play on 欧尼酱 (ou ni jiang), the Chinese version of the Japanese term "onichan" for older brother. There was also a function on the live stream for people to "rank" the contributions of each kind of machinery, which drew criticisms that a national disaster had become entertainment.

Many netizens took the chance to ask: “Jiangshan Jiao, if a teacher harasses you, will you be forced to quit school?”

“Jiangshan Jiao, if your husband hits you, do the police respond?”

“Jiangshan Jiao, does your value go down after you turn 30?”

These questions highlight the situation of women in China, in contrast with the perfect looking virtual idols portrayed by the authorities. And questions about whether she has shaved her head for the nation or had her period are in direct reference to efforts against the Covid-19 epidemic.

But when questioned, a male hospital administrator simply said they were in short supply of medical supplies and the sanitary pads were not urgent.

Last Saturday, over ten female nurses from Gansu province heading to Hubei to help with the epidemic shaved their heads in front of the media, with some filmed shedding tears. The internet community slammed the hospital for making a show out of the shaving, with some questioning why the male healthcare workers did not shave their heads.

shave
A nurse getting her head shaved in front of the media. (Internet)

Furthermore, with over 90% of frontline healthcare workers being female, at least one such worker in Wuhan took to the Internet to reveal a shortage of supplies including sanitary pads, and that she had submitted a request to the hospital but there had been no response in two days and she was getting anxious. But when questioned, a male hospital administrator simply said they were in short supply of medical supplies and the sanitary pads were not urgent. He was criticised for not respecting the rights of female healthcare workers, and some netizens started a donation drive for sanitary pads.

... the authorities are thinking of the efforts against the epidemic in terms of a war, while the official media is also using shades of patriotism and heroism in their reports to motivate the people.

The pressure and risk faced by the frontline healthcare workers in China is real, but the authorities are thinking of the efforts against the epidemic in terms of a war, while the official media is also using shades of patriotism and heroism in their reports to motivate the people. Besides female nurses shaving their heads, the media has also reported on a nurse insisting on staying at the front line despite being nine months pregnant, and another nurse in Wuhan returning to the front line ten days after a miscarriage.

With so many people’s lives affected by the epidemic, and with the risk and fear of infection and death, the hidden unhappiness with the authorities’ handling of the epidemic is easily sparked. A top-down emotional appeal, if not well handled, will fall flat. Jiangshan Jiao is just one example.