Spring has arrived in Beijing and temperatures are rising. A discussion about whether Beijing is getting warmer has suddenly hotted up as well.
Financial blogger Rongda Yijie (荣大一姐) wrote on Weibo last Friday: “I think it is pretty warm in Beijing today.” Her statement included clarifications, justifications, and even some advance rebuttals, such as “I’m not saying that there is entirely no merit in being warmer” and “I’m also not intentionally neglecting the fact that Beijing was colder before this and that it would become cold again in the future” or that she did not think any less of Beijing because of the warm weather.
“You have ulterior motives for saying that Beijing is warm. New York is also warm, why didn’t you talk about that?” - Chinese netizen
And as if those were not enough, she ended with this mouthful: “I’m only trying to say that it is warm within the one km radius that I’m in. It is uncontrollable and a temperature of 38 degrees Celcius leaves me with no choice but to stay outside as I’m unable to turn down the air conditioner indoors to lower the temperature. Thus, I’m feeling a little warm.”
After this silly post was published, mischievous netizens immediately sprang into action, displaying textbook examples of 101 ways to attack a person on the internet in China.
Some queried if this counted as rumour-mongering, saying, “It is up to Xinhua News Agency to report if Beijing is indeed warm.” They added for good effect: “The People’s Daily did not report that it is warm in Beijing. Everything must be subject to the official news released. There is to be no rumour-mongering and we should not trust such rumours.” Others tacked towards doubting the author’s motives with “You’re giving reason to the accusation of global warming” and “You have ulterior motives for saying that Beijing is warm. New York is also warm, why didn’t you talk about that?”
Some gave it a more literal slant and said, “It is obvious that the days are bright and work has resumed. Each and every industry is contributing to the building up of Beijing. Yet, you’re not writing about this and deliberately wrote about something as unimportant as the warm weather. What would foreigners think when they read it? It’d become another tool to discredit Beijing again.”
...would Fang Fang’s English-translated diary not become ammunition for anti-Chinese forces?
Yet others took a leaf out of Global Times editor Hu Xijin’s book in expressing their heartfelt concerns: “Beijing is a big city with a population of over 20 million and has a huge temperature difference between the North and the South. It is impossible for the temperature to please everyone. We should instead acknowledge the fact that the situation has been improving over the years. We must not neglect the effort that the heavens have been putting in with regard to the temperature.”
Such a variety of ridiculous replies has one laughing in tears but also thinking that “Beijing is too warm” is not an obvious conclusion that can be drawn.
Anyone with a logical mind would realise that this “crazy party” of nitpicky netizens mirrors the situation with Ai Fen’s interview last month — it is performance art on the Internet. The only difference is that almost everyone wanted to keep Ai Fen’s interview "alive" on the internet then, but the ridiculous replies of netizens this time round are aimed at making use of the post to sarcastically attack writer Fang Fang’s camp.
The real story lies with the author Fang Fang
It was recently made known that Fang Fang’s Wuhan lockdown diary is to be translated and published in the US. This has sparked huge debates in Chinese public opinion (Note).
Many objected to Fang Fang’s decision, stating that her description of life during Wuhan’s lockdown could be used by Western countries as a tool to attack China. With the US constantly trying to push the blame to China for its inefficient containment of the outbreak, would Fang Fang’s English-translated diary not become ammunition for anti-Chinese forces?
Supporters of Fang Fang responded that her diary entries served as “psychological ventilators” of the residents of Wuhan. Fang Fang herself spoke up to say that the “extreme lefts” quoted her out of context, and that “the current internet is similar to the Cultural Revolution period”. She further alleged that the network managers have failed in their jobs by condoning cyber bullying against her.
The two opposing camps kicked up a big fuss and stood firm in their positions. Strictly speaking, however, regardless of which side they were on, they have exaggerated the seriousness of the situation.
There exists the fight between the ideals of the liberals and the institutionalists in this controversial battle, but there are also people with milder stances among those who oppose Fang Fang.
Fang Fang’s Wuhan lockdown diary is but a type of documentary literature that is only capable of stirring up some criticisms against China in Western countries. The diary entries are no secret either — even without its compilation into a book, anyone with an interest to do so can translate them into English. Even if Western countries are indeed looking to push the blame to China, this has to be determined by international law as well — a mere collection of 60 diary entries hardly has the power to prove that China covered up the outbreak or that it was inefficient in virus containment.
Equally, China’s sacrifice of locking down Wuhan in the early days to in delaying the global spread of the outbreak will not be written off just because Fang Fang’s diaries are published in the West.
On the other hand, by adamantly calling the people who have cast doubts “extreme lefts” and “evil remnants of the Cultural Revolution”, are supporters of Fang Fang also blowing the issue out of proportions with their slippery slope arguments?
Otherwise, nobody would even dare say, “It is pretty warm in Beijing today.”
There exists the fight between the ideals of the liberals and the institutionalists in this controversial battle, but there are also people with milder stances among those who oppose Fang Fang. They acknowledge the officials’ improved handling of the outbreak in the later stages, and especially after observing other countries, are beginning to re-evaluate if Fang Fang’s diaries have given a comprehensive account of Wuhan’s handling of the outbreak. Perhaps Fang Fang had written her Wuhan diaries to keep a record of history — it is also her right to publish those words. Unfortunately, the outbreak has become increasingly politicised since it escalated into a pandemic — what might have started out with pure motives inevitably ends up being misunderstood.
The hostile atmosphere of the internet has magnified two opposing positions and viewpoints, dividing the unity of China, a country that has largely contained the pandemic. This is a result that nobody wishes to see. We should give one another more space, embrace the coexistence of diverse voices in society, and allow more people to willingly voice their opinions. Otherwise, nobody would even dare say, “It is pretty warm in Beijing today.”
According to reports from Chinese media, Fang Fang emphasised in an interview with WeChat official account “学人Scholar” on 11 April that her diary entries document China’s successful experience in containing the outbreak, and do not contain any material that would negatively affect China as what the extreme lefts have claimed. She said, “They have quoted my diary out of context, misleading those who have not read my works and those who don’t even read. In actual fact, there's plenty of China’s experience in containing the pandemic in there. Isn’t the overseas publishing of the book a good way to promote China’s model in battling the pandemic?”
Fang Fang’s diary is a first person account of daily life under lockdown in Wuhan, laced with some criticisms and questions about certain governmental policies. Some netizens feel that the diary is “the conscience of society” as it reveals the true lives of Wuhan residents during the pandemic. Others criticise the diary for being subjective and not a good source of reference.
Recently, it was reported that Fang Fang's diary is in the process of being translated into English and can already be pre-ordered on Amazon. Many believe that Fang Fang is making use of her book to gain fame in Western countries, with some even alleging that she had reached an agreement with American publishers before she started writing any of her diary entries.
In response, Fang Fang said that over ten publishers in China initially wanted to publish her diary, but due to harsh criticisms from a handful of extreme lefts, no publisher in China dared to publish it anymore.
“Should we then stop publishing books just because people will take advantage of them? When were the Chinese so afraid of the foreigners?” - Fang Fang
She believes that it is normal for Chinese writers to have their books published overseas. All Chinese writers want their works to be read by more people and she has no problems with translating her book into English and publishing it in the US, although she does agree that it should have been published in China first. She had approached Chinese publishers and negotiated for a higher remuneration with the hopes of donating the full sum to the family members of deceased medical workers and others in need.
As for conspiracy theories that the diary could be misused by people with hidden motives after it is published overseas, Fang Fang believes that this can happen to any book. She asked, “Should we then stop publishing books just because people will take advantage of them? When were the Chinese so afraid of the foreigners?”
She also said that the translators of her diaries, Michael Berry and Michael Kahn-Ackermann, are very friendly towards China. Berry and Fang Fang even keep in contact via WeChat and follow each other’s Weibo accounts, making it very convenient to stay in touch with each other. The WeChat chat histories between the two of them have not been deleted either and the timestamps of the messages have all been retained. “Whether there is a conspiracy is clear as snow,” she added.
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