China is home to some of the largest and most influential social media platforms in the world, with apps like WeChat, Douyin, and Weibo boasting millions of users and a significant presence in the global online landscape. However, these platforms have also faced their fair share of controversies, ranging from censorship and data privacy issues to the spread of misinformation and the impact of addictive technology on society. In this guide, we will explore the various controversies surrounding Chinese social media apps and how they have shaped the way social media is used and thought about in China.
WeChat (微信, Wēixìn) is a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media, and mobile payment app developed by Tencent. It was first released in 2011 and has since become extremely popular in China, with over 1 billion monthly active users as of 2020. WeChat has had a huge impact on Chinese society, as it has become an essential part of daily life for many people in China. It is used for messaging, social networking, making online payments (网上支付, Wǎngshàng zhīfù), booking appointments, and more. Many businesses in China also use WeChat for customer service, marketing, and sales.n
One of the main impacts of WeChat on Chinese society has been the way it has facilitated the growth of mobile commerce (移动电子商务, Yídòng diànzǐ shāngwù) in China. The app's integrated payment system, WeChat Pay (微信支付, Wēixìn zhīfù), allows users to make payments and transfer money directly through the app, making it easy to shop and pay for goods and services online. This has contributed to the rapid growth of e-commerce (电子商务, Diànzǐ shāngwù) in China and has changed the way people shop and pay for things.
WeChat has also had a significant impact on the way people communicate in China. It has replaced traditional forms of communication, such as phone calls and text messaging, for many people, and has become the primary way that people stay in touch with each other. The app's features, such as group chat, voice and video calls, and social networking, have made it easy for people to connect and stay up-to-date with each other's lives.
In addition to WeChat (微信, Wēixìn) and Weibo (微博, Wēibó), there are several other popular social apps in China:
Douyin (抖音, Dǒuyīn): Douyin is a short video app that is very popular among young people in China. It has over 600 million daily active users and is used for creating and sharing short videos (短视频, Duǎn shìpín), often featuring music (音乐, Yīnyuè) and dance (舞蹈, Wǔdǎo).
QQ (QQ): QQ is a messaging app developed by Tencent. It has over 900 million active users and is used for messaging (信息, Xìnxī), voice and video calls (语音和视频电话, Yǔyīn hé shìpín diànhuà), and social networking (社交网络, Shèjiāo wǎngluò).
Kuaishou (快手, Kuàishǒu): Kuaishou is a short video app that is popular in China, particularly among rural (农村, Nóngcūn) and lower-income (低收入, Dī shōurù) users. It is used for creating and sharing short videos, often featuring everyday life (日常生活, Rìcháng shēnghuó) and personal updates (个人更新, Gèrén gēngxīn).
Zhihu (知乎, Zhīhū): Zhihu is a question-and-answer platform similar to Quora. It has over 300 million users and is used for asking and answering questions (提出问题和回答问题, Tíchū wèntí hé huídá wèntí) on a wide range of topics (话题, Huàtí).
Baidu (百度, Bǎidù): Baidu is a Chinese technology company that operates a search engine (搜索引擎, Sōusuǒ yǐnqíng) of the same name, as well as a variety of other internet-based services. It is one of the largest internet companies in the world and is often referred to as the "Google of China" (中国谷歌, Zhōngguó Gǔgē).
Little Red Book (小红书 xiǎohóngshū): Little Red Book is a Chinese social media and e-commerce platform that was launched in 2013. The platform is known for its focus on content related to lifestyle, fashion, and beauty, and has become popular among young people in China as a source of inspiration (灵感, Línggǎn) and information on these topics. In addition to its social media features, Xiaohongshu also has an e-commerce component (电子商务部分, Diànzǐ shāngwù bùfen), allowing users to purchase products directly from the platform. Xiaohongshu has a significant user base (用户群, Yònghù qún) in China and has become an influential (有影响力的, Yǒu yǐngxiǎnglì de) platform in the country's online retail market (在线零售市场, Zàixiàn língshòu shìchǎng).
微信 (Wēixìn) - WeChat
网上支付 (Wǎngshàng zhīfù) - online payment
移动电子商务 (Yídòng diànzǐ shāngwù) - mobile commerce
微信支付 (Wēixìn zhīfù) - WeChat Pay
电子商务 (Diànzǐ shāngwù) - e-commerce
中国政府 (Zhōngguó zhèngfǔ) - Chinese government
审查 (Shěnchá) - censor
反垄断 (Fǎn lǒngduàn) - antitrust
微博 (Wēibó) - Weibo
抖音 (Dǒuyīn) - Douyin
短视频 (Duǎn shìpín) - short video
音乐 (Yīnyuè) - music
舞蹈 (Wǔdǎo) - dance
创意内容 (Chuàngyì nèiróng) - creative content
信息 (Xìnxī) - messaging
语音和视频电话 (Yǔyīn hé shìpín diànhuà) - voice and video calls
社交网络 (Shèjiāo wǎngluò) - social networking
快手 (Kuàishǒu) - Kuaishou
农村 (Nóngcūn) - rural
低收入 (Dī shōurù) - lower-income
日常生活 (Rìcháng shēnghuó) - everyday life
个人更新 (Gèrén gēngxīn) - personal updates
知乎 (Zhīhū) - Zhihu
提出问题和回答问题 (Tíchū wèntí hé huídá wèntí) - ask and answer questions
话题 (Huàtí) - topic
百度贴吧 (Bǎidù tiēbā) - Baidu Tieba
巨头 (Jùtóu) - search giant
讨论 (Tǎolùn) - discussion
As mentioned in the previous section, WeChat is a constant and prevalent part of Chinese people’s lives. However, WeChat has also been the subject of controversy and criticism. The Chinese government (中国政府, Zhōngguó zhèngfǔ) has used the app to censor (审查, Shěnchá) and monitor the online activity of its citizens, leading to concerns about privacy and freedom of expression. Additionally, the app's dominance in the Chinese market has raised concerns about antitrust (反垄断, Fǎn lǒngduàn) and the potential for abuse of market power by its parent company, Tencent.
An example of one such controversy is the "Winnie the Pooh" (小熊维尼, Xiǎoxióng Wéiní) scandal, a series of events in which the cartoon character Winnie the Pooh was censored on social media platforms in China due to comparisons being made between the character and Chinese President Xi Jinping (习近平, Xí Jìnpíng). The comparisons between Xi and Winnie the Pooh first emerged in 2013, when an image of Xi Jinping walking with then-US President Barack Obama was posted online and compared to a picture of Winnie the Pooh walking with his friend Tigger. The comparison was made due to the perceived physical similarities between Xi Jinping and the portly (胖的, Pàng de) character. The comparisons continued over the years, and in 2017, the Chinese government began censoring images of Winnie the Pooh on social media platforms such as Weibo (微博, Wēibó) and WeChat. Posts featuring the character were removed, and searches for the character's name were blocked.
The censorship sparked a widespread backlash (强烈抗议, Qiángliè kàngyì) and led to accusations that the Chinese government was trying to suppress freedom of expression (言论自由, Yánlùn zìyóu). In 2018, the Chinese government's censorship of Winnie the Pooh reached a new level of notoriety when the live-action film "Christopher Robin" (小熊维尼历险记, Xiǎoxióng Wéiní lìxiǎnjì), which features the character, was banned from being released in China. This further fueled speculation (猜测, Cāicè) and criticism of the government's efforts to censor the character. While the specific reasons for the censorship of Winnie the Pooh are not clear, it is thought that the comparisons to Xi Jinping were perceived as a threat to the authority (权威, Quánwēi) of the Chinese government and were therefore censored. The incident highlights the Chinese government's efforts to control and censor (审查, Shěnchá) online content and the power of social media to spark debate (辩论, Biànlùn) and dissent (异议, Yìyì).
小熊维尼 (Xiǎoxióng Wéiní) - Winnie the Pooh
习近平 (Xí Jìnpíng) - Xi Jinping
胖的 (Pàng de) - portly
微博 (Wēibó) - Weibo
强烈抗议 (Qiángliè kàngyì) - backlash
言论自由 (Yánlùn zìyóu) - freedom of expression
小熊维尼历险记 (Xiǎoxióng Wéiní lìxiǎnjì) - Christopher Robin
猜测 (Cāicè) - speculation
权威 (Quánwēi) - authority
审查 (Shěnchá) - censor
辩论 (Biànlùn) - debate
异议 (Yìyì) - dissent
Aside from the controversy and concerns raised from the control the Chinese government exert over social media apps, platforms like Weibo and Douyin have also led to a rise in influential Chinese content creators. In this guide, we’ll cover just two: Li Jiaqi and Li Ziqi.
Image Courtesy of South China Morning Post
Li Jiaqi is a Chinese beauty blogger and social media influencer who is known for his makeup (化妆, Huàzhuāng) and skincare (护肤, Hùfū) tutorials (教程, Jiāochéng). He has a large following on social media, with millions of followers on platforms like Weibo and Douyin. Li Jiaqi is known for his bubbly (热情, Rèqíng) and energetic (精力充沛, Jīnglì chōngpèi) personality, and his videos often feature him trying out and reviewing (评测, Píngcè) different beauty products (美妆产品, Měizhuāng chǎnpǐn).
Li Jiaqi has gained a reputation (名声, Míngshēng) as a trusted (值得信赖, Zhídé xìnlài) source for beauty advice (美妆建议, Měizhuāng jiànyì) and product recommendations (产品推荐, Chǎnpǐn tuījiàn), telling his followers: "OMG sisters, buy this!" (OMG姐妹们买它 OMG jiěmèimen mǎi tā!) when he finds a product he enjoys. He is also known as the "Lipstick King" (中文: 口红一哥 Kǒuhóng yīgē) for generating a lot of lipstick sales for whichever brand he recommends.
Li Ziqi is a Chinese social media influencer who is known for her beautiful (美丽, Měilì) and serene (宁静, Níngjìng) videos featuring traditional (传统, Chuántǒng) Chinese culture (文化, Wénhuà) and craftsmanship (工艺, Gōngyì). She has a large following on social media, with millions of followers on platforms like Weibo and YouTube. Li Ziqi's videos often showcase her living in a rural (农村, Nóngcūn) setting and showcasing traditional Chinese skills such as cooking (烹饪, Pēngrèn), gardening (园艺, Yuányì), and crafting (手工, Shǒugōng). Her audience says that her videos bring them a sense of peace and escape from their busy lives.
化妆 (Huàzhuāng) - makeup
护肤 (Hùfū) - skincare
教程 (Jiāochéng) - tutorial
热情 (Rèqíng) - bubbly
精力充沛 (Jīnglì chōngpèi) - energetic
评测 (Píngcè) - review
美妆产品 (Měizhuāng chǎnpǐn) - beauty products
名声 (Míngshēng) - reputation
值得信赖 (Zhídé xìnlài) - trusted
美妆建议 (Měizhuāng jiànyì) - beauty advice
产品推荐 (Chǎnpǐn tuījiàn) - product recommendation
OMG姐妹们买它 (OMG jiěmèimen mǎi tā) - "OMG sisters, buy this!"
口红一哥 (Kǒuhóng yīgē) - "Lipstick King"
美丽 (Měilì) - beautiful
宁静 (Níngjìng) - serene
传统 (Chuántǒng) - traditional
文化 (Wénhuà) - culture
工艺 (Gōngyì) - craftsmanship
农村 (Nóngcūn) - rural
烹饪 (Pēngrèn) - cooking
园艺 (Yuányì) - gardening
手工 (Shǒugōng) - crafting