Witnessing Compassionate China in the“Weibo Era”

This is an interesting piece which appeared in the People’s Daily two days after the recent earthquake in Lushan, Sichuan on April 20.  I found the immediate government emphasis on “ethical social media usage” interesting, and can perhaps serve as a useful comparison to the week long media bonanza in the US after the Boston Marathon attack.  In the US, the feckless cable news coverage made Twitter the de facto platform for reliable information (if not seem almost calm and collected), where in China the tightly controlled CCTV coverage stood in contrast to lively debate, mostly about the legitimacy of charity donations and competence of the government response, on Weibo.  The circumstances of a natural disaster and a terrorist attack are obviously different, but both can lead to a useful national conversation about media consumption during tragedies.

Without further adieu, my translation…

Witnessing Compassionate China in the“Weibo Era”

All of China sprang into action.  Moments after the Lushan earthquake, the government took strong and effective initiatives, the media began broadcasting information, and countless ordinary citizens found their own ways to help.  With hundreds of millions already living online, internet communities are also undoubtedly a positive force and an important platform in times like these.

A Weibo message from the Chinese International Search and Rescue Team was forwarded over 460,000 times; an “Earthquake Rescue” Weixin account accumulated  100,000 followers and 150,000 messages in less than 1 day; internet search engines and web portals acted together to construct a “person finder” search engine for those searching for loved ones.  Although of course not everybody can be in Sichuan or Yanan, these online platforms allow users to express their sympathies, wishes, and suggestions, regardless of distance.  There are no isolated islands in the world of the internet.  In the “Weibo era”, everybody has a voice, all of our hearts are together, and “we are all there for Yanan”

After the Wenchuan earthquake five years ago, countless QQ users put a bright red heart in their personal signature, conveying a strong emotional message.  Blogs and message boards played important roles, allowing volunteers to organize.  Five years later, from social networking to Weibo and the sudden emergence of Weixin, the internet landscape has developed along with the country.  One noteworthy aspect is the spiritual heritage of China, another is the emerging power of Weibo and Weixin in allowing countless to participate in building a new rescue lifeline.

What is more important is the maturing of public internet practices over the course of successive incidents and events.  After the Lushan earthquake, with internet awash in self-awareness and reflection, a true spirit of civic duty was forming.  Before volunteers had even set out, there were people calling for those on the roads to yield to professional rescue teams; as journalists were on their way, there were already calls to be wary of “ethical social media use”.  When false information on people search appeared, it quickly became a target of public criticism, and the public notion of “not posting rumors, not believing rumors, not spreading rumors” gained strength.  Limited telephone calls, no senseless donations, no speculative hype, no sensationalism, internet users acted calm and rationally after the initial emotional response.  Is this not further proof of progress in Chinese society?

Not merely a platform for showing compassion, the internet can actually provide strong support.  In both rescue and reconstruction efforts, the power of self organization has proven indispensable.  Although there were traffic jams caused by people blindly rushing to disaster areas, internet-organized deliveries of instant noodles and mineral water essentially replaced professional rescue teams and helped raise funds urgently needed supplies.  Besides just mobilization efforts, the internet helps aggregate information and integrate resources, not to mention fostering nationalistic and patriotic sentiments, showcasing China’s strength.

This newly emerged Weibo era has also exposed shortcomings.  Fraudulent information was interspersed with factual while belligerent sentiments simmered.  A relief organization, just recently recovering from a deep crisis of confidence, encountered fierce resistance from internet users after posting information on relief efforts.  In the face of this disaster different voices are indeed needed, but in such extreme circumstances, radical or prejudiced notions have no place.  All emphasis should be on disaster relief.

The rescue efforts have yet to be completed, and the even more difficult task of rebuilding has yet to begin.  As the passionate moral sentiments stirred up return to normal, a steady perseverance is even more necessary.  The “Weibo era” is a testament to human compassion.  In the charity donations, emotional support, and reconstruction process, this love is ever more apparent, and a positive force in the progress of Chinese society.

Original Chinese