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

“微时代”见证大爱中国

“整个中国一跃而起”,这是芦山地震后,一个国家面对灾难的姿态。政府有力有效的举措,媒体及时充分的播报,更有无数普通人用自己的方式,构筑心手相连的命运共同体。而早已进入亿万人民生活的互联网,无疑是凝聚正能量的重要平台。

中国国际救援队一条关于地震的微博,转发超过46万次;微信“地震救助”公众账号,不到1天有近10万人关注,发送信息15万条;搜索引擎、门户网站联手行动,搭起寻亲平台……不可能每个人都在四川、都去雅安,但在这个平台上,时空差距缩小到零,每个人都能表达关切、抒发心声、提供建议。互联网的世界没有孤岛,在人人都有麦克风的“微时代”,我们的心在一起,“人人都是雅安人”。

5年前的汶川地震,无数网友在QQ签名中点亮红心,传递强烈情感力量。通过博客、论坛组织起来的志愿者,更发挥了重要作用。5年来,从社交网络到微博,再到异军突起的微信,网络伴随国家一起成长。一方面是精神的传承,一方面是现实的发展,“微”力量汇集抗震救灾大能量,以无数个体积极参与,搭建起新的救援生命线。

更重要的是,在一次次突发事件和公共讨论的洗礼下,网民在不断走向成熟。芦山地震后,整个互联网呈现的自我认知与反思,让人看到一个充满公民精神的公共空间正在形成。志愿者还未出发,已有人呼吁为专业救援让出道路;记者刚刚上路,提醒注意媒体道德的微博已成热点。一条虚假寻亲信息,更成为众矢之的,让“不造谣、不信谣、不传谣”的共识更加牢固。少打电话、不乱捐赠,甚至是不炒作、不煽情,从满腔热忱到理性冷静,网民心态日渐成熟,又何尝不是中国社会前行的缩影?

不仅仅是爱心平台,网络也可成为强大的现实支撑。无论是救援还是重建,自组织力量不可或缺。虽然还有盲目奔赴灾区造成的拥堵,但汶川地震时开车送方便面、矿泉水的初级救灾,已经为“组建专业救援队”、“募集急需物资”所取代,网络在动员之外,更发挥着信息聚合、资源整合的重要作用。更何况,携手同心之情、民胞物与之意,本身就是最强大的“中国力量”。

当然,这个刚刚展现的微时代,在灾难面前展现了凝聚人心的正能量,也暴露了其显而易见的缺陷,虚假信息鱼龙混杂,戾气情绪相互激荡。比如,一个曾深陷信任危机的慈善组织在发布救灾信息后,遭遇一片“滚”字。虽然即便在灾难面前,也可以有不同声音,但面对极端情况,或许更该摒弃偏激与成见,凝聚更多救灾力量。

救援还未结束,更为艰难的重建阶段也还没有开始。当道德激情归于日常,更需要默默的坚守。希望微时代见证的人间大爱,能在慈善捐赠的监督中、心理干预的抚慰中、重建事项的参与中,成为滋润雨城的甘霖,更成为推动中国持续前行的正能量。

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