How China built a Twitter propaganda machine

Source: ProPublica (3/26/20)
How China Built a Twitter Propaganda Machine Then Let It Loose on Coronavirus
ProPublica analyzed thousands of fake and hijacked Twitter accounts to understand how covert Chinese propaganda spreads around the globe.
By Jeff Kao, ProPublica and Mia Shuang Li for ProPublica

Posts by Twitter accounts involved in an ongoing Chinese government influence campaign discovered by ProPublica. (Allen Tan/ProPublica)

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

Kalen Keegan, a college student at the University of Nebraska Omaha, immediately noticed when her Twitter account unleashed a torrent of posts in Chinese. “My other account got hacked👍🏽,” the soccer player posted on a replacement account. The new author tweeting as @Kalenkayyy had strong views on geopolitics — all aligned with the Chinese Communist Party. It was obsessed with the protests in Hong Kong, offered uncritical praise of the Hong Kong police and accused demonstrators of fomenting a “color revolution” backed by an “anti-Chinese American conspiracy.”

As the coronavirus outbreak led to a lockdown of Wuhan and its surrounding cities in late January, the Hong Kong posts were suddenly deleted. The account continued to post relentlessly in Chinese, but it now focused on the burgeoning epidemic. About a month later, her Twitter profile began to change in other ways. The reference to her college disappeared and her headshot was replaced by a generic photo of two people kissing. By the end of the week, her Twitter transformation was complete. @Kalenkayyy was now a Chinese propaganda-posting zombie account belonging to someone purportedly named Kalun Tang.

Her new tagline? “When women arm themselves with softness, they are the strongest.”

Later, the account deleted more of its tweets and unfollowed all of its former friends. It is currently temporarily restricted by Twitter for unusual activity. . . [click here to read the long article in full]

Politics of gratitude

Source: China Media Project (3/23/20)

The Politics of Gratitude

This month, as China has moved into a new phase in the fight against the novel coronavirus epidemic, and as CCP leaders have been keen to claim victory, the question of gratitude has become a contentious one – both inside and outside China. On March 4, a commentary from Xinhua News Agency balked at the suggestion from a host on Fox News that China, as the origin of the virus, owes the world an apology.

Recently, a view is being promoted that China owes the world an apology. This is extremely absurd. China has made massive sacrifices in fighting the coronavirus epidemic, and paid an immense economic cost to cut off the path of transmission of the coronavirus. No other country has made such huge sacrifices and put in so much effort in the midst of this epidemic.

The commentary then turned the tables, suggesting that the world in fact owes China a debt of gratitude. “Right now we should firmly say that America owes China an apology,” it said, “and the world owes China thanks.” Continue reading

Wolf Warrior diplomats

Source: SCMP (3/23/20)
China’s Wolf Warrior diplomats battle on Twitter for control of coronavirus narrative
Donald Trump’s favourite social media platform is the latest arena for back-and-forth blame game between US and China. The real audience for strident Chinese diplomacy is probably at home, in an effort to fuel nationalist sentiment, analysts say
By Sarah Zheng

Actor Wu Jing as the Wolf Warrior, title character in a Chinese film of the same name, which is also being used to describe the aggressive diplomats trying to change the narrative on China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Handout

Actor Wu Jing as the Wolf Warrior, title character in a Chinese film of the same name, which is also being used to describe the aggressive diplomats trying to change the narrative on China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Photo: Handout

Chinese diplomats are taking an increasingly strident tone on US President Donald Trump’s favourite battleground Twitter, as Beijing works to shift the narrative away from its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, which was first reported in central China last year.

Chinese state-run media outlets and at least 115 identifiable Twitter accounts belonging to diplomats, embassies and consulates have been ramping up what some have described as a “Wolf Warrior” style of diplomacy – after a 2015 patriotic film, and its 2017 sequel, of the same name. Continue reading

Virus hits Europe harder than China (2)

Agree. And the NYT also is wrong that China has sobered up. It writes that “While China stumbled in the early going … it then addressed the crisis seriously.” (BTW, this way of talking about China as “it” is a sign that reveals a writer has not sufficiently grasped the fundamental, key distinction between the selfish regime, and China the country, people, culture). It isn’t true. See inter alia this evidence that “China” the regime is not sobering up, but instead continues to spread the virus by political default. Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Source: Kyodo News (3/19/20)
Wuhan’s virus patient numbers manipulated for Xi visit: local doctor

BEIJING – The number of novel coronavirus patients in Wuhan, the epicenter of China’s virus outbreak, was manipulated in time for President Xi Jinping’s visit last week, a local doctor told Kyodo News Thursday.

A number of symptomatic patients were abruptly released from quarantine early while a portion of testing was suspended, the doctor said.

China’s health authorities on Thursday reported no new cases of coronavirus infection in Wuhan, marking the first time for the city to have no instances of local transmission since the viral epidemic began late last year. Continue reading

Reclaiming Dr. Li

Source: China Media Project (3/19/20)

Reclaiming Doctor Li

Dated January 3, 2020, this letter of reprimand signed by Li Wenliang acknowledges to Wuhan police that his sharing of information through WeChat on December 30, 2019, about a SARS-like illness originating at the Huanan Wholesale Seafood Market in Wuhan was “illegal.”

China’s anti-corruption agency has announced the results of its investigation into the summoning and formal reprimand by the Wuhan Public Security Bureau of Li Wenliang, the 34-year-old Wuhan doctor who tried to warn colleagues in December about the deadly coronavirus outbreak in his city. The investigation was a response to Dr. Li’s death from the coronavirus on February 7, which prompted a wave of public anger and turned Li into a symbol for many of personal and professional courage in the face of a callous and unaccountable system.

The message from China’s leadership today: Li Wenliang belongs to the Chinese Communist Party, and any attempt to portray him as a folk hero or oppositional figure is unacceptable. Continue reading

China banishes US journalists

Source: WSJ (3/181/20)
China Banishes U.S. Journalists from Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post
Beijing takes further measures against Voice of America and Time; Secretary of State Pompeo criticizes action

The Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing. PHOTO: ARTYOM IVANOV/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

BEIJING—China said it would revoke the press credentials of Americans working for three major U.S. newspapers in the largest expulsion of foreign journalists in the post-Mao era, amid an escalating battle with the Trump administration over media operating in the two countries.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday it was demanding all U.S. nationals working for The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post whose credentials expire by the end of the year turn those credentials in within 10 days.

The measure would affect most of the U.S. journalists working at those newspapers in China, which issues press credentials for up to 12 months and has recently limited them to six and, in some cases, as little as one month. Continue reading

Propaganda machine fires up

Source: Sup China (3/16/20)
Propaganda Machine Fires Up As COVID-19 ‘Passes Peak’ In China


SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Per the Economist (porous paywall), Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 “may find it hard to choose his moment to declare complete success. As people gradually get back to work, there is a risk that the virus may begin to spread more widely again in China.”

Nonetheless, the peak of the outbreak in China is “over,” according to China’s National Health Commission, Xinhua noted last Thursday (here in Chinese). Over the weekend, coronavirus infections and deaths outside of China began to outnumber those in China, according to official data, the Guardian reports.

The conspiracy theory that the virus did not originate in China — already encouraged by Chinese government officials, including top Chinese epidemiologist Zhōng Nánshān 钟南山, for more than a week now — is still being pushed. Continue reading

Journalists fight back

Source: NYT (3/14/20)
As China Cracks Down on Coronavirus Coverage, Journalists Fight Back
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
The Communist Party is trying to fill the airwaves with positive stories about its battle against the virus. Chinese reporters, buoyed by widespread calls for free speech, are resisting.
By Javier Hernndez

A screen at a shopping mall in Beijing showing China Central Television’s coverage of President Xi Jinping’s visit to Wuhan on Tuesday. Credit…Andy Wong/Associated Press

When Jacob Wang saw reports circulating online recently suggesting that life was getting better in Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus outbreak, he was irate.

Mr. Wang, a journalist for a state-run newspaper in China, knew that Wuhan was still in crisis — he had traveled there to chronicle the failures of the government firsthand. He took to social media to set the record straight, writing a damning post last month about sick patients struggling to get medical care amid a dysfunctional bureaucracy.

“People were left to die, and I am very angry about that,” Mr. Wang said in an interview. “I’m a journalist, but I’m also an ordinary human being.”

The Chinese government, eager to claim victory in what China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has described as a “people’s war” against the virus, is leading a sweeping campaign to purge the public sphere of dissent, censoring news reports, harassing citizen journalists and shutting down news sites.

[China Is Censoring Coronavirus Stories. These Citizens Are Fighting Back.]

Information about the coronavirus outbreak is not immune from Chinese censors. But more and more citizens are dodging censorship by creating a digital archive of deleted posts. They told us how. Continue reading

China’s internet just got worse

Source: SupChina (3/9/20)
China’s Internet Censorship Just Got Worse


SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Last week, China adopted a new set of rules to govern content on the internet. Released (in Chinese) by the country’s most powerful internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the set of regulations addresses problems that other countries also face, such as misinformation and online fraud.

However, the main purpose of the new rules seems to be to give the authorities legal justifications to widely censor online content and punish those who create it, or rather to simplify and consolidate various laws that already served that purpose. China Law Translate has an English rendering of the new rules, and a summary of the content the rules proscribe and encourage. These include: Continue reading

How a dating app helped a generation come out

Source: NYT (3/5/20)
How a Dating App Helped a Generation of Chinese Come Out of the Closet
Blued, one of the biggest gay dating apps in the world, has succeeded because it plays by the ever-shifting rules for L.G.B.T.Q. China — bringing together a minority community without activism.
By Yi-Ling Liu

Credit…Illustration by Timo Lenzen

Like many gay Chinese growing up at the turn of the millennium, Duan Shuai began his long, deliberate process of coming out online. After school, he would visit the newly opened internet cafe in his hometown, Xinzhou, a small city in Shanxi Province bounded by a veil of mountains. He would pick a desktop facing away from the wall so that nobody could look over his shoulder. Then he’d go to QQ, the new instant-messaging service and online forum, and type in the Chinese word for “homosexual” — tongzhi, or comrade.

Offline, Duan had known for a long time that he was different — and he knew no one else like him. Even in grade school, while his male classmates talked about girls, he nursed a secret crush on a boy, a gregarious, basketball-playing class monitor. Online, he stumbled into a world where he finally felt he belonged, a place where gay people like himself sought kinship and connection. When he was 17, he watched “Lan Yu,” a 2001 Chinese film about a love affair between a male college student from northern China and a businessman in Beijing, based on a novel published online by an author known only as Beijing Comrade. Duan was moved by one scene in particular, in which the businessman brings his lover home for the Chinese New Year to share a customary hotpot meal with his family. He caught a glimpse into a future he never knew existed — a future that was perhaps within his reach too. Continue reading

Opening the door

Source: China Media Project (2/28/20)

Opening the Door

Opening the door

On Wednesday this week, Li Zehua (李泽华), a journalist who recently resigned from his job as a news anchor at China’s state-run China Central Television to report as a citizen reporter on the front lines of the epidemic in Wuhan, was apparently detained by officers from state security. His whereabouts are currently unknown.

Li, who had managed to livestream his dispatches, and who also reported continued harassment from local police and security guards, arrived at Wuhan’s Baibuting Community, an area hit particularly hard by the epidemic, on February 16. He livestreamed a story on February 18 from a crematorium in the city about how porters were being hired at high wages in order to transport corpses. On February 25, he did a report in which he interviewed migrant workers who were forced to set up camp in the underground parking garage at Wuchang Railway Station. Continue reading

A fairy tale ending

Source: China Media Project (1/27/20)

A Fairy Tale Ending

Featured Image of Xi Jinping by Thierry Ehrmann available at under CC license.

How do you ensure a story has a fairy tale ending? You write the ending yourself of course. In recent days, official state media in China have celebrated the publication of A Battle Against Epidemic: China Combatting Covid-19 in 2020, a book that compiles writing by official state media to paint a portrait of leadership resolve in the face of a major challenge.

So it seems that while we all wait to see how the Covid-19 fares in the rest of the world, the verdict is already out on the epidemic as a major show of resolve on the part of the Chinese Communist Party. The story has already been written.

According to the Xinhua News Agency release on the book, it “collectively reflects General Secretary Xi Jinping’s commitment to the people, his sense of mission, his far-reaching strategic vision and outstanding leadership as the leader of a major power.” Continue reading

Coronavirus weakens propaganda machine

Source: NYT (2/26/20)
Coronavirus Weakens China’s Powerful Propaganda Machine
Beijing is pushing tales of perseverance, but many young people are openly questioning the Communist Party’s message.
By Li Yuan

Credit: Jialun Deng

Exhausted medical workers with faces lined from hours of wearing goggles and surgical masks. Women with shaved heads, a gesture of devotion. Retirees who donate their life savings anonymously in government offices.

Beijing is tapping its old propaganda playbook as it battles the relentless coronavirus outbreak, the biggest challenge to its legitimacy in decades. State media is filling smartphones and airwaves with images and tales of unity and sacrifice aimed at uniting the people behind Beijing’s rule. It even briefly offered up cartoon mascots named Jiangshan Jiao and Hongqi Man, characters meant to stir patriotic feelings among the young during the crisis.

The problem for China’s leaders: This time, it isn’t working so well. Continue reading

Gui Minhai and Frankfurt

The treatment meted out to Gui Minhai makes me wonder about events such as the Frankfurt Book Fair.

In recent years, Chinese officials and executives from state publishing houses have been a major presence in Frankfurt.  When a state kidnaps an author and bookseller, strips him of foreigncitizenship, and imprisons him for dealing in ideas, that state’s continued participation in a book fair undermines the legitimacy of the fair.

Of course, in the event of a pandemic, many such events will be canceled, so it may not be necessary to address the question this year.  But the question will not go away.

A. E. Clark

Gui Minhai gets 10 years jail

Source: BBC News (2/25/20)
Gui Minhai: Hong Kong bookseller gets 10 years jail

Mr Gui has been in and out of Chinese detention for years. GETTY IMAGES

A Chinese court has sentenced Hong Kong bookseller Gui Minhai to 10 years in jail for “illegally providing intelligence overseas”.

Mr Gui, who holds Swedish citizenship, has been in and out of Chinese detention since 2015, when he went missing during a holiday in Thailand.

He is known to have previously published books on the personal lives of Chinese Communist Party members.

Rights groups condemned the “harsh sentence” and called for his release.

He was one of five owners of a small bookstore in Hong Kong who went missing in 2015. It later emerged that they had been taken to China. Four were later freed, but Mr Gui remained in Chinese detention. Continue reading

Log in
Report this site