When Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M Said in september It was accused of using forced labor to end its relationship with a Chinese supplier, with some Chinese social media accounts devoted to the textile industry taking note. But bigger, moments passed without much fanfare.
Half a year later, Beijing’s online resentment machine Swung into action. This time, its outbreak was unbalanced.
The youth wing of the Communist Party condemned H&M on social media and posted an archival photo of slaves on a Mississippi cotton plantation. Stacked with official news outlets Their own irrepressible meme And hashtags. Patriot web users took the message to far and different corners of the Chinese Internet.
Within hours, a Tsunami of nationalist fury H&M, Nike, Uniqlo and other international clothing brands were having an accident, with the latest eruption on China’s policies in the western region of Xinjiang, a cotton-producing major.
The crisis over apparel brands is now familiar to many foreign businesses in China. The Communist Party has for years used the country’s vast consumer market to force international companies to step in step with their political sensibilities or at least not openly fight them.
But the latest episode exemplifies the Chinese government’s growing prowess in a storm of patriotic anger to punish companies that violate the deal.
In the case of H&M, the time of leisure seems to be that the retailer has done nothing, but by Restrictions imposed on Chinese officials last week By the United States, European Union, Britain and Canada in relation to Xinjiang. China has placed hundreds of Uygars and other ethnic minorities in the region in indigenization camps and Harsh methods used To push them into jobs with factories and other employers.
“The part of the hate festival is not sophisticated; This is the same logic he has run for decades, “Xiao Qian called China Digital Times, a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Information and founder of the China Digital Times, a website that tracks Chinese Internet controls is. But he said, “His ability to control it is getting better,” he said.
“They know how to illuminate those ultra-pro-government, nationalist users,” Mr. Xiao continued. “They are doing it very well. They know what to do. “
Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry on Monday Rejected the notion Beijing had led a boycott campaign against H&M and other brands.
“These foreign companies refused to use Xinjiang cotton on the basis of lies,” Mr. Zhao said in a news briefing. “Of course it will trigger Chinese people’s dislike and anger. Does the government also need to provoke and guide it? “
Following the outrage of the Communist Youth League on Wednesday, other government-backed groups and state news outlets ignited the flames.
They Posted memes H and M: proposing new meanings behind Mian Hua (cotton), Huang Miu (funny), Mo Hei (smear). Official xinhua news agency Posted an illustration Reflecting the Better Cotton Initiative, a group that expressed concern about forced labor in Xinjiang, an indiscriminate puppet was controlled with two hands that were patterned like an American flag.
Discussions at Beijing’s highest levels quickly gained attention. On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Organized a photo Of slaves in American cotton fields during a news briefing.
The messages were largely promoted by those following, but largely non-political social media presentations.
Squirrel Video, a Weibo account dedicated to the silly video, shared the Communist Youth League original post on H&M with its 10 million followers. A gadget blogger in Chengdu with 1.4 million followers Shared a clip A worker was seen removing the H&M sign from a mall. A user in Beijing who posts about television stars Entertainment highlights Who terminated their contracts with Adidas and other target brands.
“Today’s China is not the only one that can threaten anyone!” They have written About seven million of his followers. “We do not ask for trouble, but we are not afraid of trouble either.”
As of Monday, news sites were roaming A rap video Combined the cotton issue with some popular recent lines of attack on Western powers: “How can a country where 500,000 Kovid-19s have died claim high ground?”
Posted a Weibo user A lush animated video He said he worked through the night to make. It shows white hooded men with guns on a black cotton picker and ends with a lynching.
“These are your silly acts; We never, ”a caption reads.
Less than two hours after the user shared the video, it was Posted again By the Global Times, a party-controlled newspaper known for its nationalist tone.
Many web users who speak during such campaigns are inspired by genuine patriotism, even if Government of china Pays some people to post party-line comments. Others, such as traffic-hungry blog accounts originated as “marketing accounts” in China, are likely more practical. All they need is the click.
In these moments of collective enthusiasm, it can be difficult to tell where official propaganda ends and opportunistic gains begin.
“I think the border between the two is becoming increasingly blurred,” said Chenchen Zhang, an assistant professor of politics at Queen’s University Belfast who studies Chinese Internet discourse.
“Nationalists sell the subject; They bring a lot of traffic, ”Professor Zhang said. “Official accounts and marketing accounts, they come together and all participate in this ‘nationalism’.”
Chinese authorities are being careful not to let anger get out of hand. According to Tests conducted by China Digital Times, The internet platform has been carefully controlling search results and comments related to Xinjiang and H&M since last week.
An article Urged readers in the Global Times to “deliberately criticize people like H&M who deliberately provoke, but at the same time, be rational and beware of pretenders who join the crowd to spread hatred.”
The Communist Youth League has been at the forefront of adapting party messages for viral engagement. Its influence is growing as more voices are found in society to show allegiance to Beijing, said Fang Kicheng, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism and Communications at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“They are more and more fans,” Professor Fang said. “And whether it be for other government departments, marketing accounts or these nationalist influencers, they are all paying more close attention to their positions and following along immediately.”
The H&M uproar has likely had the unintended effect of causing more Chinese Internet users to discuss the situation in Xinjiang. For many years, people generally avoided the subject, knowing that commenting on the harsh aspects of China’s governance could cause them trouble. To avoid detection by censors, many web users referred to the region not by their Chinese name, but by the Roman letters “xj”.
But in recent times, some people have discovered for the first time why it still wants to be cautious when talking about Xinjiang.
A beauty blogger told about 100,000 of our Weibo followers that she had been approached by a woman who said she was in Xinjiang. The anonymous woman said that her father and other relatives were locked up, and that the foreign news reports about the mass internments were all true.
Within hours, Blogger Apologized His post was made for “bad influence”.
“Don’t just support Xinjiang cotton, support the Xinjiang people too!” Another Weibo user wrote. “Support Xinjiang people to walk the streets and not check their phones and IDs.”
The post later disappeared. Its author declined to comment, citing concerns for its safety. Weibo did not respond to a request for comment.
Lin Qingk Contributed to research.