China’s media realities clash over truth about war in Ukraine | Russia-Ukraine war News

More than 10,000 Chinese were in Ukraine when Russia invaded on February 24, 2022.

The “unlimited friendship” Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping declared that between their two countries three weeks before the invasion did not prevent the Chinese people from suddenly finding themselves in a war zone.

Although the Chinese leadership appeared to have been taken aback by the Russian invasion like the rest of the world, that shock did not translate into condemnation of Moscow’s actions, then or now.

Days after the invasion, China’s state-run People’s Daily posted a message on Chinese social media platform Weibo in which Beijing’s embassy in Kyiv urged its citizens in Ukraine to solidarity in the context of the worsening situation.

The People’s Daily – along with most of China’s new media – was then united in support of Russia and the Ukraine war.

More than a year on, Chinese media coverage of the war is still going strong echoes Moscow’s narrative and sometimes just “copy and paste” Russian war propaganda.

Yu-Ling Song, 24, from Xiamen told Al Jazeera: “I gave up trying to understand what was going on.

There is a version of the war reported by the Chinese media and the Chinese people, Song said, and a very different version from the Western media and her Western friends.

It has left her very confused, she added.

Different media reality

Hsin-yi Lin from Shanghai has not given up completely trying to understand the situation in Ukraine. But she concluded when it comes to war, China exists for a information bubble cut off from the rest of the world.

“I think most Chinese people don’t pay attention to it because they don’t pay attention to the war or they just get news about it from the Chinese media,” she told Al Jazeera.

“But if you can see beyond the firewall [a term used to describe China’s draconian censoring of the internet]you see that war is talked about very differently and reported very differently in the international and western media,” she told Al Jazeera.

At the very beginning of the invasion, China’s state broadcaster CCTV claimed that the United States was funding the development of biological weapons in Ukrainian laboratories. It was also reported that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy had left Kiev after the first wave of Russian attacks.

Chinese media then critically relayed Russian assertions about reports of torture and murder of Ukrainians. civilians in the town of Buchanear Kiev, is “fake news”.

All the while, the invasion was and still is called a “special military operation”, as it is in the Russian media.

Volunteers load the bodies of civilians killed in Bucha onto a truck to be taken to the morgue for investigation, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 12
Volunteers load the bodies of civilians killed in Bucha onto trucks to be taken to a morgue for investigation, on the outskirts of Kiev, Ukraine, April 2022. [File: Rodrigo Abd/AP]

Despite repeated statements by Chinese leaders that China is a neutral party During Russia’s war with Ukraine, the country’s state media are not an impartial observer of the conflict.

Brian Tang from Guangzhou mainly updated about the war through foreign media.

According to the 33-year-old, that means he cannot discuss the war with most people in his life as they mainly get information from Chinese television and Chinese online news, making them no information or completely different information about the war than he has.

“That means you not only have different opinions, but you also have different realities,” says Tang.

It also doesn’t help, he said, to turn to Chinese social media to share his thoughts on the war. “What is the problem?” he asked eloquently.

“Your posts could be deleted by the censors and your account could be suspended or worse.”

At the beginning of the war, some public figures and university professors in China shared their views criticizing the Russian invasion, but their posts were quickly censored and several online accounts. society has been deleted.

Big geese become weak geese

However, despite the censorship and information bubble, both Lin and Tang noticed a change in the way the Russian invasion was handled on Chinese social media.

Lin saw some anti-war comments on Chinese social media when the war first broke out, but most of the posts she read were pro-Russian and anti-Western.

“Now, I think there are more posts and comments criticize Russia than before, and they also last longer before being removed by censors,” said Lin.

Lin and Tang have also seen a shift in online discussions of the war, with the term “weak goose” becoming more common in posts and comments on Chinese platforms. Russia is often informally referred to as “big goose” in China because the Chinese word for “Russia” and the word “goose” sound the same.

“When Russia first attacked Ukraine, we all heard that the Russians would win very quickly because people thought they were too strong and the Ukrainians were too weak,” explains Tang.

But as the Russian offensive quickly bogged down, it turned out that the “big goose” wasn’t as strong as one might think – it was, in fact, a “weak goose,” says Tang.

Censorship or not, Lin says it’s clear to most people that the war will not be in Russia’s favor, which has led some Chinese to drop their support.

“They were expecting a short fight and now nobody knows how long it will last,” she said.

And as the war drags on, Tang believes that what is posted on Chinese social media and what is reported in the Chinese media will become less and less important.

“In the end, the Chinese people will just want the war to end,” he said.

*Names of interviewees have been changed to accommodate the request for anonymity.

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