Rachel Lu

Did Social Media Over-Sharing Just Kill a Dolphin in China?


Chinese tourists have a bad rap these days. In May, it emerged that a teenager from Nanjing defaced a 3,000 years old relief sculpture in Luxor, Egypt while on a family vacation. The incident attracted international media attention and started a wave of soul-searching on China’s Internet about tourist behavior abroad.

Perhaps the same soul-searching needs to apply to domestic travel as well. In Sanya, China’s Honolulu, a dolphin became stranded on a popular beach on June 16. While waiting for professional rescuers to arrive, many tourists asked the local lifeguards to lift the dolphin out of the water for souvenir photos. The dolphin later died as a result of choking on water.

On China’s social media, Internet users were outraged by such appalling behavior. #Please Let Go of That Dolphin# (#请放开那只海豚#) was the top trending topic on Sina Weibo, China’s leading microblogging platform. Many unleashed harsh comments on the tourists, often with expletives. Du Zhifu (@杜芝富) tweeted, “This is truly heinous. Typical show-off in the Chinese style. But you are really showing off your ignorance, cruelty and stinky behavior.”

At least one person, however, blamed Weibo and other social media platforms for creating a culture of “instant-sharing” among the smartphone-toting crowd. Rednet.cn, a state-owned news portal, published a commentary with the statement: “If smartphones with cameras didn’t exist, and Weibo, WeChat and Renren did not exist, people would not take the weakened dolphin out of the water so quickly for photos, even if they are exciting about seeing a dolphin, because they would not have the means or the platform for publicizing the information.”

The comment did not find much support on Weibo. @WannaBeAHappyEnding tweeted, “This has nothing to do whether they had cameras or put the pictures up on Weibo. This has everything to do with their characters.”

Many users juxtaposed photos from Sanya with screenshots of a news item from Australia, where a wild koala bear sought water from a residential home and gave the owner a “kiss” in thanks. As a group, China’s Internet users are usually better educated and more socially aware than the general population, and often condemn “uncivilized” behavior such such as animal cruelty or wildlife poaching.

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Rachel Lu

Rachel Lu is a co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation. Rachel traces her ancestry to Southern China. She spent much of her childhood memorizing Chinese poetry. After long stints in New York, New Haven and Cambridge, she has returned to China to bear witness to its great transformation. She is currently based in China.
  • gregsoul

    They are trash. They know it, we know it. They will get a beating soon.

  • BeijingBlackLung

    “As a group, China’s Internet users are usually better educated and more socially aware than the general population, and often condemn “uncivilized” behavior such such as animal cruelty or wildlife poaching.” – there is NO factual or quantifiable data to back this claim; from my experience & research, quite the opposite is true. WeiBo is a breeding ground for collective idiocy, rumor-milling, and uneducated ranting – not to mention the 5-cent army of propagandists…

    I agree with most of what you’ve said but STRONGLY disagree with your conclusion! Provide viable stats on how this is true, and I find it a fitting conclusion. (I will admit the fact that collective-ignorance on WeiBo is lessening slightly this year…)


  • DaisyLe

    Regardless of social media, those tourists are ultimately responsible for their own actions. stop using social media as a scapegoat to avoid taking responsibility. All the tourists involved in the above pics are responsible for the dolphin’s death. disgusting!