On July 27, news of shootings in Florida that left seven dead made the rounds on social media in China. The next day, the deputy governor of Guizhou Province, Chen Mingming, weighed in: “How is it that yet another shooting incident has occurred in America?!怎么美国又发生枪击案了?！” Weibo user @EthanYoung7 commented on Chen’s post: “How is it that yet another incident of urban management officers attacking people has occurred in China?!怎么中国又发生城管袭击案了？！”
His anger piqued, Chen replied: “Some people eagerly wish that their motherland suffer accidents every day. They have become accustomed to playing up these incidents when they happen.有人巴不得祖国天天出事, 出事就小题大作, 已经习惯这样炒作” He also exclaimed: “Those blasting China every day, why don’t you leave China and move to America? Get out quickly! I totally support you!天天骂祖国的人, 又赖着不去美国！快去啊!坚决支持！” Finally, he called “unpatriotic” people “scum人渣, 败类.”
Shortly thereafter, the politician’s meltdown became news: “Deputy Governor Calls Unpatriotic People Scum” aroused furious anger on social media. On July 29, Chen tweeted an essay to apologize for his “inappropriate words.”
In the essay, he wrote: “Supervision and criticism are patriotic, but I find some netizens blow individual cases out of proportion and deny that Chinese society has made progress overall. I retweeted and commented on the shooting because I intended to say that extreme cases happen in every nation.监督和批评本身就是爱国的表现, 但我发现, 微博上有些网友在无限放大一些个案的意义, 否定中国社会的整体进步。因此, 我转发点评了一条美国发生枪击案的微博, 本意是想说, 任何国家都会出现一些极端个案, 这是无法避免的, 结果引发了一场争议。”
After explaining his intentions, he said that Weibo, as an important forum for public opinion, has helped the government and himself to do a better job. “Weibo has become my friend and teacher微博是我的良师益友。,” he wrote. He expressed his hope that both he and other netizens would be more rational in their supervision of the government in the future, because “The purpose of supervision is not to hope for the meltdown of the county but to hope for a better future.监督的目的是希望这个国家变好, 而不是希望这个国家垮掉。”
What is patriotism?
Chen’s fiery language initially drew insults, but as netizens discussed their own understandings of patriotism, the conversation turned into a discussion of the unpatriotic actions of the authorities and officials who promote the concept.
Many users said that Chinese should distinguish between loving the country and loving the government, officials or the ruling party. User @林萍在日本 tweeted: “I’ll lay out a little common sense for the deputy governor: First, the government does not equal the nation. Criticizing the government is not the same as criticizing the motherland. Second, patriotism means loving the nation and its people, not praising its power. Third, the government survives off taxpayers’ hard-earned money. It should do a good job, otherwise it should be scolded. Fourth, to improve this country, the government should encourage the public to, and the public themselves should, exercise their right to supervise and criticize the government actively. Fifth, bold critics are the real patriots and should be cherished by the nation.给副省长讲点常识: 1. 政府不等于国家, 批评政府不是骂祖国；2. 爱国是对国家和人民的热爱, 而不是歌颂赞美强权；3. 政府是纳税人的血汗钱养活的, 做得好是必须的, 做不好就该挨骂；4. 政府应鼓励, 公民也应积极行使监督与批评政府的权利, 以使国家变的更美好；5. 勇于批评的是才真正的爱国者, 国家当珍惜。” This post was retweeted 24,380 times and received 5,975 likes.
Some users discussed why they were not ‘patriots.’ One Sohu Weibo user, @烟雨江南岸, commented: “If patriotism means enjoying the polluted air, poisoned food, expensive education and medical treatment, life as a mortgage slave, exploitation by corrupt bureaucrats and the force of the urban management officers, how can you love the people who are abusing you every day?如果爱国就是享受污染的空气, 有毒的食品, 高价的教育医疗, 和几辈子的房奴生活, 另加贪官污吏的盘剥和城管的秤砣, 你让你怎么去爱一个天天孽待你的人呢？”
The user’s mention of the force used by chengguan, or urban management officers, is in reference to a July 17 incident in which a watermelon vendor died following a conflict with the urban management officers. Many people alleged that he was beaten to death by the officers with a steel pipe. Though authorities initially denied this, China’s state-run media has confirmed that the autopsy results reveal that outside trauma was his cause of death.
Because Deputy Governor Chen urged ‘unpatriotic’ people to move to America, some people asked if he was a so-called naked official, or one whose family members have acquired foreign nationalities or live abroad, facilitating the transfer of money abroad and offering a safety net should their corruption come to light. User @子夜的昙 tweeted: “I suggest investigating Chen’s family and property. They might all really be in America.我觉得可以调查一下这个贵州省副省长的家人和财产去向。可能还真是全在米国。”
Unwilling to let go, Chen replied: “Please investigate me求查。.”
At that point, the debate about patriotism morphed into a clamor for the disclosure of officials’ assets, a movement that gained broad public support in 2012 after some officials’ substantial ill-gotten gains were exposed. Despite calls for increased transparency, no system-wide changes have yet been made.
Yuan Yulai, a famous lawyer, appealed to the Weibo users to forward Chen’s call for an investigation to the relevant authorities and “give the deputy governor their greatest encouragement.” Many users claimed they “firmly supported” Chen’s disclosure of his assets.
Officials on Weibo: how much is too much?
Chen’s rash speech, inability to leave criticism unanswered, and final public apology raised the question: how should officials speak on the Internet, and especially on social media?
Some people showed support for Chen on the grounds that he is active and outspoken on Weibo, while many officials either do not have Weibo accounts or seldom tweet. The Beijing News revealed that only 33 officials of the provincial level and above (top officials in the Chinese power hierarchy) had registered Weibo accounts. Many of those with accounts rarely used them. For example, Tao Xinxia, the vice president of the Political Consultative Conference of Heilongjiang Province, had tweeted only once, as had Luo Lihui, a deputy governor of Yunnan province.
Sima Pingbang, a commentator, tweeted: “Chen Mingming registered a Weibo account and joined in the free fight for a say. This is a milestone. No matter whether our views are same or different, I firmly support this kind of official within the system.贵州省副省长@陈鸣明, 开微博公开加入话语权的自由较量, 这可能是一件标志性事件, 不管他的观点与我相同或相异, 我都坚决支持这样的体制内官员。”
Old Xu, a social critic, wrote in a blog entry that he had read all of Chen’s tweets – 5,326 as of that time – and noted with approval that Chen ran his verified account by himself instead of through a team. “He is braver than those other senior officials who are just lurking on Weibo,比那些整天潜水的高官要勇敢的多。” He commented. Admitting that Chen’s words were “too emotional,” Old Xu commented: “I think he is a sensible man. He disregards his social status and goes after regular people. It’s even kind of cute.我倒觉得他是个性情中人, 放下身段说说老百姓的话, 倒有几分可爱。“