The national firefighting department under China’s Ministry of Emergency Management has gone off on a Weibo user with only 114 followers who questioned how the government failed to adequately equip Chinese firefighters with proper training and equipment.
The blowup shook up Weibo on June 9 after @中国消防 (zhōngguó xiāofáng — Chinese firefighting), the official Weibo account of the department, shared two screenshots of Weibo posts by user @月岛天鹤 (yuè dǎo tiān hè — moon island crane). The screenshots were captioned (in Chinese): “Full of nonsense. This is a slander of heroes and martyrs. The internet is not a place above the law.”
In the two screengrabs that @中国消防 called into question, the Weibo user wrote:
Chinese firefighters are just a group of young people who constantly put their life on the line because they don’t have sophisticated equipment and have to battle fires with their bare hands.
This is hilarious. The Tianjin explosions happened not long ago. The firefighters who lost lives in that incident were all young people in their early twenties. As they just joined the country’s firefighting force, they lacked practical experience, instruction, and sophisticated equipment. They fought fires unprepared and left us with “a beautiful view of their backs” in the government’s propaganda campaign after they sacrificed their lives. The whole ordeal concluded with government officials weeping a little bit and families of these heroes forever losing their beloved ones. In the end, they were used by some internet users who wanted to attract attention by saying, “Those who lost their lives are all men. Women are not qualified to be firefighters.” It’s wild that I got doxed at the end of the day, hehe.
It is unusual for @中国消防, whose social media presence usually comprises innocuous posts about firefighting knowledge and news, to go to great lengths to attack an average Weibo user who shared her rants with only 114 followers. Nonetheless, @中国消防’s post quickly received support from other government Weibo accounts, such as the internet police in Mianyang, Sichuan Province, which said last week that some feminists and animal rights activists were viewed as extremists that warrant close attention from them. “People like this need to be severely punished,” it commented.
To honor “martyrs” who sacrificed their lives during disasters and wars, China passed a Martyrs Bill (英雄烈士保护法 yīngxióng lièshì bǎohù fǎ) in 2018 to prohibit any form of libel or insults against martyrs’ identity and reputation. But whether @月岛天鹤’s remarks constituted a violation of the regulations is up to debate, with some netizens arguing it’s unfair for the government to leverage its resources to come after a powerless Weibo user, whose critical posts were actually well reasoned and very much on point.
Below are some comments that are emblematic of the sentiment:
Official accounts always act like this. They call for punishment from cyber police over minor issues and initiate cyberbullying toward a personal account. I don’t see any words from this person that are illegal. Can you list the laws that those words violated? Have we entered another era where people can be charged over what they said? This is truly disappointing. Did the deceased firefighters agree that you can represent them?
To be honest, his words are a bit extreme, but he is actually criticizing the whole system, which is subject to questioning. And he got called out just by doing that?
Taking down whoever asks the question equals solving the question, how wonderful!
Before arresting her, the Shenzhen cyber police should explain what law has been broken, which behavior violated the laws, and how to measure if a person’s action is illegal. Just posting the simple word “arrested” implies its ignorance of the laws, which achieves nothing more than intensifying the conflict and showcasing violence from the authorities. It does no good to construct a harmonious society.
Outside Weibo, a user of Douban, another popular Chinese social media platform, went a step further, and reported the Shenzhen cyber police for “abusing their influence” and “stirring up emotions on the internet.”
In the report, the user defends @月岛天鹤’s criticism as a legitimate opinion that in no way slanders martyrs or disrupts the social order, whereas the Shenzhen cyber police’s swift arrest lacks proper investigation and was more of a calculated move for attention.