A well-meaning Lunar New Year greeting from the U.S. Embassy in China was inadvertently turned into an opportunity for Chinese netizens to pour out their grievances against the state of the Chinese economy.
On Friday, Feb. 9, the American Embassy posted onto Sina Weibo, a platform similar to Twitter, a New Year’s greeting video for the upcoming Year of the Dog, which falls on Feb. 16. In China, festivities begin about a week earlier.
The post soon attracted upset Chinese netizens, who left comments venting their anger over the recent global stock market turbulence and their subsequent losses.
On Monday, Feb. 5, the Dow dropped 1,100 points, its biggest single-day decrease in history.
The plunge soon spread to other markets, particularly China.
Chinese stocks saw their worst day in two years on Feb. 9, when the country’s two main indices, the Shanghai Composite Index and the CSI 300 (300 A-share stocks listed on Shanghai and Shenzhen Stock Exchanges), tumbled 4 percent and 4.3 percent respectively, according to Reuters.
Many netizens laid the blame on Chinese authorities. One comment that exemplified people’s dissatisfaction read: “the China Securities Regulatory Commission prohibits the millions of China’s stock investors from protesting, so we can only put out our frustrations and anger here.” Some asked the current commission chair, Liu Shiyu, to resign.
The number of comments on the post reached over 10,000.
An observer of Chinese internet censorship, Gu He, told Chinese-language broadcaster New Tang Dynasty Television in an interview that Chinese stock investors directed their anger at the U.S. Embassy because “under China’s strict control of speech, there is practically no place for them to express their frustration.”
But the saga didn’t end there. The Chinese Communist Party’s state-run, nationalist-minded newspaper, Global Times, ran an article on Feb. 12 that seemed to miss the fact that public frustration was directed at the Chinese regime itself. Global Times summarized different embassies’ new year’s greetings, calling the American embassy’s “most awkward” and a situation “where one doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry” because of netizens’ complaints.
At some point over the weekend, the commenting function on the post was shut off. A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy told media that it had only deleted some comments, but did not shut off the function—leading some to speculate that Sina Weibo had done the deed in an attempt to censor discontent.
On Feb. 12, during a press conference with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a journalist asked the ministry spokesperson whether Weibo shut off commenting on the post.
The spokesperson deflected the question, saying he was not aware of the situation.