Chinese Big Brother Is Always Watching, Even in Australia

(Image: Adam Jones via flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Wu Wei, a Chinese-born Australian PhD candidate and tutor at the University of Sydney’s business school, resigned on April 18 over petitions from Chinese students that he had made “racist” remarks anonymously on popular Chinese social media platform Weibo under the screen name “Pekojima.”

The university had launched an internal investigation into the matter, and Wu since apologized for his comments which were highly critical of China and privileged Chinese.

On Twitter, Chinese dissidents are raising concerns that the incident, which was a hot topic on Chinese social media, represents an attempt by the Chinese authorities to scare voices of dissent abroad into silence.

As reported on mainland Chinese media outlets, the remarks that got Wu into trouble included:

  • claiming that he is pro-Japan and pro-Taiwan on Weibo and revealing that he is an Australian and that he loves Australia. Chinese-Japanese relations are frosty at best thanks to the historic bad blood, and Taiwan is a sore spot — the defeated Kuomintang forces fled there from the mainland at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, and communist China still considers Taiwan a wayward territory (even though Taiwan today enjoys de facto independence).
  • being proud that he didn’t donate to relief efforts following the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, which killed nearly 70,000 people in southwest China. Red Cross China had caught in corruption scandal after the earthquake. He wrote he was also proud that he did contribute to aid after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and floods in Queensland, Australia in 2010.
  • calling China “your country” on Weibo and Putonghua (Mandarin Chinese) “your language” on Weibo.
  • showing support for Tibetan students and Chinese ex-political prisoners over their protest outside the Chinese consulate in Sydney in 2015 on Weibo. Tibetans accuse China, which incorporated Tibet into its territory over 60 years ago, of religious and cultural persecution.
  • publishing a photo on Weibo of him burning his Chinese passport after he obtained his Australian citizenship.
  • mocking overseas Chinese students for hiring others to write their thesis. He used the term tun, which literally means “dolphins” but can be understood in English as the equivalent of “pigs.” It’s slang for rich, young Chinese who flout their devotion to communism abroad.
  • saying: “It is a shame to be Chinese.”

Since April 14, when the case first became a hot topic on Chinese social media, Chinese Communist Party-affiliated media have certainly egged on the outrage. Some of Wu’s supporters have questioned the motives of the Chinese who complained and wondered how the overseas students managed to match Wu’s anonymously written posts, most of which were published in 2015 on Weibo, with his real-life identity.

Though Wu never expressed any inappropriate remarks on class, those who called for the school to fire him said they felt uncomfortable having him as a teacher, knowing what he had written. Evin Wang wrote on Facebook with screenshots of his posts on Weibo and the hashtags #FireWeiWu and #Stopbeingracist on 13 April:

On the other hand, a petition directed at the school argues the complaints were built on a series of anonymously written comments and extracted out of context:

A Chinese student studying in Australia wrote anonymously to a Hong Kong-based investigative journalism platform called the Initium, explaining how the incident has created a chilling effect on overseas Chinese circles. The student referenced “human flesh search,” a term describing when online vigilantes dig through a person’s social media history to find incriminating messages to later shame them:

The Chinese student further argued that the hullabaloo has extended the obligation of “patriotism” to overseas Chinese who have foreign passports:

Twitter user @RZLHK suggested that the Chinese big brother is watching even when one has left China:

Coincidentally, the overseas Chinese students’ campaign against Wu Wei was parallel to a domestic propaganda crusade against “sea turtle spies” — Chinese nationals who have returned to China after studying overseas. On April 20, state broadcaster CCTV suggested that the increasing number of young people studying abroad could put the country’s national security at risk.

Taken to the extreme, this suggests that under the watchful eye of big brother, overseas Chinese students must make a performance of their love for China’s government in order to return home without posting a security threat.

This article by Oiwan Lam originally appeared on Global Voices.

[This story has been altered for editorial purposes]

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