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Weibo Roundup: September 2014

Yes, the September roundup comes a bit late, just like everything else in China after the 7-day National Day holiday. OK, that is just an excuse, and a bad one. So how about this - September was just another lack-luster month for Weibo as it has been for the better part of the year, so it took a while to decipher what is there really worth talking about. Anyway, here are some highlights.

Alibaba’s IPO

Ask any Chinese about Taobao, China’s biggest online shopping website run by Alibaba Group, and you will get a sense of how important this company is in China.

Everybody shops on Taobao nowadays or at least heard of it in the case of the elders who do not have the online shopping habit. And Jack Ma, or Ma Yun, founder and executive chairman of Alibaba, is a household name in China. So there is no surprise that Weibo reacted the way it did to Alibaba’s initial public offering (IPO) at the New York Stock Exchange.

Photo: Baidu.com

Chatter volume on Weibo rocketed on September 9th, when Alibaba’s much-talked about roadshow kicked off, making it a busy day on Weibo that it hasn’t seen for a while.

According to statistics gathered by Weiboreach, a Chinese social media research institution, Weibo posts containing the hashtag #Alibaba IPO soared since September 8, a day before the roadshow, and peaked at 57,326 on the 9th, which were read by a total of 8.51 million Weibo users. The number is not as big as one would expect, but impressive enough given the sluggish activity on Weibo recently.

The discussion soon died down and never recovered, not even during the actual launch of Alibaba’s IPO on September 19th. If this is an indication of anything, it is that Weibo has simply lost its prominence and allure as a platform for discussion that it once was.

More interestingly, the focus of the Weibo discussion seems to be on a PPT document which was used during the roadshow. Dubbed to be the most expensive PPT ever created, it was estimated to be worth billions of US dollars per page.

Terms like “Alibaba”, “learn from”, and “idol” were frequently used in the Weibo posts. And Ma Yun, who does not have the looks that make him the typical choice of an idol, is now officially a national idol for the young Chinese.

This unlikely idol seems to have more male fans than female judging from the Weibo users who participated in the discussion. Nearly 80% of the participants are male, though it was the women who contributed most to Ma Yun’s legendary rise as a Chinese business tycoon by shopping on Taobao.

A caricature of Jack Ma. The Weibo user who posted this wrote: They say behind every successful man there is a great woman. In Ma Yun's case, there are millions of women who shop. Photo: Weibo.com

Hong Kong protests

As always, the news was heavily censored and at some point blocked on Weibo. It was not even being covered by CCTV, the Chinese national TV, until much later when voices against the protests grew louder in Hong Kong.

According to Weiboreach, the maximum chatter volume was a mere 393 on September 28, the day when the Hong Kong police used tear gas on the protesting students.

Curve chart based on the number of Weibo posts containing the words Hongkong Zhonghuan (Chinese, short for Central Government Complex where the protest took place). Data collected on September 30 by Weiboreach. Photo: Courtesy of Weiboreach

It is difficult to sum up the general attitude of the Weibo users toward this ongoing protest. However, there is one interesting post from a Brit that gives some very interesting insights into the Chinese mentality toward this issue.

On September 29, John Ross, who was the Policy Director of Economic and Business Policy for the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone from 2000 to 2008 and now a Senior Fellow with Chongyang Institute of Finance, Renmin University of China, posted a post denouncing the western coverage of the Hong Kong protest, calling it “hypocritical ”.

Though he states in the beginning of the post that he was not in a position to comment on the issue given that he is not Chinese, he went on to say that the system China designed for Hong Kong was “far more democratic” than the British system because the British never allowed the Hong Kong people to elect their own governor.

He also questioned the US pro-Hong Kong stance on the ground that it never uttered a word against the UK when things were apparently a lot worse back then.

The post eventually received nearly 40,000 comments and over 80,000 likes, a rare number nowadays on Weibo. Lengthy debates could be found among the comments though the real sensitive ones have already been cleaned out.

Perhaps the number of the likes should not be interpreted as approval for the apparently pro-CPC British scholar as there are plenty of sarcastic comments left behind by the censors. The best one has to be this one: What do you think of the Chinese government blocking Instagram then? To which John Ross never replied.

Instagram was the latest casualty of the Chinese government’s crackdown on social media, which was blocked since September 29 at the height of the Hong Kong protest, creating a mild stir on Weibo as people took to the platform to lament the loss of yet another direct link to the outside world.

The most popular picture on Weibo on September 29 is this screencap of the blocked Instagram APP. Photo: Weibo.com


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