The World of Chinese - - Contents -

Ev­ery day, lurid tales cir­cu­late Wechat, and the more sor­did the story, the more likely we are to “Share” it with shak­ing hands. In the world of ru­mors, the econ­omy is con­stantly on the brink of col­lapse; veg­eta­bles eaten at the wrong time of day will cause ag­o­niz­ing death; gangs roam the coun­try, kid­nap­ping chil­dren from shop­ping malls; and ev­ery pop star is ac­tu­ally in the closet.

In 2016, the Lab for Big Data and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at Sun Yat­sen Univer­sity, in co­op­er­a­tion with Wechat’s se­cu­rity team, an­a­lyzed over 2,000 “fake news” ar­ti­cles that were widely shared on Wechat that year. The study showed that 31.4 per­cent of these ar­ti­cles were in­ac­cu­rate or madeup news re­ports; 15.1 per­cent were about health, in­clud­ing food safety and dis­ease pre­ven­tion; and celebrity gos­sip made up 13.5 per­cent.

In the in­for­ma­tion econ­omy, rec­og­niz­ing a lie has be­come a sur­vival skill (a lucky few may be able to teach their ac­quain­tances not to share ru­mors in the first place, but we can’t prom­ise mir­a­cles). The first to any myth-bust­ing pro­fi­ciency is the same as in the West—look at the head­line. Dodgy sources of­ten boast head­lines with cap­i­tal­ized words and mul­ti­ple ex­cla­ma­tion points; the phrase “break­ing news” is com­mon. Terms like “shock­ing” or “ur­gent alert” are thrown around with aban­don. The first rule of thumb is, the harder an ar­ti­cle is try­ing to pro­voke an ex­treme re­ac­tion, the more likely it is to be du­bi­ous.

[Shock­ing!] Eat­ing the fol­low­ing will lead to cer­tain death!!! [ Zh-nj~ng!] Ch~ xi3 zh-ge b# s@ w% y!!!!【震惊!】吃下这个必死无疑!!! [Ur­gent alert!] Poi­soned seafood is pour­ing into the mar­ket! [ J@nj! t4ngzh~!] Y6ud% h2ixi`n li%r& sh#ch2ng!【紧急通知!】有毒海鲜流入市场!

The break­ing-news an­gle is a great way to stir up fear, par­tic­u­larly when cou­pled with an ab­surdly threat­en­ing tale. Es­caped se­rial mur­derer has come to town!!! Stay safe!!! Z3it1o li1n­hu1n sh`r9n­f3n z3i b0nch9ng ch$m7!!! Zh&y# `nqu1n!!!在逃连环杀人犯在本城出没!!!注意安全!!! Emer­gency alert: Hun­dreds of hu­man traf­fick­ers have en­tered city, grab­bing kids in the streets!!! J@nj! t4ngzh~: J@ b2i g- r9n­f3nzi j#nr& b0nch9ng, zhu`nm9n d`ngji8 qi2ng xi2o­h1ir!!!紧急通知:几百个人贩子进入本城,专门当街抢小孩儿!!!

How is it that the po­lice can’t catch these fugi­tives, yet some­one on Wechat knows ex­actly when and where they’ll show up? The ru­mor­mon­gers never ad­dress this ques­tion, and click-bait ti­tles like these are of­ten anath­ema to ac­tual law en­force­ment. In fact, they of­fer one rea­son be­hind the cen­sor­ship of some crime-re­lated me­dia and the “clean in­ter­net” anti-ru­mor cam­paigns, though pop­u­lar Weibo blog­gers and gen­uine re­ports about so­cial un­rest tend to get in­ex­pli­ca­bly caught in the cross­fire too.

Still, the ru­mor mill can turn even cen­sor­ship to its ad­van­tage: Read it now be­fore it's deleted! A new epi­demic has killed dozens but the gov­ern­ment is still hid­ing in­for­ma­tion! Sh`n qi1n s& k3n! X~nx!ng chu1n­r2nb#ng y@ zh# sh& sh! r9n s@w1ng, zh-ngf^ r9ng y@nm1n xi`oxi!删前速看!新型传染病已致数十人死亡,政府仍隐瞒消息!

The words 删前速看( sh`n qi1n s& k3n), lit­er­ally “read quickly be­fore dele­tion,” are a cunning ploy: Ev­ery­one in China knows that the cen­sors delete news, and in­for­ma­tion about epi­demics has been hushed up be­fore. Claim­ing that an ar­ti­cle is al­ready doomed makes read­ers be­lieve it holds im­por­tant truths, and of course, they’ll want to open it be­fore its time runs out.

If you do ever see these words, check what news out­let first pub­lished the piece and when; then ask your­self why it hasn’t been pulled yet, as pre­dicted.

As the above ex­am­ple shows, health is al­ways a source of pub­lic con­cern. Food safety is a fa­vorite topic of ru­mor­mon­gers, be­cause it can be hard to tell a lie from just an­other food­in­dus­try hor­ror.

Food ru­mors can be di­vided into three types. The first type stig­ma­tizes a par­tic­u­lar item: Stop eat­ing meat floss! It's all made of dyed cot­ton! B%y3o z3i ch~ r7us4ng le! n3 d4u sh# r2ns- mi1nhu` zu7 de!不要再吃肉松了!那都是染色棉花做的!

Ex­cess lev­els of heavy metal found in cray­fish, that's why for­eign­ers never eat them!

Xi2ol5ngxi` zh7ngj~nsh^ ch`obi`o, su6y@ w3igu5r9n c5ngl1i b& ch~!


Put­ting aside why for­eign­ers are al­ways the ul­ti­mate ar­biter of ac­cept­abil­ity, these re­ports will of­ten go on to quote some du­bi­ous ex­perts, usually fol­lowed by the ini­tials of some plau­si­ble but non-ex­is­tent or­ga­ni­za­tions, to sup­port the dis­cov­ery of a new “scan­dal,” tak­ing at­ten­tion away from cred­i­ble scan­dals de­serv­ing of me­dia at­ten­tion.

The sec­ond type of food-safety ru­mor deals with the sup­posed neg­a­tive health ef­fects of par­tic­u­lar food items, usually “can­cer” or “death.”

Heav­ens! This com­mon dish ac­tu­ally causes can­cer!

Ti`n a! Zu# ch1ng ch~ de c3i j#ngr1n zh# 1i!


Eat­ing toma­toes with milk could kill you!

ni%n2i h9 x~h5ngsh# y#q@ ch~ k0n9ng zh# s@!


Mix any two in­gre­di­ents to­gether, or pick any food found in an or­di­nary kitchen, and there’s an ex­pert pre­dict­ing lethal con­se­quences. But some­times these generic “Dr. Lius” and non-ex­is­tent “Har­vard Liver Re­search In­sti­tutes” will rally around cer­tain foods for their pos­i­tive ef­fects, such as a com­mon gar­den veg­etable­turned-panacea, usually ca­pa­ble of treat­ing, yes, can­cer:

Eat this ev­ery day, keep can­cer away!

M0iti`n ch~ t`, yu2nl! 1izh-ng!


Health or­ga­ni­za­tions aside, state ap­pa­ra­tuses are fa­vorite sources for ru­mor­mon­gers to cite to make their ru­mors sound more re­li­able, es­pe­cially for mis­lead­ing pieces about the econ­omy or so­cial poli­cies.

CCTV re­ports house prices will fall to 2007 lev­els be­fore year's end.

Y`ngsh# b3od3o ch8ng ni1nn-i f1ngji3 hu# xi3ji3ng

zh# -r l!ng l!ng q~ ni1n shu@p!ng.


De­fense De­part­ment urges ev­ery­one to stop us­ing iphones, be­cause the US has bugged them.

M9igu5 z3i p!nggu6 sh6uj~ sh3ng `nzhu`ng le qi-

t~ngq#, gu5f1ngb& h$y& d3ji` t!ngy7ng.


Celebri­ties or over­seas lead­ers also have author­ity, and un­like the gov­ern­ment, fab­ri­cated quotes from these sources can be as shock­ing, ir­ri­tat­ing, and in­flam­ma­tory as the writer wishes. Pa­tri­otic is­sues lend them­selves eas­ily to click-bait mis­sives, and Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, and Shinzo Abe are the pre­ferred ve­hi­cles for de­liv­er­ing them:

Putin's speech alarms 1.3 bil­lion Chi­nese peo­ple!

P^j~ng de y#f`nhu3 zh-nj~ng le sh! s`n y# zh4ng­gu5r9n!


The whole na­tion is fu­ri­ous! Here's what Obama said!

Qu1ngu5 r9nm!n d4u n& le, Aob`m2 j$r1n zh-me shu4!

全国人民都怒了, 奥巴马居然这么说!

These types of ru­mors used to be eas­ier to spot—given the del­i­cacy re­quired in in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions, it was dif­fi­cult to imag­ine any world leader ca­su­ally in­sult­ing 1.3 bil­lion peo­ple. But this com­mon­sense rule may no longer ap­ply in the era of US Pres­i­dent Trump. Af­ter all, a typ­i­cal Trump speech con­tains more click­bait fod­der, fake news, or fire and fury than even the in­ter­net can keep up with.


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