Hawkish Chinese general goes a little overboard on social media

February 26, 2013

Luo Yuan's Sina Weibo page (screenshot)

One of China’s more hawkish generals waded into the melee of Weibo (China's Twitter) last week, but the masses appear to have shouted him down.

Major General Luo Yuan of the People’s Liberation Army drew more than 237,000 followers in his first few days on Sina Weibo, and his first Weibo post drew more than 33,700 comments, reports the Sydney Morning-Herald. But while the general’s nationalistic bent has been popular with conservatives and military enthusiasts, China’s “netizens,” who sometimes lean more liberal, haven’t cheered him.

''If Weibo is the battlefield between pro-state voices and civil society, then it looks like General Luo has hopelessly lost his first encounter,'' Xiao Qiang, the editor-in-chief of China Digital Times, told the Morning-Herald.

Maybe that’s because Luo’s posts -- which include paeans to himself and calls for other conservatives to “speak out” -- are funny at best, and a bit ridiculous at worst. Offbeat China translated his first post this way:

I’m Luo Yuan. After being approved, I’m allowed to open a Weibo account. Weibo is a very important front of public opinions. If you don’t speak out, others will, and they will even pretend to be you and voice noises. Many use [Weibo] to attack and spread rumors. We can no longer be silent, for you either explode in silence, or die in it. For our beloved country, beloved Party, beloved army, beloved people, we should fight!

According to Quartz, Luo has described himself in another post, and in the third person, as “a soldier as well as a scholar … His suggestions are extremely reasonable and brilliant. The military analysis he gives is the most popular on TV.” That post, Quartz.reports, has launched an entire Weibo meme, and according to Tea Leaf Nation, even the founding president of Google China has gotten in on the joke. (Later claims that the laudatory posts were made by a hacker did not go over well.)

As Tea Leaf Nation points out, Luo has been an outspoken proponent of escalation with Japan -- on Feb. 20, a major Japanese newspaper quoted him as saying he would “bomb Tokyo” and “take the 130 thousand Japanese citizens in China as hostages” if a conflict broke out. The backlash against him, then, could be a good sign for strained Chinese-Japanese relations, which have grown yet more fractious in recent weeks.

That stand-off dates back to September, when Japan bought two uninhabited islands in the East China Sea from a private owner, reigniting a long-standing land dispute. China retaliated by pulling Japanese books from store shelves and boycotting Japanese goods. Notably, that wasn’t enough for Luo: According to The New York Times, he proposed planting mines in the waters around the islands.

Time will tell whether Weibo works as a platform for that kind of message. Until then, the general’s nearly quarter-million Weibo followers can only wait for what he posts next.

 

Caitlin Dewey runs The Intersect blog, writing about digital and Internet culture. Before joining the Post, she was an associate online editor at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
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Caitlin Dewey | February 26, 2013