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Online and Offline Tributes Paid to Suzhou’s School-Bus Attendant Heroine Hu Youping
Online and Offline Tributes Paid to Suzhou’s School-Bus Attendant Heroine Hu Youping

Online and Offline Tributes Paid to Suzhou’s School-Bus Attendant Heroine Hu Youping

Online and offline tributes continue to pour in for Hu Youping, the Chinese school bus attendant who was fatally stabbed when she tried to prevent a knife-wielding man from attacking Japanese schoolchildren and parents at a bus stop in Suzhou, Jiangsu province last week. A Japanese preschooler and his mother also sustained non-fatal stab wounds, and police promptly arrested the attacker, an unemployed man in his 50s surnamed Zhou.

The attack followed June’s non-fatal stabbings of four American teachers in a park in Jilin province, and a knife attack in May at a hospital in Yunnan province that left two people dead and 21 injured. Initial online reactions to the Suzhou stabbings were mixed, with many commentators and ordinary netizens expressing shock at the attack and sympathy for the victims, while some ultra-nationalist social media accounts used the incident to spread anti-Japanese hate-speech and baseless conspiracy theories about Japanese “spy-training” schools. Despite a long-standing tolerance of such xenophobic content, Chinese social media giants Tencent, Netease, Weibo, Douyin, and others announced a belated crackdown on extreme nationalism and hate-speech online, deleting hundreds of anti-Japanese posts and banning some ultranationalist accounts.

In China and Japan, there were numerous tributes to Hu Youping’s heroism: the Japanese embassy in Beijing lowered its flag to half-mast and posted condolence messages on Weibo and X; Tianjin Radio and Television Tower had a light display in Hu’s honor; citizens left bouquets of flowers at the site of the attack; and the city of Suzhou awarded Hu the posthumous title of “Role Model of Righteousness and Courage.” Popular Chinese news outlets Southern Weekend and Phoenix News ran profiles of Hu, featuring photos from her social media accounts and providing more detail about her life, work, interests, and personal history. In a previously cited post, Foreign Policy’s James Palmer noted that Hu’s personal story and journey—in so many ways emblematic of the Chinese working class as a whole—seem to have a moral gravitas that serves as a counterweight to expressions of xenophobic nationalism: “She has become a hero online, celebrated by both the public and the government. The moral effect of her story has been genuinely powerful in quelling nationalist sentiment.”

CDT editors have archived numerous recent articles and essays about the Suzhou stabbings and the need to curb xenophobic anti-Japanese online content, as well as several compilation posts of netizen comments praising Hu Youping for her bravery and sacrifice. The following are some translated comments from Weibo users, posted in the week after the attack:

心若无著何时著: In protecting the lives of innocent children, she also upheld the dignity of the Chinese people.

井姐闲置: Japan has lowered its flags to half-mast—a sign of the greatest respect for Ms. Hu Youping. May she rest in peace!

穿袈裟的CEOzjh: Ms. Hu’s righteous act represents the brave and kind-hearted majority of the Chinese people.

马塞洛里: May Ms. Hu rest in peace, may China and Japan maintain peace and friendship, and may violent thugs be severely punished!

犀地的世界: Remembering history does not mean perpetuating hatred. This is something that citizens of both countries would do well to remember. On the path to maturity and self-confidence, China must not continue to nurture old hatreds. We must also show the Japanese people that when it comes to human life and safety, most ordinary Chinese and Japanese citizens share common values—values which cannot be destroyed by a small minority of extreme nationalists. 

不哭不哭的男子汉: Respect for life transcends national boundaries. [Chinese]

In late June, many visitors to Li Wenliang’s Wailing Wall—the comment section below COVID whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang’s final Weibo post—also offered tributes to Hu Youping. Some contrasted her fundamental decency and humanity with xenophobic online vitriol both before and after the Suzhou attack:

乌拉Amen: Some people cheer for the slaughter of women and children, while others use their own flesh and blood to block the sharpened blade. It seems like everything is different, and yet nothing has changed.

Amyhongwei: Hello, Dr. Li. Has anyone told you yet about Ms. Hu Youping’s brave deeds? She has gone to your world now. Like you, she is an outstanding “ordinary” person. Will you have the chance to meet her? With nothing more than her ordinary flesh and blood, she has touched the hearts of countless people. Kind people were moved to shed tears of compassion for her, just like we did for you, the night you left us. [伤心][蜡烛]

Dr_Efan: I went to the bus stop today to offer flowers to Ms. Hu. I hope you’re both doing well over there. You are heroes.

A bouquet of yellow and white chrysanthemums placed near a tree-lined intersection with a zebra crossing and a bus stop. 

盛装老去: Good morning, Dr. Li! Ms. Hu Youping from Suzhou sacrificed her life to protect some children. You and she are proof that there’s still some vestige of kindness and compassion in our society. [泪][泪][泪]

多福酱: Dr. Li, today an auntie from Suzhou was stabbed to death by a “Boxer.” [失望] [Chinese]

Before Chinese social media platforms announced their crackdowns on extreme anti-Japanese content, there was some censorship of more progressive online voices, including the deletion of several essays criticizing inadequate media coverage of the Suzhou attack, debunking conspiracy theories about Japanese schools, and suggesting links between online ultranationalist content and offline attacks against foreigners in China. CDT editors have archived four of these censored articles. “While There Are Still Japanese Schools, Please Cherish Them,” a now-deleted article by prolific WeChat blogger and former print journalist Zhang Feng, discusses some questions about the stabbing, debunks some of the conspiracy theories about Japanese schools in China, and notes past anti-Japanese incidents in Suzhou, including the case of a young Chinese woman who was detained and interrogated by police simply for wearing a Japanese kimono. A second censored article from Zhang Feng, written in response to a piece in the Suzhou Daily that claimed Hu Youping’s “family members [proactively] contacted journalists,” discusses the worrisome ramifications of journalistic passivity when covering such important stories.

A censored article from the WeChat account iSee, titled “Japanese Schools, Spy Schools?,” also debunks some of the wilder rumors about Japanese schools in China, and explains that the curricula at these schools are designed for Japanese students who wish to later apply to Japanese universities—much like the curricula at American, British, and other accredited international schools in China. Also censored was a Weibo article by Xia Xingfan (“Shedding Tears to Commemorate the Heroism of Ms. Hu Youping of Suzhou, Jiangsu”) which contrasted online expressions of sympathy and mourning with some of the worst ultranationalist posts from before and after the stabbings: 

It’s not as if there were no harbingers to presage the tragedy in Suzhou. In recent years, false rumors about Japanese schools have been rampant on social media and short video platforms. Certain bloggers and broadcasters are keen to spread falsehoods about Japanese schools, with some making up short skits based on these rumors or even lurking outside Japanese schools for hours on end. Such distorted and slanderous content has been allowed to run rampant for too long. Everyone who participated in this or fanned the flames of hatred ought to be held responsible for Hu Youping’s death. [Chinese]

It remains to be seen whether Chinese platforms’ crackdown on anti-Japanese hate-speech is in earnest, or whether it is mere lip-service. Alex Colville of China Media Project noted that just one day after the Tencent announcement, China’s flagship state broadcaster CCTV was back to form, promoting another story that seemed guaranteed to whip up anti-Japanese sentiment and fan the flames of historical enmity in China:

But the most important indication that China’s soul-searching over extreme nationalism is a momentary ripple in the ongoing pattern of state-driven nationalist sentiment comes in the continued coverage in the country’s state media.

On June 30, the day after Tencent’s pledge to strike out against those “inciting confrontation between China and Japan (煽动中日对立), China’s flagship state broadcaster CCTV promoted a story on Weibo about Japan’s use of counterfeit currency to destabilize China’s economy ahead of its invasion in the 1930s. While the broadcast report was not particularly sensational in its approach, it drove forward a theme familiar to media consumers in China — that the indignities committed by Japan nearly a century ago are clear and present for all Chinese today. 

[…] Social media platforms may be feeling the heat over the recent outpouring of extreme nationalism. But the real lesson here is one of moral confusion — that nationalism is to be encouraged until it embarrasses the leadership. [Source]