The discussion in China regarding Japan’s decision to release treated wastewater from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant has been marked by misinformation, nationalism, and strict censorship on the internet. As a result, this has sparked fear and doubt among the Chinese population, resulting in an increase in anti-Japanese feelings, harassment and prank calls directed at Japanese companies both domestically and internationally, government and consumer boycotts of Japanese goods, and panic buying and stockpiling of salt (wrongly believed to protect against radiation) by certain Chinese consumers.
The current rise in anti-Japanese hostility has caused Japan’s Foreign Ministry to express their disappointment and concern. Last week, they called upon the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo to address the issue. While the situation has not reached the severity of past incidents in 2005 and 2012 where Japanese businesses were damaged and citizens attacked, there have been smaller occurrences in recent years that indicate underlying anti-Japanese sentiments in Chinese society. These include a woman being detained for wearing a kimono, the cancellation of Japanese festivals, and disturbing reactions on social media to the potential assassination of Shinzo Abe in 2022. In 2012, a Chinese man named Li Jianli was brutally beaten for driving a Japanese car, causing long-term injuries.
After the initial release of treated wastewater on August 24, the Chinese government implemented a complete restriction on the import of Japanese seafood products. This prompted Japan to consider taking action through the World Trade Organization (WTO) in response to the ban. However, for several months, Chinese officials and state media have been preparing for a coordinated effort to spread false information about the safety of the release and portray Japan as an irresponsible international player. Despite the fact that most scientific experts and an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) task force, which includes Chinese scientists, have determined that the process would have minimal impact on human health and the environment. The intensity of this propaganda campaign suggests that the Chinese government’s opposition to the wastewater release is more motivated by domestic politics and geopolitical maneuvering rather than genuine concerns about public health. By engaging in anti-Japan rhetoric, the Chinese Communist Party is able to present itself as a defender against foreign oppression and interference, and provide the public with a distraction from China’s current economic downturn.
While nationalistic and anti-Japanese posts are encouraged on Chinese social media, informative and scientific articles discussing the Fukushima wastewater disposal have been censored. This aligns with the ongoing suppression of popular science websites and blogs in China, which has led to a decrease in independent scientific viewpoints and an increase in false information online.
Chinese editors at CDT have stored a collection of recently censored articles covering various topics related to the release of Fukushima’s wastewater. One deleted post on Weibo by tech blogger @纽太普同学 (Niǔtàipǔ tóngxué, “New Type Classmate”) is titled “In the Past, We Stocked Up on Salt Due to Nuclear Radiation; 12 Years Later, We’re Doing It Because of Nuclear-Polluted Wastewater.” In the post, the author expresses frustration with the spread of misinformation and lack of scientific understanding, debunks the false belief that iodized salt can protect against radiation exposure, and advises readers to use common sense and not hoard table salt. Another deleted article was a well-written essay by Zhihu user @托斯卡尼尼 (Tuōsīkǎníní, “Toscanini”), who points out the inconsistency of the Chinese government accusing Japan of polluting China’s fishing waters while also claiming that Chinese seafood is safe to eat regardless. The author also criticizes the Chinese government for publicly complaining but not taking any official action through international institutions regarding Japan’s plan. The author compares the controversy over Fukushima’s wastewater to the reaction to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, both highlighting the Chinese government’s tendency to take extreme positions that are difficult to back down from later.
“Two other deleted articles were written by Y bó, a WeChat user who is an immunology researcher and holds a Ph.D. in genetics. These articles provided valuable information about COVID-19 and vaccines during the pandemic. The first article discusses the Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) used to remove radioactive contaminants, with accompanying graphs and charts. The second article compiles information from the IAEA regarding the Fukushima wastewater release, its scientific basis, and plans for ongoing water safety and quality monitoring. The author concludes by appealing to reason.
A well-functioning community must understand the importance of valuing science and prioritizing rational voices over baseless conspiracy theories. I hope that in regards to releasing ALPS-treated radioactive water from Fukushima, we can follow the guidance of the IAEA and make informed decisions based on scientific evidence and verified information.
One censored article that drew a lot of public attention came from the WeChat public account Liu Su’s World of Science and Technology. Liu Su, a senior engineer tasked with public science education at the Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden, is known for his frank, logical, and informative articles on a variety of scientific topics. In one delightful piece, “A Brief Analysis of the Most Common Verbal Tricks in the Discourse about Japan’s Nuclear Wastewater Discharge,” Liu Su dissects and attacks the logical fallacies used by some “little pinks” when railing against Japan. But after someone called a public hotline to complain about his WeChat article “Regarding the Issue of Japan’s Discharge of Nuclear Wastewater,” Liu deleted the article and issued a public apology. The anonymous complainant, Liu noted, “attached a screenshot of the full text of the article from my official account, as well as another screenshot in which he marked, in thick red pen, the parts he thought were inappropriate.” The following is a translated passage from Liu Su’s now-deleted WeChat article:
Due to the shared experience of being invaded by Japan during World War II, China and South Korea hold a deep-seated resentment towards Japan, which has shaped their post-war nationalist narratives. As a result, the general public and government in these countries strongly oppose Japan’s proposed release of nuclear wastewater. In this narrative, Japan is always viewed as the perpetrator and forgiveness is not a possibility. Therefore, any criticism of Japan is deemed justifiable. Regardless of the method of wastewater disposal, it will be met with opposition. Ultimately, there is no concern for the well-being of Japan or whether it survives as a country.
Liu Su has faced censorship before. In 2021, he reflected on the growing politicization of science and the impact of shutting down numerous popular science accounts, which deprives the public of access to trustworthy and credible sources of information.
According to Dr. Ge Jianxiong from Fudan University, discussing history now inevitably involves discussing politics. This is not limited to history, as even discussions about science also involve politics. It has become apparent that not addressing political issues can result in consequences, regardless of whether one is part of the Science Squirrel Club or PaperClip. Just a few years ago, this would have been unimaginable, but things change quickly in history. It makes one wonder what the future holds.
The first thing that comes to my mind is that, while pop science stories like “why is the ocean blue” and “how many parts are there to the Chinese space station” are ubiquitous, any challenge to a narrative that has risen to the level of folk belief is unlikely to survive. “Yuan Longping made sure the Chinese people never went hungry” is one such simple belief. If you challenge this, people will keep reporting your article until it disappears, and your Weibo account will be put in a little dark room for 15 days. After that, who knows, maybe they’ll put you in a little dark room for 15 days. [Source]
There has been a significant amount of online public feedback regarding articles and posts discussing the Fukushima wastewater situation, both those that were censored and those that were not. The CDT Chinese editors have gathered and saved some of these comments, and a few have been translated and explained further below.
“Today, I learned a new phrase: ‘Prioritizing the fight against public speech over tritium combat.'”
Zhihu user “Late Spring Breeze” commented on the banning of Netease News’ account on Bilibili. The post in question was a darkly humorous suggestion for users to adopt a “lying flat” attitude and avoid marriage, children, owning a home, and pursuing ambition in light of the Fukushima wastewater discharge.
“Over the last two years, we have been the sole ones battling against the pandemic while other nations took no action. Keep it up, China!”
User ZHs8Lj on Zhihu replied to the question: “Why are other countries not taking action against the disposal of nuclear-contaminated wastewater into the ocean?” [Chinese]
“Is the implementation of lockdowns, quarantines, and zero-COVID strategies a matter of politics or science?”
—A now-deleted comment from Zhihu user 文刀3 (Wéndāo 3), in response to the question: “Is the discharge of nuclear-contaminated wastewater into the ocean a political issue or a scientific issue?” [Chinese]
The only accurate statement made by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Economic Daily is that fish do not have a nationality. If there is nuclear contamination, consuming seafood should be avoided. However, if there is no nuclear contamination, it is likely that someone is being dishonest.
This comment, which has been removed by Zhihu user wavez tan, was in response to the Economic Daily article titled “Prevent Japanese Nuclear-Contaminated Wastewater from Harming Chinese Seafood.” The article’s flawed argument suggests that Japan is polluting Chinese fishing waters with nuclear waste, yet Chinese seafood remains safe to consume. This prompted another internet user to quip, “Fish caught in Chinese waters must be very politically aware as they seem to instinctively avoid being affected by nuclear pollution!”
“Yesterday, there were many posts from my friends regarding Japanese nuclear wastewater. Some of the articles portrayed a grim future, while the rest encouraged me not to be concerned. After taking a short nap, I found that half of the articles were no longer accessible due to censorship.”
A user on Weibo, 押沙龙 (Yāshālóng), remarked on the bias of Chinese social media platforms in censoring more neutral reporting on the wastewater problem while promoting more sensationalized perspectives.
Every era has its own group of “Japanese devils,” and in turn, every era has its own task of opposing Japan.
—Zhihu user 小小王 (Xiǎoxiǎo Wáng), responding to the question: “Regarding Chinese Customs Suspending All Imports of Japanese Marine Products, What Sort of News Should We Be Paying Attention To?” [Chinese]