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Xi Jinping was shown a gesture of disrespect in Vietnam.
Xi Jinping was shown a gesture of disrespect in Vietnam.

Xi Jinping was shown a gesture of disrespect in Vietnam.

Understanding the hidden messages of Xi Jinping’s visits abroad can be a delicate task, but not this time during his recent trip to Vietnam. China’s main television station, CCTV, unintentionally shared a video of a member of the welcoming group waving a Vietnamese flag while making an obscene gesture that is often interpreted as “fuck you.” According to CCTV, a delegation of 400 representatives from both Chinese and Vietnamese society was arranged to welcome Xi, his wife Peng Liyuan, and other Chinese delegates at the airport. The video, which was 34 seconds long and uploaded to CCTV’s web app, captured the middle finger gesture.

A screenshot of a CCTV video shows a person waving a Vietnamese flag clearly extending their middle finger, amongst a sea of people waving Vietnamese and Chinese flags.

A picture of the original video.

Observant individuals quickly noticed the use of the middle finger in the image, which then spread widely on the internet. Chinese news sources such as The Paper, Southcn.com, China Youth Online (a media outlet affiliated with the Communist Youth League), and Observing Sichuan removed the video in response, suggesting that they had received official instructions to do so. CCTV later uploaded a shortened version of the video, removing the portion with the middle finger. Some internet users outside of China saw this as a sign of CCTV agreeing with their interpretation of the middle finger as a deliberate insult to Xi.

A screenshot of the re-uploaded CCTV video with the middle finger edited out.

A picture of the CCTV footage that was re-uploaded without the image of the middle finger.

In other countries, there is a small industry focused on interpreting China’s secretive political system based on body language. One aspect of this industry is often referred to as “bird watching.” In 2020, former Premier Li Keqiang was seen voting for Hong Kong’s National Security Law with his middle finger. This unusual gesture led to numerous intense analyses speculating about a possible conflict between the two, but more credible analysts dismissed Li’s choice of finger as a reflection of his lack of awareness: “Even if you gave him the courage, he wouldn’t dare to do it.”

A photograph of Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang voting. Xi uses his index finger to vote, while Li Keqiang uses his middle finger.

On May 28, 2020, Li Keqiang expressed his support for Hong Kong’s National Security Law by raising his middle finger.