How Russia appears in China: a look at Weibo

A couple of days ago I took a look at what English RT is talking about recently. One thing that popped up was an attention on China. A natural question to ask in light of that was whether China similarly paid attention to Russia. So I had a look, by scraping some stories from RT’s Weibo account and looking through them.

A few important caveats. Firstly, I only looked at 158 stories. Or rather, I collected 158 stories and read twenty or so salient ones (in comparison, the other day I looked at 3200 tweets; for many projects on this blog I use tens of thousands of messages pulled from Telegram). Secondly, more importantly, although my HSK4-working-on-5 Chinese is sufficient for understanding what a story is about at least 70% of the time, it’s slow and very error prone, and any puns or jokes or even social media conventions are beyond me (indeed, it’s to learn some of these conventions I did this).

(Update: I improved on caveat one by looking at a month’s worth of stories here.)

Despite this, I think the results are pretty interesting! First I’ll quickly say how I did it so people with more time, interest, and language ability can look closer, then I’ll run through the top ten most reacted-to stories from the data I got; then, very briefly, look at how certain keywords are or are not represented.

(Edit: this seems pretty interesting so I retooled a bot of mine to post each day the most reacted-to tweet from RT’s Weibo, translate it, and post to Twitter here.)

I collected 158 stories from the last five days. I did so in the simplest possible way, using the following python and the library imported (which, I must confess, I pip’d without looking at closely, but which works for me). Here is the whole thing.

EDIT! This doesn’t even work in the limited case I had in mind. You need to check whether the message text is too long to display. If it is, you need to make a new call to the mobile api by status id. Something like this should be added, which checks whether the text is too long(the Chinese character means ‘full text’ and is clickable) and if is it gets the whole message. I’ll post a tidier version shortly.

if not tweet[“mblog”][“text”].find(“全文<”)==-1:
response=http.request(‘GET’, status, headers={‘User-Agent’: ‘Mozilla/5.0’}).data
from weibo_scraper import get_weibo_tweets_by_name
from weibo_scraper import get_weibo_profile
import json
for tweet in get_weibo_tweets_by_name(name=’今日俄罗斯RT’, pages=20):
if “page_info” in tweet[“mblog”].keys():
if “content2” in tweet[“mblog”][“page_info”].keys():
#these 'if's are because the json Weibo returns differs, I think, depending on
#what sort of post it is

All the stories in csv are here on this pastebin alternative (actual pastebin said there was some offensive content in my paste, I don’t know why). Here is number 1, with 1345 likes (as of this morning):

With our friend Google translate:

Well, that’s unexpected! (It is here; you need a Weibo account but I think an international one would work; note you don’t need an account for the above scraper, a very attractive fact.) Skimming the comments, it does seem the majority are anti-Ukraine (many call him ‘司机’, driver which is probably a pun or wordplay I don’t get). It should also be noted that i) the story is attached to a video in which a pundit puts forward a standard Ukraine-as-puppet-of-West story and ii) one oughtn’t, it seems, read emotional direction from the fact that reactions are indicated with a thumbs up as we’ll see in one sentence.

The second most reacted to story, with 1315, is about the recent Japanese visa story, giving evidence to ii) above (told you we’d see).

The third story is one I didn’t catch elsewhere about a Russian father-son pair being reunited on the battle field. The comments that I read don’t seem particularly directed in one direction — quite a few reacting to it as a feel-good story, some pro-RU army, some anti-Putin.

The fourth story is about Putin celebrating Orthodox Christmas and received 10001 reactions, and in the comments people are again supportive and generally much less rancorous than one finds on other social media sites.

Fifth: a cute story about a cute panda, with 715 likes, and video here.

Sixth is a bizarrely boring story which I’ll give you the google translation of just to impress upon you the boringness:

Personally, I’m not sure why it got 640 likes, but it did.

Seventh we have a story about Japan-Italian partnership. The 570 ‘likes’ this story got shouldn’t be viewed as expressing positive sentiment: the comments (in a choir) talk about the reuniting of ‘axis’ powers (I happened to read this earlier which is interesting about China-Japan-rest-of-world relations).

Eighth: cute pandas again.

Ninth is an anti-Biden story: at a recent event he found something weird in his pocket and showed it to someone in the audience. I haven’t seen that story in the English language media (googling ‘Biden pocket weird’ reveals nothing, and I didn’t look in the Russian language media, though I see the story is from RIA so it must be there.)

And tenth: it’s a story about Ramzan Kadyrov who found a dog and shows a video of the dog being reunited with its Ukrainian POV owner. In the longer video on Kadyrov’s Telegram channel it shows the owner thanking Kadyrov to camera and Kadyrov talking about how the dog was taken from Mariupol to Chechnyia, but was sad there, so they found the owner, as the dog shouldn’t suffer for humans’ war making. I hope it’s true, is all I’ll say about that.

Finally, some numbers. ‘USA’ appears in about 30 stories; ‘China’ in at least 15 and I don’t know the whole number (because of abbreviations, synonyms, etc. to know the whole number would require longer than I devoted to this post). ‘Biden’ occurs in 9. ‘Russia’ and ‘Ukraine’ are very common.

In sum, maybe not much, but we — at least I — have learned some things. A slight pro-Putinness, maybe a slight anti- Biden and Zelenskyness. In future posts I’ll take a closer look at how the minutiae of Russian life is presented both on this and on some other Weibo channels.



Novella "Coming From Nothing" at @zer0books ( Academic philosophy at:

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