Two Years in Jail for Calling Xi Jinping a ‘Steamed Bun’

Two Years in Jail for Calling Xi Jinping a ‘Steamed Bun’
Photo Credit: AP / 達志影像

What you need to know

It is a dangerous game playing fast and loose with nicknames in China, even with your friends online.

A man was jailed for two years in China after calling President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Mao Zedong (毛澤東) by so-called forbidden nicknames on social media.

Wang Jiangfeng (王江峰), 47, referred to Xi as “Steamed Bun Xi (習包子)” and Mao as “Bandit Mao (毛賊)” on WeChat and QQ, Radio Free Asia reports.

He was sentenced last week after being found guilty of "picking quarrels and stirring up trouble” by the Zhaoyuan People's Court, in China’s eastern Shandong province.

"Imprisoning Wang Jiangfeng for two years for using online the nicknames for political leaders that many use in everyday conversation shows just how incredibly repressive China's crackdown on free expression has become,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson told The News Lens. “Clearly, with this kind of rights abusing action, the authorities are seeking to create a wider culture of fear among Internet users that will prompt people to self-censor anything they might have to say about the China's leaders and the Party.”

Wang's conviction should be quashed and he should be released unconditionally, Robertson said.

In its judgment, the court said Wang “insulted, humiliated and disrespected current and former national leaders,” RFA reports.

He had produced “negative thoughts” about the Chinese Communist Party, which caused public disorder of a serious nature, the judgment said.

Wang's wife, Sun Wenjuan, told RFA she was shocked with the two-year sentence. The comments had been made within a private group chat on WeChat; only a limited number of friends could see the posts. She planned to appeal the conviction.

Screenshots from Wang’s WeChat account, showing images saying “use our votes to overthrow the government” and “one man one vote, change China,” were shown by the prosecution, according to Chinese NGO Human Rights in China.

The NGO says the court’s decision is a violation of free speech. Wang is an ordinary citizen who expressed his thoughts about the government on social media.

Wang’s lawyer told the court that criticizing national leaders was common in “modern” countries and not a crime.

The nickname for Xi is derived from a 2013 visit the president paid to a Beijing restaurant chain that serves steamed buns. While at the time some suggested he was trying to show concern for Chinese citizens, others thought it was a “political show.”

Keyword combinations criticizing Xi’s “political show” have been blocked from Weibo search results since January 14, 2014, according to China Digital Times.

Dangerous pattern emerging

In February 2017, The New York Times reported a student, Kwon Pyong, who had dubbed Xi “Xitler” on Twitter, had disappeared.

Kwon had said, “Let’s work together and topple this invisible wall,” in a Twitter post published on Aug. 28, 2016 that showed him in a T-shirt mocking Xi.

In other Twitter posts that followed, Kwon referred to being questioned by security officials and appeared to be resolute in the face of potential dealings with authorities.

“I won’t seek out trouble, but if it comes to me, I’ll live with it,” The New York Times quoted Kwon as saying.

And there are signs that Chinese authorities will only get stricter about references to Chinese Communist Party leaders.

Lawmakers in Beijing are in the process of introducing a suite of new civil laws, which includes making defaming of national communist “heroes and martyrs” a civil offense.

“Critics are worried the new ‘hero law’ could have a chilling effect on academic and historical inquiry in China,” reports Global Voices. “Many academics believe narratives about national heroes have been manipulated or fabricated for the propose of ideological control by the ruling Communist Party.”

Editor: Edward White