China’s Social Media Fails to Control Anti-Black Hate Speech

A new wave of anti-blackness is emerging on China's social media, with the government's strict censorship seemingly powerless to counter it.

Concerning online hate speech, I am pretty sure that it is a major and growing problem due to the rapid development of digital platforms and social media. According to the definition described by Flew (2021), the main causes of online harassment usually include political or religious beliefs, physical appearance, race or ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

In addition, Sinpeng et al. (2021) point out that hate speech usually comes from discrimination against marginalised groups. Furthermore, it is often the case that online harassment can escalate into large-scale hate speech as a result of a specific incident, which can lead to sustained and long-term harm to a particular group of people. The issue of hate speech on online platforms is therefore becoming an increasingly pressing issue for regulators and platforms, requiring urgent policy restraints and responses (Sinpeng et al., 2021).

However, China, a country with one of the strictest Internet censorship systems, has been unable to control the racist hate discourse and online abuse against black people that has been rampant on major social media platforms such as Sina Weibo, Xiaohongshu, and Douyin.

Case Study: anti-black hate speech on Weibo

On 17 February 2020, China’s Ministry of Justice released the Draft Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on the Administration of Permanent Residence of Foreigners. The draft aims to create more avenues for foreigners to get permanent residency in China to enhance China’s attractiveness to international talents.

However, the proposal drew unanimous and strong opposition from Chinese citizens who were asked for feedback on Chinese social media. Many Chinese online users seem to believe that the proposal will damage China’s economy, culture, and even racial purity in the long run. Many users posted appeals to citizens to protest by sending negative feedback to government websites, as well as handwritten letters.

The post featured a picture of a giant panda representing China expressing its strong opposition to the regulations on permanent residence of foreigners.

Most of the opposition took place on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform with nearly 600 million monthly active users. More than 70,000 comments were posted under the Chinese Ministry of Justice’s Weibo post soliciting opinions on the proposal, with the most heated comments all calling for an outright rejection of the policy. However, the comments section of the post has now been censored, and Weibo users are no longer able to view comments or post new ones.

The strong resistance to this easing of immigration policies on social media in China is generally targeting black people. Opponents on Weibo are concerned that the new proposal’s rules impose a low threshold that could be easily misused. In particular, the proposal notes that foreigners can acquire permanent residency by getting married to a Chinese citizen. As a result, this provision has led Chinese social media users to be extremely concerned about the influx of “low-quality” immigrants into the country, especially African males, which could jeopardise the entire racial purity of Chinese people.

Some of the posts that have been widely reposted on Weibo are full of hate speech: “China must not become another France” while providing frightening statistics claiming that France has now reached a population that is more than 60% of black people. In fact, France has an 85% white population.

“I don’t want to see a mixture of all colours and races on the land of China like in the United States in a hundred years, I hope that the land of China will always be purely Chinese,” a post that received 23,000 likes on Weibo emphasized,

“We (Chinese people) have the same ancestors, we’re all children of the Yellow Emperor, the same blood courses through our veins.”

Various posts with anti-Black sentiments triggered by the proposal have rapidly spread on China’s major social media platforms, and even circulated a picture showing a billboard encouraging African men to rape Chinese women.

The main content is: “Brothers, hurry to China, where the economy is developed, rich in resources, especially the girl there is particularly smart, noble and beautiful, the whole world recognized, once you marry one, your current tragic fate will be completely changed…You go and love them, marry them, have more children, remember, must have more children. so that the world will be ours.”

This shocking photo depicting black men raping a Chinese girl, accompanied by inflammatory text, has been widely circulated on social media platforms as evidence of black people’s threat to racially invade China.

However, the image is apparently Photoshopped and is actually a public service announcement for the “Doctors Without Borders” campaign, which urges women who have been sexually assaulted to go to a clinic and seek help. These anti-black images and posts went viral on all major Chinese social media platforms, and were even posted by many fierce resisters in the comments of various posts that had nothing to do with the proposed regulations on permanent residence for foreigners, attempting to get the attention of all Chinese social media users.

The original photo of the billboard is “Doctors Without Borders” campaign

Moreover, while waiting for an official response to the netizens’ protests, anti-Black sentiment has festered again and again, to the point that a topic in which Chinese men netizens vowed to protect Chinese women from black men made it to the top of the trending searches on Weibo.

What’s Behind the Anti-Black Sentiment on Chinese Social Media?

In The Discourse of Race in Modern China, Dikötter (2015) mentions that the long history of China has resulted in “instinctive” racism. As China is not an ethnically diverse country, Chinese people have limited interpersonal interactions with people of Africa, thus social media has become an important platform for Chinese people to get information about the African community (Cheng, 2011).

On major social media, the Chinese government has been highly publicised for its assistance to Africa in terms of economy and resources, which has led to the media indirectly portraying the image of Africans as being passive and weak receivers of assistance from a higher civilisation (i.e., China). As a result, some racist comments are posted on the social platforms.

Regarding the discursive representations of Africans on social media, a study by Shen (2009) on the image of Africans in Chinese online communities reveals that Chinese online users often labelled Africans as “poor”, “lazy” and “stupid”.

For example, in 2020, a video was circulating on Chinese social media platforms in which nearly 20 children of African ethnicity were repeatedly and happily shouting “我是黑鬼,智商低,耶 (I’m a black ghost, I have a low IQ, yeah)” in Mandarin, guided by the shooter next to them, and holding up a blackboard with these words written on it. The Chinese term “黑鬼” can be translated as “Black Ghost”, which actually means the N-word in English with strong discriminatory connotations against black people.

A screenshot mocking Chinese this racist video on Weibo.

After the BBC followed up on the story, it was found that the video was filmed in Malawi by Lu Ke, a Chinese man. In June 2022, Lu Ke was arrested in Zambia. In the documentary film ‘African Eyes’, BBC journalist Runako Celina revealed that such black blessing videos are highly profitable in China, and Lu Ke admitted that he could receive hundreds of orders for black blessing videos from China every day, earning 200 RMB for each video, which is 76,000 RMB in a day.

A large number of short videos of the same type of “black blessing” still continue to appear on the platform of Douyin.

The BBC traced a series of videos featuring black children and insulting black people on Chinese social media, mainly on Douyin platform, a Chinese version of TikTok, with more than 750 million active users per month in China. BBC investigated and found that Lu Ke’s Douyin account has around 330,000 followers. Lu Ke confessed in the interview that he made huge profits by tricking African children into making such videos and physically abusing and detaining them, which allowed the BBC to expose the exploitation and discrimination behind this “industrial chain”.

Furthermore, in addition to the labels of “poor” and “stupid,” black people, especially males, are described by Chinese netizens as “uncontrolled promiscuity,” “sexual predators,” and people who intentionally spread sexually transmitted diseases, making relationships between Black men and Chinese women socially unacceptable (Liu & Deng, 2020).

Chinese netizens describe women who have intimate relationships with black men as “unchaste”, “degenerate” and “traitors” and often launch online harassment against Chinese women who share photos of themselves with black male partners, often including death and rape threats, as well as illegally posting their personal information and addresses on the Internet (Zhou, 2023).

For example, Ms Du and her husband Eric from Benin, West Africa, have been sharing their family life on Xiaohongshu for almost two years. Xiaohongshu is an Instagram-like Chinese online social media platform with nearly 200 million monthly active users. In May 2023, during an anti-Blackness fervour, comments and private messages on Ms Du’s Xiaohongshu account were filled with personal attacks, death threats and slut-shaming of strangers, such large-scale online abuse just because she was married to a black man.

Ms Du and her husband Eric

However, the Chinese government was not as quick to suppress anti-black messages or voices as it has been with other politically sensitive issues and did not take a stance on the situation of Chinese women intermarrying with Africans(Liu et al., 2021). In other words, the government does not appear to have a pressing need to address anti-Black sentiments online.

Furthermore, following the release of the bbc documentary exposing the booming market for racist black blessing videos in China, the Chinese Embassy in Malawi posted a tweet expressing its strong condemnation of “racism in any form ” and stressed that Chinese government’s “zero tolerance for racism”.

However, Chinese social media platforms briefly censored the word ‘Africa’ after the BBC released the documentary. When the news was widely disseminated among Chinese social media platforms, they uncensored the word again. Censorship tools on Chinese social media platforms, however, focus only on blocking keywords and deleting posts based on them to silence public opinion, and are therefore ineffective in stopping the spread of discriminatory content.

Despite the fact that most Chinese social media platforms now incorporate community guidelines that prohibit the promotion of racist and race-based discriminatory content, such posts still appear frequently on China’s major Internet platforms.

One important reason for that is that to avoid the platform’s censorship of racist speech, users use self-created coded language to convey racist sentiments (Gu & Ho, 2023). One way of doing this is by replacing the original text with similar or identically pronounced words.

For example, in the case of “尼哥(the phonetic translation of the n-word)”, Chinese netizens often use “倪哥”, “内个”, “内阁 ” and other unconventional terms to avoid Internet censorship.

Another way is to use memes, jokes or as ironic commentary to sarcastically refer to the black community instead of using straightforward and vulgar language (Flew, 2021).

Consequently, hostile and insulting attitudes permeated the online public space, and even with political censorship, anti-black sentiments continued unabated and still gained strength with the help of wordplay.

Doesn‘t the Chinese Government Censor Anti-Black Content?

Despite having one of the world’s most sophisticated Internet censorship Internet firewalls, however, where thousands of content moderators on China’s major social media platforms promptly remove or restrict politically and economically sensitive content, racist hate speech targeting black people appears to have been “forgotten” by the moderators.

Therefore, China’s major social media platforms continue to fail to fulfil their guidelines to address the prevalence of racist content.

In recent years, the Chinese government has implemented strategies to combat cyber violence by real-name policy and displaying users’ IP addresses on the front end, which on the one hand brings transparency, and on the other hand, undermines the freedom of expression and diversity of Chinese netizens. Moreover, increasing censorship can also bring a “chilling effect” (Roberts, 2020). In other words, Chinese netizens would self-censor themselves before posting racist comments, making it more difficult to control public opinion.

The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which China has acceded to, obliges countries to “condemn racial discrimination” and requires measures to “eliminating racial discrimination in all its forms and promoting understanding among all races”, as well as a commitment of “not to sponsor, defend, or support racial discrimination by any persons or organizations.”

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which supervises government compliance with the ICERD, provides recommendations to governments: “information campaigns and educational policies calling attention to the harms produced by racist hate speech,” and there is a need to train the police and the legal system for “familiarization with international norms protecting freedom of opinion and expression and norms protecting against hate speech.”


This article discusses hate speech and various forms of online abuse against black people on three different social media platforms in China. The prevalence of such online racist discourse suggests that in the current legal, regulatory and business environment, government involvement is needed to adapt and develop policies to address the issue, rather than relying solely on platform companies to adjust content in their public interest (Flew, 2021).


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