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2021-03-15 11:23:23

There are many ways to become a target of abuse on Chinese social media. But one student never imagined that posting a lost-and-found note might be one of them.

The student, reportedly an undergraduate at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in the southwestern city of Chengdu, became the center of an online maelstrom after posting a message in English and Chinese on a campus bulletin board, seeking the owner of a lost iPad.

The bilingual note sparked immediate backlash from the student’s classmates, who claimed the use of English was unnecessary and a sign of chongyang meiwai, or “foreigner-worship,” according to a viral post explaining the incident on microblogging platform Weibo.

The iPad in question was left in a classroom on campus, the post explained. After noticing that the tablet had a number of Western apps, such as YouTube and The Economist, but few Chinese ones, the student assumed the owner was likely an international student. He then left messages about the lost iPad on social app QQ and several university lost-and-found boards, as well as a handwritten note in the classroom.

The posts quickly attracted reams of hostile comments from fellow students describing the gesture as “a fawning way to please foreigners.” Many, incorrectly assuming the student was female, also left sexist messages, accusing the student of using the note as a tool to meet foreign men, according to screenshots shared on Weibo.

The bilingual note from the male student who found a lost iPad at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 2021. From Douban

The bilingual note from the male student who found a lost iPad at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu, Sichuan province, March 2021. From Douban

“Asian men can’t even find women to have kids with,” one commenter complained.

Not everyone agreed with the criticism, however. On Weibo, netizens using a hashtag translating to “iPad witch hunt” pointed out the absurdity of abusing a student for simply trying to find the owner of a lost electronic device. The hashtag had been viewed more than 230 million times as of Monday. 

“After seeing so many witch hunt incidents and the general moral standards of male college students, I trembled,” wrote one Weibo user. “I’m scared that if my daughter offers kind help to foreigners at college, she’ll be cyberbullied and become depressed.”

This isn’t the first time Chinese students have been denounced by their peers for supposedly displaying a pro-foreign bias. In 2019, Shandong University faced backlash over a buddy program that allegedly paired male international students with female Chinese students. Critics accused the university of giving special privileges to foreign students, while some female volunteers who participated in the program were subjected to verbal attacks.

Online, many worried that the latest incident shows how students at prestigious universities are becoming less tolerant of people who are different from them. A student at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China who spoke to Sixth Tone on condition of anonymity said that although some students had shown themselves to be narrow-minded, the whole college shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush.

“Long story short, this is a cyberbullying case that exaggerates the remarks of a very small number of extremists,” the student said. “The victims are all the students and faculty at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China.”

Staff at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China told The Beijing News that the school is investigating the incident, adding that the student who had been targeted was in good physical and mental health. Posts related to the controversy were still accessible on the university’s official online bulletin board as of Monday.

Editor: Dominic Morgan.

(Header image: ableimages/People Visual)