Web translation campaign unmasks China’s Ukraine propaganda
China’s official media have created a neutral and impartial image for the foreign public, while the authorities allow aggressive and hostile comments towards Kyiv and the West at home. Criticism of Russia in the blogosphere is censored. Anonymous translators have come under attack from the government.
Rome (AsiaNews) – Chinese authorities have reacted with resentment to a spontaneous online campaign to translate Chinese official media and pro-government speeches into foreign languages.
Since the Russian military invaded Ukraine, pro-Moscow views have multiplied in the Chinese language blogosphere, while anti-war opinions have been censored.
The decentralised and anonymous translation initiative, also called “The Great Translation Movement”, highlights the goals of Chinese state propaganda: Only interpretations in line with the official narrative are allowed, including hate speech against the West and conspiracy theories.
The Sinocentric web is flooded with nationalistic comments that attribute the cause of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to NATO and the United States.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is described as a hero who challenges Western hegemony, while those who speak out against the war are verbally attacked or have their posts censored.
Aggressive posts calling for the reunification of Taiwan by force have also increased.
The translation campaign started with a Chinese community on the Reddit social news aggregator decided to translate official media reports and the hottest posts on Chinese social media, a way to let the world know about trends and opinions in China.
The initiative soon spread to other social media such as Twitter and Instagram, in an attempt to expose Chinese authorities’ anti-Western stance and discriminative speeches.
Anonymous translators want to help overseas Chinese free themselves from the regime's propaganda, so as to integrate into the societies and the countries where they live.
A month after its launch, the campaign began to diversify its topics, to include conspiracy theories spread by official propaganda as well as the chaos of COVID-19 lockdowns adopted in many parts of China.
For instance, anti-government translators revealed how state-run media CCTV and Xinhua repeated Russia's disinformation that US laboratories in Ukraine secretly developed biological weapons.
They recently posted photos and videos showing shortages of food and basic necessities in Shanghai under lockdown, as well as the harsh conditions of the quarantine facilities run by the authorities.
The online campaign soon gathered advocates and volunteers proficient in various languages. The Twitter account "The Great Translation Movement" has over 112,000 followers.
At the same time, it came under attack from official Chinese media, according to which the movement purposely selects extreme comments to “hype up sentiment against China”.
For the Global Times, the translation campaign is a “farce”. According to the Chinese government newspaper, the “spontaneous movement” is actually supported by anti-Chinese media such as the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, and is part of “cognitive warfare” by Taiwan, all this without presenting any evidence.
The paper goes on to encourage patriotic translators to "tell China’s story" and be the main force in the online battle.
Japanese journalist and writer Akio Yaita points out that Chinese authorities invest a lot of money in foreign propaganda to promote traditional culture such as the Peking Opera, calligraphy, or to present the regime as a friendly and peace-loving.
Inside, however, the authorities promote hate education, propaganda about external threats and advocate a policy of expansion.
According to Yaita, the translation campaign reveals Chinese authorities’ duplicity and is getting unexpected results.
Since mid-March, Chinese education authorities have summoned middle school teachers and university professors in several provinces to tell them how to prepare lectures on the situation in Ukraine.
Teachers have been ordered to "accurately grasp the stance” of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and "guide students' thinking".
Some reports note that the websites of some universities disappeared after they were translated into English, sparking a debate on international social media.
Yaita explained that after seeing the translated stories from official Chinese media, Japanese readers realised the true attitude of Chinese authorities and no longer believe in its foreign propaganda.
The Japanese journalist pointed out that translating official Chinese stories into foreign languages does not violate the law and Chinese authorities are unable to remove the posts on foreign websites; thus, this is a smart tactic to fight the dictatorship.