Planet China

Subway swarm

“A tropical grasshopper with strong powers of flight” begins the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of ‘locust’. The description goes on to add that while “usually solitary”, the species can experience population explosions which lead them to “migrate in vast swarms which cause extensive damage to vegetation”. That destructive quality helps to explain why the Chinese got so upset when their Hong Kong brethren started calling mainland tourists “locusts” last year (see WiC136).

But now it would seem that the mainland Chinese are using the term about themselves. In this case the offending party was the Beijing subway, which posted pictures on its weibo earlier this month of an empty train carriage littered with rubbish. It accompanied the image with this message: “After a locust invasion, Line 10 is a mess. Regarding behaviour that damages Beijing, we just want to say: you are not welcome here!”

The post sparked more than 6,000 comments on weibo, most of them from commuters who saw themselves as the target of the attack. Particularly annoyed were those lacking a Beijing residency permit (hukou), who felt that the “you are not welcome here” message was aimed at them. With the online discussion rapidly becoming more political, the offending comment was then deleted. To calm things down, the subway subsequently apologised for the photo and blamed an “inexperienced young editor” for the post.

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