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Racism Allegations in United Airlines Scandal Fire Up Chinese Social Media

Variety logo Variety 4/11/2017 Vivienne Chow

Chinese Internet users are calling for a boycott of United Airlines, after videos of an Asian passenger being forcibly removed from a U.S. aircraft went viral on social media platforms across China.

Posts from official media accounts and from private citizens were quickly seen trending on platforms including Sina Weibo (akin to a Chinese version of Twitter) and on messaging platform WeChat, which has over 800 million users worldwide.

An April 9 flight from Chicago O’Hare to Louisville was overbooked and after a call for volunteers to leave the plane, the airline and local police forcibly removed passengers. Videos show an Asian man, reportedly a medical doctor, removed from his seat and dragged, bloodied and apparently unconscious along the central aisle.

Many pointed not only to United’s ill treatment of the passenger, but also charged the airline with racist treatment of Asians. Others said that the police and airline brutality exposed

American lies about freedom and equality. (The video surfaced the same day as Amnesty International criticized China for its high number of state executions.)

A topic page on Sina Weibo had attracted more than 77 million views and 5.2 million discussion threads by early Tuesday afternoon. Official media, including People’s Daily, and the Sina video channel have also been carrying the news. Shenzhen Airlines set up an online poll of Weibo users’ seeking their views on the scandal.

Many Weibo users said the move was insulting and disrespectful, arguing that United Airlines deliberately targeted an Asian man because Asians are stereotyped as timid and unlikely to stand up for their rights.

Gao Dinyuan, a member of the Binzhou city Internet culture association, wrote in a Weibo post: “Where’s the freedom and equality that [America] promised? Where’s promise of the acceptance of people in different colors? Are these just political lies from American politicians?”

One of the WeChat posts by MetroChinese drew more than 100,000 views. Many users responded by calling for boycott of United Airlines. “What if all Asians boycott United Airlines? Will that airline collapse?,” one of the users wrote.

“United began nonstop service to China in 1986 and today has twice as many routes between China and the mainland U.S. as any other U.S. airline, with 96 weekly departures,” the airline claimed in May last year, before adding a new service connecting the high-tech hubs of San Francisco and Hangzhou.

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