The violent removal of a United Airlines passenger who refused to leave after being bumped off an overbooked flight in Chicago on Monday has sparked widespread outrage on Chinese social media after state media said the man was a 69-year-old Chinese-American originally from Beijing.
Hashtags linked to the incident were viewed by more than 150 million people and racked up tens of thousands of comments and retweets by Tuesday evening local time, amid widespread calls for a boycott of the U.S. airline after a viral video shot by a fellow passenger showed security personnel removing the man, injuring him in the process.
The man had refused to give up his seat on the flight from Chicago O'Hare International Airport on its journey to Louisville, Kentucky on Sunday, saying he is a doctor who had patients to see on Monday morning.
Video showing him being dragged down the plane, screaming and with blood pouring from his mouth sparked global outrage, but in China, public anger was further fueled by suspicions of racist discrimination after fellow passenger Tyler Brides, who posted video of the incident to his Twitter account, told the Washington Post the man yelled: "I'm being selected because I'm Chinese."
On Tuesday, reports emerged that the man is a Vietnamese-American doctor named David Dao who specializes in internal medicine and lives in the U.S. state of Kentucky with his wife who is a pediatrician.
A photoshopped image of a United aircraft bearing the slogan: "If we can't beat our competitors, we'll beat our customers!" was widely circulated on Sina's Twitter-like Weibo platform.
"Rise up, people who refuse to be slaves!" commented user @yikoushaomai, quoting the lyrics of China's national anthem.
"This is over-the-top bullying!" user @zuobengua agreed, while @Mm-wenwen added: "This behavior is incompatible with humanity."
Many users commented "Boycott United!" while others homed in on the passenger's ethnicity.
"I've never understood on what basis those people in America think they get to discriminate against us ... I'm never going to set foot in that country as long as I live," @favoritezhangjiayuan wrote, while @wobushizhongyimengfoik commented: "Laughable human rights."
@Vienna-Feiyang added: "Against racial discrimination, and strongly oppose any discrimination against Chinese people!" while @xiaoyangyangyangyangjiang wrote: "I just want to know if this old guy is OK. It made me so sad to see this."
‘Is he Chinese?’
Some of the comments hit out at the violent treatment of an elderly man, while others were unsure of the man's origin.
"Is he Chinese?" @SOMNUS wrote. "He could also be Japanese or Korean, by the look of him. This is about what happened, not about who it happened to. It is an unacceptable way to treat a customer," to which @huanghuanghuangxiuhua replied: "It said on the news he's a Chinese guy from Beijing."
"There are no human rights in America ... and yet they criticize our country," added @xiaoxiancaojun-meirenbiwogengkeai.
United Chief Executive Officer Oscar Munoz "made no apology for the way the passenger was treated and just emphasized that he had 'refused to comply' with staff," the Global Times newspaper, a sister paper of ruling Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily, reported on Tuesday.
Munoz wrote in a leaked internal email: "While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you [the employees] …When we approached one of these passengers to explain apologetically that he was being denied boarding, he raised his voice and refused to comply with crew member instructions."
"The situation was unfortunately compounded when one of the passengers we politely asked to deplane refused and it became necessary to contact Chicago aviation security officers to help," Munoz wrote in the letter obtained by CNBC and other news outlets.
One of the security officers who dragged the passenger off the plane is currently on leave pending a review, the Chicago Department of Aviation said in a statement, adding that the officer did not follow protocol.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Transportation said it would investigate whether United complied with overbooking rules that require airlines to set guidelines on how passengers are denied boarding if they do not volunteer to give up their seats.
United is contractually allowed to turn passengers with tickets away if a flight is overbooked, but bumped off passengers are entitled to cash compensation or a similar flight.
Passengers who "fail to comply with or interfere with the duties of the members of the flight crew" can also be removed for security reasons.
Reported by RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.