Anonymous account translates China's online discourse on Ukraine

The Great Translation Movement Twitter account translates social media comments on hot-button topics.
By Hsia Hsiao-hwa
2022.03.15
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Anonymous account translates China's online discourse on Ukraine A recent page on the crowd-sourced Great Translation Movement account @TGTM_Official on Twitter, which features online comments made on Chinese social media platforms rendered into English by volunteer translators
Great Translation Movement

An anonymous Twitter account has started translating online internet comment about the Russian invasion of Ukraine from inside the Great Firewall for readers outside China, in a bid to highlight online opinion about the war, which has been heavily influenced by ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) propaganda and a ban on criticism of Russia.

The crowd-sourced Great Translation Movement account @TGTM_Official on Twitter features online comments made on Chinese social media platforms rendered into English by volunteer translators, one participant told RFA.

The account started out in mid-February, amid growing tensions between Russia and Ukraine, with volunteers selecting and tweeting various examples of Chinese online comment using the hashtag #TheGreatTranslationMovement in various languages.

Most of the topics are selected by the volunteers and then submitted to the account, the volunteer said.

The account was later subjected to huge volumes of complaints to Twitter, as pro-CCP commentators tried to get it taken down, with some of its tweets blocked, and huge volumes of pro-CCP comments using its hashtag.

On the pandemic, the account has also made some revealing tweets, translating social media comments that agree with CCP claims that the SARS-CoV2 virus originated in the United States.

"This is the real view of the Chinese on Weibo, with the highest likes reaching 76k," the account tweeted. "Almost everyone believes that COVID19 was deliberately created by the United States."

The account has been criticized for portraying people in China in a poor light, and potentially sparking anti-Asian racism.

"We do not discriminate at all," the volunteer said. "Because we are only translating their actual words."

"We leave that translated content for the public to make up its own mind," he said.

Taiwan Democracy Lab's bilingual webpage that monitors Chinese propaganda about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.  Credit: Taiwan Democracy Lab
Taiwan Democracy Lab's bilingual webpage that monitors Chinese propaganda about Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Credit: Taiwan Democracy Lab
Naked hatred

He said some of the content is shocking and involves people taking pleasure in acts of extreme animal cruelty, as well as showing naked hatred of people from Hong Kong and Taiwan.

"Some people lack awareness, and post content when they have no idea how horrible it is," the volunteer said. "This is the sort of collective unconscious behavior that the CCP wants to cultivate; fanatical patriotism and love for the party."

"If you've read George Orwell's 1984, you'll have some idea of this," the volunteer said.

Taiwan-based dissident Gong Yujian said the Great Translation Movement account had indeed exposed the ugly workings of the Chinese internet under the CCP.

"I can actually say without hesitation that Chinese nationalism has that Wolf Warrior character that has become very belligerent, unfriendly, and irrational under the long-term deception and brainwashing of the Communist Party," Gong told RFA. Wolf Warrior was a blockbuster movie whose blunt jingoism has been embraced by Chinese diplomats and keyboard warriors.

"Basically, in their eyes, Ukraine is the aggressor, while Russia has become the invaded country, the weaker party," he said. "Their ideas are totally back to front."

He said the translation movement had exposed content that is intended for domestic consumption to the international community.

"There is official Chinese internal propaganda and official external propaganda, and they are very clearly distinguished from each other," Gong said. "This translation account has exposed what was considered internal propaganda to specific groups overseas."

"For the CCP, it's a very advanced form of subversion."

Taiwan Democracy Lab chairman Shen Po-yang agreed.

"They don't do much [propaganda] in English, which is left mostly to the official media, after [the propaganda department] sets the tone," he said. "Such comments [as those translated] have a huge impact in China, but have been fairly low profile in the Western world."

"[These translations] are letting everyone know China's position, which isn't very good for China," Shen said.

Idolizing Putin

In one translated post from Chinese social media, a screenshot of Russian President Vladimir Putin standing in front of a crowd with the caption "Half the countries in the world are bullying this man" garners tens of thousands of comments from social media users in China.

"A glimpse inside how Putin is being idolized on Chinese Tiktok (Douyin)," the account comments, quoting one user as commenting "We. China. Are here for you. Hang in there."

Other comments call Putin a "legendary figure who will go down in history," while another tweet focuses on lewd comments made by accounts with profiles bearing photos of women about the Russian leader's supposed masculine prowess.

"Sorry, we've translated something more vulgar that might make you uncomfortable," the account quips.

It also posted a Putin fan video, translating the voice-over as saying "I admire Putin's toughness," and a tweet detailing how widely accepted the Russian claim that the U.S. is running bioweapons laboratories in Ukraine is inside China, where most people only have access to footage and storylines from the Russian media, via state news organizations who rebroadcast them as fact.

Social media users comment that the U.S. is guilty of "a very serious crime against humanity." "Due to the deliberate guidance of CCTV news, Chinese hatred of Americans has reached a historical peak, and it is difficult to find a neutral reply," the account commented.

Another video translated and tweeted by the account showed Chinese schoolchildren talking about the Russian invasion as a "special military operation" and repeating claims that the Russian army had destroyed the Ukrainian military within a couple of hours.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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