Culture

Some *interesting* rumors about foreign countries on the Chinese Internet

Do you know? In the early days of the Internet in China, many rumors of reverse nationalism were widely circulated. Some of them have formed interesting Meme, for example, you can find an oil paper bag, with replacement parts 3 meters around any product made in Germany.

Since the end of the 20th century, there have been many ironic rumors about foreign countries on the Internet in China.

Most of them come from Chinese public intellectuals. In the current Chinese context, public intellectuals are almost a derogatory term. Its meaning in Chinese Internet is completely different from that in English. 

In Chinese, “public intellectuals” usually represent Chinese people who “actually have little professional knowledge” and “morbid worship of other countries”.

The word “public intellectual” is not a derogatory term in Chinese at the beginning, or putting the cart before the horse. It is because on the early Chinese Internet, a group of Chinese who “actually have little professional knowledge” and “morbid worship of other countries” call themselves “public intellectuals”, which leads to the stigmatization of this word.

Making up rumors that “other countries are fairyland” was one of the most important jobs of these people at that time. At that time, since most Chinese had not been abroad, and few Chinese living abroad were active on the Chinese Internet, these vivid rumors had deceived many young people at that time.

With more and more contact between Chinese and foreigners, these rumors are no longer believed by Chinese netizens. But many of these rumors have become meme on the Internet in China.

Some of them even attracted the attention of netizens in the countries described in the rumors. It’s like interesting rumors from foreigners about China, such as everyone in China knows kung fu.

Here, we have selected some more interesting rumors to share with you.

“The sewers are the conscience of the city”

Rumor:

In China, the city that is least afraid of torrential rain is not the capital Beijing or the international city of Shanghai, but Qingdao. The reason is that after the German invasion and occupation of Qingdao in 1898, a complex drainage system was established for the city. Qingdao still uses the drainage system today, which has protected the city from flooding over the past century. As the famous French writer Victor Hugo said, “sewers are the conscience of the city”, which implies that contemporary Chinese city managers have no conscience.

Origin:

The origin of this rumor is an article entitled “Qingdao sewers: foresight of a hundred years ago, unreplicable German experience” published by Southern Metropolis Daily on June 2, 2010. This 6000-word article describes in detail the plans of the German colonists when they built the drainage system in Qingdao. 

Subsequently, as several cities in China were hit by torrential rains, clips of this article were quoted over and over again. Vitor Hugo’s lines about sewers in Les Miserables are highlighted and used to prove that Europe built very reliable drainage systems in its cities as early as the Industrial Revolution. 

Soon, another urban legend was added to the rumor about sewers, that is, the legend of German oil-paper bags in the next rumor after this one.

Fact check: 

German-made sewers collected in Qingdao Museum.

The Germans did build a drainage system when they occupied Qingdao in the 19th century, which was ahead of any other city in China at that time. 

But this drainage system only tried to discharge rain water from the leased land in Germany to the local living area, which brought great trouble to the residents living in Qingdao at that time. Today, a century later, the remaining parts of these drainage systems account for 3% of the entire Qingdao drainage system, which basically no longer plays any role. 

The reference to Les Miserables in this rumor is also wrong, and the appearance of that line in this work is in fact a satire rather than a compliment on the drainage system of Paris in the early 19th century. 

That line means that no one will decorate the sewers, so the sewers tend to show the ugliest side of a city. It is because of this “honesty” that it is considered to have a conscience.

The rumor even caught the attention of Germans in 2015, when the South German newspaper published an article describing it in detail. 

German oil-paper bag

Rumor:

The sewer in Qingdao, built by the Germans a century ago, is broken and some parts need to be replaced, but the construction company of that year no longer exists. A German company sent an email saying that according to German engineering standards, well-stored spare parts should be found within 3 meters of replaceable parts. After receiving the e-mail, Chinese companies found a small warehouse in the sewer full of spare parts wrapped in oil-paper, all shiny as new.

Origin:

This rumor was first recorded on the Chinese Internet.

As you can see, this rumor is an evolutionary version of the previous one. It appeared in Douban.com on July 16, 2010. The publisher was inspired by the article in the previous rumor to further myth the story of the German sewer. 

The rumor spread further when Wang Shi, a Chinese real estate tycoon, reposted it on Weibo on Aug. 21, 2013.

Fact check:

According to a survey by Chinese journalists, the sewer system mentioned above is basically made of cement and ceramic and does not need “spare parts” at all. 

Because this rumor is so interesting, in a way, it became the first Meme to turn from a rumor into a rumor. Chinese netizens still use “German oil paper bags” to satirize things that do not exist. For example: 

My German shepherd is sick. I called the Germans and they said that since this dog is called a German shepherd, it means we must have been prepared. Under the guidance, I found a veterinarian wrapped in oil-paper. Dogs turned well cured, the Germans are really rigorous and worthy of our study.

Super Japanese pupils

Rumor:

In August 1992, 77 Japanese pupils came to China and attended a summer camp in Inner Mongolia with 30 Chinese pupils. At this summer camp, these things happened: 

  1. Primary school students in both countries are required to hike 50 kilometers with 20kg load. Chinese pupils give up because of illness, while all Japanese pupils do it easily because they have to walk 100 kilometers when they attend a summer camp in Japan. 
  2. Japanese parents cheered their children up and left by car, while Chinese parents pulled their children into cars in places where the journey was difficult.
  3. Japanese children always shout slogans during hiking, while Chinese children are always exhausted. 
  4. When the supply truck is stuck in the quagmire, Japanese children go to help push the truck, while Chinese children only watch or give verbal instructions.

Conclusion: there are many problems in the concept of children’s education in China, which will make Chinese people lose their competitiveness in the future.

Origin:

This is actually an article published in Chinese magazine Reader, writed by author Sun Yunxiao in November 1993. Reader is one of the most influential literary magazines in China in the last century.

In the absence of the Internet, many people believe that the story described in this article comes from reality and is widely spread. Even to some extent, it does change the way some Chinese parents educate their children.

Fact check: 

It has not been decided whether these stories are true or not. 

In the context of the times described in the article, China has just come to an end from a tense political movement, while Japan has entered a loose generation for a long time. The educational ideas of the two countries should lead to the fact that the real situation of children in the two countries is completely opposite to that described in the article.

But two years after the article was published, the author responded that everything described in the article came from a real summer camp, with no exaggeration except for a few number errors.(there was a significant error in the distance on foot)

In an article published in 2011, it was pointed out that only a small part of the original text was fictional. But it deliberately edits the facts into a state that misleads the reader. In particular, it makes up the opposition between the concept of Chinese-style education and that of Japanese-style education.

“Japanese pupils” later became a classic meme on the Chinese Internet. It was used for a long time to describe children with strong combat effectiveness (being able to carry heavy 20KG to walk 100KM in freezing rain) and became synonymous with Super Saiyan.

In a humorous sense, this rumor explains why students perform so well in Japanese animation.

The American passport says…

Rumor:

The following sentence is printed on the American passport:

No matter where you are in the world, the strong United States of America is always behind you. Please remember that you are an American citizen.

Origin:

In December 2007, a Chinese netizen posted a post entitled “feelings of returning home: the difference between Chinese and US passports” on the North American Board of Sina Forum, which compared the statements on Chinese and US passports.

The original source of this rumor

This sentence is printed on the Chinese passport: “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China requests all civil and military authorities of foreign countries to allow the bearer of this passport to pass freely and afford assistance in case of need.”

This is true, but the statement on the US passport has been replaced by a rumor version.

The publishers of the post seem to be using it to prove that China’s protection of its citizens abroad is far less than that of the United States.

Fact check: 

In fact, the statement on the American passport is:

The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.

Its tone and wording are consistent with those on the China passport. 

the prop China passport in Wolf Warriors 2

But interestingly, the prop China passport used in the 2018 Chinese movie Wolf Warriors 2 is printed with a phrase similar to that rumored: 

Citizens of the people’s Republic of China: when you are in danger overseas, don’t give up! Please remember, there is a strong motherland behind you! 

Of course, there is no such sentence on China’s real passport.

“We don’t know which school bus the child will be the president of the United States in the future… “

Rumor:

A president of the United States once said, “We must ensure that the school bus is absolutely safe, because we do not know which child in the school bus will become the future president of the United States.” School bus accidents occur frequently in China because Chinese officials know that their children will not take the school bus to school. As a result, the safety of school buses in the United States is 40 times higher than that in China.

Origin:

It is impossible to find a clear origin of the rumor, but its original purpose was not to demonstrate the safety of American school buses but to attack China’s political system. It seems to be born in November 2011, but I haven’t found its exact source.

Fact check:

When you see that it gives a clear description of “40 times safer”, you know that it is likely to be false. As a matter of fact, no president of the United States has ever said that, and no other famous person has ever said that in the English-speaking world. 

A bigger reality is that China actually has no school bus culture. 

China did not begin small-scale trial operation of school buses until August 2011, China’s Ministry of Education said in a 2014 announcement.

China has always adopted strict regulations on the transportation industry, and no organization or individual can carry out the operation of the transportation industry without approval. China did not approve the existence of school buses until 2010. In 2011, when this rumor was born, the number of students in China who went to school by school bus may be less than 1/10000 of the total number of students. 

Therefore, of course, the children of Chinese officials will not go to school by school bus, because no one will go to school by school bus. 

It also means that the person who wrote the rumor in the first place may never have lived in China.

Free health care in Somalia / Canada / India / the United States / North Korea is the best health care system in the world.

Rumor:

China’s health care system is flawed because the medical sector or market-oriented pharmaceutical groups are too corrupt. In fact, the XXXX country has been operating a free health care system since 19xx, where all citizens can treat any disease without spending a penny. Their health care system is not only free but also efficient. No one criticizes their health care system. China should learn from them.

XXXX can be replaced with any country, and previous versions include Somalia, India, Canada, Russia, the United States and North Korea.

Origin:

It seems to originate at the beginning of this century, with the development of the Internet. Some materials about overseas social governance began to spread on the Internet in China. 

However, because this kind of data often has a more complex description logic, Chinese public intellectuals simply summarize some overseas medical systems as “free” to demonstrate the failure of China’s medical system.

Fact check:

Such as “super Japanese pupils”, this is not entirely false, the reality is that some countries do adopt a universal free health care system. But in the version circulated on the Chinese Internet, these systems are deified.

These mythical free health care systems for all have no efficiency problems at all, nor do they require additional taxes. It sounds as if revenue out of thin air supports the operation of these systems.

But in fact, there have always been two kinds of medical systems in the world, one is market-oriented medical system, the other is social welfare medical system. Some countries have adopted health systems that favour social welfare, which leads to the inefficiency of their health systems.

About China’s health care system, we once wrote an article entitled “Is it easy or difficult to see a doctor in China?” This article describes the real experience of Chinese people seeking medical treatment. It is true that there is still room for improvement, but it is by no means a “failed system”.

And it is rumored that some countries do not actually adopt a universal free health care system, such as the United States.

The Somali version is even worse. Somali residents do have “free health care”, but that is because the country’s own health system has completely collapsed, and people there are completely dependent on free medical assistance provided by the United Nations. But in the rumors, these are hidden.

Similar to this rumor, some versions of “free medical care” have been replaced with “free housing” and “free food”. It depends on which public service in China this version wants to argue is a failure.

The Japanese never cut wood.

Rumor:

The Japanese never use wood from their own country to make disposable chopsticks. Every year, Japan imports a large amount of wood from China to make disposable chopsticks, and Chinese businessmen cut down their own forests indiscriminately for money. 

Another version: the Japanese never use their own coal, they import a lot of coal from China every year, and those that can’t be used up are sealed at the bottom of Tokyo Bay until China has no coal and then resell it to China. 

Another version: the Japanese never mine their own rare-earth element…

Origin:

There is no clear starting point, it seems to appear before the birth of the Internet.

Fact check:

In the trade between China and Japan, China is the importer of timber. Japan has been a timber exporter for the past 40 years, and China is one of the main buyers of the timber, according to the Nippon Keizai Shimbun in March 2019

In addition, at present, the materials of disposable chopsticks around the world are basically from a special fast-growing bamboo or poplar. Their growth cycle is only five years, and each tree can be made into about 5000 pairs of chopsticks. A forest farm of one square kilometer can meet a huge demand for chopsticks. 

No one will use ordinary forest trees to make disposable chopsticks. It’s too expensive for you to use. 

The part about rare earth mines and coal mines… Well, even if Japan does adopt a buy-and-store strategy, why do they choose the undersea? Sea water will wear out these treated minerals.


As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, most Chinese people no longer believe these rumors. But every year, some of these rumors are still repeated in a particular group of people. Rumors about the free health care system, for example, appear every year in the mobile phones of older people who have recently learned how to use the Internet. 

After all, for those who have not studied economics or social security, it is hard to understand why an “efficient, omnipotent and free” health care system is impossible. And this is really desirable. 

As of March 2020, the number of Internet users in China has exceeded 904 million, which means that most Chinese people have become Internet users. But it also means that the digital literacy of Chinese netizens is uneven. Especially for the elderly, the information overload brought about by the Internet makes them feel anxious. 

According to a research report on the Internet behavior of the elderly released by Tencent Research Institute in 2018, many elderly people in China use rumors as social chips to share with their friends and children. After all, most rumors carry a well-intentioned warning, which is exactly what older people want to share with their children and loved ones. 

This means that China’s war against Internet rumors will continue for a long time.

Do you want to know more about the Meme or rumors on the Internet in China? You can tell us in the comment area.

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