Narratives that drive climate misinformation in China
Fat-shaming, memories of dynasties, and green technology conspiracy: Annie Lab examined the narratives behind misleading claims about climate change in China
Earlier this year, ANNIE’s fact-checking project Annie Lab received the Check Global Independent Media Response Fund from Meedan to investigate climate misinformation narratives on Chinese social media.
Today, we are excited to announce the publication of a research report titled, “Narratives that drive climate misinformation in China: Fat-shaming, memories of dynasties, and green technology conspiracy”.
We hope this special report offers some valuable insights into the prevalent and persistent misinformation and provides a better understanding of climate change discourse in China’s digital sphere.
For this special report, we collected and analysed over a hundred posts from Chinese platforms such as Weibo, Douyin, Xigua, Baidu, Sohu, Sogou, Bilibili, WeChat, and others. We also supplemented the dataset with similar bogus claims in the Chinese language that spread elsewhere outside of China’s Great Firewall.
We identified distinctive trends and narratives that seem to unite the downright falsehood and misunderstanding of climate science — all of which, interestingly, stem from Chinese national identity in one way or another.
Our key findings are:
The national discourse surrounding climate change drastically shifted around 2012, coinciding with the change in the state’s view on the topic. The climate crisis was seen as a tool by “the West” to prevent China’s growth until then. It was replaced by the notion that the crisis is real and, therefore, developing green technology is a great business opportunity for the country.
Almost any criticism of China by other countries and environmental activists is seen as having ulterior motives. Persistent misinformation about Greta Thunberg and subsequent vitriol reactions attacking her for something she did not do or say illustrates the historical mistrust of “the West” and “its puppets” vividly.
The same conspiratorial rhetoric about “the West” conjuring up the climate crisis to suppress China’s growth is now used against the country. Internationally, misleading claims about China making up the crisis to sell green technology and hold other countries “hostage” is a recurring narrative.
One intriguing narrative that emerged in the research was that rising temperatures can be proven beneficial to the prosperity of the country, which is presumably supported by China’s long history of various dynasties and historical climate data gathered by a Chinese meteorologist almost half a century ago. Although the authorities refuted such claims, the sentiment of national pride seems to drive the narrative to resurface occasionally.
Common climate misinformation in the English language also appears in the Chinese language on platforms outside the Great Firewall. They can be as misguided and influential; the Epoch Times and its sister media outlets periodically disseminate false claims, but they are not as frequently fact-checked compared to English-language publications.
To access the full report, please visit the Annie Lab website (or click here). Reports are written in English, Traditional Chinese, and Simplified Chinese. You can also download the PDF version in all three languages.