Social media users in China got creative Monday to celebrate Chloé Zhao’s historic Oscars victory after mention of her name was censored by the Chinese government.
Beijing born Zhao, who directed “Nomadland,”won best director at the Oscars on Sunday, but searches for her name and the film were few and far in between on Chinese social media platforms. Nomadland also won best picture but received a similar silent treatment.
On China’s Twitter-like Weibo, users bypassed censors by using alternate translations and iterations of the film’s title. Nomadland, which roughly translates to “unreliable land” in Chinese, was altered and instead referred to as “reliable sky” — giving the film a completely new name.
Zhao has also been given several new names. Some users gave her the moniker “daughter of the clouds” and others simply called her “that girl.” Zhao’s acceptance speech, where she referenced a classic Chinese text about people being inherently good at birth, also reverberated with Weibo users.
“Chloe Zhao is great, walking on the red carpet in sneakers, and reciting a line from the Three Character Classic. That’s the wisdom of a literari. Some words can be erased, but these can not,” one user wrote.
Zhao made history on Sunday by becoming the first woman of color to win the award for best director at the Oscars. She is also only the second-ever woman to win best director but is yet to officially receive praise from her native country.
The Associated Press reported that in an app popular with Chinese film buffs, Douban, searches for “Nomadland” and “Zhao Ting” came up with “the search results could not be displayed in accordance to relevant laws and regulations.”
Discussion about Zhao and her film were silenced in China after comments she made appearing to criticize the country were unearthed following her Golden Globes win on March 1. She was initially celebrated, with Chinese state news outlets going as far as to call her “the pride of China.” Within days, however, she became the target of online trolls accusing her of smearing China over comments in an interview from 2013 with Filmmaker magazine in which she described her experience there as “a place where there are lies everywhere.”
Another more recent interview was also dug out, in which Zhao, who spent time studying in the United States, was quoted as saying to an Australian news site, news.com.au, on March 3 that “the U.S. is now my country, ultimately.” The site went on to clarify that they had misquoted Zhao, and that she had actually said that the “U.S. is not my country.”
“Nomadland” immediately received calls for a boycott. Its promotional material disappeared online and there remains no sign of the film being released in Chinese theaters in the near future.
This year’s Oscars were not broadcasted at all in China, and for the first time in 50 years, in Hong Kong too.
“Do Not Split,” a documentary on the 2019 Hong Kong pro-democracy protests had also been nominated. However, neither Chinese authorities nor Hong Kong’s leading broadcaster said the ban was due to the inclusion of Nomadland or the documentary, the latter pointing to “commercial reasons.”
Reuters reported that a livestream of the Academy Awards hosted by alumni from Zhao’s alma mater in Shanghai through a virtual private network (VPN) service was also blocked for nearly two hours. NBC News could not confirm this.
Hu Xijin, Editor in Chief of Global Times, a Chinese state-backed newspaper, congratulated Zhao for her win on Twitter, but also added that he hoped Zhao would “become more and more mature” in handling troubles the tense China-US ties may bring to her.
There have been no statements from Chinese state officials on Zhao’s win or the online response.
Offline, however, AP reported that some celebrated Zhao’s win.
“Wow that’s incredible — winning a world’s top award as a Chinese person,” said Zhou Lu, 35, a publisher in Beijing. She had not heard of Zhao prior to her win, but plans to watch her film.