Thatcher tributes in Chinese social media focus on her China influences

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 April, 2013, 1:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 29 August, 2013, 4:13am

Tributes online to Lady Margaret Thatcher were more reverential in China than elsewhere, a survey among immediate reactions to her death shows. Many comments revealed more about what netizens thought about China than about the former British prime minister's legacy.

Keywords that dominated posts on Chinese blogs included positive words such as "historic", "wise" and "great," according to data compiled by the social media consultancy Meltwater. More than 130 comments on her passing appeared on Sina Weibo every minute in the first three hours after news of her death broke.

Many Weibo posts recalled Margaret Thatcher negotiating the handover of Hong Kong and some of her famous one-liners about discipline and perseverance. However, many of the posts focused more on China than on Thatcher.

"You don't have to worry about China, because China will not provide any new ideas to the world - not in the next few decades or century," Hangzhou-based lawyer Yuan Yulai said quoting Thatcher in a reaction that has since been shared 7,500 times.

Kai-fu Lee, the former head of Google China and one of the most influential voices on Weibo, shared the historic picture of her and Chinese counterpart Zhao Ziyang signing the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, the bilateral treaty which secured the July 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China.

"Thatcher and who?" the IT-investor and prominent commentator Charles Xue quipped, when re-sharing the photo. Searches for Zhao Ziyang, who was purged in 1989 for siding with protestors at Tiananmen Square, are still blocked in China.

Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping were among of those who led a wave of global reforms in the 1980s, said economist Xu Xiaonian in his microblog post. "They differed from mediocre bureaucrats and snobbish politicians in their convictions. They were confident they had chosen the right path for their countries," he wrote in a thinly-veiled reference to the present day.

"Lady Thatcher represented the final era of Europe's economic brilliance and political strength," Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor of Global Times, wrote. "The era in which the world needs 'iron ladies' has ended. Now we need co-operation," he wrote in another post.

Ridicule about getting her picture wrong was directed at other countries. No mainland media has so far committed the faux-pas of Taiwanese broadcaster CtiTV, which mistook Queen Elizabeth II for Thatcher in its early coverage.

(The Thai Army Radio and Television Channel 5 thought Meryl Streep, the actress who received an Oscar for playing Thatcher in The Iron Lady, was the former prime minister.)

The keywords that dominated the debate in English-language social media globally were not as referential to her legacy, according to data collected by Meltwater.

References to her branding South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, "a typical terrorist organisation," during the apartheid era dominated the conversation, the data showed.

They also outweighed more positive references to her close relationship with then US President Ronald Reagan or to the Falklands War in 1982.

"Milk" was another trending topic. Many people recalled her abolition of free milk for school children in 1970.

In the first three hours after news of her death broke, she was mentioned in an average of 900 tweets every minute.

The tweet which has been shared most - some 11,000 times so far - has been US President Barack Obama's tribute to the former British prime minister. "She stands as an example to our daughters that there is no glass ceiling that can’t be shattered," he tweeted.