Macron and the Chinese: Will Macron maintain his popularity in China after the election?
In May 2017, French president Emmanuel Macron’s (马克龙) election caught the attention of Chinese Internet users, who fawned over the statesman’s good looks and charismatic appeal. Searches for the keyword “little fresh meat” ((小鲜肉) often coincided with posts related to Macron, as Daxue found in its earlier analysis. Eight months post-election, has Macron Fever yet to peak? How has the relationship between Macron and the Chinese evloved? Conversely, have Chinese media and public opinion shifted focus to a new subject? The following research will determine whether Macron can maintain his popularity among Chinese netizens after the post-election glow fades.
Methodology: Data, including search engine results for Macron-related keywords, comes from Baidu Index (百度指数). Trending article rankings were collected from Newrank.cn to analyze the influence of Macron across WeChat (微信), China’s leading social media application. Data sourced from microblogging outlet Weibo (微博) and Q&A forum Zhihu (知乎) provide more qualitative feedback from the perspective of Chinese netizens.
Baidu Index Trends for Macron on the Chinese Internet
Baidu Index (百度指数) trend line for the keyword “Macron”(马克龙) between May and September 2017 , after French president Macron’s 2017 election.
After the 2017 French presidential election, Chinese Internet searches related to Macron dropped, especially from June to December in 2017. But three events that same year attracted the media’s attention and elevated Macron’s exposure in China.
The first peak in searches came during the renegotiation of the Paris Agreement on climate change （巴黎合约） after U.S. President Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw from the accord in July. The second peak, which chiefly consisted of discussion on Macron’s political challenges, corresponded with Macron’s faltering post-election approval rating. Finally, in September 2017, Macron, the youngest candidate ever elected to the French presidency, addressed the Paris-Sorbonne University in a speech on the future of the EU. Macron’s speech drew the attention of many Chinese netizens. However, in the last three months of 2017, the lack of influential reports on Macron posed a challenge for the president’s online popularity in China.
Macron’s three-day visit to China, from 8 to 10 January 2018, generated plenty of buzz among the Chinese media and the public, bringing the French president back into the spotlight after a lull in coverage. The Paper (澎湃), an Chinese online media outlet with a political focus, pointed out on January 9th that Macron is the first Western leader, after Trump (who visited China in November 2017), to visit China after the 19th session of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China (十九大), which ran from October 18 to October 24, 2017. The Paper underscored the remarkability of Macron’s timing, since he visited when most Western leaders pay homage to domestic organizations and institutions. The article’s author contended that Macron’s mid-winter trip to China reflects his desire to forge a closer relationship with China.
Baidu Index trend line from October 1, 2017 to January 10, 2018 for the keyword “Macron” (马克龙), shown in blue; “Trump”(特朗普), shown in green; and “Moon Jae-in” (文在寅), shown in orange, showing the relative frequency of searches for each.
With the thousands of reports on Macron’s visit to China, Macron garnered 82,421 keyword searches in January 9, thrice that of South Korean president Moon Jae-in (文在寅), who was searched 26,356 times on 14th December, during his visit (December 14-16) to China. Meanwhile, searches for U.S. President Donald Trump (特朗普), whose activities always generate media buzz in China, peaked at 330,884 on November 9th during his first official visit to China.
Chinese netizens shift focus to Brigitte Macron
But Emmanuel Macron and the Chinese are not the only one having a specific online relationship. Brigitte Macron (布莱吉特马克龙), the first lady of France, has consistently garnered the most searches of any Macron-related keyword since the election. We discovered in our previous article that a WeChat post by “ GuoBaoJie” (英国报姐), one of the platform’s top 26 most popular accounts (自媒体) elevated Brigitte’s exposure on the Chinese Internet. The post stressed Macron’s “legendary” marriage to a woman many years his senior. Since then, however, the first lady herself, and not her unusual love story, has emerged as the most-discussed topic concerning Brigitte Macron, especially among women aged 18 to 30.
Graph of “Macron” and related keywords from 1 through 7 January 2018. Sourced from Baidu Index by Daxue Consulting.
According to the data presented by Baidu Index’s related keyword analysis (相关词分析) function, with the most frequently searched keywords appearing in the middle of the graph, the terms “Macron’s wife” (马克龙的妻子) and “wife” (妻子) were the most searched-for keyword related to Macron in the six months since the election in May, 2017. Moreover, Chinese media and public view Brigitte as a “symbolic French woman” (法国女性的代表), who displays “confidence” (自信) and “independence” (独立).[ctt template=”2″ link=”35m09″ via=”yes” ]Brigitte Macron has inspired Chinese women to display more confidence and independance. [/ctt]
According to a search on Newrank.cn, of the 20 most viewed WeChat articles mentioning Macron from December 8 to January 8, only four articles specifically mention Macron, half of which mainly discuss Brigitte. The WeChat account “Woman with Fragrance in Her Soul”’ (灵魂有香气的女子), a WeChat KOL (Key Online Influencer) and top 500-ranked accounts, with more than 650k followers, included Brigitte’s story in a January article, viewed over 100k times. In the article, Macron is associated with one of the trending topics for 2018 on microblogging site Weibo, “little puppy” (小奶狗)- referring to young men at the ideal age to fall in love. The topic reflects changing views on relationships among Chinese women.
“Why are women changing the way they choose boyfriends? Give Up the “Old Man” (大叔) for a “Little Puppy” (小奶狗)”: Headline of an article with more than 100k views published by the WeChat account “Woman with Fragrance in Her Soul” (灵魂有香气的女子) on 2018, January 3rd.
“Pomegranate Girl Report” (石榴婆公告), a fashion blog with more than 1.3 million followers, also ranked within the top 500 accounts on WeChat, prizes Brigitte as “the bravest woman” (最勇敢的女人), who disregards criticism about her unusual relationship dynamic, and displays her charm as a mature female through her interviews and speeches. The blogger also holds that Brigitte is unlike a typical first lady, in that she transcends the conventional, rigid image upheld by her peers and predecessors.
“The bravest woman, involved in an international love story”: Headline of a widely circulated article published by the WeChat account Pomegranate Girl Report (石榴婆报告) on 2018, January 4th.
Macron’s post-election impact in China
Despite official reportage by Chinese media on his postelection political activity, the Chinese public seems less interested in Macron. The following portion of our analysis will reveal how Chinese netizens react to and perceive Macron after the election, through the leading Chinese social media platforms: WeChat (微信), Weibo(微博) and Zhihu (知乎).
Macron’s political activity did not generate much buzz on Chinese social media. Research showed that few Chinese Internet users shared their input by reposting, commenting or “liking” articles and posts related to the Macron Presidency. But there was an exception: when Macron referred to China or Chinese culture, the public willingly interacted with the news. The following cases highlight this important phenomenon.
“What are some ways to look at Macron’s idea to transform the EU into a super-entity, like the U.S and China?” A question, viewed over three million times, published on Zhihu (知乎).
The first case is a question posted on Zhihu (知乎) on the matter of Macron’s ambition to transform the European Union into an economic super-entity, like the U.S. and China. The widely read debate included a response from user Li Jianqiu (李建秋), in which Li claims Macron’s ambition is infeasible, owing to the weak economic status of small European states, such as Greece and the Baltic countries, and domestic opposition to the plan in France and other nations. The answer earned 3,327 “likes,” and was the top response to the question.
Zhihu (知乎) answer by user Li Jianqiu (李建秋) to the question “how to react to Macron’s opinion about constructing EU as a super economy entity like the U.S. and China” that received the most support by Chinese netizens.
Another popular article on Macron was a report, viewed over 100 thousand times and “liked” by nearly five thousand users, written by CCTV News (央视新闻), that investigated Macron’s decision to launch his visit to China in Xi’an (西安). The article claims that by choosing the origin of the Silk Road（丝绸之路), Macron expressed his ambition to collaborate with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (一带一路). The article also suggests that Macron’s gesture reflects his understanding of Chinese culture.
“French president Macron’s visit: Starting from Xi’an: why this choice?” Headline of an article published on WeChat by CCTV News (央视新闻) on January 8th.
The visit also garnered many interactions from Chinese netizens. Wei World (微天下), Sina Weibo’s official news account, posted photos of Macron’s visit to the Terra-cotta Warriors (兵马俑) in Xi’an, and received 1,624 likes. Many netizens warmly welcomed Macron in the article’s comments section.
The coverage of Macron’s visit to China with the most engagement by Internet users, published on Sina Weibo (新浪微博), by Wei World (微天下) on January 8th, 2018.
Above all, there’s no doubt that Macron’s influence in Chinese media and public opinion subsided after his election in May 2017, as Chinese netizens paid more attention to Macron’s understanding of Chinese culture and first lady Brigitte Macron, than to his political decisions or official schedule. However, will the President’s promised annual visits to China generate enough buzz to resurrect his popularity?
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