YouTuber Wang Jixian continues to tell the story of Odesa to sinophone audiences

Wang Jixian in his Odesa apartment turned YouTuber studio. Photo by Filip Noubel, used with permission.

Wang Jixian is an IT businessman who is originally from Beijing but moved permanently to Odesa in the fall of 2021. After Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, he reactivated his YouTube channel and started posting videos to show his life in his new hometown. Eight months into the war, he shared his experience of living in a country at war and his journey of broadcasting his story to Sinophone audiences in an interview with Global Voices (GV)

Wang has no background in media or activism, yet once he began to post videos on both Chinese social media and on YouTube, his popularity exploded. Almost all Chinese citizens left Ukraine after Russia started its second invasion, and there are no Chinese journalists reporting from Ukraine. This sudden visibility soon became a challenge: He was banned on Chinese social media for sharing stories that contradict Beijing's narrative. Beijing has more or less copied Moscow's discourse about Ukraine “crawling with Nazis.” He also received death threats from trolls and nationalists from China accusing him of having “sold out to the West.”

On the other hand, he became a global media celebrity and was featured in a documentary series nominated for the Fernsehpreiss award in Germany. Today he continues to update his YouTube channel, where his short videos often gather as many as 50,000 views, as well as a large number of comments in Chinese from China, the global Chinese audience, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.

In his videos, he describes his own journey and how the ban on Chinese social media has impacted his relationship with China as well as his ability to stay in touch with family and friends. He also talks about how people in Odesa are affected by daily air raid alerts yet are maintaining their traditional lifestyle as a resort and global trade hub on the Black Sea. More recently, he started mentioning his personal life now that he has met his new love Dasha, who comes from Luhansk, a region of Ukraine under Russian occupation.

GV met with him in Odesa and interviewed him in Chinese in his flat-turned-YouTuber studio. The first question was about the biggest changes in his life eight months into the war. Wang responded:

很多事情发生了改变,也许最重要的是: 我找到了我饿爱情,她让我的生命更加有意义。

经过了这么多的时间我已经开始适应和习惯了hater,并开始了解了他们的方法,也了解到这是他们的职业工作。也许我内心变得更成熟了,战争还在继续,现在每天听到空袭警报,导弹,情绪平静很多,面对生死更加坦然了,当我每天面对死亡的时候才更理解活着的意义。

A lot of things have changed, perhaps most importantly: I have found my love, and she has made my life more meaningful.

After so much time I have started to adapt and get used to [online] haters, and have come to understand their methods, and that this is their job. Perhaps my heart has become more mature: The war is still going on, and I hear air raid sirens and missiles every day, but my emotions are toned down, I am more calm in the face of life and death. As  I face death every day, I understand the meaning of life better.

GV asked him what it feels like to become a social media celebrity:

感谢您的评价,我之前真的从来没有想过我会成为中文的Youtuber,我之前也和很多中国人一样,刻意回避政治性的问题,尽量分享一些吃喝玩乐,但我现在认识到政治是生活分不开的一部分。

对于暴政和谎言选择回避,这感觉就像是当你看当一个受伤的人向你求救 而你却转身离开一样,这不是我在欧洲体会到的生活方式。

在Youtube和推特上人们的言论明显自由的很多,我可以同时听到赞成和反对的声音,也可以听到人们分享自己的不同观点,而不是国内平台那种只有政治正确的统一性的声音。相比之下,那些反对的声音更加专注于人身攻击,心理打击,而很少是关于事情本身的。

Thank you for your assessment, I actually never really thought that I would become a Chinese Youtuber before! Like many Chinese people, I have deliberately avoided political issues, and instead tried to share content about food, drink and fun. But now I realize that you can't separate politics from life.

My position is to say no to tyranny and lies. Because it feels like when you watch when a wounded person who is calling you put for help, yet you turn away. That is not the life attitude I have experienced in Europe.

Everyone's speech is obviously much more free on YouTube and Twitter. I can hear pros and cons, people sharing different opinions, and not the unified voice of political correctness as on platforms inside China where when voices differ, it is mostly to conduct personal attacks, psychological harassment, and very rarely to actually debate about the topic itself.

Wang's social media success certainly comes with the dark side of social media: online hate speech, personal threats, insults, and impersonation. Here is his analysis:

不得不说,死亡威胁确实减少一些,或者也许是我看淡了。这么久的时间过去了,确实还有少部分坚持不懈的每天追着骂我,我觉得作为工作来说,他们还是很敬业的,我只是希望他们把宝贵的生命用去做更有意义的事情。

我的内容和表达方式更多是希望唤醒人们独立思考的能力,我不想只传达一个不同观点的结果给大家,那样和共产党的教育并无两样,例如:我不去说“打倒共产党”,我会把这些党员,领导人做的事情展示给大家,好坏自己去思考,让大家去想这些事情是不是真实发生的,他们为什么这样去处理对待,在别的国家,别人是如何应对这样的事情的……, 我不想让我的内容过于枯燥,枯燥的大学讲座一样的内容是不利于传播的,所以我尽量以我的幽默、讽刺的方式来表达我的观点,这样内容增加了一些传播力度。

他们为什么生气?因为他们害怕。 我认为“他们”最害怕的并不是无脑反对他的人,每天喊着“打到共产党”的人,他们并不害怕,他们最害怕的是能够唤醒人们独立思考的声音,这与他们言论控制,愚民政策的施政方针所冲突了。

威胁我的人有几种情况他们希望通过反对我来得到关注度,当然他们不只是反对我,似乎任何对共产党有不同意见的人都会被他们所反对,他们通常不会发出死亡威胁,而是用各种方式抹黑,贬低,歪曲理解等。真正被这些内容惹怒的人和发出威胁,骚扰的人不是同一群人,那些“网络打手”他们只是在完成自己的工作,他们并不认识我也不是了解我。

 

I have to say, the death threats did decrease a bit, or maybe I'm getting more used to it. After such a long time, there are indeed a small number of people persistently chasing and scolding me every day. I think they are still very dedicated in terms of their work. I just hope that they can use their precious lives to do more meaningful things. .

My content and what I express are more aimed at awakening people's ability to think independently. I don't want to simply convey a different point of view to everyone; that would be no different from the model of education endorsed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).  For example, I don't say “Down with the CCP”,  rather, I show everyone what CCP party members and leaders have done, analyze whether that is good or bad, and let everyone think about whether such things really happened, why they deal with it this way, and how others deal with it in other countries. The thing is I don't want my content to be too boring. Content in the format of boring university lectures is not conducive to dissemination, so I try to express my point of view in a humorous and ironic way, so that the content gets even more shared.

Why are they angry? Because they are afraid. I think that what “they” are most afraid of are not the people who oppose them, who lack brains and shout “Down with the CCP” every day. What they fear most are voices that can awaken people to think independently. Because this conflicts their policy of controlling speech, of maintaining people in ignorance.

There are several reasons why people threaten me. They want to get attention by opposing me, of course, they are not opposing only me but, it seems, anyone who disagrees with the CCP.  They usually do not issue death threats , but discredit, belittle, twist meaning, in various ways. The people who are really irritated by  content like mine are not the same group of people who make threats and harassment. Those “cyber thugs” are just doing their job, but they don't know me or understand me.

GV also asked him how life in Odesa is being affected, though the city is not on the frontline and has been, so far, relatively spared by destructions, with a few exceptions (link)

是的,敖德萨并不是战斗的最前线,虽然这里也偶尔会有导弹落下来,我看到这个城市的人们在顽强努力的生活着,“导弹有没有杀死我们,生活总还要继续,我们不应该被恐惧所支配”,到现在为止最大的生活改变是宵禁吧,

这里本来是夜生活很丰富的城市的旅游城市,大概是从上个月开始这里的脱衣舞俱乐部也已经开始营业了,白天营业估计这也是世界首例。所以旅游相关的经济产业收到了重创。

交通有影响,因为有很多桥梁公路被摧毁了。

另外物价随着因战争原因造成的货币贬值也有等比上涨,不过这是个普遍现象,这里的房租下降了很多,我住的房子打仗之前是500美元,现在是300美元。

现在乌克兰国内的物流系统已经恢复很让人意外,从基辅到敖德萨的物流只需要不到1天,即便从我们这里到前线城市3日内也会到达。

Yes, Odesa is not on the front line, although there are occasionally missiles falling here. I see people in this city living tenaciously, “Even if missiles have killed us, life continues , we shouldn't be ruled by fear” is the attitude. Overall, our biggest life change so far is the daily curfew [from 11PM to 5AM]

This was originally a touristic city with a rich nightlife. Probably since September, a strip club has started to operate and it is believed business that this is the first time in the world that it is open during the day. Therefore, tourism-related economic industries have been hit hard. Road Traffic has been impacted as many bridge roads have been destroyed.

In addition, prices also rose proportionally with the devaluation of the currency caused by the war, but this is a common phenomenon. The rent here has dropped a lot, though. The flat I live in had a rent of US $500 before the war, now it is US$300.

It is surprising that the shipping system in Ukraine has been restored. It takes less than a day for things to reach Odesa from Kyiv, and three days from Odesa to front-line cities.

So what do people in Ukraine need the most at this point?

需要机会!乌克兰的军队需要武器支持,但是乌克兰的人民,我想更多需要的是信心和机会,就业的机会(工作),创业的机会(投资),我看到的乌克兰的人是顽强的自救的,给他们机会他们可以开回复自己的生活

同样是记者的提问,我非常欣赏您提出问题的角度,您的问题更加客观的关注战争对人们的生活,有的记者会借此机会采访我问我,“我怎么看乌东地区宣布独立后,乌克兰的军队袭击了乌东地区的问题”。好像这场战争从来不是俄罗斯的侵略战争。

我只想表达一个真实的人的生活,似乎在某些地方真实的活着是不被接受的。

Opportunities is what is most needed! The Ukrainian army needs weapons, and the Ukrainian people need confidence and opportunities, employment opportunities, entrepreneurship opportunities such as investments. The Ukrainian people I see are do not give up and rely on themselves. Give them the chance they can rebuild their lives

I appreciate the angle of your journalistic question. Your question is more objectively concerned with the impact of war on people's lives. Some reporters take this opportunity to interview me and ask me, “What do you think of the situation in Eastern Ukraine after the declaration of independence?” , “Ukrainian troops attacked Eastern Ukrainian region”.  As if this war was not a war of aggression conducted by Russia.

I just want to represent the life of a real person, yet it seems that in some places, being genuine is not acceptable.

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