weChat, Den Haag, VVD

How WeChat was used in the 2018 elections in The Hague

6 minutes to read
Column
Linmin Zheng
24/01/2019

In this article, I will analyze how WeChat was used in the municipal elections in The Hague in 2018. In doing so, I will argue that we are now living in a global world, given that even local politics has become translocal.

Transnational and translocal: In the wake of globalization and superdiversity

We generally consider nation states to be territorial, with their sovereignty extending over their land and their citizens. Ulrich Beck (2015) claims that world society, in the wake of globalization, "is undermining the importance of the nation state, because [of] a multiplicity of social circles, communication networks, market relations and lifestyles, none of them specific to any particular locality."

This becomes appartent in elections, among other things. For instance, in a March 2017 referendum, Turks around the world voted to boost Recep Tayyip Erdogan's power, and the diaspora were very influential. In effect, the diaspora constitute Turkey's fourth largest electoral district (Hill, 2017). For example, more than three million people of Turkish origin live in Germany, and it is estimated that 1.4 million of them are eligible to vote in Turkish elections. 63% of these diasporia voted "yes".

The Turkish election exemplifies the transnational and translocal nature of modern politics. The notion of "one nation, one language, one people" has been replaced gradually by a more differentiating vocabulary. The latter includes "communities of practice", "institutions", and "networks" as the mobile and flexible sites in which groups emerge and circulate (Blommaert & Rampton, 2011). Marco Jacquemet (2015) implies:

"Deterritorialized speakers use a mixture of languages in interacting with family, friends, coworkers, and authorities; read English and other 'global' languages on the screens of their digital devices; watch local, regional, or global broadcasts; and access national and international institutions in a variety of languages. Such settings will become ever more widespread in the future as superdiversity, caused by both migratory flows and digital communication, becomes the standard modality."

In what follows, I will apply the above argument to the case of a local election in The Hague.

Figure 1: Nan Su, VVD No. 18

A local election in The Hague: How a politician used WeChat to garner support

On 21 March 2018, voters in the Netherlands elected members of some 380 local councils. A Chinese Dutch candidate in The Hague, Nan Su (see Figure 1), solicited votes through WeChat, and made Chinese communities aware of the municipal elections.

WeChat is a Chinese multi-purpose messaging and social media app. With over one billion monthly active users, including more than 70 million outside of China, it has been called China’s ‘App for Everything’, and a ‘Super App’ because of its wide range of functions and platforms. Although Chinese migrants and their descendants are not living in China, many still use WeChat to connect with family and friends.

WeChat in many cases has become the "screen" for Chinese people to get informed about what is happening in China. This is the case for the activities of the Chinese communities in the Netherlands, too. In the context of superdiversity, Chinatown is no longer the geographical cultural centre for the Chinese community; social media tools play an important role in connecting the diaspora.

“Although I don't live in The Hague, I will still support this female political star. Not only because she is Chinese, but also because of the issues she addresses”

I first got to know about the election in The Hague through a friend’s moment share on WeChat. (A moment is WeChat's brand name for its social feed of friends’ updates.) She reposted an article about Nan Su: “Although I don't live in The Hague, I will still support this female political star. Not only because she is Chinese, but also because of the issues she addresses.” This article was published on a WeChat Official Account.

WeChat Official Account is a cooperation and promotion service launched for famous persons, government, media, and enterprises. It is a platform that can push feeds to subscribers, interact with subscribers, and provide them with services. Nan Su (and her team) created her own Official Account named ‘VVD No.18’ (see figure 2).

Figure 2: VVD No.18 Wechat official account

"Info: Nan Su is the VVD party No. 18 candidate for local election (21 March 2018) in The Hague, The Netherlands. We hope to have your attention and support. This official account will introduce Nan Su, her company Dutch Sino Business Promotion (DSBP), and various activities." 

The VVD No.18 account features six articles in total. The first article was published on 31 January 2018 and received the most views (1934, see figure 3). The articles on the VVD No.18 account focus on Nan Su’s personal story and her political views. Furthermore, the account boasts various support messages, for instance from Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Four articles were written in two languages: Chinese and Dutch, in order to attract those who do not understand Chinese. Each article contains an image that encourages the readers to follow the account and support Nan Su. The last article was published on 19 March 2018, two days before the election. It explained where to find Nan Su on the ballot paper (see figure 4).

Because readers shared them in their WeChat moments, group chats, or private massages, the articles were spread over (part of) Chinese communities in the Netherlands, with the purpose to garner attention and support. Even I, a student in Tilburg, was aware of the local election far away in The Hague.

 

Figure 3:  WeChat official account VVD No.18 (Accessed 6 April 2018)

"Please press your finger on the QR code to follow me and support me :)"

Figure 4:  Where to find Nan Su on the ballot paper, VVD No. 18 WeChat offical account

"When voting, bring your blue ballot and ID (passport), vote for No. 18 Nan Su."

Translocal in local politics

We see that WeChat is the biggest app for intra-Chinese interaction, it works to maintain ties between Chinese diaspora abroad and their PRC networks. In this case, WeChat is the tool for mobilizing the diaspora outside of the PRC, more specifically, in the Netherlands. In other words, it is used for intra-diasporic interaction as well. 

In the context of superdiversity, where people move from a growing number of places to a likewise growing number of destinations, this case demonstrates that local politics has become an affair on a translocal scale. It is much easier nowadays for us to "get informed" about what is happening elsewhere through the internet. The generally accepted idea that we still "live" in a national country or even a city proves to be empirically wrong. 

References

Beck, U. (2000). What is Globalization; translated by Patrick Camiller. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Blommaert, J. & Rampton, B. (2011). Language and Superdiversity. Diversities, 13(2), pp. 1-21.

Hill, J. (2017). Turkish-German ties fray as Erdogan chases diaspora vote. BBC NEWS. 9 March 2017.

Jacquemet, M. (2015). Sociolinguistic Superdiversity and Asylum. Paper 171. Tilburg Papers in Culture Studies.