Chinese authorities have called for caution over online comments about Russia's invasion of Ukraine amid concerns that public internet sentiment stoked anger towards citizens abroad.
The conflict is hotly debated on Chinese social media, with some internet users sympathetic towards the plight of Ukrainians and others mocking the conflict and cheering on Russia's aggression.
A number of users appeared to endorse sexual violence against fleeing Ukrainian women, saying they would "gladly take care of them", prompting widespread criticism of their behaviour.
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One Beijing resident, Chen Jingjing, said she openly argued with people making such "jokes".
"It's a vicious joke, it's treating women in war like sexual resources, instead of treating them like human beings," she said. "I cannot accept that."
Chen said that in a group chat, she and others angrily told off people making jokes, and asked them to respect women and not mock people enduring conflict.
Since then, multiple internet platforms including Weibo, TikTok sibling Douyin, and WeChat have suspended accounts with provocative content and called on users to stay "objective and rational", and uphold a "clean and upright atmosphere" when discussing international events.
In a commentary on Sunday, state news agency Xinhua urged internet users to "discuss and present viewpoints in a reasonable way", criticising those who "spoke inappropriately".
On its WeChat account on Sunday, the Chinese embassy in Ukraine called for calm.
"The Ukrainians are going through difficulties and discomfort ... we need to understand them and not provoke them," the embassy said.
A day earlier, it said Chinese nationals should "be on friendly terms with the Ukrainian public, avoid having conflicts over specific issues and try to solve problems in a friendly way".
After some Chinese reported being targeted because of their nationality, the embassy also did an about-turn on its previous advice for citizens in Ukraine to display the Chinese flag on their cars if they had to go outside.
The new advice was to refrain from identifying themselves or showing any signs that make them recognisable.
The online comments and Beijing's refusal to condemn Moscow's actions have compounded problems for Chinese people in Ukraine.
A Chinese student studying in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, who did not want to be named, said she feared there might be anti-Chinese sentiment among the locals who had seen reports of these online comments.
"I don't even dare go into a shelter, I'm afraid I might get rejected," she said.
She said she was staying home and observing the curfew, trying to wait out the worst of the conflict.
She had also registered for evacuation with the Chinese embassy, hoping to fly out, she said.
China News Weekly also quoted two other students who said they faced criticism from Ukrainian friends and were limiting contact with locals.
The student in Kyiv said she cried for the city she lived in for seven years, as she was woken up by blasts at 3am on Sunday.
On a map of the city, she had marked dozens of locations with stars and hearts.
"These are all the restaurants, exhibits, coffee shops and bookstores I've been to," she said. "Now they are all shrouded by war."
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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