Chinese blogger's call for sustainable seafood consumption met with derision in China

Published on
June 17, 2021
Chinese-American blogger and filmmaker Gu Yue has been taken to task by Chinese users on Sina Weibo.

A comment by a star of state-run media has triggered a national debate on the impact of growing Chinese consumption of seafood.

Chinese-American blogger and filmmaker Gu Yue, who also goes by Kyle Johnson, has been taken to task by Chinese users on Sina Weibo for comments he made calling for more responsible consumption of seafood in China.

"I just realized how much demand there is for fish in China," Johnson wrote on Weibo, according to the Global Times. "As the world's number-one consumer of seafood, China's insatiable appetite for seafood is depleting fish stocks around the world."

Gu’s since-deleted comment calling for sustainable seafood consumption triggered thousands of comments and shares across Weibo (where he had two million followers) and other Chinese media platforms. Some commentors called Gu a hypocrite after they combed through his social media to find photos of the blogger eating seafood in various parts of the world, including shrimp in Madagascar.

“He is telling the Chinese people to eat less but he is going across the world filling his belly with seafood,” wrote one Weibo user, Xing Wu.

Annual per capita Chinese consumption of seafood stood at 35 kilograms in 2019, compared to a global per capita average of 20 kilograms.

“Chinese people eat more seafood than other people, but they eat seafood produced in China,” another commenter wrote, referencing China’s vast aquaculture sector which is responsible for half of all seafood produced through aquaculture, but mostly produces low-cost freshwater species like carp. 

Gu and a colleague became television stars in China in 2010 when a film they made on hitchhiking from Beijing to Berlin was aired across 16 episodes on the China Central TV Travel Channel. Gu was described in a recent profile on China Central TV’s English channel as a “professional traveler” and “adventurer” who quit a white-collar job at General Electric to focus on travelling.

Beijing-born Gu, who now lives in both China and in the U.S. state of Oregon, is described in some comments reprinted more recently by the Global Times newspaper as “not even Chinese,” despite a call by the Chinese Communist Party to all ethnic Chinese to support and visit the “motherland.” The Global Times also pointed out that China accounts for “only 15 percent of the world’s fish catch despite having 20 percent of the population.”

The furor sparked by the travel blogger’s call for sustainable seafood consumption is an indication of how shrill nationalism actively encouraged by the Communist Party – often to deflect criticism from domestic issues – has infused discussions of global seafood sustainability challenges. Many of the social media users responding to the controversy cast China as the victim of Western slander and aggression - a line used by the Chinese government last month after one of its distant-water fishing companies was punished by the United States for alleged use of forced labor.

Photo courtesy of Wild China

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