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Video Of Passenger Dragged From United Flight Goes Viral In China


This next story begins with a disturbing sound. It's from a video of a passenger being dragged from a United Airlines flight the other day. And it sounds like this.



UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: No. No. Oh, my God. Oh, my God.

INSKEEP: What you're hearing there is the man being pulled by his arms off the airplane by security. The airline said it needed his seat. He refused to go, so he was pulled off and apparently bloodied. There's plenty of reaction on social media. People have published charts showing United Airlines seating plans - first class, economy class, economy plus, fight club. United has defended itself saying that the passenger was being disruptive and belligerent. The story, though, has gone even more viral in China because according to a witness, the man said he was targeted for being Chinese. To tell us more we have NPR's Shanghai correspondent, Rob Schmitz, on the line. Hi, Rob.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So how are people responding in China?

SCHMITZ: You know, this video has gone viral faster than nearly any other that I can remember in recent years. One of the videos that I was tracking today had 120 million views by 3 in the afternoon. And when I looked a half an hour later it was up to 130 million. So that was moving at a rate of 20 million views an hour. Now, just a few hours later, it's up to 200 million. And that's just one single video attached to a single hashtag on Weibo, one of China's largest social media sites. So when you consider the hundreds of other media outlets here that are playing this video, too, the estimate is likely much higher. And, of course, this video is accompanied by tens of thousands of very angry comments.

INSKEEP: Such as what?

SCHMITZ: Well, I'm looking on Weibo right now here in Shanghai. There's one here that says - it asks this question - is this an example of America's so-called human rights? Further down it says, does he deserve this simply because of his skin tone? And then another one says, let's all boycott United Airlines. Many others here on Chinese social media sites are blaming United for singling the man out because of his race, as you mentioned.

But, you know, I think it's important to point out here that in Chinese society, this feeling of being victimized because of your nationality or your race is something that is always simmering just underneath the surface. And when Chinese people see a video like this, these feelings of anger and frustration rise to the surface very quickly. So United has a very real public relations disaster here in China that will probably not be very easy to manage.

INSKEEP: And is this something that is a major problem for United? I don't know how busy they are in China or elsewhere.

SCHMITZ: Oh, they are very busy here. And I think it's fair to say this will be a very, very big problem for them. China is the world's second largest aviation market, growing faster than any other country. And United Airlines claims that it flies more U.S.-China routes than any other airline. So China is a very important market for United, and an incident like this threatens that market share.

INSKEEP: Any evidence that the Chinese government is whipping up some of the fury here, Rob?

SCHMITZ: Well, you know, there's so much public rage over this incident that I'm not sure if the government of China feels like it needs to do much more than just get out of the way. You know, United is obviously a competitor to many of China's state-run airlines. So what I'd imagine we're - see in the days to come are going to be a lot of state-run television news about this, newspapers. But overall, this promises to get a lot of play here in China. And that has a lot to do with public demand for it rather than government propaganda.

INSKEEP: OK, Rob, thanks very much as always.

SCHMITZ: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Shanghai correspondent, Rob Schmitz. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.