He has become accustomed to the nightly strikes and the howling of sirens, says Wang Jixian. On his 38th birthday, the explosions came so close that black, oily dust settled on the windows of his top-floor apartment. Wang lives and works in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. Some media have called him the “last Chinese in Odessa”. What is certain is that within a few weeks, Wang has become one of the most recognizable Chinese in this conflict.
While his government maintains a balancing act back home to avoid upsetting Russia and continues to avoid the word “war”, Wang openly condemns Russian President Vladimir Putin as an aggressor and calls for consequences. Russia must be held accountable for its actions, and the sooner the better, Wang believes.
On his YouTube channel “Jixian Wang 我是王吉贤 这是大号“, the Beijing-born programmer speaks in his native language about the bleak atmosphere in the coastal city by the Black Sea, which Putin has been shelling with rockets and grenades for weeks. Fear and terror reign in Odessa; residents fear an invasion by Russian troops. Wang does not rule out that he, too, could die. In any case, he has already written his will and published it in one of his videos.
In his first audio-visual war logs, which he posted online shortly after the attacks began, Wang still wore a Chinese flag on his lapel. He quickly took it off, says the Beijing Union University graduate. The Chinese government’s failure to condemn the Russian attacks not only disappoints him, it disgusts him. “Chinese state media translate what Russian media reports. But if it is only a ‘special military operation,’ why do we see bombed-out housing complexes and dead civilians here? It’s so cowardly not to take your own position on this.”
China’s censors filter content and images of his face
With such statements, Wang has made himself persona non grata in his home country. He can no longer be found on China’s social media channels like Weibo. Chinese censors now even filter images of his face from the web using AI software, the IT specialist says. “My face is treated like porn in China. You can only see it with a VPN or ask a friend to burn it for you on DVD,” he says snarkily. “The government would love to put a bag over my head.”
In the comment sections on YouTube and Twitter, Wang receives a lot of support, but also threats from Chinese nationalists, who call him a traitor and a tool of Western powers. The fact that he works for an American company is used as evidence. Wang’s employer, software developer RegDesk, transferred him from Macedonia to Ukraine in July 2021. Back then, he already started posting videos of his everyday life, for just 36 followers. Now he has 110,000 followers, and major newspapers like the New York Times have published stories about him.
No fear of returning to China
His new popularity as a political influencer doesn’t seem to faze Wang – on the contrary. On Instagram, he posts selfies with wide smiles and even sometimes bare-chested. At a time when self-censorship seems to be in the blood of many Chinese – and more and more foreigners – Wang’s open criticism of his government is already a sensation. “There are other Chinese in Ukraine. They are braver than me,” Wang says. “Some are defending their homes and families with guns.” The big difference, he says, is that they don’t show their faces. “I have a pretty face, why should I hide it?” he asks ironically and smugly.
His family in China is now also under pressure because of his videos. “But my father is not intimidated by this. Like father, like son,” Wang says and laughs. He is not afraid to return to China. “What could be more dangerous for me than missile attacks and potential nuclear attacks? I have to deal with that here every day.” Fabian Peltsch