Category Archives: nationalism

“Diaoyu in Our Heart”

Freelance writer Helen Gao has a good piece in The Atlantic about some of the intricacies of the Diaoyu Islands arrests last week, and how Chinese people see their nation and themselves:

A web user named oncebookstore posted a question on Weibo, China’s twitter-style social network: “If your child were born on the Diaoyu Islands, what nationality would you pick for him/her: Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong or the mainland?” (The islands, also known as the Senkakus in Japan, are claimed by China, Taiwan, and Japan.) It went viral on Sunday, retweeted over 20,000 times in nine hours before censors took it down around midnight. The surprising results would seem to contradict the popular anti-Japanese protests, undercut the government’s efforts to stoke patriotism, and may well baffle outside observers: Chinese respondents overwhelmingly picked places other than mainland China. Around 40 percent answered Taiwan, followed by Hong Kong with about 25 percent, followed by Japan. Mainland China was the least popular option. A formal poll, set up on Weibo after the original post was pulled, returned similar results, with Japan at 20 percent and the mainland at 15.

Though contradictory at first glance, the sentiment at the anti-Japanese protests and that revealed by the Weibo quiz are perhaps not as inconsistent as they might appear, and could highlight the dual nature of the nationalistic feelings deeply rooted in Chinese society today. The same Chinese nationalism that drives citizens to stand up for their native land when outside forces challenge it could also sharpen their pain when they observe the depressingly wide gap between China as it is and China as they wish it could be.

“Political slogans aside, as a citizen of the globe, I would rather have the next generation growing up in an place like Taiwan or Japan,” said zuzhanggaocangwentai. “I don’t want them to have to take poisonous baby formula, sit in brainwashing classes, and love the party that hurts its people.”

Weibozhuanping also saw potential social advantage abroad: “If we speak about society instead of politics, Japan has the most fair and humane society. Workers and farmers won’t have as hard a time there as they do in China.”

“I vote for Taiwan,” said yingdedaobie, “because that’s where you get to vote.”

In fact, web users’ responses seemed to be driven more by a deep discontent with the current China than by a veneration for these more developed economies: a large number of participants put their answers as bluntly as “Anywhere but the mainland.”

The owner of an independent bookstore in a southern Chinese province, he told me that his initial hope in asking the uncomfortable question was to make the public aware that “there are more pressing issues than the Diaoyu Islands.”

“I hope Chinese people can show as much solidarity as they did in protecting the Diaoyu Islands every time someone is illegally evicted from his house by officials; I hope they can shout like they did to save the pro-China Diaoyu activists every time a Chinese dissident is arrested,” he posted on his blog immediately after putting up the quiz.

“Farmlands, houses, and families, they should be the Diaoyu Islands in our heart.”

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Filed under activism, Japan, nationalism, Taiwan

“Patriotism With Chinese Characteristics”

An article written by Chinese blogger Li Chengpeng has been circulating over the last few days after it was translated into English by the NYT. In it Li describes how the Sichuan earthquake served to bring an end to his days as a fenqing, the angry nationalist youth of China. Worth reading in its entirety, but here’s some of the beginning:

News arrived slowly. Many people had died in the Dujiangyan area at the epicenter of the quake. Roads to Beichuan, a county close to the epicenter, were cut off. Blood supplies were running out.

“My country is calling me,” I thought to myself. “It’s time for us to build a New Great Wall with our flesh and blood.” Our national anthem resonated in my head. The next morning I set off to Beichuan with two friends.

I didn’t know it at the time, but those were my final days as a typical Chinese patriot.

I arrived in the town of Beichuan and was perplexed as I stood in front of the ruins of Beichuan No. 1 High School. I couldn’t understand why the rubble of a brand new five-story building covered half the area of a basketball court while nearby structures built decades ago were still standing. I couldn’t understand why new buildings seemed as fragile as crackers. I couldn’t understand why even the students on the ground floor of the school were apparently unable to make it to safety.

I was a typical patriot before 2008. I believed that “hostile foreign forces” were responsible for most of my peoples’ misfortunes. As a soccer commentator covering games between Japan and China, I wrote lines like, “Cut off the Japanese devils’ heads.” I saw Japanese soccer players as the descendants of the Japanese soldiers who brutally killed Chinese civilians in the 1937 massacre of Nanjing. I used to curse CNN for its anti-China commentaries. I was one of the protesters who stood in front of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu and raised my fist after the U.S. bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999.

But my patriotism began to come into question as I stood in front of the ruins of Beichuan High School. It became clear that the “imperialists” did not steal the reinforced-steel bars from the concrete used to make our schools. Our school children were not killed by foreign devils. Instead, they were killed by the filthy hands of my own people.

I still believe that we should “build a New Great Wall with our flesh and blood” but now I also believe the Great Wall should protect our flesh and blood.

The best reaction to the piece so far comes from The Peking Duck:

I love this article. I love its love for the Chinese people. I love its drawing a distinction between being pro-China and being pro-corruption, the folly of believing you can only be a patriot if you accept carte blanche all the propaganda and injustices brought by venal officials who abuse their power. I love its definitions of true patriotism as opposed to blind allegiance. I love its honesty and the author’s willingness to challenge his own principles.

Read it. Cut it out and paste it on the wall. Refer to it whenever any idiot tells you it’s impossible to be critical of the Chinese government without being “anti-China,” a “China basher.” Li has exposed them as lemmings incapable of thinking for themselves even in light of the strongest evidence. This blind acceptance of all the government’s crap isn’t patriotism at all, it’s self-delusion and the surrender of one’s critical faculties. We all know that. But it’s wonderful to hear it from a former true believer who came to see for himself what the truth actually is.

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“China’s Diplomatic Folly”

Eurasia Review has quite a bit to say about the South China Sea conflict, and the failure of Chinese diplomacy. This isn’t the first time Chinese propaganda, originally meant for internal consumption, has painted their leadership into a corner- and then damaged their foreign policy outcomes:

When China’s Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin confidently asserted shortly before the East Asia Summit at Bali, Indonesia, that disputes in the South China Sea should be resolved between the ‘parties concerned’ bilaterally, little did he realise how isolated China had become over this issue. A series of blistering articles emanating from Beijing left no one in doubt that if push came to shove, China would use force to assert its rights in the South China Sea. The butt of Chinese ire seemed to be directed at the Philippines and Vietnam. For the Chinese the ‘fault’ of the Philippines lay in the fact that it had renamed the South China Sea as the West Philippines Sea, called on ASEAN to form a ‘united front’ and sent an official to claim sovereignty over a disputed islet. China threatened that the ‘punishment’ would be ‘strong’ enough to deter other countries from emulating the Philippines example and to ‘discourage’ other countries from ‘dreams to join the United States to contain China’.

Far from achieving its objectives based on threats, the Chinese found to their consternation that the East Asia Summit not only took up the issue of disputes in the South China Sea, despite their objections, but except for Myanmar and Cambodia every other country spoke up on the issue. The unease felt by the Chinese was palpable and it forced the Chinese PM Wen Jiabao to refer to the dispute in a multi-lateral forum. Wen asserted that China goes to great ‘pains’ to ensure that the shipping lanes are safe and free. It is learned that Wen did not reiterate the standard Chinese line that such disputes be settled ‘bilaterally’, although the official Xinhua report said that he ‘re-affirmed’ China’s position.

It is obvious that the Chinese wish to deal bilaterally with the countries of South and East Asia in order to prevent them from ‘ganging-up’ against China. Another worry that the Chinese have is that collectively ASEAN might bring the South China Sea dispute before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea and that China may not be able to validate its stated position in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea [UNCLOS]. Such an eventuality would be a serious loss face for China.

That Chinese diplomacy has played right into hands of the US is increasingly being recognized. Chinese threats and bluster have antagonized almost all the nations of East and South East Asia. Alarm bells have been ringing in their respective capitals as to what the Chinese intentions are. Not willing to take any chances on Chinese belligerence, almost all have begun to strengthen their defence networks. Vietnam has increased its defence budget by 70 per cent this year and Indonesia announced a 35 per cent increase in its defence outlay for this year. The Republic of Korea [ROK] is building a large naval base on Jeju Island whose location indicates that it will cater for security in the East China Sea rather than against North Korea. The US has agreed to retrofit 145 Taiwanese F-16 fighters. Similarly, Malaysia and Singapore have increased their defense purchases by a whopping 700 per cent and 140 per cent respectively.

Even in the case of India, Chinese ham-handedness and belligerence have led to the addition of two new divisions for the Indian army to be deployed along the Sino-Indian border region. The US, Japan and India are to have a trilateral security dialogue by the end of this year followed by joint Indo-Japan naval exercises in 2012. The Chinese decision to staple visas on a piece of paper rather than on regular passports for residents of Jammu and Kashmir, now happily rescinded in some cases, was a needless provocation. So have been the propaganda blasts every time an Indian leader visits Arunachal Pradesh.

Beijing seems to have a really hard time balancing the steady IV drip of nationalist fury they need to keep the population on their side with the reality that other nations can hear their propaganda. Then leaders have to either be as belligerent as the latest Xinhua article, or be seen as selling out their country by the folks back home. The solution is to cut down the all-nationalism diet a bit, but what else holds China together?

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Filed under Chinese foreign policy, nationalism, South China Sea, Vietnam

“China’s Fox News”

Foreign Policy gives Global Times a much-deserved lashing over here:

On most mornings, the senior editorial staffers at China’s hyper-nationalistic Global Times newspaper flash their identification badges at the uniformed guard outside their compound in eastern Beijing and roll into the office between 9 and 10 a.m. They leave around midnight. In the hectic intervening 14 hours, they commission and edit articles and editorials on topics ranging from asserting China’s unassailable claims to the South China Sea to the United States’ nefarious role in the global financial crisis to the mind-boggling liquor bills of China’s state-owned enterprises, to assemble a slim, 16-page tabloid with a crimson banner and eye-popping headlines. In the late afternoon, staffers propose topics for the all-important lead editorial to editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, who makes all final decisions and has an instinct for the jugular.

Take last Tuesday’s saber-rattling editorial, printed with only slight variations in the Chinese and English editions, which duly unnerved many overseas readers. “Recently, both the Philippines and South Korean authorities have detained fishing boats from China, and some of those boats haven’t been returned,” the editorial fumed. “If these countries don’t want to change their ways with China, they will need to prepare for the sounds of cannons.”

Its offices are located within the sprawling Haiwaiban campus of the People’s Daily, the stodgy old organ of the Chinese Communist Party, founded in 1948. The People’s Daily is renowned for its mastery of bore-you-to-tears bureaucratese; its turgid official profiles induce slumber in general audiences but nonetheless signal, to those in the know, whose career is on the make and whose will soon be in tatters. But while the People’s Daily is the parent publishing organization of Global Times, the two newspapers have remarkably different missions. Global Times is unequivocally a state-owned paper subject to the same censorship regime, but since its founding in 1993 it has evolved a more populist function — a mandate to attract and actually engage readers, rather than to telegraph coded intentions of the Foreign Ministry or the Organization Department, which determines all senior personnel appointments.

Another now-infamous Global Times editorial ran on April 6, 2011. While most of China’s state-run media initially kept mum on the uncomfortable fact of artist Ai Weiwei’s detention, Global Times jumped in to argue that Ai had brought it upon himself by crossing a red line: “History will make its own judgment of such a person as Ai Weiwei. But before this happens, they will sometimes pay a price for their own peculiar decisions, as happens in any society.” And the kicker: “No one person has the right to make our entire people accommodate their personal views of what is right and wrong.”

Hu Xijin’s freewheeling tendencies probably represent the most energetic effort in China to actually win readers for party papers. Of course, Global Times’s rising profile may also be the product of limited alternatives: Beijing allows no national newspaper devoted to international news to publish on the opposite end of the political spectrum, with a more liberal slant. As a former reporter at Beijing Youth Daily told me: “Why do people read Global Times? There are few options … there’s no real news in China. We have such limited choices.”

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Filed under media, nationalism

“Jiang Zemin and Western Media Bias”

I’ve been meaning to get into the topic of fenqing here for a while. Fenqing are the hyper-nationalist youth, the young Chinese men who have taken up worship of China as their religion. I was on one of their main sites, Hidden Harmonies, just the other day. It’s a shock, to say the least. Normally you hear the Party line being endorsed by stiff figures at press conferences, dry pronouncements from the relevant government organs and white papers. To read these sites is a view at a crazy topsy-turvy upside-down world, where real human beings care passionately about the Party line. On Hidden Harmonies, a global conspiracy to destroy China is always working around the clock to embarrass the Middle Kingdom. The US is always seeking to subjugate her, the Dalai Lama is a globe-trotting James Bond super-villain, Rebiya Kadeer is an Osama-style terrorist, and the anti-China international media is cooking up their latest excrement bomb to soil her name.

Pretty much every event needs to somehow be fit into these narratives. If anyone anywhere says anything about China, that’s part of the conspiracy. If a Tibetan exile says something unrelated to China, that’s just a coded message to terrorists in China, an order for them to start butchering Han Chinese. And make no mistake- the fenqing view of China is that of China as a Han state, with some minorities there merely to sing and dance in pretty costumes. Han Chauvinism writ large. When the media started publishing stories about the Jiang dead/Jiang alive debate that was raging in China, you can bet that the fenqing interpreted that as an attack on China. As Peking Ducks notes, though:

Here’s the bottom line. Is there Western media bias against China? Absolutely. But here’s the secret, that I as a former reporter can state as a truth: All reporting about just about everything is biased. There is no person or nation or thing that is covered in the news that is always covered fairly. Every single person in politics in the US and just about every other free country will tell you the media treats them brutally. Ask France about Western media bias against them during the buildup to the Iraq War (remember Freedom Fries?). Ask any Arab nation what they think of Western media bias. Everyone’s hysterical about media bias. Hop around the US political blogs — all they are about is how the media distorts the news.

Maybe China feels there is more media bias against them because in recent years the flow of stories on China has exploded from a trickle to a tsunami, so there’s simply more likelihood of biased reports. But what they need to understand is that this bias is universal. And, hard as it is to believe, some of China’s own newspapers and other media are biased in their reporting. And we don’t make a big deal about it because it is universal, it is ubiquitous. (Although China’s media biases can’t be compared with the West’s.)

And I’m not saying journalism is bad. Far from it. There is a lot of great journalism out there. Good reporters always strive to tell the whole story, free of bias. Many succeed. But in the life of a story, from conception to publication, lots of things can happen, mistakes can be made, copy editors thousands of miles away can write bad headlines or cut the story in half, excising the most important part. And yes, there’s often bad journalism, too, stories that are written too quickly without enough facts and/or verifiable references. But again, these are spread out universally, covering all public figures and all nations. None are spared biased or mistaken reporting. The difference is, most are mature enough to realize that this is always going to be the case, and they don’t let it make them feel paranoid or inferior. This is just the way it is, boys and girls. You can always find media bias when you dedicate yourself to finding it, when it becomes a cult or a fetish. And yes, often it’s there, there really is bias. But that’s life. That so many young Chinese men are so invested in the notion that China has been picked out by some grand design to be mocked and suppressed and misrepresented says much more about these individuals and the environment that fostered them than it does about the Western media that, at the end of the day, is just doing their job the best they can.

I’d still say that there’s real room for improvement on the part of Western media. Even by their over-simplifying standards, they simplify China too much. And we do occasionally see pieces that for one reason or another paint China as a terrifying monster, like when their military picks up an aircraft carrier or builds a new plane or goes to the grocery store. But these are all critiques that are based on reality, a place where the fenqing don’t operate. Peking Duck goes on to note that there are also many stories which paint China in a better light than she may deserve. Are they interpreted as proof of an enormous Western conspiracy to help China and make everyone love the country? Of course not.

There’s one other thing about the fenqing: the Party should be careful in depending on them for support. I’ve met a fenqing who went from completely endorsing the government position on censorship to agreeing that it was bad and pretty insulting to Chinese people in the course of just a few minutes. I’ve met one who started out talking about how evil Japan and Korea are, but then went on to talk about how the Party destroys people who think for themselves. Their beliefs are the result of living in an echo chamber, one which doesn’t allow them to test their positions against anything except strawmen. They’ve never spoken with unhappy minorities, they’ve just read Xinhua reports about how ‘overseas organizations’ are stirring them up. If they should ever be confronted by something that decouples the Party from the nation in their minds, that partnership will end real fast.

Update: In the PKD discussion thread, it’s noted that many sites like HH are actually run by ethnic Chinese living abroad- some of whom have never even been to China. Getting into that is a whole different can of worms. I’ll just say that although the HH crowd and other English-speaking members of this group might not be based in China, it certainly reflects the mindset of the fenqing clique here in China. It should be noted that that the fenqing are far from a majority in China, and are actually reasonably rare. They’re good at making a lot of noise online, though- and certain parts of their narratives resound with the general public.

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Filed under China, media, nationalism