After surveying over 2,500 Chinese Internet users, Ma Deyong, a political science professor at Nankai University, found that 53% fell under the category of “rightists”, who were defined as favoring democracy, rule of law, free markets and constitutionalism. Even better, income and education don’t seem to impact such ideological leaning. The Hope that the Internet will bring democracy to China may finally be happening. Well…don’t hold your breath because the stance of left or right isn’t a black or white questions in the eyes of many Chinese netizens.
Recent online attacks towards Taiwanese singer Deserts Chang and Hong Kong pop star Deric Wan are a perfect example of how Chinese netizens can easily swing between left and right when it comes to politics.
Over the weekend, Deserts Chang, a popular alternative musician among China’s hippie young, held up a Republic of China flag duting her concert in Manchester, England. When she introduced that the flag represents her country and is her “national flag,” she was immediately cut off by a mainland student calling “no politics today.”
Later, Chang explained on China’s popular microblog platform Weibo that the flag was handed to her by a Taiwanese student in the audience and reminded her of her home. “It’s just a flag.”
But to many Chinese netizens, it’s not just a flag. Many now label her as a “separatist” and thought her action hurt the feelings of her mainland fans.
“I really regret going to Chang’s concert tonight…It’s an indisputable fact that Taiwan is part of China. Deserts Chang, you either focus on singing and stop promoting separation, or get out of China with your ‘national flag’!” A mainland student who was at the scene angrily commented.
“As a Taiwanese singer, you are earning RMB and screaming that you love Taiwan at the same time. If you truly love Taiwan, please just stay there. You are unappreciative of the mainland market.” Netizen 蓝色土耳其123abc commented.
Another netizen LEO-小鑫 pointed out what’s at the center of the current public ire: “There is no problem with a flag. But ‘national flag’? I don’t think so.” “There is no such thing as a ‘national flag’ in Taiwan.” Netizen SuperHsg explained.
When it comes to Taiwan or Tibet, most Chinese, online or offline, side with their government, that is, both are parts of China. When Professor Ma surveyed the ideological leaning among Chinese Internet users, he defined leftists as those who put emphasis on domestic stability, sovereignty and national dignity. By that standard, the Chinese Internet is probably filled with “leftists.” But is it?
Patriotism is the new original sin
Gone are the days when the Chinese would proudly claim their love for the country. When Hong Kong star Deric Wan expressed his patriot heart last week, Chinese netizens responded with disgust and ridicule.
“My heart belongs to my country,” Wan wrote on his Weibo on Oct 16th, “I’m happy that Hong Kong returned to the arms of our mother country in 1997. I, as a Hong Kong native, was a man without a homeland before 97. Now I can proudly say: My homeland is China. I’m a Chinese, flesh and blood. No matter how you criticize me, you cannot change my patriot heart!” He continued on Oct 28th.
The post provoked a wave of backlash from Chinese netizens who called Wan a “Hong Kong 5 mao” and a real toady to the government. Many believed that he did so to gain government favors. “You are sick and please don’t give up treatment. It’s Ok to craze for money, but not OK to do whatever it takes to get money.” One netizen KevinRen commented.
“Garbage. Are you intentionally provoking criticism to get attention?” Netizen 都信服 asked. Another 中国微生物 commented sarcastically: “I’ve seen people who sell their bodies for money, but seldom people who sell their hearts.” Another Hong Kong actor To Man-chak called Wan’s action the same as “polishing shoes for the Communist Party.”
Faced with overwhelming criticism, Wan labeled his criticizers the “anti-patriots” and threatened to report “inappropriate” comments to Weibo censors. “What’s a home if without its country?” He asked.
Most Chinese grew up with the teaching that without the Communist Party, there’d be no China. But such patriotism education has completely failed to prevent people from making the distinction between love for China, the country, and love for China, the ruling government. As netizen zzzN次 expressed: “I love my country, but not the Party.”
Judging by Wan’s case alone, no one would categorize these sarcastic commentators as “leftists” who typically believe in the leadership of the Communities party. So at the end of the day, do China’s netizens tilt towards the right or the left?
The answer is “it depends.” The Chinese are known to be practical consumers with low brand loyalty. The Chinese online population are just as pragmatic even when it’s about politics. They side conveniently with what seems to be “politically correct.” And that judgement is made case by case.