The dangers of advocating nationalism appear on Chinese social media

It is not often that ordinary Chinese say publicly that they are disappointed with their government. They are ashamed of their government. They want to give up their membership in the Communist Party. And they think that the People’s Liberation Army is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

It is rare for such angry comments to come from the kind of nationalists who usually support what their leaders demand of them.

During most Mondays and Tuesdays, many Chinese applauded the tough rhetoric from government, military and media figures who were trying to thwart House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Then, as Ms Pelosi’s plane landed in Taiwan late Tuesday night, some social media users commented how disappointed they were with Beijing’s poor response.

There was no military action in the Taiwan Strait, which they felt led to anticipate. No shooting down, no missile attack, no fighter plane flying past Mrs. Pelosi’s plane. Only some denunciations and advertisements for military exercises.

Many people complained of feeling frustrated and lied to by the government. “Don’t show off if you don’t have the strength,” wrote one Weibo user with the handle @shanshanmeiyoulaichi2hao shortly after the plane landed. “What a loss of face!”

The user went on to say that the government does not deserve people who have waited hours to witness how history can be made. “A great nation. How ridiculous! “

The strong online sentiment demonstrated the complexity of public opinion that Beijing would have to manage if it decided to invade Taiwan. They showed how nationalism is a double-edged sword that can easily be turned against the government. Some of the anti-war comments that successfully evaded censorship, if only for a moment, also opened a window into the psychological impact of the Ukrainian war on the Chinese public.

Some users have compared the People’s Liberation Army to the Chinese men’s soccer team, which is a laughingstock in the country because it has qualified for the World Cup only once. They scoffed at the announcement that the People’s Liberation Army would conduct military exercises near Taiwan. Save some fuel, said one WeChat user. Another replied: “It’s too expensive now.”

On WeChat, the comment section of a short video about a military exercise has become a board for unhappy people to grumble about. Among the thousands of comments, a few members of the Communist Party said they would like to withdraw in disgrace. One veteran said he would probably never mention his military experience again. A user with the handle xiongai commented: “Very angry to sleep.”

The comments section was later closed.

Many users seemed particularly frustrated with the State Department. “When China said ‘strongly condemns’ and ‘officially declares’, it was only for the purpose of amusing ordinary people like us,” wrote one Weibo user with the handle,shizhendemaolulu, referring to language used by State Department spokespeople about the woman. Pelosi visit.

“Very tough when it comes to local governance and cowardice in foreign affairs,” wrote the user. “Totally disappointed!”

On Wednesday afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to a question about the public’s disappointment by saying that she believes that the Chinese people are a rational patriot and that they trust their country and their government.

The Chinese Communist Party has used nationalism as a ruling tool since Mao’s era. Xi Jinping, the current supreme leader of China, has risen to a new level. Kevin Rudd, CEO of the Asia Society and former Prime Minister of Australia, writes in his book The Avoidable War: The Risks of Disaster Disaster between the United States and China under Xi Jinping.

The unification of Taiwan, an autonomous democracy that Beijing considers part of its territory, with the mainland is the focus of Chinese nationalism.

But as Mr. Rudd and others argue, it has at times proven difficult to control the national genie once it has been released from the bottle. “This problem has gradually become larger under Xi Jinping, as nationalist calls have moved from the margins to the center of the Chinese propaganda apparatus in all areas,” he wrote.

The backlash online this week is a case in point.

Most Chinese didn’t care much about Pelosi’s upcoming visit to Taiwan until Monday afternoon, when a flurry of official and semi-official statements led many to believe that China could take tough, possibly military, measures to deter it.

Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman who may be China’s most famous “wolf warrior” diplomat, warned the United States on Monday that the People’s Liberation Army “will never stand idly by. China will certainly take resolute and strong countermeasures to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” . On the website of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, a two-paragraph article about his comments has been viewed 2.7 million times.

That evening, the People’s Liberation Army’s Eastern Theater Command, covering Taiwan, posted on Weibo that it was waiting for the order to fight and would bury all the invading enemies. The post has been liked more than a million times, and the embedded video, which shows footage of explosions and explosions, has garnered more than 47 million views.

Then there is Hu Xijin, the retired editor-in-chief of the Global Times, the People’s Communist Party newspaper that has probably played the biggest role in fueling Chinese nationalism over the past three decades.

Mr. Hu first suggested on Twitter last week that China should shoot down Ms Pelosi’s plane if she visits Taiwan. On Weibo, his nearly 25 million followers called for “support all government countermeasures and share the hatred of the enemy.”

“We will definitely launch strong countermeasures to strike the United States and Taiwan,” he wrote on Tuesday. “It is very difficult for the Taiwan authorities to regret it.”

After Ms Pelosi’s plane landed in Taipei, China issued several strongly worded condemnations and announced a frightening array of military exercises around Taiwan. But the lack of any direct military action left many nationalists feeling vulnerable. Their heroes, including Mister Hu and Mister Zhao, lost some of their auras.

Now they have mocked Mr. Zhao by posting a short video of him making harsh remarks on Monday.

Late Tuesday night, Hu’s Weibo account was flooded with angry, sarcastic, and offensive comments. Weibo user with the handle @KAGI_02 commented: “If I were you, I would be so embarrassed that I wouldn’t dare say another word and hide until the day of Taiwan reunification.”

Ren Yi, a Harvard-educated national blogger, wrote an incendiary comment early Wednesday morning, urging that Mr. Hu’s influence be curbed.

In a post on Weibo, Mr. Ren said that the public’s unmet expectations could harm the government’s credibility. He blamed these unrealistic expectations on Mr. Hu, saying his publications were taken seriously because he once ran a partisan newspaper.

Mr. Ren is not the only person who wants to oust Mr. Hu, who is now a columnist for the Global Times, from his position as China’s most influential journalist. Commentators and other personalities on social media are calling for him to be held accountable. Mr. Hu wrote on Weibo Wednesday morning that he will become a “punching bag”.

But some comments also suggested that Mr. Hu was just one part of China’s response to Pelosi’s visit, and suggested that all the blame directed at him might indicate that the government might be looking for a scapegoat.

There are anti-war voices on Chinese social media, too. Some people have argued that online war mongers should only be sent to the front lines. Some parents worry that their children may be recruited. Others tried to get their compatriots to look to Ukraine and Russia to understand that war meant death and economic destruction.

Zou Sicong, a writer who has been traveling to Poland for the past few months, urged people on WeChat to have a realistic understanding of the war, saying he knew what ordinary Ukrainians and Russians went through.

He said people should be glad that nothing happened on Tuesday night. “You should feel lucky that you can still do your job, pay the mortgage, go to work tomorrow, get tested for Covid and live,” he wrote. “Please pray for yourself and your loved ones so that we can come out of this storm that is approaching as it is.”

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