Alt-right finds new partners in Internet hate in China | China
IIn the early days of the 2016 US election campaign, Fang Kecheng, former journalist with the liberal Chinese newspaper Weekly South then a PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania, began verifying Donald Trump’s statements about refugees and Muslims on Chinese social media, hoping to provide additional context for the report of the presidential candidate back in China. But his effort was quickly criticized on the Chinese internet.
Some have accused it of being a “white left” – a popular insult to idealistic, left-wing and West-oriented liberals; others called him a “virgin”, “bleeding heart” and “white lotus” – demeaning phrases that describe benefactors who care about the underprivileged – as he tried to defend women’s rights.
“It was absurd,” said Fang, now a journalism professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Observer. “When did caring for disadvantaged groups become the reason for reprimand? When did social Darwinism become so justified?
By the time of Trump’s election victory, he began to notice striking similarities between the “alt-right” community in America and a group of social media users posting on the Chinese internet.
“Like their counterparts in the English-speaking sphere, this small but growing community also rejects the liberal paradigm and identity rights – similar to what is called ‘alt-right’ in the American context,” Fang noted, adding that in the In the Chinese context, the discourse often includes what it sees as anti-feminist ideas, xenophobia, Islamophobia, racism, and Han ethnic chauvinism.
Throughout the Trump presidency and immediately after the Brexit vote in 2016, researchers on both sides of the Atlantic began to carefully study the rise of the alt-right in English-speaking cyberspace. On the Chinese internet, a similar trend was unfolding at the same time, with some observing that the Chinese online group also often displayed a nationalist tone and called for state intervention.
In a recent article he co-authored with Tian Yang, a colleague at the University of Pennsylvania, Fang analyzed nearly 30,000 alternative right-wing messages on the Chinese Internet. They found that users not only share national right-wing posts, but global posts as well. Most of the issues, they found, were raised by Chinese immigrants based in the United States, disillusioned with the progressive agenda established by the American left.
Not all researchers are comfortable with the “alt-right” description. “I am skeptical of applying categories from American politics to the Chinese Internet,” said Sebastian Veg of the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. “Many former ‘liberal’ intellectuals in or from China are extremely critical of Black Lives Matter, the refugee crisis, political correctness, etc. They are hardly populists, but on the contrary, an elite critical of the regime. Are they absolutely correct? “
Dylan Levi King, a Tokyo-based Chinese internet writer, first noticed this loosely defined group during the 2015 European migrant crisis. “Whether you call it populist nationalism or alt-right,” he said. he says, “If you pay close attention to what they were talking about at the time, you will find them borrowing similar talking points from the European ‘alt-right’ community, like the phrase ‘the big replacement ”, or the so-called“ no-go zones ”for non-Muslims in European cities, which were also used by Fox News. ”
Shortly after the outbreak of the migrant crisis, Liu Zhongjing – a Chinese translator and commentator who made a name for himself for his staunch anti-leftist and anti-progressive stance – was asked about his views on the how Germany handled the situation.
“A new kind of political correctness has taken shape in Germany, and a lot of things can no longer be mentioned,” he observed. Liu also quoted Thilo Sarrazin, a controversial figure who some say is the “standard bearer of the German far right” to support his point.
On June 20, 2017, when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees published on Weibo the plight of displaced people on the occasion of World Refugee Day with the hashtag #StandWithRefugees, thousands of Internet users flooded its account. negative comments.
UNHCR’s goodwill ambassador – Chinese actress Yao Chen – had to make it clear that she had no intention of suggesting that China be involved in hosting the refugees.
That same year, another article appeared on the popular social media site Zhihu, with the headline “Sweden: The Sexual Assault Capital of Europe”. “But,” wrote author Wu Yuting, “the cruel reality is that with the large number of Muslims flocking to Sweden, they also caused Islam’s crackdown and damage against women, and destroyed the gender equality in Swedish society “.
Islamophobia is the main topic of Chinese alt-right, according to research by Fang and Yang.
“By presenting the policies as biased, they interpreted them as a source of inequality and intended to spark resentment by portraying Han as victims in their narrative,” Fang said. “They described a conflicted relationship between the Han – the dominant ethnic group in China – and other ethnic minorities, especially the two Muslim minorities – the Hui and Uyghurs.” He added: “It is exactly the same logic and the same dominant rhetoric deployed in the alt-right in the United States: poor white working-class men are exploited by immigrants and by minorities.
Other researchers have gone further. In a 2019 article, Zhang Chenchen of Queen’s University, Belfast, analyzed 1,038 Chinese social media posts and concluded that by criticizing Western “liberal elites”, China’s right-wing Internet discourse has built l ethno-racial identity against the “inferior” of the non-The other Westerner.
This is “exemplified by non-white immigrants and Muslims, with racial nationalism on the one hand; and formulates China’s political identity against “the other declining Westerner with realistic authoritarianism on the other,” she wrote.
Anti-feminism is another issue frequently discussed by the Chinese online alt-right. 29-year-old Chinese actress Yang Li faced a backlash last December after a question she asked on her show. “Do the men have the bottom line? She joked.
The line made its live audience laugh, but the ire of many on the Internet. Although Yang does not publicly identify as a feminist, many accused her of adopting a feminist agenda, with some calling her a “feminist activist” and “boxer,” “in an effort to gain more privilege over women. men, ”said one reviewer. “Feminist bitch,” snarled another.
And in April, Xiao Meili, a well-known Chinese feminist activist, suffered widespread abuse after she posted a video online of a man throwing hot liquid at her after she asked him to quit smoking. Some of the messages called him, and others, without credible evidence, “anti-China” and “foreign forces.” Others would say, “I hope you die, bitch”, or “Little bitch, fuck the feminists.”
“When the Xiao Meili incident happened, many feminists were trolled, including myself,” said one of the artists who subsequently collected over 1,000 abusive messages posted to feminists and to feminist groups and turned them into a work of art. “We wanted to turn the trolling words into something that can be seen, touched, to materialize the trolling comments and amplify the abuse of what is happening to people online,” she said.
Xiao criticized social media companies for not doing enough to stop such vitriol, even though China has the most sophisticated internet filtering system in the world. “Weibo is the biggest catalyst,” she told a US website in April. “He treats incels like they’re the royal family.”
But Michel Hockx, director of the Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies at the American University of Notre Dame, thinks it is because such speeches do not threaten the government. “They don’t necessarily challenge the ruling party and spill over into collective action,” he said, “So social media companies have less incentive to remove them. Authorities don’t tell them to do so. to do. “
King says Chinese state censors are also walking a fine line in monitoring such content: “The ‘alternative right’ tends to broadly support the Communist Party line on most things. They see China as a bulwark against the corrosive power of Western liberalism. “
But their rhetoric online has consequences offline, he warned: “Things like ethnic resentment is something just below the surface, which cannot escalate. When it explodes, it’s very ugly.