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Perils of Preaching Nationalism Play Out on Chinese Social Media


It doesn’t often occur that peculiar Chinese say publicly that they’re dissatisfied with their government. That they’re ashamed of their government. That they wish to surrender their Communist Party memberships. And that they think the People’s Liberation Army is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

It’s even rarer that such offended comments come from the form of nationalists who normally support whatever their leaders demand of them.

For much of Monday and Tuesday, many Chinese applauded the tough rhetoric from government, military and media personalities who were attempting to thwart Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Then, as Ms. Pelosi’s plane was touching down in Taiwan late Tuesday night, some social media users commented on how dissatisfied they were with Beijing’s lame response.

No military motion within the Taiwan Strait, as they felt they’d been led to expect. No shoot-down, no missile attack, no fighter jet flying next to Ms. Pelosi’s plane. Just a few denunciations and announcements of military exercises.

Many individuals complained that they felt let down and lied to by the federal government. “Don’t placed on a show of power in case you don’t have the facility,” wrote a Weibo user with the handle @shanshanmeiyoulaichi2hao shortly after the flight’s landing. “What a lack of face!”

The user went on to say that the federal government didn’t deserve the individuals who had waited for hours to witness how history could possibly be made. “A fantastic nation. How ironic!”

The strong online emotions showed the complexity of the general public opinion that Beijing may have to administer if it decides to invade Taiwan. They usually demonstrated how nationalism is a double-edged sword that could be easily turned against the federal government. Some antiwar comments that managed to evade the censors, if just for a moment, also opened a window onto the psychological impact of the Ukrainian war on the Chinese public.

Some users compared the People’s Liberation Army to the Chinese men’s soccer team, a laughingstock within the country since it has qualified for the World Cup just once. They sneered on the announcement that the P.L.A. would conduct military exercises near Taiwan. “Avoid wasting gas,” said one WeChat user. “It’s very expensive now,” responded one other.

On WeChat, the comments section for a brief video a few military exercise became a board for dissatisfied people to whine. Amongst hundreds of comments, a number of Communist Party members said they would really like to quit out of shame. A military veteran said he would probably never mention his army experience again. “Too offended to go to sleep,” commented a user with the handle @xiongai.

The comments section was later closed.

Many users seemed especially dissatisfied with the foreign ministry. “When China said ‘strongly condemn’ and ‘solemnly declare’, it was just for the aim of amusing peculiar folks like us,” wrote a Weibo user with the handle @shizhendemaolulu, referring to the language that foreign ministry spokespersons used about Ms. Pelosi’s visit.

“So tough in relation to domestic governance and so cowardly in foreign affairs,” the user wrote. “Utterly dissatisfied!”

On Wednesday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the foreign ministry, Hua Chunying, responded to an issue concerning the public’s disappointment by saying that she believed the Chinese people were rational patriots and that they’d confidence of their country and their government.

The Chinese Communist Party has used nationalism as a governing tool for the reason that Mao era. Xi Jinping, China’s current paramount leader, took it to a recent level. “Nationalism is becoming a core pillar of each the party’s and Xi’s personal political legitimacy,” Kevin Rudd, the chief executive of the Asia Society and a former prime minister of Australia, wrote in his book “The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic Conflict Between the U.S. and Xi Jinping’s China.”

The unification of Taiwan, a self-ruling democracy that Beijing considers a part of its territory, with the mainland is a centerpiece of Chinese nationalism.

But as Mr. Rudd and others argue, it has sometimes proven difficult to regulate the nationalist genie once it’s released from the bottle. “This problem has develop into progressively larger under Xi Jinping, as nationalist appeals have moved from the margins to the middle of the Chinese propaganda apparatus across the board,” he wrote.

The web backlash this week is an example.

Most Chinese didn’t pay very much attention to Ms. Pelosi’s pending Taiwan visit until Monday afternoon, when a flurry of official and semiofficial statements led many to imagine that China could take tough, possibly military, actions to discourage it.

Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesperson who could also be China’s best-known “wolf warrior” diplomat, warned the USA on Monday that the P.L.A. would “never sit idly by. China will certainly take resolute and robust countermeasures to defend its own sovereignty and territorial integrity.” On the web site of People’s Every day, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, a two-paragraph article about his comments was viewed 2.7 million times.

That evening, the P.L.A.’s Eastern Theater Command, which covers Taiwan, posted on Weibo that it was waiting for the order to fight and would “bury all invading enemies.” The post was liked greater than 1,000,000 times, and the embedded video, featuring footage of bombings and explosions, has had greater than 47 million views.

After which there’s Hu Xijin, the retired editor in chief of Global Times, the Communist Party tabloid that has played probably the largest role in stoking Chinese nationalism over the past three a long time.

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

“We will certainly launch strong countermeasures to hit the U.S. and Taiwan,” he wrote on Tuesday. “So hard that the Taiwan authorities will regret it.”

After Ms. Pelosi’s plane landed in Taipei, China issued many strongly worded condemnations and announced an intimidating array of military exercises around Taiwan. But the shortage of any direct military motion left many nationalists feeling shortchanged. Their heroes, including Mr. Hu and Mr. Zhao, lost a few of their halos.

Now they’ve mocked Mr. Zhao by posting a brief video of him making tough statements on Monday.

Late Tuesday night, Mr. Hu’s Weibo account was flooded with offended, sarcastic and abusive comments. “If I were you, I can be so embarrassed that I’d not dare to say one other word and conceal until the day of Taiwan’s reunification,” commented a Weibo user with the handle @KAGI_02.

Ren Yi, a Harvard-educated nationalistic blogger, wrote a searing commentary early Wednesday morning, urging that Mr. Hu’s influence be reined in.

In a Weibo post, Mr. Ren said the general public’s unmet high expectations could hurt the federal government’s credibility. He blamed those unrealistic expectations on Mr. Hu, saying that his posts had been taken too seriously because he once ran a celebration newspaper.

Mr. Ren isn’t the one one that desires to dethrone Mr. Hu, who’s now a Global Times columnist, from his position as probably the most influential Chinese journalist. Other commentators and social media personalities are also asking that he be held accountable. Mr. Hu wrote on Weibo on Wednesday morning that he’d develop into a “punching bag.”

But some comments also identified that Mr. Hu was only one a part of China’s response to Ms. Pelosi’s visit, and suggested that each one the blame being pointed toward him could signal that the federal government is likely to be in search of a scapegoat.

There are antiwar voices on Chinese social media, too. Some people argued that only online warmongers ought to be sent to the front lines. Some parents are fearful that their children could possibly be conscripted. Others tried to induce their compatriots to have a look at Ukraine and Russia to know that war means death and economic destruction.

Zou Sicong, a author who’s been traveling in Poland for the past few months, urged people on WeChat to have a practical understanding of war, saying that he had learned about what Ukrainians and peculiar Russians had experienced.

People ought to be glad that nothing happened on Tuesday night, he said. “It is best to feel lucky which you can still do your small business, pay your mortgage, go to work tomorrow, get tested for Covid and live,” he wrote. “Please pray for yourself and your family members that we will get out of this approaching storm intact.”

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