NYT sinisterly portrays Chinese netizens as nationalist, but they just hope for peaceful unification
Published: Aug 05, 2022 08:32 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

It is a common characteristic of the Western mainstream media to frame the netizens of China, largely by observing comments on Weibo, as overtly "nationalistic." Whilst it is true of course that Chinese people are very patriotic about their country, this form of media discourse likes to portray netizens in China as vicious, hateful and aggressive. This coverage quickly became prominent during the events of the past few days as Chinese people reacted to US Speaker of House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi's highly provocative, "in your face" and escalating move of visiting Taiwan island, a stunt which has severely injured ties between the US and China.

In doing so, the New York Times led with a highly inflammatory article titled "Perils of Preaching Nationalism Play Out on Chinese Social Media." The article argues that on the night, many Chinese netizens were hoping for Chinese government to take direct military actions against Pelosi's provocative visit, which took place despite China's repeated warnings, and then subsequently highlighted apparent disappointment from some that this outcome did not occur.

Chinese people have responded the way they did because they are not willing to see history repeat itself, and are well aware that the US is the troublemaker, the provocateur and the instigator of tensions. The Western mainstream media, while actively promoting hatred and misinformation against China every single day, seeks to deprive Chinese people of their own perspective and image in the face of American provocation. China above all seeks peace, but history means it is passionate, willing and ready to stand up for itself where necessary.

The NYT article is of course misleading for many reasons. First of all, the problem of hateful comments on social media is a worldwide one. People in general tend to respond to events and information with an emotional reaction and pre-embedded assumptions, often typing in comments without proper knowledge, reasoning or logic on the given subject. It goes without saying that on this premise, Western social media platforms in general are filled with vitriol and hatred on every topic imaginable of a political nature, not least regarding China itself. Social media is never a reliable or reasoned source.

However, it is nonetheless true to say that people in the Chinese mainland have respective emotions when it comes to the Taiwan island, but that does not translate into a call for aggression. China's worldview is built upon a collective sense of national trauma that the country has undergone deep pain and division in the past at the hands of colonial powers, through the "century of humiliation." Because of this backdrop, the Chinese people are naturally sensitive to territorial and sovereignty-related issues, but nonetheless live in the hope and aspirations that China will rise and be peacefully united again. 

This includes the matter of Taiwan. Rather, Chinese people are increasingly confident in their government and the direction their country is taking, having seen China's transformation and development. They also have confidence that the Chinese government would deal with provocations over the Taiwan question in the reasonable way, which serves China's interests best.

People in the mainland do not hope for war against the Taiwan island, but rather feel America's actions are designed to try and humiliate, smear and subjugate China. Pelosi's actions are an affront to national dignity, and it is not surprising that deliberately crossing China's red line and undercutting America's commitment to the one-China policy will make Chinese feel angry. This is further amplified by the fact that the US is highly hypocritical and refuses to acknowledge its role in escalating tensions, not least in pushing a G7 statement against China immediately thereafter. This is not brain-dead aggressive nationalism, but provocative, disingenuous and unethical behavior by the US, which aggrieves the Chinese people.

Beyond this issue, it is wrong to say that people in the mainland have anything against the Taiwan island. They do not feel hatred toward the island. In their view, the people of Taiwan are compatriots who speak their language and share their culture. What greatly irritated them are the US provocation and a few Taiwan secessionists. Ending in a catastrophic war which would bring about great destruction is not what people desire to see. It is never the first option, and Chinese leadership has always made it clear that the goal is "peaceful reunification." However, in the face of such US provocations, China has learned from the lessons of the past and has no choice but to sternly enforce its sovereign red lines against foreign provocation. 

The author is a political and historical relations analyst. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn