Why do Chinese nationalists attack their country’s heroes?

To get its economy back on track, China is defending its domestic companies and reassuring entrepreneurs that it is ready for business.

That effort is facing problems. An online army of Chinese nationalists has taken it upon themselves to punish perceived insults to the country, including by China’s leading businessmen.

In recent weeks, bloggers who normally bash the United States have accused China’s richest man of being an unpatriotic and encouraged boycotts, wiping out billions of dollars in the market value of his drinks company. As other business tycoons came to his defense, he also came under fire from users who posted pictures of the Chinese flag on their profiles.

As the frenzy spread, social media users also went after Huawei, the crown jewel of China’s high-tech industry, accusing it of secretly praising Japan. Others accused the prestigious university of being too friendly to the United States and demanded that it remove from circulation the work of a Nobel Prize-winning Chinese author who allegedly denigrated a national hero.

States have often encouraged such nationalist crusaders, sending them to shore up support, fend off foreign criticism, or distract from a crisis. Social media users have suggested the coronavirus may have originated in a US lab and have boycotted Western companies that criticize China’s human rights record.Self-proclaimed patriotic influencer have built a career From criticizing foreign countries.

But that encouragement also encourages many users to try to outdo each other with nationalistic anger, which in some cases can evade government control or undermine the government’s broader objectives. There is sex. As recent attacks escalated, some state media outlets unusually blamed nationalist bloggers. Hu Xijin, a former Communist Party newspaper editor and perhaps the best-known online nationalist, also condemned the trend. Still, the barrage continued.

“While nationalism and populism are very useful tools, they are also quite dangerous,” said Yaoyao Dai, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte who studies populism in China. “Government needs and wants to be a government that shapes the narrative. You can’t just give everyone this power to shape the narrative of who is ‘the people’ and who is ‘the enemy.’ ”

This time, many of the complaints appear to be fueled by growing dissatisfaction with China’s economic slump, potentially making it harder for authorities to turn off public anger.

For example, some who called for a boycott of the beverage company suggested that the company was more focused on profits than the public interest, amid complaints about high youth unemployment and a harsh corporate culture. Some people did.

The attacks on drinks company Nong Fu Springs and its billionaire owner Zhong Shanshan began last month following the death of the founder of rival drinks company Wahaha.

Wahaha’s founder, Hou Zongqing, had built a reputation for not laying off employees and offering housing and childcare subsidies. After his death, some users began comparing Mr. Zong and Mr. Zhong of Nongfu, asking why the latter did not show the same generosity.

but The attack quickly spiraled. Far beyond his business practices. Critics labeled the family traitors, noting that Zhong’s eldest son holds American citizenship. Some said the Nong Fu drink design seemed to evoke images of Japan, a cardinal sin for nationalists given China’s rocky history with Japan.

Still others accused Nongfu of taking advantage of the fact that it has foreign shareholders and enriching foreigners at the expense of China.

“In the current environment, most people can’t earn much money, which puts them in a bad position and they will hate the rich,” said Rebecca Fei, 35, from Hangzhou in eastern China. She is the city where both beverage companies are headquartered, she said in an interview. Fei had published social media posts praising Wahaha’s work culture and criticizing Nongfu Chun.

Around the world, anti-elite sentiment often goes hand-in-hand with economic downturn. But China’s tightly controlled internet encourages users to combine that sentiment with aggressive nationalism. As a growing number of topics are deemed off-limits by Chinese censors, pro-Beijing sentiment is one of the few remaining reliably “safe” areas.

Kun He, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands who studies Chinese online populism, said the appeal of inflammatory clickbait may be even stronger now that good-paying jobs are in short supply. He says no. Some bloggers are “taking advantage of this populist sentiment to drive traffic for their own benefit,” he says.

Online streamers have started posting videos of people flushing Nofuku Spring Water down the toilet. Some convenience stores have declared that they will no longer stock the product. Nonghu’s stock price has fallen 8% since last month.

Amid the growing enthusiasm, Hangzhou’s state-run newspaper published the following article: opinion article Although he did not mention Nongfu Chun by name, he called on the public to treat entrepreneurs as “our friends.” The propaganda department of Zhejiang Province, whose capital is Hangzhou, the accused blogger It “destroyed the normal economic order.”

The warning had little effect. Other entrepreneurs who defended Nonghu found themselves under attack, too. Li Guoqing, co-founder of Dangdang, once called China’s Amazon, urged social media users: video It was to allow the businessman to get back to work, only for commenters to point out that his son was also an American citizen. Mr Lee has since deleted his own video.

Nationalist anger often subsides quickly, but Zhong remains China’s richest man. Net worth is over $60 billion. But the frenzy over Nonghu revealed how easily nationalists could attack targets other than those chosen by the authorities.

Despite official efforts to dissuade them, several more campaigns have recently targeted other well-known institutions and figures.

Some social media users are outraged that some graduates of Beijing’s Tsinghua University, consistently ranked among the highest in the country, are studying in the United States. They vowed not to send their children there, even after social media accounts affiliated with the Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily criticized the attack as baseless.

Tech giant Huawei also came under criticism after a Weibo user posted that the company was suspicious of the company because it had named its chip product line “Kirin.” It spread. This is also an unacceptable reference to Japan. The post, which has now been deleted, appears to have been meant to be sarcastic. But as word spread, some users began a serious call to arms.

And last month, a man named Wu Wanzheng announced on Weibo that he had filed a lawsuit against Mo Yan, the only Chinese to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Mr. Wu (whose social media username is Mao Xinghuo after Mao Zedong) claimed that Mr. Mao slandered the military and insulted Mao Zedong in a novel depicting 20th century China’s turbulent times. He demanded that Mr. Mo’s books be removed from circulation.

Wu’s case has not been taken up in court, and his account on Douyin, China’s version of TikTok, was recently banned. A hashtag about his lawsuit was censored after it trended on Weibo.

Still, the authorities’ response was relatively light compared to the vigorous efforts by authorities to silence criticism of Beijing’s economic policies. Attacks against Mr. Mo continue, including against Mr. Wu, who declined interview requests. Other bloggers include Zhao Junsheng, a 67-year-old retired employee of a state-run company.

Mr. Zhao, whose video attacking Mr. Mo received more than 15,000 likes, admitted that he had not read any of his novels. But he was disgusted by the idea that people might criticize Mao-era China, where workers were valued. At the time, it was as important as China’s modern market economy, he said in an interview.

“I think there must be foreign forces behind them,” he said.

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