Christine Fan, an American-born Taiwanese singer, received over 40,000 bullying messages on popular social media site Weibo after uploading a photo of her twin babies on September 3 during China's military parade to commemorate the end of World War II.
The trolls accused her of not being patriotic enough, even though Fan's nationality is American and China is not her homeland.
Apart from Fan, a number of other artists who did not share military parade photos were attacked online in a similar manner.
Below is an example of a typical comment from the “patriotic trolls”:
You don't post parade photos, but instead post your babies’ photo, you don't love your country!
How can you not be touched? Are you Chinese?
You don't love the country, leave China.
Fan lost more than 200,000 fans within 5 days, from 47.93 millions before the parade to 47.73 millions on September 8 on her official Weibo account. Following the outpouring of hate, Fan deleted the photo and expressed regret:
I am sorry that because of my sharing of my babies’ photo, people are upset.
According to an online poll on Sina Weibo, by 10 p.m. on September 5, more than 80% of responses said it was OK for Fan to share the photo of her children during the military parade, while only 5.8% said she shouldn't. Despite the vocal outcry, the majority of Chinese netizens likely share the feeling of Weibo user “Hi, Liming”:
Christine Fan attacked for posting a photo of her babies. How come a mother should apologize for loving her babies? What is the purpose of the military parade? To protect Chinese mothers and kids from fear? The call for peace is to ensure all mothers and kids in this world are safe and have the freedom to love? What's wrong with Christine Fan?
Current affairs commenter Hou Hongbing argued that even though the trolls are a minority of net users, their online bullying of public figures could “redefine” the meaning of patriotism:
To put it simply, an online community has redefined “patriotism”. Their judgement is not based on your contribution to the country or society and civilization. They attack those who are different from them, curse them and threaten them. And they do that in the name of “patriotism”.
When they are not happy, they forbid others to laugh; when they feel they should be happy, they force others to laugh.
The September 3 parade was the first time that the Chinese Communist Party had organized such an event to commemorate the end of WWII. As anti-Japanese war efforts were led by the Kuomintang political party of the then newly established Republic of China (Taiwan), the communist party's claims that it was central to fending off the Japanese invasion has raised more than few eyebrows.
Another blogger, Shen Shi, believed that the bullying was a well-organized and coordinated censorship push executed by China's so-called 50 Cent Party or online civilization army against artists. The author pointed out that a number of Hong Kong artists who had expressed support for Occupy Central movement, the massive pro-democracy protest in 2014, were prevented from appearing in movies, TV programs and concerts by mainland propaganda authorities. Given the large entertainment market that China represents, the sanction can ruin an artist's career, so the online “patriotic” bullying can create fear among artists:
Though artists are influential public figures, their political engagements are counter-checked by their supporters. That's why those artists who are working with dictators are trashed by their supporters. The dictator banned them because of their influences. For those who had not been banned, they have passed the political review, but such a review is a ongoing process. During the sensitive period, they have to be reviewed again; they would be pressured to perform their loyalty. [The bullying] is to let them know that if they are not acting according to what is expected, they will face the consequences.
The scare tactic seems to be working, as at least a dozen Hong Kong artists saluted China in words or in photos posted online on the military parade's occasion. A Hong Kong comedian, Ng Man Tat, even claimed to be a member of the communist party during the parade:
I’m proud that I’m a Chinese Communist Party member.
His statement won tens of thousands of likes, but later he retracted the statement and explained that he forgot using quotation marks in his tweet. Meanwhile, popular Hong Kong singer Hacken Lee's salute to anti-Japanese soldiers and China earned 170,000 likes on Weibo (see image on top: right bottom).