Last week, popular American-Taiwanese singer Christine Fan received an avalanche of online bullying after she uploaded a photo of her baby twins’ during China's World War II military parade. Her crime, according to the trolls, was not being patriotic enough, even though Fan's nationality is American and China is not her homeland.
Fan ended up deleting the photo and apologizing. The outpouring of hate in the name of love of country was disturbing to many Chinese, especially on the occasion of a parade meant to showcase China's determination in fighting against fascism of the era, which itself promoted a virulent form of nationalism.
For some, it also was reminiscent of a popular pattern of speech used during the Cultural Revolution, a violent political movement in the 1960s and 70s that sought to reassert the Chinese Communist Party's power and purge any undesirables from society. This meant even the most mundane topics of conversation began with a lofty declaration of an individual's patriotism.
Chinese patriotism meets kitchen appliances
After Fan came under attack, well-known writer Li Haiping parodied that form of speaking on popular Chinese social media site Weibo:
Long live the motherland, who knows which company sells refrigerators that are broad and flat?
The question attracted thousands of responses written in the same style. Unfortunately, the post was scrubbed by censors quickly for being politically incorrect. In addition to the filtering of sensitive terms, reports from individuals such as the “civilization volunteers” on politically sensitive contents can easily bring down a post. Some comments were backed up on China Digital Times and selectively translated below:
Support domestic goods and avoid Japanese products, everyone should watch the military parade! I still feel Panasonic refrigerators are better……
The communist party is the best! The Haier BCD-521WDPW refrigerator is about 65 centimeters high, basically the flattest
All the imperialists are paper tigers. Don’t buy Chinese-made products [refrigerators included].
Class struggle always works. Hisense has one, but it's doors don't close firmly?
The dangers of extreme patriotism
On Weibo, Beijing University professor Hu Xingdou explained that the trend toward extreme patriotism was a historically risky one:
When asked about the issue of the singer being assaulted by netizens online, I answered that extreme patriotism out of ignorance like that of the Boxers and Nazis has great destructive power and always lead to extreme nationalism and fascism. Extreme patriotism and nationalism are the biggest dangers to China now. Responsible politicians should stop its spread and lead people to return to the universal values of humankind, preventing the country from going the evil way of the Boxers or Cultural Revolution.
The Boxer Rebellion (1899 and 1901) was an anti-imperialist uprising attempting to drive all foreigners from China through violence. The Boxers, called the Yihequan which means “Righteous and Harmonious Fists” in Chinese, were organized as a religious secret society, and they launched attack against foreigners at night in major cities to express their anger against foreign invasion.
Hu's opinion was echoed by many, like the Financial Times China columnist “Rabbit Old Fool”:
Fascists hysterically force others to love the country — love their master’s country. Being unpatriotic surprisingly becomes a crime in China.
In China, some fear that the patriotism promoted by the millions of online “civilization volunteers” under the coordination of the Communist Youth League could promote the rampant growth of extreme left-wing powers and lead to a resurrection of the Cultural Revolution. By mirroring their aggressive patriotism, Li Haipeng is inviting these individuals to look at their own ridiculous reflections. Here's hoping they have a sense of history — and humor.