Chinese online patriots have a new hero: Fu Yu（付昱), also known as Wuhe Qilin (乌合麒麟), the internet artist whose satirical image of an Australian soldier slitting the throat of an Afghan child was shared by China’s Foreign Ministry's spokesman Zhao Lijian in late November.
The tweet caused a row between China and Australia as the latter's prime minister demanded the post's deletion and a public apology from China.
The image was a reference to a recent investigation conducted by Australia's own military that found that the country's soldiers may have committed war crimes in Afghanistan.
Wuhe Qilin responded to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s request to an apology with another illustration released the following day (via @NavinaHeyden)：
Satire CG works by young Chinese artist 乌合麒麟. He immediately created another image within a day, as counterattack to Mr. Morrison’ accusation. What a stark contrast in intellegence, compentence, upstandingness and confidence! pic.twitter.com/R40j7vG95W
— Navina Heyden (@NavinaHeyden) December 1, 2020
The image depicts Morrison covering up a dead body with what looks to be Australia's national flag while a young boy captures the attention of photographers.
On Chinese social media, online patriots have cheered Wuhe Qilin “wolf-warrior” spirit. Chinese businessman Huo Lei, for example, said on Weibo:
Western countries are only civilized when there is power balance. During the middle century, when the other side was weak, they invaded others in the name of god and now they will do so in the name of democracy. The 200-year history of blood and tears teach us that we have to earn our own respect rather than seek sympathy from others. Now that a single artist managed to hurt their prime minister, I am very proud of the strength of my motherland. Strong support!
Leo Johnson, another Weibo user, said:
We are in great need of excellent artists like Wuhe Qilin in China’s new era who will defend and export our values!
And in another viral article on Weibo, the writer slammed Chinese state media for being absent in the Twitter spat and depicted the incident as a Chinese victory:
What we can see is that China’s Foreign Ministry was leading a group of online patriots in the fight while the state media and propaganda machine were absent […] Illustrator @WuheQilin is from the post-90 generation, a patriot, a cultured young man, an ideology fighter, a powerful warrior.
Recently, he single-handedly changed China’s position in the international stage with an illustration. This is such a milestone.
For the first time, he makes Chinese voices heard and tells the truth to the world. What’s more amazing is that Western media outlets are compelled to report on the incident and stupid Western countries such as New Zealand, France, and the U.S continue to stand by Australian soldiers who committed war crimes such as killing civilians, including children. He spreads the truth and exposes the hypocrisy of the Western countries that call themselves human right defenders.
Another post on WeChat draws the same conclusion:
Wuhe Qilin built its reputation in the international community with his two illustrations which expose the cruelty of Australian soldiers, the double standard of western media and the shamelessness of politicians and hit the nerve of western world… Qilin’s pen has beat down tens of thousands “rational, impartial and objective” media workers.
Many Chinese cartoonists have expressed support to Wuhe Qilin by posting art with a similar message. Below are some of them, shared on Twitter:
More Chinese artist have join the fray abt Australia PM Scott Morrison complaining that Chinese artist 乌合麒麟 Wuheqilin depicted real Australian war crimes in Afghanistan 👇🏼 pic.twitter.com/daDIaAaBvg
— Carl Zha (@CarlZha) December 2, 2020
— Miaow (@miaowcomics) December 2, 2020
With over 600,000 followers on Weibo, Wuhe Qilin was born in the 1990s and became known on Chinese social media earlier this year after he published illustrations about the Hong Kong protests which align with Beijing's view of the island's pro-democracy movement. Those illustrations have been widely shared by state-affiliated media outlets, such as Global Times.
Below are some of them (via Twitter user @Lazybean):
More work by 乌合麒麟:
1,2: On HK “protestors”
3: On the passing of HK National Security Law
4: On Fang Fang
These are artworks by THE artist 乌合麒麟, not photos😎. pic.twitter.com/PklIbCubup
— Lazybean🐭❤🇨🇳🇭🇰 (@gracebean284) December 1, 2020
In an interview with nationalist Chinese website Guancha in June 2020, Wuhe Qilin explained how he began illustrating:
[I began drawing political illustrations] because of what happened in Hong Kong. At first I was feeling very frustrated after reading the news and one day I saw a series of cartoons drawn by a Hong Kong cartoonist which glorified the riot. I wanted to respond in the same manner, so I drew the first illustration, called “You believe in a pretender god,” and it became a series.
Wuhe Qilin calls himself “wolf warrior,” a popular way to describe — and mock — the aggressive diplomatic style adopted by Chinese diplomats in recent years (“Wolf Warrior” is in fact the title of a 2015 Chinese patriot movie).
In the same Guancha interview, which was distributed by the Communist Youth League of China through its official social media channels, Wuhe Qilin talks about the “duty of artists,” an idea that resonates with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s calls for “ideological struggle”:
I believe that the distribution and exportation of ideology is the duty of artists and their artworks. That’s why I did it and it's my attempt to stimulate similar acts. I wish more artists used their talents and skills to work for their people and country. In particular in this special period when narratives coming from the West are cornering [China]. Thus I believe we need more art that reflect the will of our country and our people.
After the Twitter spat with the Australian PM, Wuhe Qilin posted a video message on YouTube further elaborating on his world view. His words are partly transcribed here by @wangbo08492215:
It is hoped that the Australian Prime Minister will face up to the reality, pay attention to domestic affairs, and restrain the behavior of Australian troops stationed abroad, so as to prevent such tragedy from happening again.@zlj517 pic.twitter.com/tLuozmKDJu
— 夢 (@wangbo08492215) November 30, 2020