Chinese netizens have earned something of a reputation for being a bunch of xenophobic hyper-nationalists. This sentiment is most true amongst many of the “Westerners” actively following Chinese sentiments online, whether through occasional mainstream news reporting or through the plethora of English-language blogs on China.
To one extent, this reputation is a product of availability bias, the predisposition to overweight the extreme and unusual, to overestimate and overexaggerate the phenomenon that stands out to us, especially if we’re developing most of our impressions of Chinese netizens from websites like chinaSMACK. What doesn’t help is the addition of confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out and recall information that reinforces existing attitudes.
To another extent, the reputation may be well-deserved. Chinese netizens themselves readily admit to government-sponsored “internet commentators”1 being a fixture of the Chinese internet experience, astroturfing, propagandizing, and “shaping public opinion” for, you know, the stability of a fragile Chinese nation, a nation besieged by those with ulterior motives, by “splittist” forces from within and foreign powers from without.
But even without these internet commentators stoking the glue of nationalism that keeps a nation together in times of great national crises, there’s plenty of bonafide fenqing and nationalistic Chinese expressing genuine pride and, er, prejudice online. Controversial topics involving the Koreans or Japanese prompt even average Chinese who usually love Korean fashion or swear by Japanese brands to take a petty swipe or two. And when it comes to Euro-American men poaching Chinese lasses, oh boy.
Of course, it needn’t be said that online expressions of nationalism are hardly limited to the Chinese. However prevalent and pervasive Chinese nationalism appears, nationalism can easily be found in many nations amongst many nationalities…when we look for them.
Just recently, angry Koreans organized themselves into “The Just Terrorism Cafe” on the popular Korean Naver portal to bring down one of Japan’s most popular internet forums, 2chan, through a DoS attack. Over what? Over alleged Japanese criticisms of the recent 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic gold medalist figure skater Kim Yu-Na. The online attack, rumored to involve 30,000-110,000 Koreans button-mashing F5 to repeatedly reload 2chan’s website and use up its bandwidth, apparently caused 2.5 million dollars worth of damage, affected US government servers, and now involves the FBI.
This is why people dislike that crass nation of barbarians.2
Which country is this referring to? Which country does it apply to?
When we see these things, statements like this, what exactly are we supposed to think or feel? How are we supposed to respond, if at all? What’s the reaction we do see, amongst ourselves? How are we supposed to interpret, for example, Chinese netizens mobilizing themselves to vote “No” en masse when CNN has a poll up asking if the 2008 Beijing Olympics should be boycotted or if Tibet should be independent?
Are they making their voice heard or are they skewing the results? Is this an expression of a legitimate position or some frightening manifestation of brainwashed nationalism?
When is it one or the other?
When we denounce a country and its people for their nationalism, do we do so because it’s nationalism, or only when we feel that country somehow presents a credible threat to us?
Just for fun…