Written by 03:04 Business

Is Xenophobia on Chinese Social Media Teaching Real-World Hate?

The video posted last year on Chinese social media showed more than 100 Japanese children, supposedly at an elementary school in Shanghai, gathered in their schoolyard. Chinese subtitles quoted two students leading the group as screaming: “Shanghai is ours. Soon the whole China will be ours, too.”

The messages were alarming and infuriating in China, which Japan invaded during World War II. Except that the scene actually took place at an elementary school in Japan. And the students were not stoking hatred of China; they were swearing an oath to play fair at what looked like a sporting event.

The video wasn’t taken down until after it had been viewed more than 10 million times.

Xenophobic online content like the schoolyard video is the subject of debate in China right now. Last week, a Chinese man stabbed a Japanese mother and her son in eastern China. Two weeks earlier, four visiting instructors from a college in Iowa were stabbed in northeastern China. Some Chinese are questioning the role that online speech plays in inciting real-world violence.

China has the world’s most sophisticated system to censor the internet when it wants to. The government sets strict rules about what can and cannot be said about politics, economics, society and the country’s leadership. Internet companies deploy an army of censors. Private citizens censor themselves, knowing that what they post can get their social media accounts deleted or, worse, land them in jail.

Yet the Chinese internet is laden with hate speech toward Japanese, Americans, Jews and Africans, as well as Chinese who are critical of the government. False information about Japan and the United States regularly tops lists of popular searches and receives a ton of reposts and likes.

What is happening online is influenced by the rising nationalism that has been promoted in China under the leadership of President Xi Jinping. Mr. Xi has adopted a China-versus-the-rest-of-the-world mentality. One of China’s responses to worsening tensions with its rivals was “wolf warrior” diplomacy, a term used to describe an ultranationalistic and often hostile approach to geopolitics.

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Last modified: 7 July 2024
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