20 February 2019
Hong Kong artist Chapman To has been a vocal critic of mainland behavior. Picture: Facebook
Hong Kong artist Chapman To has been a vocal critic of mainland behavior. Picture: Facebook

The hollow sound of online moral victory

Lu Xun’s stories of country bumpkin Ah Q may have been written almost a century ago but the character’s spirit is alive and kicking in some of the mainland’s keyboard patriots, according to state media.

Ah Q is a delusional figure of mockery who claims spiritual wins in repeated failures and China Youth Daily has taken Chinese netizens to task for reveling in Ah Q-like moral victories against various artists and public figures not toeing Beijing’s line. 

“This Ah Q mentality is the weak side’s way of showing their lack of self confidence,” the newspaper said. It not only demonstrates the weakness of the nation, it said, but also shows a lack of confidence in dealing with outside criticism.

Targets of the online attacks include Hong Kong artist Chapman To Man-chat, who expressed a personal view on the behavior of some mainlanders in Hong Kong, and Taiwan singer-songwriter Bobby Chen, who voiced an opinion on cross-strait economic policy. Mainland netizens called for the performers to be banned from the mainland and from making money there. One effect was a poor box office for To’s movies.

Usually government mouthpieces like the Global Times are quick to mirror online outrage at opponents to the Beijing line, criticizing Hong Kong people, for example, for taking photos of a mainland child defecating on a Hong Kong street.

But the online attacks have also ratcheted up tension between people on the mainland and in Hong Kong and Taiwan, worsening a negative image that Beijing is keen to dispel. The central government is determined to use soft power to gain support in the region, but the aggressive attacks by internet patriots only damage this cause. 

Beijing is responsible for setting the standards for users on the internet. It should show how to conduct civil exchanges, strike a balance between freedom of speech and defamation, as well as how to respect others in the virtual world. The China Youth Daily comments condemning “verbal violence” and populism reflect this position. 

The online outrage, though, is symptomatic of a broader lack of freedom. It can be hard for people outside the country to understand the patriotism of mainland internet users who blindly support the authorities against external critics. But in a place without the freedom to criticize the government and the ruling party, lashing out at public figures online may be the only way for netizens to vent their frustration.

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EJ Insight writer

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