15 February 2019
Protesters call for a boycott of South Korean goods in Jilin City in northeastern China's Jilin province. Photo: AFP
Protesters call for a boycott of South Korean goods in Jilin City in northeastern China's Jilin province. Photo: AFP

There’s always a foreign country for Chinese people to hate

An anti-Korea sentiment has surged in China after the United States decided to deploy the THAAD missile system to South Korea.

Across the mainland, hundreds of thousands of people are protesting in front of retail stores and supermarkets owned by Korean firms such as the Lotte Group, while many others are boycotting Korean TV dramas and canceling their vacation trips to South Korea.

Amid this ultra-nationalist and anti-foreign frenzy, however, a recent online article titled “Thanks to our ‘hate education’, Chinese people are getting too busy these days!” has gone viral on social media, striking a chord among mainland netizens.

“We are told to hate the US in the morning, then South Korea at noon, Japan in the evening, and Taiwan as well as Singapore during that little free time before we go to bed, not to mention that we also have to hate Vietnam and the Philippines in our dream,” the author says.

“As a result, our lives have become so ‘enriched’ and ‘fulfilling’ that we don’t have time to think about anything else.”

I think the article hits the nail on the head, and may prompt many mainland netizens to reflect on the current anti-foreign frenzy.

It appears the Chinese people haven’t learned much from the painful lessons of history.

It was exactly this sort of ignorant anti-foreign frenzy that led to the tragic Boxer Uprising in 1900, an ultra-nationalist rebellion against all westerners in China, which finally resulted in the invasion by the “eight-power” coalition force led by the British and its occupation of Beijing.

In the course of the invasion and occupation, hundreds of thousands of Chinese civilians were killed, and the Forbidden City was stormed and ransacked by foreign soldiers.

The incident is widely considered by historians as one of the worst humiliating defeats China has suffered in modern history.

Unfortunately, 117 years on, it seems the same old hysterical anti-foreign sentiment still prevails among many mainlanders.

For example, recently there is a video clip circulating on the internet in which a group of students at an elementary school somewhere in the mainland are taking an oath, apparently on the orders of their teachers, to pledge to stop buying snack food produced by Lotte as a demonstration of patriotism.

Nothing could be more absurd. How could elementary school kids know anything about the THAAD missiles? How could they understand big power diplomacy? What’s the point of injecting “hate” into their little minds?

Over the past decades, Chinese people have been told by officialdom to hate this or that whenever the Communist Party sees fit.

In the ’50s Chinese people were mobilized by party propaganda to hate the American imperialists, then the Soviet revisionists in the ’60s, and the Japanese right-wing militarists in recent years.

Now it is South Korea’s turn, and God knows which country is going to be next.

In the short run the anti-Korea movement might be able to serve Beijing’s political purposes and help to unite the Chinese people, but in the long term it might backfire.

That’s because if Beijing allows such hysterical “siege mentality” among the people to continue to grow unchecked, chances are it might eventually snowball into an all-out ultra-nationalist frenzy which goes beyond Beijing’s control, and which may threaten social stability.

The current situation reminds me of how the moribund Qing government was hijacked by the Boxers in 1900 and incited to declare war on western powers despite the fact that it was in a state of total unpreparedness, and all this led to the final tragic invasion.

Some might argue that most of the anti-Korea protests happened spontaneously, having been staged by civilians, and therefore the authorities shouldn’t be blamed for that.

However, everybody knows in a police state like China, nationwide mass demonstrations would never be possible without the tacit acquiescence of the Communist regime.

Ironically, while many mainlanders are waving the Chinese national flags and chanting patriotic slogans outside Korean stores in China, many others continue to pour into South Korea for cosmetic surgery and Japan for high-tech toilet bowls – not to mention that corrupt officials across the country are continuing to move their dirty money offshore, specifically to “imperialist” America.

To me, “patriotism” as pitched by the Communist Party is no different from “sheer hypocrisy”.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 10

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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