The wave of nationalism sweeping through China, amplified by party propaganda, the political ambitions of Xi Jinping and the country’s success in containing Covid-19, is taking a darker turn, with echoes of the country’s Maoist past.
Angry mobs online have swarmed any criticism of China’s leaders or a perceived lack of loyalty to the country. Targets are being harassed and silenced. Some have lost their jobs.
Among those who have been attacked this year are public figures who have raised questions about officials’ early handling of the coronavirus. They include a writer from Wuhan named Fang Fang, who wrote online about the struggles of local residents and accused government officials of being slow to respond to the outbreak.
Thousands of Chinese internet users called her a traitor. An anonymously written poster hung at a Wuhan bus station told her to “shave your head or kill yourself to atone for your sins against the people”—and a photo of it spread widely online. A famous tai chi master called on allies to assault her, using their “clenched fists of justice.”
Fang Fang later issued a plea to her fellow citizens on the Twitter -like platform Weibo: “China cannot return to the Cultural Revolution.”
Chinese politics researchers say surging nationalism is in part a natural response to the country’s rising stature around the world. Some Chinese people say their feelings are rooted in genuine pride for their country.
The government has also taken a heavy hand in stoking the sentiment.
In the past, China’s internet censors allowed for limited debate on social issues. That's changed as Xi builds a new type of great power combining autocratic government and high-tech social control with a pervasive hypernationalism to drown out dissent.https://t.co/oEZZgGfeAe
— Jonathan Cheng (@JChengWSJ) October 23, 2020