The wave of protests that have followed the killing of George Floyd in the US and the often violent response from police forces across the country have inevitably received considerable attention in China. As with many discussions online — especially when dealing with highly-charged issues and large groups of people — some of the comments have been ugly. But the events have also sparked a number of eye-opening discussions, voices of genuine support and comparisons with movements closer to home among China’s diverse online populace.
We can’t claim to cover all of those voices here, but below is a snapshot of some of the conversations that have been happening around the Black Lives Matter movement on Chinese social media platforms.
From W.E.B. Du Bois to the Panthers: A History of Black Americans in China
Chinese state media has generally led with a narrative of “chaos” in the US and an apparent schadenfreude in light of American support for pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong. Yet some have used this framing to start more constructive discussions. The tweeting of the words “all lives matter” by Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, for example led a number of accounts to unpack the term on popular microblogging site Weibo.
“Some people don’t understand, so let’s look at why ‘wolf warriors’ [a reference to China’s nationalistic Wolf Warrior movie series] using the phrase ‘All Lives Matter’ on the international internet is such a stupid mistake,” begins one post, before dissecting the phrase and its history as well as discussing white supremacy and anti-Asian and anti-Black sentiment more generally. It’s received around 30,000 likes and 10,000 reposts.
Another tweet by Hua, which used the words “I can’t breathe” was also seized upon by more liberal commentators on the Chinese social media platform. and reposted with the accompanying text of “I can’t tweet” — spotlighting the blocking within China of the very platform Hua used.
While Chinese state media is trumpeting government officials' Twitter clapbacks against the US over the death of George Floyd, Chinese social media users point out the bitter irony of not being able to tweet at all. pic.twitter.com/e0xDGU7CoQ— Laurie Chen (@lauriechenwords) June 1, 2020
While Chinese state media is trumpeting government officials' Twitter clapbacks against the US over the death of George Floyd, Chinese social media users point out the bitter irony of not being able to tweet at all. pic.twitter.com/e0xDGU7CoQ
— Laurie Chen (@lauriechenwords) June 1, 2020
Although a number of Chinese rappers have posted black squares or images of support to their overseas social media accounts, some have made more significant contributions.
Beijing-based artist BloodzBoi literally showed the receipts for his support of the Black Lives Matter movement and posted donation links to a number of key organizations, adding: “Why do I do this? It’s not just ‘all my friends are doing it.’ Black music is something I’ve listened to since I was a child up to now. Black culture is a part of my entertainment and education. My music has been greatly influenced by it. At this moment, I feel that I have no reason not to stand with them. If you want to do your part, go donate.”
Chinese Hip Hop Musicians React to Black Lives Matter Protests in the US
AR was another rapper to attempt education rather than a simple repost, referencing Kendrick Lamar and Tupac Shakur and writing, “Imagine if from birth, the ‘police’ are the people you are most afraid to see, the people who commit violence against you, how much impact this will have.”
News reports on the protests have sparked some polarized comments on social media, ranging from outright racism to voices of support. The top-voted response to one report from The Paper — which for the last few days headed the page for the trending Weibo hashtag “American riots” — reads: “I really think that our country should carefully consider and understand that it is not racial discrimination, but that they really are not easy to manage, they really are very united […] If these people were in China in large numbers, could it be guaranteed that similar situations would not occur here?” The comment goes on to reference the recent situation in Guangzhou and discrimination against African communities there. However, the next most upvoted comment reads, “We stand with the Black people of Minneapolis.”
As of June 4, a particularly sensitive date in China, the hashtag — which has been viewed more than 2.3 billion times — has seemingly had its prominence downplayed. The hashtag page is now led by a video of President Obama’s June 3 speech.
Even thoughtful essays on the issues have led to some wildly different reactions. The Chinese version of this piece from Yale student Eileen Huang has racked up tens of thousands of views on WeChat, for example, but commenters have been divided. Huang writes that she, “specifically want[ed] to address the rampant anti-Blackness in the Asian American community that, if unchecked, can bring violence to us all,” and urges action, education and “uncomfortable/difficult conversations with Asian Americans/non-Black people on anti-Blackness in our own communities.”
While some in the comments section have applauded the author’s sincerity and frankness, unfortunately not all the responses have been supportive. Others have publicly called out the article:
Yu Jie, a so-called "democratic activist" ? and recipient of the Civil Courage Prize, calls a Yale student who shows solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter "yellow left" (a derogatory term similar to baizuo but for ethnic Chinese): "black rioters wanna rob people precisely like you" https://t.co/jerHLI4gP4— Chenchen Zhang??♀️ (@chenchenzh) June 2, 2020
Yu Jie, a so-called "democratic activist" ? and recipient of the Civil Courage Prize, calls a Yale student who shows solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter "yellow left" (a derogatory term similar to baizuo but for ethnic Chinese): "black rioters wanna rob people precisely like you" https://t.co/jerHLI4gP4
— Chenchen Zhang??♀️ (@chenchenzh) June 2, 2020
Another widely-circulated article on WeChat is entitled “American Chaos: How to Understand the Violence in Black Protests.” In it, author Zhao Danmiao explores how government legitimacy is derived from the social contract and how the state justifies its use of violence, while also looking at affirmative action and referencing works such as Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.
“In the face of the violence amid the demonstrations, it’s easy to directly condemn such violence, because we hate the interruption of normal life,” the article concludes. “But this condemnation does not touch upon the essence of the problem, nor can it prevent such a march from coming back. […] Systematic injustice still exists, and the cycle of repression, resistance and violent resistance will continue.
“Perhaps, the more meaningful thing is that everyone thinks, discusses and says: how can we build a more fair society? How can we ensure every vulnerable group gets equal treatment from public power?”
The Hong Kong protests are not mentioned explicitly as part of the piece, but they don’t need to be for many to draw parallels. Finally, the article ends by stating that,
“The plight of human society is always alike. I hope we can all learn something from these conflicts on the other side of the ocean.”
As protests continue across the US and the globe, it’s clear that some are insistent on using a just cause to serve their own nefarious interests and geopolitical agendas. It’s also clear that news of the protests and the killings that have sparked them has been met with some racist commentary in China. Yet it’s also true that many ordinary Chinese citizens are shocked by developments and are keen to educate themselves about the issues, while also expressing heartfelt support for those pushing for justice and change.
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