Last week, a Weibo post by the CCP Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, China’s top legal enforcement authority, ignited a firestorm of controversy on Chinese social media. The controversy began after the Commission’s account uploaded a post comparing the mass funeral pyres in India amid the country’s worst coronavirus outbreak with China’s recent Tianhe space station rocket launch.
One focal point of the ensuing social media storm was a public spat between two prominent outspoken Party supporters: the state-backed Global Times tabloid’s editor-in-chief Hu Xijin, and Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University. Shen Yi had remarked that he thought the comparison of India’s funeral pyres and China’s rocket launch was “very good,” saying “the temper caused by the flirtatious whore that is India is also necessary. As for the holier-than-thou bitches [social justice warriors], if you want to express your feelings, please go to India and burn firewood.” Hu Xijin disagreed, arguing that “ordinary Chinese people don’t have to be social justice warriors, but official accounts should hold high the banner of humanitarianism at this time, express sympathy for India, and place Chinese society firmly on the moral high ground.”
The argument between Shen and Hu led to a division of public opinion on Weibo between a “support Hu faction” and the “support Shen faction.” Many Shen supporters denounced Hu Xijin as a “foreign lap dog” or “two-faced,” among other insults. Meanwhile, the Hu supporters called him a “true patriot” and criticized Shen’s supporters by quoting from the Book of Rites: “When a neighbor is mourning, don’t chant while pounding rice; When people in the village are having a funeral, don’t sing in the alleys.” They decried the Shen faction’s inhumanity, calling them China’s shame.
On May 5, the controversy resurfaced after another Global Times reporter, Chen Qingqing, was attacked on Weibo for a comment she made on Twitter. She had commented on the official post, saying: “It’s completely ridiculous to make such a comparison.”
Chen additionally commented on Weibo that the original post by the Legal Affairs Commission was a self-inflicted screw-up (using the internet slang “翻车”), and quoted a comment by Weibo user @雷斯林”:
@雷斯林：“One interesting observation is that ten years ago, people called Hu Xijin China’s Number One “Fifty Center,” and he represented radical nationalism. But in the last couple of years, it seems that more and more people see him as ‘evasive,’ a mere ‘public intellectual,’ or even a ‘traitor.’ The question is, is it Hu Xijin that’s changed, or the times? Who knows.” [Chinese]
Chen’s comments attracted a wave of hostile comments from nationalist netizens. On Wednesday evening, Hu Xijin again stepped in, posting on Weibo in defense of Chen Qingqing:
@胡锡进：When the Hong Kong chaos was at its most ferocious, she was on the frontlines, risking being discovered and beaten by Hong Kong independence supporters, while sending back report after report. She was one of the most active mainland reporters in Hong Kong at the time. On the day Fu Guohao was beaten at the airport, she and two other Global Times reporters were also there, but luckily were not discovered by the mob. When Catalonia was at its most turbulent, she was the first assigned to travel there. She is one of the bravest reporters. She is Chen Qingqing, who many people are clamoring to attack today.
Yes, Qingqing is immature. The tweet she sent was too simple and hot headed. Even if she expresses different opinions, she shouldn’t talk like that. It was also inappropriate for her to bring that content back to China. But can we really ask a reporter in her early 30s to be mature? Qingqing obviously didn’t do a good job this time, but she can only grow after being knocked down. Everyone is committed to safeguarding national interests, we need to learn from one another, and even criticize one another. But we should not poison each others’ wells, or brandish sticks against each other.
Many Global Times reporters’ Twitter, Weibo, and Toutiao accounts were opened at the encouragement of old Hu. I told them at the time, don’t be afraid, it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake. I hope our society encourages them in the same way. [Chinese]
Hu’s defense continued to fuel controversy on Weibo. Many comments from the “patriotic camp” derided Hu Xijin as “connivingly protective,” “hesitating and vacillating,” and “causing a spectacle.” They also satirized Hu’s view of “employees in their 30s as children who need not bear responsibility.” Others described Hu as a cocoon “overwhelmed by the maggots he cultivated.”
CDT Editors collected a selection of comments related to the Hu-Chen controversy:
@红茶爆爆红桃：Qingqing is over 30 years old, Qingqing has several years of work experience, Qingqing is immature. The editor of the Legal Affairs Commission Weibo could also be young or immature.
@此间的山羊：Old Hu, pay attention to your identities. You aren’t a big internet celebrity, you represent the nation. You can’t rely so much on your temper.
@文叔在北京：Reporter Chen’s behavior is wrong this time, there’s no need to argue about it. It is even more outrageous to use asymmetric information at home and abroad to export further sales. Party media must always know the values of their party.
@依然_红彤彤：She also reported on the turmoil in Hong Kong, so why didn’t that leave any impression on her? None of her articles denounced Hong Kong independence, and none of the articles can reveal the root cause of the turmoil in Hong Kong. Her painless live reports don’t resonate. Her values determine her position, and the so-called liberal democracy she advocates determines her thinking.
@禺乐：So immature, yet they dared send her to Hong Kong. No wonder they’ve been exposed as traitors.
@曾经的活人：Hu Xijin remember that you are party media. If you’re so determined to engage in two-faced trickery every day, they’ll get rid of you sooner or later, netizens aren’t so easy to fool anymore. I’ve seen how many times your own Party media engaged in two-facery every time major firepower is needed during major events in the country.
@昵称怎么都不能用啦：The ones rushing to the front lines can either be fighters or traitors.
@YJY_CFD：Obviously there is a contradiction among the people. So let’s discuss it internally. It’s okay to agree or disagree, but you had to go to the enemy’s camp and criticize your compatriots. You make it seem like you are “selfless” and “humane,” that you can “draw the boundaries.” How stupid is this, will the enemy give you medals? They will only be more hostile to us, and you are the traitor who informed the enemy.
@holibo：The Chen Qingqing incident has shown me that domestic populism has finally begun to turn on itself…
@leondeunww：Don’t compromise, speed up, speed up!!!
@MTQ180808：If your patriotism is not absolute, it is absolutely not patriotic!
@9A6GIuGXiFYonvO：To be honest, Shen Yi’s IQ leaves me very puzzled. What Hu Xijin said is still in line with the official media line, which has always been to hold high the banner of humanitarianism and a community with a shared future for mankind.
@慧诗和尚：The most improper thing about this female reporter is that she used the words of hostile Western forces to produce an article, which means she agrees with the values of Western countries in her bones. This is really maddening.
@山洞里的向日葵：This social atmosphere really is frightening.
@GaoFalin：After the sharpest criticism is eliminated, it becomes time to eliminate mild criticism. After criticism has been eliminated, ridicule can no longer be tolerated. After speaking is eliminated, silence is regarded as resistance, and praise becomes required. Then, those who don’t praise are eliminated. In the end, the applause cannot be stopped… Chang Ping described this process, hoping that Hu Xijin would understand that his safety is not assured by the maintenance of autocracy, but because there are still opponents of autocracy, and hence it is not yet his turn. [Chinese]