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Chinese Netizens Spreading Soft Power

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Chinese Netizens Spreading Soft Power

Resistance.  Repression.  Abuse.  State control.  Crackdown.  This is the vocabulary of Western journalists in covering China and a host of “authoritarian” regimes. 谎言Lies. 煽动Incitement. 歪曲Distortion.  This is the counter-narrative of those who resist Western media’s hegemony over representation of conflicts in the East. There is a war over soft power—winning through the power to attract. And it is not being waged by state actors but by ordinary netizens in China.

The 2008 Tibetan riots marked a turning point in which Chinese netizens no longer saw Western media as a reliable alternative to CCTV. So they spoke up: http://www.anti-cnn.com/. This is a website started by Jin Rao, a student in his mid 20s which constantly monitors reporting ‘errors’ in foreign media as well as maintains a discussion forum. The website claims, “We are not against the western media, but against the lies and fabricated stories in the media. We are not against the western people, but against the prejudice from the western society.”

Yet, its content speaks louder than its disclaimer. One netizen posted a series of violent photos documenting the Uyghur violence against Han Chinese in Urumqi, claiming that the photos evidence Rabya Kadeer’s plot to stir up anti-Han sentiments among Uyghurs on July 5th http://forum.accn.com/viewtopic.php?f=103&t=3696. The site also features an article from People’s Daily berating Canada’s National Post for using words such as ‘resistance’ and ‘persecution’ in covering the Urumqi riots. It concludes by saying, “there are people in this world who don’t want to see China modernize. They bear no good intentions.”

This statement should not be dismissed as People’s Daily propaganda. Instead, it reflects a very real and visceral sentiment among younger demographic who feel that China is on the cusp of becoming a real first world nation but is hindered by ill-willed foreigners. Their brand of nationalism does not prevent them from consuming Western goods or studying abroad in record numbers. But it does rear its head whenever foreigners ‘insult’ China. Insult instigates action. Netizens abet the Chinese state in spreading its soft power via providing alternative readings of domestic and international events. After all, soft power originated from a 7th century Chinese philosopher named Lao Tsu who thought rulers should exert power lightly and indirectly, like water.

What is your reaction to the contents on anti-cnn.com and to the growing spread of China’s soft power?


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1 Comment

  1. Robert O'Brien September 27, 2009

    Hey Diana,

    Loving the posts. They are as timely as they are insightful.

    The issue of youth and nationalism is one that I have followed closely for a while and just completed a paper on for the Carter Center. For those of your readers interested in learning more about the 愤青 (angry youth), I recommend checking out Evan Osno’s 7/2008 article in the New Yorker (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/07/28/080728fa_fact_osnos), reading Xu Wu’s ‘Chinese Cyber Nationalism,’ taking a look at transcript for an event hosted by the Brookings Institution on the matter (http://www.brookings.edu/events/2009/0429_china_youth.aspx), or just browsing any of the following message boards – sina.com, mitbbs.org,, or my personal favorite, fenqing.net.

    One thing you didn’t mention is the fen qing’s growing impact on Chinese policy formulation. CCP leaders from Hu Jintao to former Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi have admitted to using the web to gauge public sentiment when making major decisions, and the web is where the angry youth rule supreme. Their hand prints are all over the Chinese reaction to Japanese history textbooks revisions in 2005, and, more recently, the government’s decision to delay mandating that “Green Dam Youth Escorts” be installed in every personal computer.

    Great article. Keep ’em coming!


    Robert “Bobby” O’Brien

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