Extreme Nationalists Versus Nihilists In China

(Freezing Point, China Youth Daily)  It Is Scariest When There Are Only Two Kinds Of Voices.  By Liu Handing  (刘汉).  November 5, 2008.


On April 7, the Olympic torch relay took place in Paris, France.
The paralympian Jin Jing protected the torch with her hands as Tibet independence elements tried to stop her.


On August 15, the Chinese and American women's volleyball teams met in the Olympics preliminary round.
Afterwards, American team coach Jenny Lang waved to the audience as she exited.

[in translation]

In 2008, there were many amazing events in China: the southern ice/snow storms; the Lhasa disturbance; the interference with the Olympic torch relay; the Wenchuan earthquake; corruption cases being pursued in Taiwan; the Beijing Olympics; the Shanxi mine disaster; melamine; ...

Many of these incidents triggered debates on the Internet.  In recent years, we have grown accustomed to the standard model of Internet debates, with the loudest voices come from two opposite extremes.

On April 7, the Shanghai paralympian Jin Jing participated in the Olympic torch relay in Paris, France.  She was attacked by a Tibet independence man.  This surprising incident was a turning point.  For the first time after the March 14 disturbance in Lhasa, China seized the moral high point.  In the court of public opinion, China turned from accused to plaintiff.

This sudden change obviously upset certain Chinese people who "oppose China at every turn."  At a certain renowned Chinese right-wing extremist forum, there was one-sided condemnation of Jin Jing as soon as the foreign news reports came in.  Mild criticisms include "You will have a job when you return to China."  The more severe criticisms included personal attacks on the woman, including repeated questions such as: "Are you brain dead in addition to being physically handicapped?"  In the dozens of comments on the first page, not a single netizen expressed sympathy for Jin Jing or deplore the person who attacked a female paralympian.

This was the second assault, although she may not realized it.  Meanwhile, at the various big portals, the netizens were full of praise and comfort for Jin Jing.  They called her "the most beautiful girl" and a "patriotic heroine."

But within a few days, another Internet storm occurred and Jin Jing was assaulted a third time.  "Carrefour?  If you want to support 'Tibet independence' in our homeland, then what right do you have to exist?  Let us lock the door and beat the dog!"  This came from a post at a left-wing "angry young people" website.  The talk of "boycott Carrefour" spread into the streets.  Jin Jing expressed her opposition to the boycott.  So some of the netizens who praised her to the heavens turned around and condemned her as a "Chinese traitor" who has committed treason.

At the same time, other people who were praised to the heavens are now also slammed into the ground.  Certain overseas Chinese and students who opposed Tibet independence and supported the Olympics fall into this category.  At certain portals and some left-wing websites, they were pilloried almost universally by netizens.  "Go home already!  Don't lose face for us outside!"  "China is so wonderful.  Why did you go overseas?"  Some people even "denounced" the Chinese who are naturalized in foreign nations as having violated the local laws where they live.  "If you have sworn allegiance to the United States of America, then why are you marching in support of China?"

Most intriguing is that certain extremist right-wing critics are saying that some of these overseas students are marching to support the Chinese government because they are the "children of corrupt officials."  (The usual reasons such as "being brainwashed by the government" and "unable to have access to full information" do not apply to these overseas students who have been outside of China for some time.)  Yet, these are exactly the reasons that certain left-wing critics have been saying about overseas students for some time.

The experience of the famous Duke University student Wang Qianyuan drew the exact opposite reaction.  Since this student was sympathetic to "Tibet independence," her family address, telephone and alma mater were ferreted out by "human flesh search" and the abuses poured in.  Immediately an overseas organization gave her an award.  We can all remember that.

A Chinese columnist who teaches at a famous university in England had been propagating democratic ideas for years and achieving broad influence.  At this moment, she criticized "Tibet independence" and western media in her blog (without sparing the Chinese government and Chinese media).  She was attacked by certain former "fellow warriors."  She summarized the logic of these "fellow warriors" as follows:

"Why should the feelings of nationalism of Tibetans be respected?"

"Because they pursue democracy and freedom."

"Why should the feelings of nationalism of Han people be despised?"

"Because they are brain-dead."

"Why are so many people in the world against us?  Could it be that they good reason?"

"We obviously need to reflect, because they may have their good reason."

"When so many overseas Chinese are upset, could it be that they have good reason?"

"No, because they are all brain-dead."

"The Tibetans use their right to protest the Olympic torch relay.  Is this a normal exercise of their right?"

"Of course. They live in a democratic society."

"The Han people use their right to support the Olympic torch relay.  Is this a normal exercise of their right?"

"Normal?  They are all just brain-dead."

"Should all those people who pursue freedom and democracy go back to China, or else they may look cowardly?"

"Why?  They should be able to express their ideas anywhere."

"Should the patriotic, nationalist angry young people go back to China, or else they may look cowardly?"

"Of course, because they are all brain-dead."

She was lucky that her former comrades did not also call her "brain-dead."  She said that many Chinese around her also said that they wanted to protest against Tibet independence and support the Olympics.  But this same group of people also get angry about the illegal brick kilns, donate money during disasters, curse out corrupt people, and are heartbroken with the appalling inequality of wealth in China ... So why demonize them as "brain-dead"?  She described the so-called "independent thinking" of these critics as the two new "whatever's".

The "two whatever's" are: "Whatever the enemy opposes or may oppose, we will resolutely support" and "whatever the enemy supports or may support, we will resolutely oppose."  Actually, the extreme right and the extreme left have much more in common than their apparent intolerance of each other.  For example, they all believe "only I am right," "I have always been right," "I will be right forever," "things are either black or white."  They also talk tough, they love to spit and they have a supreme desire to re-brainwash the majority of the people who have been previously brainwashed by the other side.  On one hand, they are filled with moral, intellectual and information superiority in their writings, and consider all those who dissent from their opinions as "fifty-cent gang" (=paid Internet commentators) or "Internet agents."  They only curse each other out without ever engaging in genuine debate.  They hold their ideals within their chests and the truth in the hands, whereas other people are either ignorant or have ulterior motives or just waiting for their guidance with infinite worship in their eyes.  Every one of them owns a "fatal self-conceit."

There are two very famous poems.  Here are the excerpts of the most famous stanzas:

(Wang Zhaoshan, <Jiangchengzi>)

It is hard to evade natural disasters, so what is there to complain?
The Chairman calls, the Premier beckons,
The Party comforts, the Nation loves, as their voices echo in the wasteland.
1.3 billion people cry together
It is joyous even if you are dead.

(Jiao Guobiao, <To American Soldiers>)

If I become a soldier in my next life,
I only want to be an American soldier.
If I have to die at war in this life,
I would rather be a soul who died from an American precision weapon.

There is no question that Mr. Wang Zhaoshan and Mr. Jiao Guobiao hold completely opposite positions.  But the conceptual model and the indifference towards human life in these two poems are completely alike!

In history, Pang Juan and Sun Bin learned from the same master.  On the Internet, the so-called "elite" extreme rightwing writers and the so-called "angry young people" extreme leftwing writers (also known as the "angry rightists" and the "angry leftists") seem to be irreconcilable.  But they are common because they are children who grew up in an environment of East-West Cold War and brought up by a "philosophy of struggle."  Something is either good and praised higher than the heavens, or else it is bad and crushed into the ground.  There will always be something that is adored while something else is detested.  The same terminology of strong feelings are used by different people (or the same people in different times) on exchangeable objects (for example, China and USA).

These two extremist groups are normally angry.  They are filled with passion, but rarely rationality.  Of course, they don't think that they are extremists.  Instead, they regard themselves as the most objective and logical.  They all believe that it is the other side which is partisan, emotional and unreasonable.  On the Internet, they use the same curse words against the other side.

But these two extremist wings can sometimes communicate and learn from each other.  The xenophobic "angry young people" (="angry leftists") can even learn from their most deadly enemy.  The landmark "angry young people" book <China can say NO> has the title stolen from Japanese rightwing extremist politician Ishihara Shintarō's book <Japan can say NO>.

But the Chinese "angry young people" (including both the "angry leftists" and the "angry rightists") are no match for their Japanese masters.  The book <Japan can say NO> did not contain any fireworks.  It did not enumerate all the past sins of America and call for the Japanese citizens to oppose America.  The author compared the Japanese economy against the American one, the quality of the Japanese semi-conductor industry against the American one, even the turn radius of the new Japanese jet fighters against the American one.  A large set of evidence proved that Japan has the ability to say NO to America.  More precisely, the title of the book should be <Japan has the ability to say NO>.

In the <China can say NO> book, the title of the book should be <China ought to say NO> instead.  There was only raging criticisms against all sorts of things about America, but without addressing whether China has any ability to oppose America.  When the Japanese economy went into a recession and the empirical truth was that "America is still Number One," Ishihara Shintarō no longer said NO and turned his attention to China instead.  But the Chinese netizens have been saying NO to American in the same way for more than a decade without changing.  The teacher is more rational than the pupils.

The difference between the Chinese "angry rightists" and the Japanese "angry rightists" such as Ishihara Shintarō is that the former firmly believes that "America is always right" and "America is grand, glorious and correct" and the latter such as Ishihara Shintarō are 'brain-dead," stupid and dead-wrong for saying that America is wrong.

In the eyes of the Chinese "angry leftists," America has money and guns but they are useless otherwise.  Therefore, there is nothing for China to learn from America.  Instead, China should engage in a battle with America until death.  In the eyes of the Chinese "angry rightists," America is the most perfect utopia on earth.  To learn from America, one must have an attitude of unlimited adoration.  Anyone who asserts that America is imperfect and therefore we must learn their virtues and avoid their failures is not truly going to learn or being open to the outside world.

In the Chinese Internet, we can see this most passionate paean to America:

God bless America, for it the good news for humanity to save itself
It is the sacred land where God and humans join together
America, she is not a narrowly defined government and nation based upon tradition concepts and nationalism
She is the spiritual motherland of all humans on Earth
America, she represents the future of the world, the hope of mankind
She is invincible!

Of course, the netizens who adhere to this belief were disgusted and repelled by the singing of <Ode To The Motherland> during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.  On the Chinese Internet, the "angry leftists" thought that this was very pleasing while the "angry rightists" followed the mouthpieces of the neoconservative movement in America and deplored "Old Europe."  Of course, everything inverted themselves this year.

The people from these two extremist camps represent the people on the Internet with the greatest urge to express themselves.  Their voices are extreme and acerbic in order to be more readily heard.  Therefore, when these voices are magnified, they will overwhelm other more "varied" voices.  The majority is accustomed to keeping silent and therefore they are directly ignored.  When one segment is overwhelmed while another is ignored, the remaining public opinion may be just the "mobs" from the extreme right and left wings.

In early 2003, the leftists came up with the famous <Declaration by various sectors in China to oppose the American plan for war in Iraq> and the rightists came up an equally famous <Declaration by Chinese intellectuals to support the American government to destroy the totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein>.  The persons who began these two declarations went head to head against each other.  The majority of the people in "various sectors in China" who opposed the "totalitarian regime of Saddam Hussein" and opposed "the American plan to wage war against Iraq" did not subscribe to these declarations, and their voices were not heard by the Chinese and international communities. This is a typical case.  At the time, the BBC reports treated the so-called "various sectors of China" and the "Chinese intellectuals" with equal contempt.

When people can only listen to the voices that come from the two extreme ends, this is a scary society.

This is because these two extremist views may drive a nation towards the same dangerous goal.  The extreme right welcomes the world to oppose China while the extreme left encourages China to oppose the world.  The two goals end in the same place with the isolation of China in the world.

A famous Internet forum featured a very explicit post at a time when French president Nicholas Sarkozy was being vague about whether he would attend the open ceremony of the Beijing Olympics.  Roughly, the post said that the Chinese left and right have reach a consensus in not wanting Sarkozy not to come.  The "angry leftists" thought that the man was disgusting and they did not welcome him.  The "angry rightists" want him not to pay respect to the China government and therefore they insist that he not come.

Fortunately, the main strength of the "angry youth" on the Internet did not prevail.  Sarkozy ultimately came to China and the Chinese government treated him respectfully, contrary to the wishes of all the "angry young people."

But at the same time, there was another Internet incident in which both sides have their own say but they ended up in the same place.  Since the spring of this year, there is a strong sense of peace over the Taiwan strait that has seldom been observed in the past twenty years.  For the people on both sides of the strait, this situation is precious!  But the extreme rightists and leftists were both uneasy.  A famous extremist leftist website published many essays that condemned the central government for being too soft and conciliatory in its Taiwan policies and not following the principles.  Meanwhile another extremist rightwing website accused Ma Ying-jeou for being too soft towards mainland China and yielding too many concessions.  They encouraged Ma to "join with American and Japan to apply pressure on mainland China without any need to be afraid."

The two sides hold completely opposite positions, but they are working towards the same goal -- to encourage the two sides of the strait to engage in opposition again.

The ideas of "the cold war has not ended and comrades must work hard," "ideology rules over all else" and "the Chinese can never tolerate the enemy" are so scary!

When the "angry young people" lead small countries, they destroy them.  Where is the Serbia led by the "angry leftist" Slobodan Milošević?  When the "angry rightist" Mikheil Saakashvili took charge in Georgia, the end is near!  What happens when "angry young people" take charge in large countries?  The American neo-conservative "angry young people" took hold of foreign policies and they are now stuck in a quagmire in Iraq.  The "roadmap to democracy in the Middle East" did not seem to realize that while the people of Iraq genuinely opposed Saddam Hussein, they don't like America either.  Instead, they genuinely liked America's worse enemy Iran.  Today, if American soldiers don't withdraw, many more will die day after day; if they withdraw, then those five years were for nothing except to prepare a present for Iran.

These two extremist forces will expand its own meaning of existence and legitimacy by exaggerating the influence of the other side (for example, both sides describe the other side as "mainstream ideology").  This will strengthen their own sense of mission and loftiness ("everybody is drunk and only I am awake" and "everybody is brain-dead except I am still whole").  When you use nationalistic nihilism to attack extremist nationalism or extremist nationalism against nationalistic nihilistic, the effects are usually the opposite.

Actually, based upon my personal observations, the extremist rightwing and leftwing are merely putting on a show when they claimed to be the weaker force.  Some web portals have forums on current affairs which are taken over by "leftist extremists" over a long time.  There are other forums which feature "rightist extremist" talk and their indicators of popularity such as posts, comments and readership are just as much as the current affairs forums at the web portals.  For example, the rightwing forum which pilloried Jin Qing as "physically handicapped as well as brain-damaged" reported "Li Changjian resigns) at 17:41 on September 22.  96 minutes later at 19:27, that post had 11,913 readers and 234 comments!  This occurred before dinner and not quite peak hour yet.  So please do not characterize yourself as "marginalized"!

One characteristic of Internet warfare is: I will become as extreme as my opponent becomes more extreme.  As the opponent becomes more leftist, I will become more rightist; when my opponent becomes more rightist, I will become more leftist.

During the Beijing Olympics, there was the epic battle between the Chinese and American women's volleyball teams.  The American team coached by Lang Ping defeated the Chinese team.  The more common reaction of the public was rational.  They were sorry that the Chinese team lost, but they admired Lang Ping's accomplishments.  In the ensuing matches, the Chinese audience which adored Lang Ping continued to cheer for the American team.  Both the Chinese and American newspapers had mostly positive stories.  But if you go to those extremist websites, you would have thought that this event took place ten or twenty years ago like the era of Chire Koyama.  After the match between China and America, at a famous extremist leftist website we saw only vilification of Lang Ping as "traitor" and demands for Lang Ping to repay China for "state training expenses."  They even demanded that China should consider the problem of letting its talented people leave.  Meanwhile over at a famous extreme rightist website, there were posts that sought to create chaos under heaven: "Oh, I am so happy that the 'shitty young people' are calling Lang Ping a Chinese traitor," "The American citizen Lang Ping sat upright in her chair as American coach and plotted the moves.  Meanwhile Lang Ping's former teammates (and current government officials) sat with media personalities in the stands and chatted like crows," "Lang Ling fulfilled the oath that she swore when she became naturalized as an American citizen," and so on.  In truth, Lang Ping has never been naturalized as an American.

These are things that happened right around us.  We know that the people who hold these these extreme views about Lang Ping are actually very much in the minority.  But these small numbers of people quarrel endlessly with each other and provide sufficient reason for existence of both sides.

Concerning the American war on terror, the Chinese leftists and rightist have engaged in a war of words over many years.  But just as they could understand why the audience can like Lang Ping and the Chinese women's volleyball team at the same time , or cheer for Liu Xiang to win gold and Usama Bolt to break the world record at the same time, the "angry leftists" and "angry rightists" may be confounded by these questions due to their "black versus white" logic of the world: Why would the Turkistan elements who are giving China so much headache joining Al Qaeda in Afghanistan to fight the Americans?  They also fought against the Russian army in Chechen.  In earlier years, Osama bin Laden visited Kosovo twice and directed the people who are now in power with the help of American and Europe to instigate a war of independence away from Serbia?  Do these terrorists need to get brainwashed one more time so that they firmly remember their "anti-" or "pro-" American positions so that the Chinese netizens can tell friends from foes?

Perhaps for these two extremist groups, the world would not be so useful if it were really so rich and colorful!

The extremist leftwing "angry young people" wave the big flag of "patriotism."  Using any pretext, they will go berserk waving that flag.  During the early days of the Internet, they were already known as the "misguided patriots" who seem to be hurting the nation more than helping it.  Therefore, they very much deserve that title.

They are always nostalgic about the so-called "strong and hard" foreign diplomacy from the Mao Zedong era.  36 years ago, American had diplomatic relations with Taiwan and they even had soldiers based there.  But Mao Zedong could invite the most anti-Communist American president ever, Richard Nixon, to visit China.  At a time when the Soviet army was waiting at the border and the nation was facing annihilation, the leaders of the older generation did not act like "angry young people" looking for a moment of quick pleasure.

During these years, the "angry leftists" always looked like roosters ready for a fight when they deal with foreign nations.  They always suspect that outsiders are plotting to take advantage of them.  They always feel that they are losing out somehow.  They could never believe in the existence of any "double-win" formula.  As citizens of a regional power with limited influence, they acted as if they own the globe and they love to speak out on those unfathomable international disputes that occur thousands of miles away.

For more than a decade, the various commentators at the various mainstream newspapers must have grown tired of writing so many essays criticizing and educating these types of "angry young people."  But those who are being educated still don't understand the need of "cleaning up your own mess first," "the best way to love your country is to contribute by doing carrying out your own duties" and other revolutionary principles that the commentators have repeated ever so often.

I personally feel that the most contemptible thing that the extremist "angry young people" did this year was to condemn KFC and other well-known companies for contributing too little to the Wenchuan earthquake disaster zone and then to organize boycotts!  The effect was clear to see as many of the big bosses immediately got on the planes to Beijing and increased their donations.  But at the same time that they were cursing their public relations manager for being careless, aren't the bosses cursing out the mothers of the Chinese "angry young people"?

With a few more similar incidents, these so called "patriots" should be able to totally discredit the idea of "patriotism" altogether.

Similarly, those extremist rightwing "angry young people" who oppose China all the time also claim to have their own principles.  But based upon their actual words and deeds, their goal seems to be to denigrate their own "principles."

After the Wenchuan earthquake, the American actress Sharon Stone who is a fan of the Dalai Lama said that "this could be karma."  She drew the angry curses from many netizens.  At that moment, the "angry rightists" did not keep silent.  Instead, they tried everything to explain that Sharon Stone meant well.  For this purpose, a bunch of Internet "linguistic experts," "translation experts" and "Buddhist scholars" showed up to nitpick on the words.  Even after Sharon Stone herself acknowledged her mistake and apologized, these "experts" insisted that she did not say anything wrong  This was not an isolated incident.

When CNN apologized for its biased reporting on China, I saw a series of comments at a famous Internet forum: "I did not feel hurt, you don't have to apologize!"  "I was not hurt, so don't apologize!"  "I also ..."  This sort of "deliberate disagreement" has happened more than once.

The most unreasonable situation is how the extremist rightwing "angry young people" on mainland China unreservedly stood up for Chen Shui-bian after his corruption cases became known.

On July 21, Chen Shui-bian appeared in court as a defendant and he was kicked from behind by a 64-year-old man.  On that day, a famous mainland Chinese website carried the news reports.  The comments were almost all about "the old man should have been dead already" and the like.  Several days later, this old man was tailed and attacked while sustaining some serious injuries.  At the same forum, the comments underneath the news story were almost all "a good beating," "this person deserves to be beaten," "this is karma as those who use knives will knifed, those who attack will be attacked," "there is justice under heaven as karma runs its cycle" and so on.  In the first dozen comments, only one expressed sympathy for the injured old man.

Last year, Taiwan's "celestial king of muckraking" Chiu Yi who had sent Chen Shui-bian's son-in-law and his father to jail was also sent to jail.  The extremist rightwing "angry youth" cheered on the Internet.  The muckraking exposés of Chiu Yi had affected the image of "democracy in Taiwan" and the development of "Taiwan independence."  Therefore, they hated Chiu Yi as much as the "deep green" and "diehard loyalists" in Taiwan do.

When Ma Ying-jeou got into trouble with the "special fees," the "angry rightists" reveled in his misfortunes.  The "democratic" but "not pro-independence" Ma Ying-jeou was clearly not as good as the "democratic" but "pro-independence" Chen Shui-bian.  The "angry rightists" prefer Ah Bian purely because they "oppose for the sake of opposing."

Recently, Chen Shui-bian announced that the investigations of himself were "political persecution," "family extermination" and "winner takes all and losers get nothing."  Some netizens immediately commented that: "I am inclined to believe in what Ah Bian says."  When he wrote that, he may be forgetting that if what Ah Bian says is true, then Taiwan today is not his much beloved "democratic society" with "the rule of law.  What kind of society is it when "winner takes all and losers get nothing"?

Last April 16, the most serious shooting rampage in American history took place at Virginia Tech.  The killer murdered 32 persons and injured numerous others before shooting himself.

The immediate news was that the killer was an overseas student from China.  The "angry rightists" immediately started cursing on the Internet: "Only the Chinese educational system can produce such a student without any sense of humanity!"  "Could this overseas student be the son of a corrupt government official?"  "This person may be a special forces soldier sent by the Chinese Military Intelligence Unit, or else he couldn't shoot that well!"  "American universities will now refuse to accept overseas students from China!"

A few hours later, the case was solved.  The police found that the perpetrator was a 23-year-old Korean male who came to America when he was 8 years old.  All the accusations from the "angry rightists" were off the mark.  Someone even collected all the posts made by the "angry rightists" over those several hours in one place and made an joint showing on the Internet.  The effect was easy to imagine.

The famous "erroneous" forum post that destroyed the reputation of the "angry rightists" even more was published more than five years ago at Tianya Forum's International Viewpoint section.  The post was titled <The evidence for the mass weapons of destruction of Saddam Hussein will be located soon; please be patient>.  For more than 5 years, someone brought up this post every day for amusement: "You take your time, because we are in no hurry!"

To a large degree, the presence of this post which now has 10,000 comments has made Tianya Forum's International Viewpoint section the home for "angry leftists."  Many of the better known "angry rightists" have gradually left.  When a single forum post can caused a piece of turf to shift hands, how many "Internet agents" and "fifty-cent gang members" would have to toil how many days and nights to achieve the same result?

Things will go in the opposite direction when they reach an extreme.  How could extreme "anger" not be spared?

On September 28, Mr. Xu Youyu published an essay that said: "It is necessary to determine the concept and principles of nationhood, the national interests and the geopolitical considerations of a nation.  A simple-minded person often heads to one of two extremes. For one type of person, whenever there is a conflict between our nation and a certain western nation, they will overturn everything including all the ideals, principles and systems.  If someone should propose further study, consultation and learning, that person is trying to appease foreign powers and committing treason.  Rather than having courage, the better description is stupidity.  For the other type of person, the exact opposite happens.  They believe that the constitutional democracy and rule of law of western nations are wonderful, their foreign policies are based upon justice and any dispute with western nations betrays our previous values.  This sort of simplification is also deteriorative.  They should know that you may be the greatest fan of a ball club, but when your players break the rules, you cannot call it good."

As everybody knows, Mr. Xu Youyu has consistently been against extreme nationalism.  Can we expect that he might criticize the other extreme of nationalistic nihilism in those "simple-minded people"?  When he writes about the national interests and geopolitical considerations in American foreign policy, and the way that these considerations deviate from the principles on which America was founded, will he be cursed out by his fans?

Each thought has its reason to exist.  Perhaps, the value of these two extremist opinions from "angry young people" is to alert people to stay far away from them.  When you act on the basis of "anger," you are hurting the nation and its people and therefore you end up achieving the opposite of what you intend.