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Nationality propaganda threats are visible on Chinese social media

It is not often that ordinary Chinese publicly say that they are disappointed with their government. That they are ashamed of their government. that they want to give up their membership of the Communist Party. And they feel that the People’s Liberation Army is a waste of taxpayers’ money.

It is even more rare that such angry comments come from the kind of nationalists who generally support the demands of their leaders.

On Monday and Tuesday, many Chinese praised the harsh rhetoric of government, military and media figures trying to sabotage Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Then, as Ms Pelosi’s plane was landing in Taiwan late Tuesday, some social media users commented on how disappointed they were with Beijing’s lame response.

There was no military action in the Taiwan Strait, as they felt they were moved as expected. No shoot-downs, no missile strikes, no fighter jets next to Ms Pelosi’s plane. Just a few condemnations and announcements of military exercises.

Many complained that they were disappointed and lied to by the government. A Weibo user with the handle @shanshanmeiyoulaichi2hao wrote shortly after the flight landed, “If you don’t have power, don’t show power.” “What a loss to the face!”

The user said that the government does not deserve those who waited for hours to see how history can be made. “A great nation. How unfortunate!”

Strong online sentiment showed the complexity of public opinion that Beijing would have to manage if it decided to invade Taiwan. And he showed how nationalism is a double-edged sword that can be easily turned against the government. The few anti-war comments that managed to escape censors, if only for a moment, also opened a window on the psychological impact of the Ukrainian war on the Chinese public.

Some users compared the People’s Liberation Army to the Chinese men’s football team, which is a laughing stock in the country as it has qualified for the World Cup only once. He scoffed at the announcement that the PLA would conduct military exercises near Taiwan. “Save some gas,” said one WeChat user. “It’s too expensive now,” replied another.

On WeChat, the comment section for a short video about the military exercise became a board for dissidents. Amid thousands of comments, some members of the Communist Party said they would like to act out of shame. One military veteran said he would probably never mention his military experience again. A user with the handle @xiongai commented, “Too angry to sleep.”

The comment section was later closed.

Several users were particularly disappointed with the Ministry of External Affairs. “When China announced ‘strongly condemned’ and ‘seriously’, it was only aimed at appeasing commoners like us,” wrote a Weibo user with the handle @shizhendemaolulu, referring to the language that Foreign Ministry spokeswoman used about Ms. Pelosi’s visit.

The user wrote, ‘Very strict and so cowardly in foreign affairs when it comes to domestic governance. “Absolutely disappointed!”

On Wednesday afternoon, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry, responded to a question about the public’s dismay, saying she believed the Chinese people were rational patriots and had confidence in their country and their government.

Since the Mao era, the Chinese Communist Party has used nationalism as a governance tool. China’s current paramount leader Xi Jinping took it to a new level. “Nationalism is becoming a core pillar of both the party and Xi’s personal political legitimacy,” wrote Kevin Rudd, chief executive of the Asia Society and former prime minister of Australia, in his book “The Avoidable War: The Dangers of a Catastrophic”. Conflict between the US and Xi Jinping’s China.”

The unification of Taiwan, a self-governing democracy that Beijing considers part of its territory, with the mainland is the centerpiece of Chinese nationalism.

But as Mr. Rudd and others argue, the Nationalist Genie is sometimes difficult to control once it is out of the bottle. “Under Xi Jinping, this problem has become progressively larger, as nationalist appeal has moved from the margins to the center of the Chinese propaganda apparatus,” he wrote.

This week’s online response is one example.

Most Chinese did not pay much attention to Ms Pelosi’s pending visit to Taiwan until Monday afternoon, when a flurry of official and semi-official statements led many to believe China could take strict, possibly military action to stop it.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who may be China’s most famous “wolf warrior” diplomat, warned the United States on Monday that the PLA “will never sit idly by. China will certainly respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” The two-paragraph article about his remarks garnered 2.7 million views, on the website of the People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s official newspaper.

That evening, the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command covering Taiwan posted on Weibo that it was awaiting orders to fight and would “bury all invading enemies.” The post was liked more than a million times, and the embedded video, which features footage of bombings and explosions, has garnered over 47 million views.

And then, there is Hu Zijin, the retired editor of Global Times, a Communist Party tabloid who has played perhaps the biggest role in fueling Chinese nationalism over the past three decades.

Mr Hu first suggested on Twitter last week that China should shoot down Ms Pelosi’s plane if she traveled to Taiwan. On Weibo, he called on his nearly 25 million followers to “support all countermeasures by the government and share the hatred of the enemy”.

“We will certainly launch a strong counterattack to confront the US and Taiwan,” he wrote on Tuesday. “So hard that the Taiwanese authorities will regret it.”

After Ms Pelosi’s plane landed in Taipei, China drew a number of strong condemnation and announced an intimidating series of military exercises around Taiwan. But the lack of any direct military action made many nationalists feel small. His heroes, including Mr. Hu and Mr. Zhao, lost some of their aura.

He has now ridiculed Mr. Zhao by posting a short video of him making a strong statement on Monday.

Late Tuesday, Mr. Who’s Weibo account was flooded with angry, sarcastic and derogatory comments. “If I were you, I would be so embarrassed that I dare not say and hide another word until the day of Taiwan reunification,” commented a Weibo user with the handle @KAGI_02.

Harvard-educated nationalist blogger Ren Yi wrote a scathing comment on Wednesday morning, urging that Mr. Hu’s influence be reined in.

In a Weibo post, Mr Ren said the public’s unfulfilled high expectations could hurt the government’s credibility. He accused Mr Hu of having those unrealistic expectations, saying his positions were taken too seriously as he once ran the party newspaper.

Mr Ren is not the only person who wants Mr Hu, now a Global Times columnist, to be removed from his position as the most influential Chinese journalist. Other commentators and social media personalities are also asking that he be held accountable. Mr Hu wrote on Weibo on Wednesday morning that he would become a “punching bag”.

But some comments also pointed out that Mr Hu was just part of China’s response to Pelosi’s visit, and suggested that all the blame being placed on him could indicate the government is looking for a scapegoat.

Anti-war voices are also coming on Chinese social media. Some argued that only online warmongers should be sent to the front lines. Some parents are concerned that their children may be admitted. Others urged their compatriots to make Ukraine and Russia understand that war meant death and economic destruction.

Writer Xu Sikong, who has been traveling in Poland for the past few months, urged people on WeChat to have a realistic understanding of the war, saying they had learned about the experience of Ukrainians and ordinary Russians.

People should be glad that nothing happened on Tuesday night. “You should feel lucky that you can still do your business, pay off your mortgage, go to work tomorrow, get tested for COVID and live,” he wrote. “Please pray for yourself and your loved ones that we can survive this coming storm.”

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