Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has a big following in China, particularly among the primarily upper-class population that has been closely watching the US election.
Some Trump supporters on Chinese social-media sites have defended his lewd remarks made in 2005 as “normal” conversation between men in private while praising his apology as “perfect” and accusing the American news media of smearing the Republican nominee.
Though a recent Pew study revealed that Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, is better liked among Chinese citizens, Trump generates far more interest and support on Chinese social media – on one popular site, the topic centered on Trump has four times as many followers as the one centered on Clinton.
There are numerous reasons Trump gets so much attention on Chinese social media, and it’s not all from people who genuinely like the candidate.
A Trump presidency could benefit China
- Thomson Reuters
Some of the Chinese support for and interest in Trump come from people who “desire to see the US democratic system make a fool of themselves,” Yao Lin, a visiting fellow in the public-policy department at the City University of Hong Kong, told Business Insider.
These supporters, Lin said, don’t actually like Trump but simply want “to see the US collapse once Trump seizes the White House.” They therefore tend to share pro-Trump articles online but do not actually support the candidate.
Others, influenced by China’s authoritarian atmosphere, are the real Trump fanatics. They support Trump because of his charisma and policy stances, comparing him to leaders like Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, or Mao Zedong. Many of these supporters are wooed by Trump’s isolationist mindset, which they believe would give China the opportunity to rise to the top of the world order or develop a more even relationship with the US, Lin said.
Haoyu Ge, 25, a former missile designer at China North Industries Group Corporation, told Business Insider he admired Trump’s outspokenness and thought Trump would encourage the US to stop pressuring other countries to adopt US values. He also praised Trump’s foreign-policy stance, which he thought would be a boon for China.
Ge said Trump’s criticism of NATO as “obsolete” would make way for China’s military development; his denouncement of unconditional US support for the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea would let China better handle territorial disputes in South China Sea and East China Sea; his plan to persuade China to rein in North Korea would help strengthen China’s control over the Korean Peninsula.
Ge Hu, 42, a creative producer and film director, told Business Insider that many Chinese Trump supporters thought Trump’s tough words on China – accusing the country of manipulating its currency and having “stolen” jobs from Americans – were warranted.
If Trump were to disparage the Chinese people, Ge said, he would “not hesitate to challenge his statement to protect our honor,” but he added, however, that “I acknowledge the part where he referred to Chinese people taking away Americans’ jobs – because that’s the way it is.”
Lin, the public-policy fellow, said Chinese supporters like Ge Hu and Haoyu Ge believed that Trump’s anti-China sentiments were only a figure of speech while Clinton and US President Barack Obama had actually acted against China.
“Their ‘evidence’ comes from Trump’s advocacy for America’s diplomatic and military contraction, even isolationism, while Clinton and Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ is the real deal to counter China,” Lin said.
Trump’s rhetoric toward Muslims echoes sentiment in China
Over the past decade, China has waged a war on separatism and terrorism linked to its Muslim Uighur population in the country’s western provinces. China has suffered numerous terrorist attacks in Xinjiang province, where the majority of the Uighur population is located, leading to policies described by human rights observers as increasingly repressive.
Trump’s call last year for a ban on Muslims entering the US has reminded many Chinese of the conflict in their own country.
The creative producer, Ge, said he appreciated Trump’s Muslim ban because China has had difficulty “secularizing” Muslims.
“China’s Muslims has been secularized a lot, but once they become the majority in any region, they will immediately interfere with other nonreligious people’s lives,” he said.
Lin said many Chinese people don’t empathize with and have a strong bias against ethnic minorities in the country like the Muslim Uighurs because of the predominant nationalistic mindset that has persisted for hundreds of years.
Ye Yin, 22, a student at Shanghai University, told Business Insider that Trump would set “a good example” for China to “oppress” Islamic terrorism and allow China to “compromise political correctness” to bolster its domestic security.
“As a Chinese person, I understand China is also under attack from terrorism,” Yin said. “From incidents in Ürümqi, Kunming to Guangzhou, we are under threat. But the Chinese government has been bearing insults in exchange for peace.”
China’s ‘citizen media’ are distorting the information
- Damir Sagolj/Reuters
Strict censorship in China, the so-called Great Firewall, and the language barrier have prevented many Chinese election observers from viewing US social-media outlets and mainstream American media directly.
Because of this, China has a prevalent culture of “citizen media” – Chinese users who know how to bypass China’s censorship share news to users who don’t. The news that reaches such users is typically filtered through the biases of the citizen media, who tend to selectively share information, Lin said.
Chinese social-media users have introduced others to a tremendous number of conspiracy theories from America’s alternative-right websites, exposing many Chinese readers to “junk information,” Lin said, such as stories of the Clintons murdering dozens of people or the possibility of a Hillary Clinton body double.
Chinese users are particularly susceptible to conspiracy theories because they typically have “low media literacy,” according to Kecheng Fang, a University of Pennsylvania doctoral student researching Chinese politics who founded CNPolitics.org, an independent website on Chinese politics.
In addition, the nonexistent transparency from the Chinese government and the state-run media has created a situation in which many are unable to distinguish fact from fiction and “tend to believe many things are conspiracies,” he added.
Such conspiracy theories have intensified Chinese people’s repugnance to Clinton, Lin said.
“Majority of Chinese netizens neither have the ability nor interest to cross-examine the accuracy of these news, so its [negative reports] effectiveness is undermined,” he said.