Why are China’s netizens fixated on Donald Trump?

Photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons Licensing

By Claire Heffron

Initially, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was viewed in China as an entertaining reality television programme. He was ridiculed. His surname sounds like “Breaking Bed” in Mandarin Chinese.

In the view of Chinese millennials, Trump is evidently better for America, because of the realism and frankness of his approach to US politics. One Chinese graduate said recently, “he’s funny and he’s a low guy. Chinese want to be unregulated after the strict and formal ruling style of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party). The masses don’t like formal and strict things, because they had enough. Now we need some excitement”.

When Trump’s policy utterances are covered, Trump’s ideas are filtered through social media sites like the popular social discussion websites Zhihu and Weibo.

A Shanghai-based social media writer said that Chinese citizens don’t generally care about Trump’s policy pronouncements:

The in-depth analysis of a foreign presidential candidate’s policy does not attract support. Most netizens look for entertainment, not political campaigns that make their head hurt. In other words, they simply do not care. So what you normally get from an “article” on Trump entails his background, his family’s legacy, can-you-believe-he-said-that, that orange man with funny hair titbits. As a consequence, you get people thinking along the lines of, aw, wouldn’t it be interesting if they elected that guy?

Politically correct?

The most important reason is that while many young Chinese citizens hate the political correctness, they loathe the huge criticisms on China by western countries based on political correctness. An American-born Chinese professional said:

Chinese like pragmatism, some young Chinese adore Trump for his “braveness” and straight thinking on Muslims and isolationism. They like his openness and he doesn’t hide what he really thinks. Those ideas are very effective but not politically truthful […[ Young Chinese don’t characterise mainstream Chinese including me, and they are not cheated by Chinese media, which show no favourites on voting. Chinese are quiet, whether they know America or not.

Anti-Muslim sentiment

Last year, Trump called for Muslims to be denied entry into the US, in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting. That remains one of his main policies utterances which continues to rattle the international community.

China’s government says it is dealing its own issues with radicalised Islamists. China is home to a large Muslim population of about 20 million, including Uighurs in the far western province of Xinjiang. China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, in response to Trump’s pronouncements, that China opposes all forms of terrorism.

Some Chinese citizens hold an unfavourable opinion of Muslims due to their own perceptions of China’s own Muslim minorities, whether at the personal level or from the state media reports.

Trump supporters view Islam as a threat to the US, and some believe that Trump’s economic consequence is better than the presumptive Democrat nominee for president, Hillary Clinton.

The former foreign secretary is viewed as a typically corrupted politician among some Chinese, as with Trump supporters in the US, and this may be the most important reason why they support Trump.

A Beijing resident explained, “While Trump may seem like an ignorant blowhard in the US, some Chinese may see him as similar to the authoritarian figures they are accustomed to”.

Anti-China?

Mainland Chinese citizens are aware of that both Trump and Clinton have generally anti-resorted to China-bashing during their campaigns. In fact, they believe that no matter who the next US president will be, they will hold an anti-China stance.

Much Chinese resentment towards Clinton has been sparked off by the US’s naval build-up in the South China Sea, which took place during her tenure as Secretary of State in the Obama administration.

As for Trump’s positions on China, there is a strong opinion that he would not be able to act on any of those threats, because of the damaging consequences that would have on the US economy.

Trump supporters are very noisy, but it is hard to prove that they are capable of constituting a winnable electoral majority.