Beijing eats the bitter fruit of its own propaganda

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“Fuck, she got off the plane!” A man in China shouts while smashing chairs in a video posted on popular Chinese microblogging platform Weibo. “She” refers to Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. The man is upset that the Chinese government allowed his plane to land in Taiwan instead of shooting it down.

Chinese social media is full of similar videos and posts calling for violence against Taiwan. At the time of Pelosi’s arrival, the volume of Weibo discussions overwhelmed the platform; users reported difficulty loading the website and mobile app.

China’s closed internet has made it difficult for outsiders to see the depth of hostility circulating there. Authorities are blocking many popular international websites in the country while making it harder for people outside the country to access Chinese websites. What is said on Chinese social media may not be representative of the thinking of the average person in China, but the volume of hate suggests a rise in ultra-nationalism in recent years. This partly reflects the state’s relentless propaganda and censorship on territorial, ethnic and human rights issues.

“Taiwan has always been an inseparable part of China.” As someone who grew up in China, this line of propaganda – the accuracy of which has been widely chastised by experts – and many others are so imprinted in my mind that I can still recite them easily even after years of the stranger. Discussions challenging these Chinese Communist Party platitudes are strictly prohibited and could land someone in jail. Many human rights lawyers, activists and writers who advocated dialogue, reconciliation and freedom have been imprisoned or forced into exile. Much of what remains online is a cacophony of rage and hatred.

Beijing is now tasting the bitter fruit of its own oppression. Some netizens are calling on the Chinese government to disband the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council, the government body in charge of Taiwan, arguing that these officials are “traitors” in need of “punishment”. After numerous posts where users had shifted their anger from Pelosi to the Chinese government for not stopping his visit to Taiwan, social media platforms and state-owned media accounts began censoring user comments.

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