The dangers of preaching nationalism play out on Chinese social media

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

Even more rarely, such angry comments come from nationalists, who usually support whatever their leaders demand of them.

For most of Monday and Tuesday, many Chinese applauded the tough rhetoric from the government, the military and the media who tried to obstruct the speaker’s speech. Nancy Pelosivisit to Taiwan. Then, if Ms. Pelosi’s plane landed in Taiwan late Tuesday night, some social media users commented on how disappointed they were with Beijing’s inconclusive response.

No military action in the Taiwan Strait, as they expected. No shooting down, no missile attack, no fighter flying next to the mistress. Pelosi plans. Just a few denunciations and announcements military training.

Many people complained that they felt cheated and lied to the government. “Don’t show strength if you don’t have it,” Weibo user @shanshanmeiyoulaichi2hao wrote shortly after the plane landed. “What a loss of face!”

The user went on to say that the government did not deserve the people who waited for hours to witness how history can be made. “Great nation. What irony!”

Strong online emotions showed difficulty public opinion that Beijing will have to cope if it decides to invade Taiwan. And they demonstrated that nationalism is a double-edged sword that can be easily turned against the government. Some of the anti-war comments that managed to evade censorship even 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 of China to China’s men’s soccer team, which became a laughingstock in the country because it only qualified for the World Cup once. They scoffed at the announcement that the PLA would conduct military exercises near Taiwan. “Save some gas,” said one WeChat user. “Now it is very expensive,” replied another.

On WeChat, the comments section of a short video about a military exercise has become a whining platform for disgruntled people. Among the thousands of comments, several members of the Communist Party said they would like to get away from shame. The war veteran said he would probably never mention his army experience again. “Too angry to sleep,” commented user @xiongai.

The comments section was later closed.

Many users were particularly disappointed with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “When China said ‘strongly condemn’ and ‘solemnly declare’, it was only to entertain ordinary people like us,” wrote a Weibo user with the pseudonym @shizhendemaolulu, referring to the language that representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs used against Ms. K. Pelosi’s visit.

“So tough when it comes to internal management, and so cowardly in external,” wrote the user. “Total disappointment!”

On Wednesday afternoon, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying responded to a question about the public’s disappointment, saying she sees the Chinese as rational patriots and that they trust their country and their government.

The Chinese Communist Party has used nationalism as a tool of government since the days of Mao. Xi Jinping, China’s current supreme leader, has taken it to the next level. “Nationalism is becoming the mainstay of the political legitimacy of both the party and Xi’s personal political legitimacy,” Kevin Rudd, Asia Society Executive Director and former Australian Prime Minister, wrote in his book.War to be avoided: 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 a central element of Chinese nationalism.

But if Mr. Rudd and others argue that it is sometimes difficult to control the nationalist genie when it is let out of the bottle. “This problem is becoming more serious under Xi Jinping as nationalist rhetoric has moved from the fringes to the center of the Chinese propaganda apparatus across the board,” he wrote.

The reaction online this week is an example.

Most Chinese didn’t pay much attention to her. Pelosi’s expected visit to Taiwan before noon Monday, when a flurry of official and semi-official announcements led many to believe that China could take tough, possibly military action to contain him.

Zhao Lijian, a foreign ministry spokesman who is arguably China’s best-known “wolf warrior” diplomat, warned the United States on Monday that the PLA “will never sit idly by.” China will definitely take decisive and decisive countermeasures to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity.” On the website of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, a two-paragraph article about his comments was viewed 2.7 million times.

That same evening, the PLA Eastern Theater Command, which covers Taiwan, posted on Weibo that it was waiting for the order to start fighting and “bury all invading enemies.” The post has been liked over a million times, and the embedded video of footage of explosions and explosions has received over 47 million views.

And then there is Hu Xijinformer editor-in-chief of the Global Times, a Communist Party tabloid that has arguably played the biggest role in fueling Chinese nationalism in the past three decades.

mr. Last week, Hu suggested on Twitter for the first time that China should shoot down Ms. Huang. Pelosi’s plan if she visits Taiwan. On Weibo, he called on his nearly 25 million followers to “support all government countermeasures and share the hatred of the enemy.”

“We will definitely take decisive countermeasures to hit the US and Taiwan,” he wrote on Tuesday. “So much that the Taiwanese authorities will regret it.”

After Ms. Pelosi Airplane landed in Taipei, China issued numerous harsh condemnations and announced many frightening military exercises around Taiwan. But the lack of any direct military action left many nationalists feeling left out. Their heroes, including Mr. Hu and Mr. Zhao lost some of their halos.

Now they mocked Mr. Zhao by posting a short video or his harsh statements on Monday.

Late Tuesday evening, Mr. Hu’s Weibo account was inundated with angry, sarcastic and offensive comments. “If I were you, I would be so embarrassed that I wouldn’t dare to utter a word and hide until the day of Taiwan reunification,” commented Weibo user @KAGI_02.

Ren Yi, a Harvard-trained nationalist blogger, wrote a scathing comment early Wednesday morning urging Mr. Hu’s influence to be curbed.

In a Weibo post, Mr. Wren said the public’s unfulfilled high expectations could undermine the government’s credibility. He blamed these unrealistic expectations on Mr. Hu, saying that his reports were taken too seriously because he once ran a Party newspaper.

mr. Ren is not the only person who wants to overthrow Mr. Black. Hu, who is now a columnist for the Global Times, from his position as the most influential Chinese journalist. Other commentators and representatives of social networks also ask that he be held accountable. mr. Hu wrote on Weibo on Wednesday morning that he had become a “punching bag.”

But some comments also pointed out that Mr. Hu was only part of China’s response to Ms. Pelosi’s visit, and suggested that all the blame placed on him could signal that the government might be looking for a scapegoat.

There are also anti-war voices on Chinese social media. Some argue that only online warmongers should be sent to the front lines. Some parents fear that their children may be drafted into the military. Others tried to urge their compatriots to look at Ukraine and Russia to understand that war means death and economic ruin.

Zou Sikong, a writer who has traveled around Poland over the past few months, urged people on WeChat to have a realistic view of the war, saying he has learned about what Ukrainians and ordinary Russians have experienced.

According to him, people should be glad that nothing happened on Tuesday evening. “You should be lucky that you can still run your business, pay your mortgage, go to work tomorrow, get tested for Covid and live,” he wrote. “Please pray for yourself and your loved ones so that we can emerge from this coming storm safe and sound.”