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Chinese Social Media Platforms Launch Crackdown on Extreme Nationalism and Xenophobic Hate-Speech After Fatal Suzhou Stabbing
Chinese Social Media Platforms Launch Crackdown on Extreme Nationalism and Xenophobic Hate-Speech After Fatal Suzhou Stabbing

Chinese Social Media Platforms Launch Crackdown on Extreme Nationalism and Xenophobic Hate-Speech After Fatal Suzhou Stabbing

Chinese social media platforms have announced a belated crackdown on “extreme nationalism” and xenophobic hate-speech online, following last week’s fatal stabbing at a school bus stop in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, in which a Japanese mother and child were injured by a knife-wielding man, and Chinese school bus attendant Hu Youping was killed after trying to intervene. Just two weeks earlier, four visiting American teachers were stabbed and injured by another man at a public park in Jilin, in northeastern China. Both stabbings are believed to have been motivated by xenophobic sentiment, and many online commenters have witheringly described the attackers as “modern-day Boxers,” referring to the anti-foreign rebels who launched the Boxer Rebellion approximately 125 years ago. 

In the last few weeks, CDT editors have compiled numerous essays, articles, and netizen comments pointing out apparent links between the recent spate of attacks and the vitriolic anti-Japanese and other xenophobic content that is tolerated on Chinese television, social media, and even in school textbooks. It is worth nothing that several of these essays were censored and taken offline in the days following the Suzhou attack. The hate-speech crackdown announced by social media platforms this week seems to reflect a belated realization that xenophobic online content may be fueling hatred and even radicalizing some individuals to carry out offline attacks.

The Guardian’s Amy Hawkins detailed some of the new measures being taken by major Chinese tech firms and social media platforms to tamp down on hate speech:

Tencent and NetEase, two of the biggest firms, said at the weekend that they would be investigating and banning users who stirred up hatred.

The notice from Tencent, which owns the messaging app WeChat, said the incident in Jiangsu province had “attracted public attention” and that “some netizens incited a confrontation between China and Japan [and] provoked extreme nationalism”.

[…] Weibo, a Twitter-like platform with 588 million monthly active users, said that after the knife attack some users had “published extreme remarks that incited nationalist sentiment, promoted group hatred and even cheered for criminal behaviour in the name of patriotism”.

Douyin, a short-video app similar to TikTok, said it would investigate “extreme xenophobia” that appeared on certain accounts, including speculation about spies associated with Japanese schools in China. [Source]

For Reuters, Casey Hall reported on some of the statements from Chinese platforms, including Douyin, and comments from Chinese state media:

“These [anti-Japanese online] comments have disrupted the positive and peaceful atmosphere of the platform and even incited unlawful behaviour,” Douyin said in an online post on Sunday, citing “extreme and erroneous statements” that were “promoting xenophobia”.

[…] The extreme comments on Douyin stood out from the flood of tributes that praised the heroism of the 55-year-old bus attendant, Hu Youping, it added.

Tencent said it had tackled 836 instances of related content that infringed its rules.

[…] State media also condemned the online hate speech.

“We will also not accept the hype of ‘xenophobia’ and hate speech by individuals,” the government-controlled People’s Daily said in an editorial on Friday. “This is unacceptable to mainstream Chinese society and us Chinese.” [Source]

At Foreign Policy, James Palmer contextualized the history of ultranationalist and anti-Japanese sentiment in China, noting that the Chinese Party-state has often promoted or leveraged such sentiments for its own purposes:

In recent years, Beijing has made strategic use of ultranationalism, most notably in the 2012 dispute with Tokyo over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, when protesters in major Chinese cities were effectively given free reign—including burning cars and vandalizing businesses—for a few days before being curtailed by city authorities.

[…] This time is different. Although there is always simmering tension between China and Japan, there is not an active dispute between the two countries at the moment. There has not been a recent swelling of anti-Japanese sentiment among the public. The attacker’s motive is ultimately unclear.

Now, the wind is clearly blowing in one direction: Among the figures expressing concern about ultranationalism last week was former Global Times editor Hu Xijin, usually an enthusiastic nationalist himself. (Interestingly, Hu decried both anti-Japanese sentiment and extreme anti-American nationalism, perhaps recalling the knife attack on American teachers in the northeastern city of Jilin this year.)

The government reaction is another indicator that the Chinese political leadership now seeks calm and stability as it struggles with a faltering economy—not flash points of contention. [Source]

Matthew Loh, writing for Business Insider India, observed that it took a tragic school bus stabbing to prompt action against extreme nationalism on social media:

It’s a rare rebuke of nationalism on these platforms, a hotbed for inflammatory posts like the 2022 calls to shoot down then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plane when she visited Taiwan.

Though China’s social media is heavily moderated, anti-Japanese rhetoric has been one of several popular nationalistic sentiments allowed to flourish in recent years.

As of Wednesday, the main hashtag for posts about the Japanese victims of the June knife attack was censored. However, discussion of [school bus attendant] Hu’s death and her posthumous recognition for bravery are still allowed.

[…] It’s unclear if China’s central government was directly involved in the crackdown. But social media firms in the country react sensitively to what the state deems acceptable, often simultaneously issuing announcements about undesirable posts. […] The anti-Japanese rhetoric also comes at an inconvenient time for Chinese officials hoping to bring in more business from Tokyo as the local economy struggles. [Source]