Celebrating a catastrophe (or ridiculing or disrespecting those affected by it) in this manner diminishes the level of civility among the people of this great country.
– From an essay by WeChat blogger 江湖挑灯看剑 (Jiānghú tiǎo dēng kàn jiàn), criticizing displays of Schadenfreude on Chinese social media after a major earthquake struck Japan on New Year’s Day
Following a strong 7.6 magnitude earthquake that hit the Noto Peninsula on Japan’s largest island, Honshu, on New Year’s Day, there were disturbing celebrations on Chinese social media. Some highly viewed comments included: “Japan is hit by disaster and everyone is happy,” “Today is a good day,” “A great start to 2024,” and “2024 is off to a great start!” Xiao Chenghao, a news anchor for Hainan Broadcasting Station (HMG), was suspended from his job after posting on social media, “Is this karma? Japan hit by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake!” His suspension became a popular topic on Weibo and a related hashtag was seen over 140 million times. (His recent videos were removed, but his accounts were not banned.) After the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) offered condolences to Japan for the earthquake, their social media accounts were reportedly flooded with angry comments from Chinese nationalists who believed the condolences were inappropriate due to the tense history between the two countries and Japan’s recent release of treated wastewater from a nuclear power plant damaged in the 2011 Fukushima earthquake and tsunami. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has no authority to forgive Japan on behalf of the Chinese people,” wrote one outraged commenter. On Douyin, the comment sections under video news reports about MOFA’s condolence message have allegedly all been disabled.
There was considerable opposition from Chinese internet users and bloggers towards the public expressions of joy in others’ misfortune, particularly considering the severity and impact of the tragedy. As of now, there have been over 100 aftershocks in the affected region of Japan, resulting in 62 deaths and numerous missing persons or individuals trapped in collapsed structures. Rescue operations are still underway. The earthquake also sparked a fire in Wajima city and prompted tsunami alerts for coastal areas, though those alerts have since been canceled.
The next day, at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport, a plane belonging to the Japanese coast guard was on its way to assist with earthquake relief when it mistakenly entered a runway without permission and crashed into a Japan Airlines plane carrying approximately 400 people. The passenger jet caught fire, but thanks to a remarkable rescue operation, all passengers and crew were able to safely evacuate with only minor injuries. Tragically, five out of six crew members on the coast guard plane did not survive.
On January 2, a user on Weibo, with a following of 170,000, posted, “Every time there is an earthquake in Japan, a normal Chinese person should feel happy and take pleasure in their misfortune.” This sparked a wave of backlash in the comments of the post, with many Weibo users stating that they would rather be considered “abnormal” than share such cruel sentiments. CDT editors have gathered and translated some of these comments from Weibo and Chinese social media platform X (formerly known as Twitter).
lairifa42320604: If this is typical, I would prefer to be atypical.
unnamed_pooh: “Rejoicing [in others’ misfortune]” and “gloating” both have strong negative connotations.
My opinion differs from yours, as I have visited Japan and found the people there to be exceptionally kind. They are simply regular, everyday citizens.
Zhaosy9: Let’s remember to be compassionate. Your country of origin is not crucial; what truly counts is how you conduct yourself as a person.
娃娃-女王vivienll：Applauding others’ misfortune is the basest, most despicable behavior of all. If this counts as normal, I’d rather be abnormal.
You are the most unique Chinese person on this tiny speck of dust we call our world.
On the grass of Leyou, it is possible that you are not like others, but please do not bring us down with you. Most Chinese people have not reached such a level of dehumanization …
Funeral of Philen: Embracing populism will lead to destruction. I hope China avoids repeating the mistakes of Japan and Germany in the past.
During that period in history, Russia was also responsible for burning, killing, and looting in Northeast China. Do you not hold any animosity towards Russia?
I am glad to see that the comments section is filled with people criticizing you. [Chinese]
The WeChat user known as “Jiānghú tiǎo dēng kàn jiàn” wrote a piece denouncing knee-jerk nationalism and Schadenfreude in the wake of Japan’s natural disaster.
Unfortunately, these individuals did not advocate for the eight individuals from Wuhan who faced repercussions for revealing the growing coronavirus outbreak four years ago. They are also unwilling to protect their own diminishing rights or speak out against injustice. Their only means of showcasing their abilities is through online aggression towards neighboring nations.
It is extremely disheartening that the people of this wonderful country would act in such an absurd way. One thing they may not know is that Japanese television channels were concerned about Chinese residents not being able to comprehend evacuation instructions on Japanese news broadcasts, so they showed pictures of handwritten Chinese signs urging all residents to leave the hazardous areas.
Upon examining these two methods, the contrast is readily apparent, highlighting the distinction between civilized behavior and barbaric actions.
Expressing joy or making fun of a disaster, or insulting the victims, is extremely uncivilized behavior for the people of this nation.
Surprisingly, the most suitable reply was given by an internet user from Gansu who had also gone through an earthquake. They expressed, “I wish there will be no earthquakes anywhere, and that everyone will have a secure and tranquil New Year.”
Please refer to the “U-lock” section in our recently published Lexicon ebook for further information on Chinese animosity towards Japan and its reception among critics.