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What’s Up with Anti-Semitism in China?
Anti-Semitism takes Chinese social media by storm
Since Hamas’ 7 October terrorist attack, Chinese social media has been awash with anti-semitic vitriol and anti-Israeli content. Comments and posts range from conspiracy theories asserting that Jewish people control elite political circles in the United States and Europe (sound familiar?) to calls for the complete extermination of all Jewish people.
These comments are not limited to small accounts like the above. Jin Canrong, a prominent international affairs professor with 2.7 million followers on Weibo, wrote, “Israel right now is crazed with killing, the UN can’t be of much use this time.” The most liked comment in response to this post was “Hitler truly knew the Jews.”
Unlike the United States’ free and open internet, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) asserts complete control over the Chinese interwebs. The party is the ultimate decision maker of what is and isn’t acceptable online. However, this does not mean that all electronic speech is muzzled. Very much to the contrary, the CCP allows for fairly board-ranging discussion online in order to take the temperature of public opinion. This also has the added benefit of allowing the CCP to identify ordinary citizens who don’t sufficiently support the party.
Still, when a topic is deemed too sensitive, it is immediately scrubbed from the Chinese internet or redirected. An example of scrubbing was Li Keqiang’s name shortly after his death. Party censors warned against “effusive comments'' when mourning Li and proceeded to block all online tributes to his legacy. Searches for Li’s name on social media yielded no results. Prolonged use of this type of sanitization has led to the emergence of “algo-speak” and other creative methods to get around censors which Vermilion mentioned in our article on the dangers of TikTok and Douyin.
On the flip side, since domestic PRC content is monitored by a complex network of automated and manual censors, any topic with a significant presence online is tacitly approved by the CCP. This allows the PRC Ministry of Propaganda to redirect or guide the online conversation towards the CCP’s preferred terminus. The fact that anti-Israel content is so popular right now strongly suggests that the CCP is co-opting these sentiments. An additional indicator of redirection has been the number of anti-semitic comments on official Israeli social media accounts. On Weibo it is common practice for censors to delete hateful comments that are towards official foreign accounts, but in the case of Israel, this has not held true.
As Freedom House points out, the Chinese government has a history of anti-Israel content and in recent days has actually doubled down on anti-semitic messaging:
Instead of condemning antisemitism, the Chinese government, through the state media, has only exploited the conflict to play up antisemitic tropes and spread disinformation. On October 10, in a program on “uncovering the Israel element of US elections in history,” the state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) alleged that “Jews who represent three percent of [the] US population control 70 percent of its wealth.” Similarly, during an outbreak of fighting between Israeli forces and Palestinian terrorists in May 2021, China Global Television Network (CGTN), the government’s primary foreign-language news channel, aired a program in English on US-Israel relations, attributing the two countries’ close ties to the notion that “Jews dominate finance, media, and internet sectors” in the United States.
Why is this Happening?
Those who have spent an extended time living in the PRC will tell you that extreme racism in China is nothing new. Anti-black racism is particularly vicious and common. An excerpt from a Human Rights Watch article:
Another common type of racist content reviewed denigrates interracial relationships. Black people married to Chinese people are accused of “contaminating” and threatening the Chinese race. Perceived relationships between Black men and Chinese women are particularly vilified.
Some Chinese women who post photos with their Black male partners on Chinese social media have become targets of online harassment, including death threats, threats of rape, and doxing – publishing personally identifiable information without the individual’s consent.
Some netizens urged the Chinese authorities to ban Black people from becoming permanent residents in China or from marrying Chinese people. Some also adopted racist symbols and language frequently used in the United States in their online posts attacking Black people. Some called for killing Black people.
Netizens also targeted other Chinese who denounce racism or support victims of racism. In April 2021, racist netizens trolled China House, a sustainable development non governmental organization, for its program helping Africans living in China’s city of Guangzhou. Comments include, “Volunteers, you worked very hard, hope you all die”; “Han traitor”; and “You gang who help Blacks integrate into Chinese society, who funds you? Who is behind this?”
Most of this racism can be attributed to either ignorance or Han supremacy - an issue that many in the West struggle to discuss, but something that Vermilion will touch on in the future. In the specific case of anti-semitism, a splash of victimhood can be added for those Chinese who believe that Jewish people contributed to the Chinese Century of Humiliation.
Ultimately, the CCP fears that the United States poses an existential threat to Communist rule of China and Israel’s close partnership with the US contributes directly to that perceived threat. The CCP is almost certainly using the Israel-Hamas conflict to further anti-American and anti-Israel narratives. These lines of propaganda are intertwined since the CCP seeks to conflate United States power and Israeli support. This is a perspective that should concern those who think they can sit out any potential conflict between the US and China.