1. In your paper, you talk about Chinese Trumpists from different backgrounds, but would you say they are a significant part of the Chinese population, or a minority? What could be the proportion? What is the general impression about Trump amongst Chinese citizens?
- There is no data on this, but my impression that those who are ideologically Trumpist or Trumpist-adjacent (i.e. those drawn to authoritarian, nationalistic, social Darwinist, anti-Political Correctness, Islamophobic, anti-black-and-brown, and misogynistic narratives) do constitute a significant part of the Chinese population. Indeed, authoritarian nationalism and social Darwinism have been on the rise in China in recent years, both via official propaganda and in civil society.
- Being ideologically Trumpist is different from being a fan of Trump, though. In fact, I beg most Chinese citizens nowadays see Trump as a clown, especially after his completely botched response to COVID-19. Chinese netizens even have a mock name for him, "Chuan jianguo" (Trump the nation-builder), meaning that Trump is helping China become a world hegemon by single-handedly weakening the United States.
2. Has that general impression of Trump changed (worsened?) during the last years of confrontation with China? Especially amongst those you describe as nationalists who defend both the Chinese Model and Trumpism... Are they still pro-Trump after all the attacks (which even questioned the highly sensitive One China principle in HK or Taiwan)?
- Related to my answer to Q#1, Chinese nationalists' impression of Trump worsened not so much because of his confrontation with China as because of his botched response to COVID-19.
- Accordingly to the nationalist worldview, confrontation among great powers is something destined to happen; Trump's willingness to confront China causes headache for Chinese nationalists of course, but it also makes him a "worthy adversary" from their perspective, as opposed to the misty-eyed baizuo who refuse to see the truth of zero-sum social Darwinist power struggle (and by extension refuse to acknowledge the legitimacy and ingenuity of the China Model). So, even when Chinese nationalists appear to react angrily to Trump's confrontation, they would still "respect" and "sympathize" him as a crusader who alone sees the urgency to confront China but is unjustly attacked by baizuo for doing that.
- By contrast, the botched response to COVID-19 proves to Chinese nationalists that Trump is not a "worthy adversary" at all. Instead he turns out to be an inept clown, and for this they lose all the respect for him. To the extent that they are still "pro-Trump", it is only in the sense that they hope Trump could stay as long as possible, so that the United States could be weakened by him as much as possible.
3. On the other hand, you mention Trumpists are probably a majority amongst Chinese liberals, who oppose the Chinese Model. I understand they embrace what seems to be the antagonist to what they dislike, but can't they see the actual similarities between both of them? If they support Western liberal systems, shouldn't they see in Trump a Chinese-style strongman who could destroy that classical idea of Western democracy? What are your thoughts about that?
- Some Chinese liberals have woken up recently, primarily because, again, of Trump's botched response to COVID-19. But other Chinese liberals have doubled down, either believing that the pandemic situation in the U.S. is not as bad as the media ("leftist biased media!") paints it, or that Trump has done all he could but the U.S. is simply unfortunate because of this-or-that.
- Why doubling down? I think it's the combination of two factors. First, the political atmosphere in Xi Jinping's China has become so suffocating that most critics of the regime really needs something - a fantasy, a breathing straw - to hang on to, lest they lose hope and the will to struggle and survive. Trump idolization is thus a coping mechanism. Alluding to Karl Marx's famous dictum on religion, we may call Trump idolization "the opium of the party-state critics".
- Second, the Chinese internet is full of misinformation, and the dominance of WeChat - a semi-closed system of social networking and information exchange - exacerbates the problem. Pro-Trump Chinese liberal intellectuals live in their own misinformation bubbles, and refuse to believe reports that are critical of Trump.
4. Do those baizuo exist in China - by baizuo meaning liberals who support democracy against the Chinese Model but from a leftwing perspective? It is hard to analyze Chinese ideologies from a Western dual left-right perspective which doesn't seem to exist in China, at least not with the same connotations. Aside from Trump, which would you say are the main currents of thought amongst Chinese citizens?
- They do exist, although they are relatively marginalized these days, both by other Chinese liberals and by the nationalist public at large. For example, Zhang Qianfan, a renowned constitutional law scholar, recently came out with a very long article in Chinese (English translation available at https://www.readingthechinadream.com/zhang-qianfan-left-and-right.html) criticizing his Trump-idolizing liberal friends. Younger liberal intellectuals (those in their 20s and 30s) are also more baizuo in general than their older counterparts.
- But the main current among Chinese citizens (or among those who dare to express their views openly) is nationalism. Just a decade ago, liberalism seemed to enjoy the mainstream status. But with Xi Jinping's crackdown, the updating of state propaganda and censorship apparatuses, and heavier indoctrination of the younger generation from primary education on, liberal thoughts have receded and nationalism is now the dominant voice in the public sphere.
5. Finally, I would like to have your thoughts about Trumpists in Hong Kong, which apparently are a majority. I guess they match their Mainland liberal peers in their support of the hardest antagonist to the Chinese government. But shouldn't they relate more to similar protest movements in the US like Black Lives Matters rather than to the strongman? How would you describe this Trumpism in HK?
- As you said, many (but not all) Hong Kong protesters project their hope and despair onto Trump, fantasizing him as the anti-CCP fighter and savior. They (unconsciously) refrain from relating to protesters in the U.S. because to acknowledge the legitimacy of those protests is to acknowledge the systemic injustice of the U.S. politics, which undermines the sharp and convenient contrast between light and dark, good and evil, the Western savior and the CCP villain. So they'd rather turn a blind eye.
- Racism also plays a role, to some extent. Like other places in the world, Hong Kong is not immune from Eurocentric racist worldview. In fact if you have lived in Hong Kong you would probably have noticed that many Hong Kong people (and government officials too) are overly hospitable to white people but subtly hostile or microaggressive towards black-and-brown people (including South Asian and Southeast Asian people). I am not saying that the Hong Kong protest is fundamentally racist (it is not); but still, racist heritages could implicitly shape one's perception of the world and reception of information (such as deeming Black Lives Matter to be making illegitimate demands), amplifying the pre-existing propensity towards Trumpism among protestors.