Patriotism and oversensitivity
The author is a Beijing correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On a television program, singer Lee Hyo-ri said, “How about using a Chinese stage name, Mao?” The aftermath was fierce in China. On the surface, it seems that the Chinese people were unilaterally condemning the joke. However, when I hear opinions in-person, the context is a bit different.
On Lee’s Weibo account, 27,128 comments have been posted as of 10 a.m. on Aug. 27. She hasn’t posted since May 2019, and comments have been added to the last post on her birthday. Comments are too harsh to be quoted.
“Congratulations on your funeral day” got 38,000 likes. Tens of thousands of people liked comments such as “You should know what you say,” “Don’t even dare to come to China ever,” and “Do not stop the ban on Korea.”
Comments on articles on Chinese media are the same. “Mao is a divine being that no one can insult. In the past, someone like you could be beaten to death” or “You don’t know Mao’s status because your country never had a great figure.”
I grew curious. Does Lee’s “Mao” comment deserve such insults? I asked local Chinese people. A member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) said that as Mao was not a common last name in China, it was natural for Chinese people to be reminded of Mao Zedong. But he said that Lee surely wasn’t referring to Mao Zedong. The tone was not something to get so upset about.
A man in his 30s advised that I look at the Chinese translation of the video. When she said, “How about Mao?,” it was translated to the Chinese character for Mao Zedong. He said that he was not aware of it at first, but it seemed to be a problem as public opinion grew hostile. “Mao is still a symbolic figure among young people, but not enough to result in such intense responses.”
He found it questionable how young people who know Lee Hyo-ri — not those who lived through the 1960s and 70s — could react so vehemently. Another woman in her 30s said she felt like someone was orchestrating the mood when she read the comments.
Chinese people’s opinions cannot be generalized. They may have been less hostile because I am a Korean reporter. But the difference in sensitivity online and offline was quite clear. Amid the U.S.-China discord, is the patriotism trend in China being manifested online? Or could there be an external intervention to create public opinion?