Chinese netizens reaction to black lives matter protests

How Chinese netizens react to the Black Lives Matter protests in the US

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A spark arises in the quiet Midwestern city of Minneapolis, Minnesota and within a week, the whole country catches fire from New York to Los Angeles. Since the death of Gorge Floyd, an African American who was suffocated to death by police on May 25th, thousands of Americans brave the curfews and confinement rules linked to Covid-19 every day in support of black Americans’ rights. In a few days, the backlash reached the Far East, with demonstrations in Australia, Japan, and South Korea. But how do Chinese react to the Black Lives Matter protests in the US?

While discovering how Chinese view to this issue, we should consider the factors that influence the information dispersed in the country. The Chinese government has a firm stance against protests in general, and this certainly influences the way school lessons and the media covers protests. Hence, as the series of events develops, the Chinese media tends to convey protests in a negative light by focusing on the violence.

To understand how Chinese people react to Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, Daxue Consulting conducted social listening on different Chinese social media.

The most discussed topic on Chinese social networks

On May 28, 2020, three days after Floyd’s death, the subject quickly went viral with an increase in the number of searches for the keyword 黑人 heiren (black person) on Baidu, the Chinese search engine. Baidu searches for ‘Black Lives Matter’ took longer to appear, peaking on June 6, 2020. This peak occurred thanks to a Black Lives Matter demonstration in South Korea. This close-to-China event has shed more light on the subject, fueling Chinese reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests.

Chinese netizens search for Black Lives Matter and related keywords

Chinese netizens search for Black Lives Matter and related keywords – Source: Baidu Index

As shown in Baidu’s demand map, which indicates the search trends of Chinese netizens, the keyword ‘black person’ is closely linked to 歧视 黑人 qishi heiren (discrimination against black people), 美国黑人 meiguo heiren (African American), and 种族歧视 zhongzu qishi (racial discrimination).

Chinese netizens search for Black Lives Matter and related keywords

Chinese netizens search for Black Lives Matter and related keywords – Source: Baidu Index

On Zhihu, a Chinese question-answer website similar to Quora, the topic reached more than 140 million views on June 5th. Under this topic, the questions reflect the Chinese netizens’ misunderstandings over the events happening in the United States.

Zhihu Chinese people react to the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States

Source: Zhihu. Chinese people react to the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States

What do Chinese netizens say about the Black Lives Matter protests?

Majority of Chinese netizens question why the protest movement has more impact on the American society than the COVID-19

When it comes to qualifying demonstrations of support in the United States, we observe that ‘riots’ (暴乱 baoluan) is much more used than ‘march’ (游行 youxing), the main form of peaceful protest. It shows that the riots strike more Chinese people’s mind than the peaceful demonstrations.

Among the questions of the Chinese netizens, many tackle racism in the United States, trying to understand why this social problem has become so crucial after the tragic event of May 25, 2020.

It’s true that if racial discrimination is a hot topic in western societies, it’s a relatively new subject for China, which opened up to the world relatively late. Therefore, it is hardly conceivable for Chinese people that COVID-19, which has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States, has less impact on American society than the death of a black American following a violent arrest.

Chinese netizens wonder why the US reaction to BLM is larger than to COVID-19

Source: Zhihu “Chinese people react to the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States”

The top answer to the question highlights the uniqueness of American racism, in contrast to a globalized Coronavirus. The netizen also says that the United States blames the Coronavirus on China, making the American government less accountable for it. Thus, the American government’s responsibility for racism in its country has more substantial repercussions on the American society than its crisis management of the Coronavirus.

Source: Zhihu. Chinese people react to the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States

Another bases its answer on figures, displaying clear racial discrimination from the police. A comment under this response sums up: “Their frustration has been accumulating for too long.”

Source: Zhihu

Diversity and racial discrimination are a relatively new concept for Chinese society

To further understand why the death of George Floyd tipped an entire country into protests to support black people’s rights, some questions like the one below explore the causes of racial discrimination in the United States.

Chinese people’s thoughts on racial discrimination in the United States

Source: Zhihu Chinese people’s thoughts on racial discrimination in the United States

These questions about racism in the United States show that this is not a mainstream topic in China. Even if the country attracts more African and international students, it has only been since the few recent years. Although China has around 1 million foreign residents, it makes less than 1/1400 of the total population. And when it comes to Chinese demographics, Han Chinese make up more than 90% of the Chinese population. Thus, reflecting that diversity is a relatively new concept in China, a netizens questions  even if racial discrimination exists in China.

Chinese people’s thoughts on racial discrimination

Source: Zhihu

This ignorance of racial discriminations from the United States and more broadly from western societies may explain the absence of large-scale demonstrations of support from the Chinese, whether on the street, or even on social networks.

Therefore, support reactions are limited to specific groups, which are closer to the black American culture.

Chinese Hip-Hop musicians show their support to Black Lives Matter protests

In another article, we spotlight the rise of rap music in China, strongly influenced by American rappers – the majority of whom are black. A symbol of the influence of African American rappers on Chinese rappers, a rising Chinese Indonesian rapper, Rich Brian changed his stage name from ‘Rich Chigga’ (the contraction of ‘Chinese’ and the n-word) after admitting the original name was a naïve mistake.

Label 88rising – whose artists include Asian artists like Higher Brothers and Rich Brian – has posted its support of the protests, calling for awareness for equality everywhere. In its last statement, the company says that it “wouldn’t exist without the contributions of Black art and culture.” The company claims it is leveraging concrete actions to support the Black community on an ongoing basis.

Chinese hip-hop musicians show their support to Black Lives Matter protests - 88rising

Source: Instagram. Chinese hip-hop musicians show their support for Black Lives Matter protests

Higher Brothers, China’s hottest rap export, posted a black image on Instagram. It features the text: “We will use our channels to invite conversation and support national and local organizations for change. All of us need to strive to be the change we want to see.”

Rapper Vava – one of the best-known hip-hop artists in China – also posted a black square, along with the #blacklivesmatter.

Chinese hip-hop musicians show their support to Black Lives Matter protests - higher brothers and vava.mis

Source: Instagram. Chinese hip-hop musicians show their support for Black Lives Matter protests

However, during the height of the Hong-Kong protest last year, these same rappers were posting as part of a social media campaign to support the crackdown in Hong Kong and drum up nationalism in China.

And it seems that the scenes of protests in the US are precisely the occasion for Chinese to draw conclusions on those that have been ongoing in Hong Kong for over a year.

Riots in the United States recall bitter memories of those in Hong Kong

A series of comments comparing the management of the Hong Kong riots and those taking place in the United States has swept the Chinese web. The impotence of the Chinese during the Hong Kong protests compared to the deployment of the National Guard in the United States has greatly fueled debates on social media.

According to Chinese netizens, the issue of racial discrimination in the United States and the management of the rioters by the American government demonstrate the limits of the American democracy and model. An article on WeChat claims that the Hongkongers are more considered to belong to the Chinese people than are black Americans in their own country.

Chinese people react to the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States

Source: WeChat. Chinese people react to the Black Lives Matter protests in the United States

A comment under this article calls into question the idea of ​​democracy and freedom that the United States has so much defended, notably through its recent support for the Hong Kong youth.

Chinese people react to George Floyd’s death and protests

Source: WeChat. Chinese people react to George Floyd’s death and protests

Most Weibo users criticizes the United States’protests

On Weibo, a Chinese social media platform with more than 340 million users, the debate is lively. Netizens’ posts seek to show the violence of the police during the demonstrations in the United States, by sharing shocking videos and pictures. Comments under a picture showing a man in a wheelchair reportedly seriously injured by the police vehemently criticize the United States.

Chinese people react to George Floyd’s death and protests

Source: WeChat. Chinese people react to George Floyd’s death and protests

Since the most viral posts are often the most shocking, an impressive quantity of diverted and modified images has fueled extreme views on the events in the United States.

As already illustrated above, this is the perfect opportunity for Internet users to mock American democracy. Below, images shared on Weibo illustrate the squeaky sarcasm of Chinese netizens.

Source: Weibo. Chinese people react to George Floyd’s death and protests

Going further toward the criticism of the United States and the ongoing political cold war between the two countries, some photoshopped images show American demonstrators waving pro-China signs and the Chinese flag. However, these pictures are far from reality, as illustrated below.

Photoshopped images of BLM circulating on Weibo

Source: Reddit, the top image is said to have been found on Weibo, with the original image below.
photoshopped pictures of the demonstrations circulating on Weibo

Source: Weibo, photoshopped pictures of the demonstrations circulating on Weibo

However, some Chinese netizens follow American host views about the riots

Although the focus quickly shifted to political considerations by comparing the riots with those of the year spent in Hong Kong, on Zhihu, Internet users are still trying to understand the exact reasons behind the sometimes-violent demonstrations.

Thus, a video of Daily Show’s host, Trevor Noah, was massively shared. The host is very popular in China because of his views against Donald Trump. In his video, he shares his thoughts about American society and explains why riots are necessarily taking place throughout the country.

Chinese netizens turn to Trevor Noah for answers on BLM

Source: Zhihu, Chinese people discuss Trevor Noah’s viewpoints towards the protests on Zhihu

The answer below shows that the Chineze netizens understand his point of view in its attempt to justify the riots.

Chinese netizens interpret Trevor Noah's stance on BLM

Source: Zhihu

Some netizens turn political, “The riots will speed up America’s disruption”

Finally, the question “How the American riots will end” has been seen over 1.3 million times on Zhihu. On social media, the Chinese believe that the Black Lives Matter protests will profoundly impact the United States’ stance on the international stage.

Chinese wonder how the american 'riots' will end

Source: Zhihu Chinese netizens question how the ‘riots’ will end

According to comments on WeChat, the riots are unlikely to shake the American foundation but to further destabilize the leading world power. And China could benefit from that.

Chinese netizens

Source: Zhihu

On social networks like Weibo, the Black Lives Matter movement is an opportunity to denounce a very subjective Americanism of liberties. Chinese netizens point out Trump’s hypocrisy for encouraging other nations to protest while suppressing his own people when they protest.

On Zhihu, Chinese netizens try to understand the deep causes of African American racial discrimination. Chinese people’s thoughts on racial discrimination show that this not a mainstream topic in Chinese society. Thus only a few raise their voice to support the movement, for example Chinese hip-hop artists.

However, the fact that they rely on Trevor Noah’s point of view – he is seen as politically friendly – shows that although they try to understand the heart of the subject, Chinese reactions to the Black Lives Matter protest are somewhat tinged with nationalism and political activism.


Interested in learning what Chinese netizens say about international events?

We also used social media listening to see how Chinese netizens reacted to the Notre Dame fire and how Chinese netizens reacted to the Yellow Vest riots in France.


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