[Ed. note: Zhou Xiaoping is a young Chinese blogger who was singled out for praise by Xi Jinping at a recent conference on art and literature. Since then, Chinese netizens have alternated between lauding Zhou’s nationalism and optimism and criticizing his pieces for factual errors and faulty logic. Here, blogger Yang Hengjun offers his take.]
Yes, you read that right – I am defending Zhou Xiaoping. Originally, I planned to write an article called “In Defense of Deng Xiaoping,” but I realized that right now no one is paying attention to Deng Xiaoping, so I just switched out “Deng” for “Zhou.” Because criticizing Internet sensation Zhou Xiaoping is even more taboo than criticizing Deng Xiaoping, I decided to write a blog defending Zhou for your consideration.
People had sent me articles by Zhou Xiaoping earlier but I hadn’t really read any of them until the other day, when I finally finished reading some of his most famous blog posts. While I still believe that he might just be a flash in the pan, and not merit an entire article, there are some particularly interesting thoughts that I want to share with interested readers. And my first thought is also an answer to the questions many of my readers have been asking: What is Zhou’s background? Why do so many young people love his articles? Why does the government recommend him so strongly? Why did he suddenly become so popular?Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Why? If you search online, you can find many answers, including a lot posted by writers like me – “public intellectuals” and “rightists,” in Zhou Xiaoping’s words. There’s some truth to these posts, but I want to add something to more clearly address the question of why Zhou became so popular so quickly. To truly answer this question, we can’t look at the outside world, or even at Zhou Xiaoping himself – I believe the answer lies in our own selves. In other words, you can find the cause of Zhou’s popularity by looking at the groups and phenomena he criticizes (some would say “attacks”).
So, what is the main goal throughout Zhou’s writings? He’s been very clear about this: he hates to see people over-praising the West and putting down China, even to the point of saying that the moon in foreign countries is rounder than the moon in China. Zhou is angry at those people who praise everything about America while doubting and attacking everything about China. Zhou in particular blames “public intellectuals” and rightists for this attitude. So Zhou wants to spread positive energy by exposing the abuses and evils of the West (particularly the U.S.) while also going on and on about the superiority and achievements of the Chinese system. This viewpoint permeates every single one of Zhou’s articles. Regrettably, those people who criticize and mock Zhou Xiaoping by finding the many mistakes and distorted logic within his articles are ignoring the original purpose of his writings.
It is exactly this purpose that gained him many followers among China’s young people as well as the support of people within China’s government. The reason I want to “defend” Zhou is this: the phenomenon that he describes really does exist, and it’s a serious problem! There really are certain online writers who are filled with fury whenever they talk about China, but have nothing but boundless admiration for the U.S. and the West! This online phenomenon created Zhou Xiaoping in the first place.
Many readers believe that I am in sharp opposition to Zhou Xiaoping, and not without reason. I’m one of a handful of online writers who lived abroad for dozens of years before returning to mainland China. To be blunt, I’ve written more than any other Chinese blogger (over five million characters) about the strengths of the U.S. and the West, things that are worth studying. Of course, when I’m introducing the positives of the West and the U.S., I never hide their shortcomings. As for China, I both criticize it and urge China to improve, but I never avoid mentioning the successes China has already achieved. I have always thought that if you can’t see the progress China had made, you won’t or can’t truly encourage China to take the next step.
But because of this attitude, I’ve found myself falling gradually into a strange trap that exists on the Chinese internet. The second I point out some faults of the West or the U.S. or praise some of China’s accomplishments, I will immediately be criticized or even attacked and insulted by netizens. And many of these people don’t know much about the West; some of them have only made one trip abroad. Very few had closely read my articles introducing the West and the U.S. to China.
Some of China’s internet users completely reverse the restrictions practiced by the Chinese government: they believe that the U.S. cannot be criticized and China cannot be praised. They totally disregard everything China has achieved in the past years, including its integration with the world. They completely deny the silent contributions so many people within China’s system have made to the progress of this country and this society. It seems they worship the West not to encourage China to learn, but to put China down. In doing so, they completely forget that, of the 1.3 billion people who live in China, the vast majority not only will never live abroad but will have no chance to ever leave the country. How can you lavishly praise the West while telling your compatriots that their country and yes, even the people themselves are not worth a cent?
People like this criticize Zhou Xiaoping, but it’s these same people who created Zhou in the first place. When we are reading Zhou Xiaoping’s articles, filled with incorrect facts and extreme viewpoints, shouldn’t we also reflect a bit to make sure our own writings aren’t going to the other extreme? Maybe Zhou only won support because he jumped out to challenge this trend.
I mentioned earlier that I was thinking of writing an article called “In Defense of Deng Xiaoping.” That’s because I previously wrote a piece affirming Deng’s achievements, calling “Deng Xiaoping Was the CCP’s Most Extraordinary Leader.” In it, I recounted how Deng, after the Cultural Revolution, used political wisdom as well as scheming and maneuvering to put China on the path of reform and opening up – all of which led to the greatest economic development history had ever seen. I took the opportunity to tell current and future Party leaders to learn from and even surpass Deng.
The views in this article are of course fair game for discussion or criticism. But I never expected that once this article became popular I would receive abuse and insults (far beyond just criticism) from many readers. More than a few famous “public intellectuals” and democracy advocates were spouting foul insults, even talking about my deceased parents.
I couldn’t understand this. I’ve written more articles than I can count praising Nelson Mandela, George Washington, Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Ching-kuo. Why am I not allowed to praise Deng Xiaoping, who brought huge benefits to the lives of my many relatives and friends living in China? Every person is limited by historical circumstances, including us and Deng Xiaoping. The great George Washington was also a slave owner – did everyone know that? If all democracy advocates are as extreme and irresponsible as some of these netizens – seeing only darkness and hatred, not progress and love – why would anyone want democracy?
This is the reason Zhou Xiaoping became famous! The answer isn’t with Zhou and his camp, but on our side. That is the “defense” I want to make on his behalf. But after making this defense, I will turn to analyzing Zhou’s actual writings, for the sake of balance.
I don’t think I need to comment too much on the specific content of Zhou Xiaoping’s articles. There are several fatal errors in Zhou’s descriptions of abuses and evils in the U.S. All the defects and abuses he writes about do exist in the U.S., but he overgeneralizes and recklessly exaggerates. Zhou wants to use one or two extreme cases to describe the entire U.S. and maybe he’s unaware, but the American abuses he describes are ten times worse in China! This might not be apparent to people who have taken dozens of trips abroad, but it couldn’t be clearer to those of us who have lived in the West or the U.S. for decades.
The problem is that articles like this, containing so many mistakes, can become so popular and even gain people’s admiration. There are several reasons for Zhou’s popularity, including (as I already mentioned) the conditions created by his opponents as well as Zhou’s own fabricated and sensationalized stories. One other important factor is Zhou’s use of a writing style with Chinese characteristics: he closely connects everything to “patriotism.”
In almost every article, Zhou Xiaoping starts with a declaration: he wants to expose evil in the U.S. because of patriotism and he worships everything about China because of patriotism. When waving the flag of patriotism or “positive energy,” everything is permitted. Targeting the U.S. or even smearing it – as long as it’s motivated by patriotism, what’s the problem? Worshiping China’s strengths or even singing praises to the “Gang of Four” (who attacked both Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping’s father) – what’s the problem?
This approach can be very convenient. But I want to remind Zhou Xiaoping’s admirers that patriotism mixed with ignorance, deception, and lies is in fact an insult to true patriotism. When lies are used to arouse patriotism, it will bring disaster to the very country you profess to love.
Zhou’s articles are also very influential among ordinary and lower-class people, including naïve young people. These people might never get a chance to travel abroad. To them, it’s better to think about how miserable the lives of Americans are rather than to learn about all the incurable ills that exist in China. Talk about positive energy!
And so it goes. China’s young people, those same people without an urban hukou who have to live packed in basement rooms, realize that the Diaoyu Islands are still in Japanese hands. At once, they accept that they will never be able to afford decent housing because China doesn’t have enough land! They are ready to take to the streets to voice their patriotism. And those people being bullied into forced evictions by corrupt local officials? They might honestly cooperate with the government to tear down their own houses after realizing their grievances might be used by “hostile foreign forces” in the West and the U.S. And consider the old women selling goose eggs on the street — though she hasn’t sold a single egg all day, might suddenly burst into a joyful smile when she remembers that, after all, people in America have to rely on loans from China.
This is the essence of Zhou Xiaoping!
I don’t want to talk too much more about Zhou. He’s still young. Given how popular is he now, he won’t lack opportunities to travel abroad. Maybe in the future, he will write a different kind of article. He should travel more and read more – especially the history of the Chinese Communist Party!
Zhou should keep this in mind: in the history of the CCP, people like Yao Wenyuan and Zhang Chunqiao, who sought to curry political favor and make some small profits by praising and flattering officials, wound up on the garbage heap of history. On the flip side, people like Deng Xiaoping and Xi Zhongxun, who boldly presented their own critical viewpoints while suffering torture and censorship, proved to be the greatest contributors to China and the Chinese people.
So let’s turn the page on Zhou Xiaoping; that will benefit everyone.
Finally, I leave you with a quote from William Sloane Coffin on patriotism: “There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, one good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriots carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country.” In other words, criticizing out of love is the only good type of patriotism. I hope this quote has some meaning for both Zhou Xiaoping’s fans and those who attack him.
This piece originally appeared in Chinese on Yang Hengjun’s blog. The original post can be found here.
Yang Hengjun is a Chinese independent scholar, novelist, and blogger. He once worked in the Chinese Foreign Ministry and as a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC. Yang received his Ph.D. from the University of Technology, Sydney in Australia. His Chinese language blog is featured on major Chinese current affairs and international relations portals and his pieces receive millions of hits. Yang’s blog can be accessed at www.yanghengjun.com.