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How Did Chinese People React to Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis?

Chinese social media is abuzz with a debate on whether Trump’s diagnosis should elicit sympathy or satisfaction.

By Hemant Adlakha for
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How Did Chinese People React to Trump’s COVID-19 Diagnosis?

President Donald J. Trump works in the Presidential Suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Saturday, Oct. 3, 2020, after testing positive for COVID-19 on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.

Credit: Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian

President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, tested positive for the coronavirus last week. The announcement was met with strong apprehension in the United States, with commentators fearing the presidential race was heading into “a state of grave uncertainty, if not chaos.”

In China, on the contrary, judging by tens of thousands of posts from netizens, a large number of Chinese are not only rejoicing over the “good” news, but they are even cursing Trump “to die early.”

“On hearing that President Trump is coronavirus positive, on watching him being rushed in Marine One helicopter to Walter Reed U.S. National Military Medical Center, and on hearing the news that Trump has a fever, cough and he is breathing with difficulty, a lot of people felt very happy. They are cursing Trump an early death. They are saying he is a scourge to our world,” wrote Li Guangman, a China-U.S. relations specialist, in his column on October 5.

In fact, in China, like in America and everywhere else in the world, the news of Trump testing positive for the coronavirus has been getting a lot of headline attention. That is not surprising; not only is he the U.S. president, but in the eyes of most Chinese Trump has been the biggest existential threat to China for over two years now.

Of course, this is not the first time Trump has been a trending topic on Chinese social media. Over the past six months, China’s netizens have been venting their anger against the U.S. government and Trump himself for preventing Chinese students from traveling to U.S. universities and racist comments about COVID-19, which has stirred up hate crimes campaign against Asian-Americans. Chinese netizens have also pounced on the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S., and criticized the first Trump-Biden presidential debate – mocked on Weibo as “kindergarten kids quarreling,.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has ordered the country’s state-run media to steer clear away from speculating on the U.S. presidential elections, but the party has allowed the social media run free and mock everything American. (Obviously, the party-state establishment does not allow people to have fun “gossiping” about CCP leaders, much less mentioning how China and the world are still paying the cost for the Wuhan and the Chinese central authorities’ hiding the initial coronavirus outbreak.)

And now, lo and behold, the U.S. first couple has contracted the virus. That has sparked a debate among Chinese people: Should they sympathize with the COVID-positive president of the United States or not? As mentioned above, there are no shortage of people celebrating rather than wishing Trump well. (For that matter, even within the U.S. there is no dearth of people unsympathetic to their infected president.)

In contrast to the people rejoicing, however, there are also people in China who are feeling sad about Trump’s “October surprise.” The more sympathetic netizens are scolding their fellow Chinese: “The malicious cursing reveals ugly human nature,” “How can you damn someone’s life,” “Those who are being malicious have really no feelings,” and so on.

But it seems those voices are outnumbered. Echoing the anger expressed by large numbers on China’s social media, Li Guangman is adamant in his vehement opposition to those feeling sorry for Trump. “It was Trump who first called coronavirus ‘Wuhan virus’ and then went on to name it as ‘Chinese virus.’ Being a Chinese from Wuhan who has been devastated by the virus, I am hurt and convinced Trump is very dirty and vicious as an individual,” Li wrote. The popular commentator is outraged that some Chinese want to sympathize with Trump and even want to wish him a speedy recovery.

Without hiding his annoyance and indignation, Li posed a direct question to his fellow Chinese who are filled with compassion for Trump: why can’t you forgive the Japanese?

“Prime Minister Abe [of Japan] was the first foreign leader to rush to Washington to ‘kowtow’ in front of Trump and to plead with Trump to ‘tackle’ China; Abe’s first act on being sworn as prime minister was to pay visit to Yasukuni Shrine – seen as the symbol of Japan’s military aggression against China; the Japanese government still refuses to apologize to the Chinese people,” Li pointed out. “Shouldn’t we feel sorry for Abe having had to step down due to chronic illness?”

Speaking of his own thoughts, the blogger wrote: “Like many others I too wish Trump and Melania a quick recovery. But deep in my heart, Trump disgusts me. He as the president of the United States has brutally suppressed China. He has used ‘China virus’ to incite anti-China racism. He has maliciously tried to stifle and destroy Chinese businesses. I can never forgive him.”

The offline reaction to Trump’s COVID-19 diagnosis is harder to gauge, but one account offers anecdotal evidence. On Sina.com, a popular online platform in China, a blogger named Ming shu za tan, or Uncle Ming Talks, wrote about the scene minutes after the news of Trump testing positive broke:

Yesterday, around noon, I lined up in the queue to get shoe covers and go down to the Chaka Salt Lake [located in Qinghai province, China]. Suddenly I saw the news in several groups that Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus. I immediately opened Twitter and found that Trump himself announced the news. When I told the people around me, their first reactions disbelief; then a sense of the absurdity; then deciding it’s some sort of retribution: after all, “the old man is a wicked person.” All the people around me were commoners and these were their spontaneous reactions. But that’s to be expected;, Trump’s actions toward China in recent years have made many Chinese have extremely negative impression of him.

As already mentioned, the reactions from Chinese netizens can range from normal – sympathy or understandable schadenfreude – to the extreme. On hearing Trump had COVID-19, one Chinese netizen posted that “This is godsend opportunity for us to strike at Taiwan!” But a Chinese professor responded by saying, “Such comments reflect a poor understanding of China’s traditional thought. For according to ancient Chinese wisdom, ‘gentlemen do not take advantage of others in crisis.’”

Another common reaction among social media posts was the fear that, with Trump having contracted the virus, American people will be filled with more “hatred” for China.

Finally, China’s netizens are asking whether Trump even wants their sympathy. As Li Guangman outlined: Trump has COVID-19. Of course, we wish him well. But if he recovers, what will he do to his thousands of sympathizers in China? “Trump will not remember his Chinese sympathizers, he will show no mercy when he resumes to attack, attack and destroy China,” Li asserted.

Hemant Adlakha is professor of Chinese at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and Honorary Fellow with the Institute of Chinese Studies, Delhi