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One Chinese Netizen’s Perspective on the Ukraine War

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One Chinese Netizen’s Perspective on the Ukraine War

From the outside, it may seem that most Chinese support Russia, but one eloquent post may speak for China’s “silent majority.”

One Chinese Netizen’s Perspective on the Ukraine War
Credit: Depositphotos

When I talk to European friends in Beijing, I am often asked what Chinese people “really think” of Ukraine war. It’s difficult to answer. I can only say that Chinese people have various ideas and do not fully support Russia or Ukraine.

There are some polls that have aimed to get a more definitive answer. For example, Tsinghua University recently released a survey purportedly showing that more than 80 percent of Chinese people believe the West is responsible for the war, which is equivalent to supporting Russia. Less than 10 percent agreed with Ukraine’s position.

On one hand, I think the results of this poll are credible. Most Chinese people don’t have access to external sources; they obtain information from official media and “self-media” (individually operated influencer accounts), which are often in line with the official tone. Of course, they will choose to support Russia; their access to alternative perspectives is limited.

But that said, we can’t take the results at face value. 

To understand why, consider this example. One survey in 2022 asked Chinese residents of three cities about their feelings toward COVID-19 lockdowns. The survey registered large support for the policy: nearly 85 percent of respondents reported neutral to positive experiences of lockdowns. But in December 2022, China abruptly canceled the zero COVID policy that had supposedly notched massive levels of public support.

Therefore, although the poll from Tsinghua University reflects a certain reality, it cannot be denied that there is a “silent majority” in Chinese society that is difficult to capture. Whether it’s zero COVID or the Russia-Ukraine War, those who do not support the government line cannot be seen, either in the public media or in survey data. 

But there are some who speak up. I was recently intrigued by a posting from an ordinary Chinese – not an academic or media worker – on social media, looking at the Ukraine War from the perspective of world trends and national development. The post is quite interesting and profound. 

I don’t personally know the original poster, whose identity we are choosing not to disclose given the sensitivity of the topic. And we cannot draw any conclusions about how widespread such views are among Chinese. Still, the post is worth sharing, so that more people abroad can understand how one Chinese person understands the war. This can also be used as an example to answer the question of my European friends.

Below is my translation of the post:

The Ukraine War once again showed the “outwardly strong but inwardly weak” situation under the “centralization of power.” The so-called cohesion caused by the deterrent of an authoritarian country usually looks extremely powerful, but when it really needs to show muscles, due to the “weak” inside, it cannot achieve the purpose. This is difficult to compare with the unity and power accumulated via personal freedom.

The war proves that “centralization of power” can only be effective internally, and often fails externally. Individuals inside are easily driven by heavy control and lack of information. But viewed from the outside, the centralization of power has been seen as both naïve and brutal. It’s impossible for others outside to be controlled by the thought structures imposed by the centralization of power; instead, they would like to find another way of thinking to solve the problem. That can be called the progress of civilization.

The war tells us that the “information cocoon” exists everywhere, and even the Russian president is no exception. When some people deliberately set up an information cocoon to make you feel good, then you will be hard pressed to realize you are just a “frog in the well.” Therefore, a person must find a way to jump out of the information cocoon, observe and think multidimensionally. You will eventually find that only by getting rid of the cocoon to become a butterfly can you form a new cognition. If one is caught in his own cocoon, just like Putin, stubbornness and prejudice toward the outside world will be inevitable. This will make you form a series of misjudgments, causing a domino effect of information collapse.

The war tells us how harmful “formalism” is. If a society falls into a trap of formalism, the starting point of people doing things is not based on their personal inclinations, ideals, and will; instead, the motive is “letting leaders be satisfied” and “completing the assigned task.” No matter how bright the appearance and decoration is, it will eventually be seen by others what the society really is, when the world begins changing.

The war tells us that the so-called “strength” built by a resource monopoly and concentrated power is just the illusion of some people. If power cannot be effectively restrained and the individual cannot be fully respected, then even abundant resources and vast land are not the happiness of the weak, but just a threat made by the strong. This form of “strength” will make them act recklessly and make the weak become weaker.

The war tells us that the law of “who has resources is the boss” has long become the past. In the civilized rules of today’s world, we must learn respect for other countries, respect for the weak, and respect for individuals in order to get generally recognized around the world.

The war tells us that the living standards or happiness index of a country are basically not related to their land size and resources quantity. A strong country is still full of weak people. The so-called strong country built by “weak people” is often an empty shell. Only the strong country based on the establishment of “strong people” is really powerful.

The war tells us that respecting individual will and personal choices is really powerful. Such a society will have great ability to resist pressure and adapt. It can make various self-adjustments in various forms. The “power” built by orders, rewards, and punishments is just a community of interests based on utilitarianism, pragmatism, and authoritarianism. Once people find that they cannot achieve the purpose of “profit-seeking” or discover the big weakness of authoritarianism, this set of resource allocation models will fail.

The war tells us that there are many people in this world who are still obsessed with barbarism and violence. It has made us see how many reverse powers in the process of world civilization try to pull humans back to the barbaric mud of history. However, all this will always be defeated.

The war tells us that the civilization and order of the world today depend on decentralization, multipolarity, independence, and respect for each other on the basis of equality, respect, dignity, and humanitarianism. These points are indispensable. The traditional model of “Big Brother” and “hegemonism” like the Soviet Union – letting others be small followers, and building international relations on that basis – has declined and collapsed.

Regardless of personal relationships or national relations, the pace of civilization will always move toward tolerance, openness, and diversity. History will not wait for those who can only re-tread the same ground, and can’t see the values of contemporary equality, mutual benefit, and humanitarianism. History may give them a little time to catch their breath, but they will eventually be abandoned.

The war lets us see the awakening of global wisdom. Although the pro-Russian group was obviously crowded in the early days of the war, in fact, the people’s wisdom has been growing like the belly of a pregnant women until it can no longer be hidden. With the development of the war, there are more and more people supporting Ukraine. This kind of purely spontaneous public opinion represents that the justice in society will never vanish. No matter how bad the social environment, brave voices will always appear.

The war shows us the polarization of Chinese public opinion: the pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian groups have distinct views and do not compromise with each other. Still, allowing two different viewpoints to coexist in social platforms can also be considered progress in society.

The war makes us believe that “a just cause enjoys abundant support while an unjust cause finds little.” Although the process of history may have twists and turns, and even brief setbacks, the trend of human civilization is that wisdom will always triumph over ignorance, and justice will eventually triumph over evil. It is only a matter of time. 

As for why this is happening, it is probably a lesson in self-evolution made by God for us.

These are the novel and profound ideas one Chinese person holds on the Ukraine war. By contrast, I have never seen a Chinese person who supports Russia explain their idea so eloquently.

Why do many Chinese people support Russia, then? It’s not because they like Russia, but out of a realistic consideration: If Russia and Putin go down after the war, the West’s next target will be China.

Therefore, if Europeans want to see more Chinese people support Ukraine, they had better find a way to reduce the risks to China’s security caused by the Ukraine war and make Chinese rest assured about Russia’s ultimate fate.