Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the International Olympic Committee revised its motto: “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together”. But this call for unity fell flat for many on the Chinese internet.
Anti-Japanese sentiments on Chinese social media platforms, particularly on the microblogging site Weibo, have increased as athletes from the two countries compete against each other in several high-profile events, including table tennis, gymnastics and badminton. Weibo users used offensive language, accusing Japanese athletes of cheating on their way to victory.
The series of attacks began on Weibo when Japanese mixed doubles pair Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito won gold on Monday, beating Chinese stars Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen in table tennis – a sport historically dominated by China. Chinese social media users criticized the referee for playing the favorites by failing to punish the duo for flouting virus guidelines – players were advised not to blow the ball or wipe down the table , which Chinese fans claim the opposing team did.
Online attacks and abuse quickly reached the social media accounts of Japanese gamers. In a now-deleted tweet, Mizutani wrote that he had received threats from “fans of a certain country,” while Ito’s Weibo account was inundated with vitriolic comments about his skills and appearance.
Last Friday, a Weibo hashtag involving Japanese table tennis players was viewed more than 800 million times, while dozens of other hashtags evoking anti-Japanese sentiments are trending on the microblogging site.
Mima Ito in the women’s table tennis singles semi-final at the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo on July 29, 2021. Kin Cheung / People Visual
But what started as online abuse against Japanese players and the match referee by aggrieved Chinese fans has taken a broader turn. This is no longer personal, as Chinese nationalists online have joined the chorus of taunts against Japan, with many dissidents on Japanese culture and people.
“After days of watching the Olympics, I didn’t see any Olympic spirit. Instead, my anti-Japanese spirit was evoked, ”one user commented under a message from Chinese gymnast Xiao Ruoteng who lost his gold to Japanese Dakai Hashimoto.
“The small, small and barbaric country can never be compared to our great nation with 5,000 years of history,” wrote another.
This week, many Chinese social media users hinted at the phrase “anti-Japanese spirit,” which has historical roots dating back to the Sino-Japanese War between 1931-1945. More than 35 million Chinese were injured and killed in the war, according to official estimates.
Zhang Chenchen, professor of politics and international relations at Queen’s University in Belfast in Northern Ireland, attributed the persistence of anti-Japanese sentiments on Chinese social media to “collective memory socially constructed through mediation”. This collective memory refers to the depiction of past wars in popular mainstream media, including movies and TV series which remain very popular with Chinese audiences.
“They focus massively on trauma rather than resistance. Zhang told Sixth Tone, referring to scientific work by other Chinese academics. “It shapes the collective memory of the Sino-Japanese War, and it has become quite distorted. “
While the historical scars of wars remain, there is also a history of resentment towards Japan that resurfaces online time and time again.
Earlier this year, Japanese electronics giant Sony apologized after Chinese netizens protested after the company scheduled a product launch date in China that coincided with the day Japan launched its invasion. from 1937.
In 2012, thousands of people protested in several cities after Japan bought three of the disputed Diaoyu Islands – known in Japan as the Senkaku Islands – which were considered historical and inseparable parts of China. Some protesters have turned violent enough that some Japanese companies are evacuating their employees.
Zhang said the rise of nationalist rhetoric online demonstrates the increasingly anti-pluralist atmosphere on Chinese social media, regardless of the issues discussed.
“On the one hand, extremist views tend to be amplified,” she said. “On the other hand, there is less and less tolerance for plurality.”
Shirley Zhou, a student from the eastern city of Suzhou, said she was not surprised by the flag-waving speech and abuse from increasingly assertive Keyboard Warriors, as he This is a growing trend online.
“It’s heartbreaking but more surprising,” she told Sixth Tone.
“Patriotism is about loving the country’s citizens, neighbors, distant relatives, as well as foreigners – not just savoring the conceptual magnificence of the word itself,” Zhou wrote online after witnessing the feelings. anti-Japanese on Weibo.
However, not everyone maintains a hostile attitude online, with some instead using humor to defuse tensions. After Chinese table tennis player Sun Yingsha beat Ito in the women’s singles on Thursday, a Weibo user laughed at the trolls.
“I’m glad Sun beat Ito, otherwise I think internet users wouldn’t be that far away from WWIII considering how they reacted,” the Weibo user wrote. “I nominate Sun for the Nobel Peace Prize – she saved human civilization.”
Publisher: Bibek Bhandari.
(Header image: Sun Yingsha of China (left) and Mima Ito of Japan following Sun’s victory in the women’s table tennis semi-final at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan on July 29, 2021. IC)