Many of China's netizens think she'll be too tough on their country, while others are just being sexist.
- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others., Shujie LengShujie Leng is an editorial intern at FP's Tea Leaf Nation.
On the afternoon of April 12, Hillary Clinton announced her long-expected decision to run for president in 2016. Within hours, Chinese news sites shared the announcement on Weibo, China’s most popular micro-blogging platform, provoking thousands of comments from Chinese netizens. Most of the popular comments were nasty.
On a popular post about Clinton’s announcement from state-run Chinese Central Television (CCTV), the most up-voted comment called her an “old witch,” who, if elected, “would make Sino-U.S. relations even worse.” In a popular comment, one user expressed concern that Clinton would increase regional tensions by moving closer to China’s rival Japan and stirring up trouble in the South China Sea, where Beijing and Washington are already angling for influence. Another predicted that if Clinton became president, “World War III would not be far away.”
In June, I wrote (with the journalist Helen Gao) about how “the thought of President Hillary incites a surprising amount of anger among Chinese intellectuals, average citizens, and — judging from the way state media covers her — possibly China’s leaders as well.” There’s little evidence that view has changed much since then.
Some Chinese netizens oppose Hillary for what they perceive as her “anti-China” policy when she served as the secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. Members of Beijing’s foreign-policy community tend to see Obama’s 2011 pivot to Asia as a plot to contain China – and they blame Clinton for the strategy. And some tend to fault her for actions — like the long-standing U.S. military presence in the Asia-Pacific region — that are seen as needlessly provocative. After Clinton left the State Department in early 2013, Global Times, a popular and jingoistic Chinese newspaper, published a special feature on her tenure, concluding that “Hillary has quickly become, in the eyes of Chinese netizens, the most hated U.S. political figure.”
Other Chinese have expressed displeasure at what they see as Clinton’s meddling in China’s domestic affairs. One prominent Chinese expert on international relations, who asked not to be named, told me that Clinton is “unnecessarily harsh on China” because she publically criticized Beijing: For example, Clinton called Beijing’s human rights record “deplorable” in the spring of 2011. (At the same time, she also implied — provocatively, to the ruling Chinese Communist Party — that China will eventually democratize.) More recently, on April 7, about a month after five Chinese feminist activists were arrested after protesting for women’s rights — on allegations of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” — Clinton tweeted, “The detention of women’s activists in #China must end. This is inexcusable.” In response, one Chinese man wrote on Weibo that China “is a sovereign state, not a colony of the United States.” (The public outcry in China and in the West over the arrests may have had some effect; on April 13, the police reportedly released the women.)
Some of the distaste with Hillary stems from plain, old-fashioned sexism. The most popular Weibo comment on Clinton’s announcement, with nearly 4,000 up votes and more than 6,000 shares, reads, “If Hillary gets elected, she will be the only woman in the world who has done the U.S. President and been the U.S. President.”
It’s hard to know how much these comments from Chinese netizens reflect widely held Chinese views. Polling on such a sensitive issue as politics – even American politics — is unreliable in China. And less than half of China’s roughly 1.4 billion people are Internet users, making generalizing from the Internet even more challenging.
Clinton’s defenders should note that China’s chattering class is often less than kind to American politicians. Some Chinese media outlets have taken to calling Jeb Bush, the presumptive Republican candidate and brother of former President George W. Bush, the patronizing moniker “Little Little Bush.” (His brother was “Little Bush.”) Republican candidates Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) have appeared to get little attention on the Chinese Internet so far. The exception appears to be Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.): He’s gotten some shoutouts for his economic policy, which columnist Lu Gang compared favorably to the policy of former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping.
Besides, the responses aren’t all negative. Some Chinese expressed admiration towards “Getting Started,” the roughly two-minute online video Clinton used to launch her campaign, which profiles “ordinary” Americans, and focuses on women and minorities. Clinton’s campaign slogan — “When families are strong, America is strong” — has struck a chord among some in Chinese cyberspace. “My eyes are full of tears upon watching the video,” a female marketing manager commented. The take-away from a different female netizen? “Anti-China or not, it’s the president of America, not the president of China. I would like see such a tough woman succeed.”