David Wertime

China's Netizens Still Speaking Their Minds

Will a civil war wrack China? Will China collapse? Or will it rise to be a great world power?

In a sign of Weibo’s continuing vitality as a platform for speech, these questions are being openly discussed on Sina Weibo after Forbes China (@福布斯中文网) tweeted a provocative statement from its official account. The multiplicity and candor of responses can only give heart to those who predicted (hoped) that recent real-name requirements would not prevent freewheeling discussion in China’s social media. 

On March 21, Forbes, perhaps as curious as the rest of us to see whether Weibo was still alive and breathing, tweeted the following:

“To the skeptics, recent events prove that China’s stability is a myth, however from 1990 when China began to rise there have already been many people predicting its collapse. The current rumor is: High-level turmoil, a banking system nearing collapse, and the plight of villages, all very serious. But these rumors don’t deserve to be believed. Even if China had a civil war, it would not stop China from becoming a superpower.” [See here if you don't recognize the "recent events" allusion.]

It was not lost on netizens that this was a highly pro-regime statement. @川狂人asked, “Did the Chinese government pay you?” @Alice晨宝贝 was (hopefully) tongue-in-cheek: “Is Forbes a ‘wumao‘?”

But while Forbes’ prompt was unlikely to rankle censors, it gave netizens an opening to tackle some fundamental questions, and they did so with gusto. One netizen @我是林小听_Listening seemed to be testing the censors, beginning her comment: “Xinjiang independence, Tibetan independence, Diaoyu Islands, Nanhai, Falun Gong…” 

Several strains of opinion were clearly visible. The Chinese aversion to war and, more broadly, “disorder” was on full display. So was the pain of the Cultural Revolution, which still looms large in many hearts. Resentment of the Western media reared its head on multiple occasions, although a number of commenters took the occasion to defend the U.S. and rule out the possibility of war.

Finally, most commenters were optimistic, but it was a guarded and nuanced optimism. Most netizens feel that China’s time is coming–if it’s not here already–but it will require sacrifice and hard work, not just a large (or bellicose) population.

We collect and translate some of the best comments below: 

China is on the right path

@粉嫩小美男: Chinese culture is thousands of years old with a long history, with towering glory and humiliating grief … Chinese culture’s ability, breadth and tolerance will allow it to successfully carry on and prosper.

@赵楚: I agree with this. Over the last five years I’ve strongly agreed with those [predicting] a Chinese collapse, but also strongly agreed with those predicting China’s rise. What will collapse is a current system which is bad for the country’s health, and as soon as that system collapses and China obtains the energy for reform coming from a true, substantive system, the thousands of years of cultural heritage and the last hundred years of pent-up vigor will be unstoppably released. Then, there’s no one in the world who will be able to stop China from becoming a great country. 

@百年中国沉思: The U.S. had a civil war and it wasn’t an [insurmountable] obstacle to development. 

@郑毅格: Today’s banking system is much more stable than before, villagers are very satisfied, there aren’t as many problems as people imagine. Now, only infighting or a problem with the economy…will lead to chaos.

Forbes is too optimistic

@我不是哪个啊5886: With an extremely low birthrate and very rapidly aging [population], I am not that optimistic. 

@伯东-: This is linear thinking. China can’t be great until her people are great. But are her people great? I deeply, deeply doubt it. 

@死干威尼斯已已: According to your logic, India is a superpower, Iran is a superpower, [because] they are vast and have expanding populations. 

The shadow of the cultural revolution

@兆了你个凯: Times have changed, we should step away from the psychological shadows of the past and look at our true future.

@医疗律师刘晔: Before this rise there needs to be a thorough reflection on the Cultural Revolution [including] the condemned Confucius, the condemned basic humanity, the tens of millions who died. Without repentance and salvation, there will be no rise. 

@罗墨: Healing wounds and detoxification always take time.   

Leave us alone, Western media

@中国—良心: Everyone in the world, with the U.S. at the lead, are all hoping for a Chinese civil war, so we can’t let them play us off [against each other], there’s nothing to gain from a civil war and everything to lose.

@常见常乐: This kind of sensationalism is just used to scare people. So-called stability is a high-sounding excuse for oppressing everything. A civil war won’t occur, the country is not going to split; when the former Soviet Union collapsed not one drop of blood flowed, because everyone regardless of their class level had the same dream.

Anything but war or disorder. (Rest easy, United States.)

@东西关: Generals, where is there a mother willing to give her boy away to others to be cannon fodder? 

@律师刘明: The U.S. wants China to be stable. The U.S. is a democratic country and the government listens to the common people. The common people want to do business with China and make money … not for China to be chaotic. 

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David Wertime

David is the co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation. He first encountered China as a Peace Corps Volunteer in 2001 and has lived and worked in Fuling, Chongqing, Beijing, and Hong Kong. He is a ChinaFile fellow at the Asia Society and an associate fellow at the Truman National Security Project.