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Anzia Mayer

Chinese Netizens React to Aurora Shooting: "Humankind Is Insane"

The Chinese now have a word for a Colorado city thousands of miles away—Àoluólā (奥罗拉)—and they have a lot to say about it, too. The name made headlines around the world last week after a man opened fire at a July 20 midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” murdering 12 people and injuring 58 others. In the wake of tragedy, Aurora has become the focus of discussions worldwide, and Chinese microblogs are no exception. 

Images of grieving friends and loved ones circulated on Weibo

On the popular China microblog platform Sina Weibo, there is the inevitable contrast of tweets—from night owls wondering why they’re still awake to others debating the nature of democracy. After sifting through a good chunk of these speculations, however, revealing themes began to emerge. 

Democracy is overrated

Chinese bloggers expressed frustration, confusion, even outrage over apparent contradictions in American values, suggesting that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are simply incompatible ideals. The U.S., some argue, is so zealous about freedom and human rights that it compromises the most basic one: Safety.

One of microblog operator Sina’s (新浪) official accounts tweets, “Why doesn’t China criticize America’s human rights this time? American citizens aren’t even guaranteed their own lives, so how can the American government discuss other countries’ human rights? Ironic.”

@Softlove展 questions the value of democracy in the aftermath of the shooting: “I just can’t understand why some European and American countries support so-called ‘democracy.’ Citizens can carry guns whenever they feel like it…and this is the evil consequence.”

@眯着眼睛看世界 tweets, “Factual proof. Liberty doesn’t require that every person be allowed to carry a gun. If you think this is freedom, you should pay the price. America, feel free to go ahead.”

Reassured by China’s ban on private gun ownership, @王腾飞王大帅 tweets, “If this were in China, he wouldn’t have been able to buy all of that equipment.” @Teacher王ww is also confident: “China is safe. This kind of thing couldn’t happen here.” 

Foreign countries are dangerous 

The horrific Aurora shooting unfortunately validates the stereotype held by some Chinese netizens that America is a haven for criminals, validating by extension the usefulness of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Sure, the CCP may exert too much control over Chinese citizens to secure its own power, goes this line of thinking, but it does so to maintain public order–a fair exchange in the eyes of many Chinese. 

@絲之悠夢 tweets, “The public safety record in foreign countries always makes one alarmed.” @漾潇溢scu agrees, “Foreign countries are simply dangerous, be careful.” 

Of course, Chinese tend to have a skewed view of life in the U.S., just as Americans tend to have a skewed view of life in China. When this author studied abroad in Beijing during high school, one Chinese host father wanted to know if Americans live in perpetual terror of guns because he was convinced that America must resemble its movies.

One netizen wrote, "Violence still overflows where freedom's back is turned"

It’s perhaps unsurprising, then, that some bloggers spoke in Hollywood tropes: @合壹甜品 wonders, “Where did Batman go???” Another implied that a real-life Batman was just what the U.S. needed. Chinese netizens did not, however, attribute superpowers to the Chinese government. Instead, they commented on how people are simply unpredictable and recognized the weaknesses of any political system. “A free market economy can’t do everything,” writes @华夏人, “violence still overflows where freedom’s back is turned.” 

Finding common ground 

Although Chinese netizens used the tragedy to draw distinctions between China and America–perhaps to reassure themselves of their own relative safety–many also reached out in sympathy. Resounding messages of shock, sorrow, and solidarity shook the Chinese blogosphere.  

“How terrifying,” reflects @五麦. “Last night I saw the news,” tweets @Cassiel G, “the youngest was only six years old!” @梁文懿_Wenny comments, “What a cruel person…” And @Kkkkkkkkkk_8 laments, “Humankind is insane.”

If the diversity of Chinese opinion on Aurora shows one thing, it’s that we live in an increasingly interconnected world, where a city in Colorado can become a household name on the other side of the globe. Perhaps it’s those kinds of bonds, not a fictitious superhero, that really can save the world. 

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Anzia Mayer

Anzia teaches Mandarin at the Millbrook School. She majored in Asian Languages and Civilizations at Amherst College. She has studied abroad in Beijing and Kyoto. Her interests include practicing Chinese calligraphy, sailing, and writing poems.
  • Sunxiaohu

    I think that one aspect of liberty is risk. Guaranteed safety can only come from heavyhanded state actions. I don’t support gun rights, and I blame lack of weapon controls for a large part of this tragedy, but the above tweets demonstrate that the Chinese populace has yet to understand that freedom and risk are two sides of the same coin. I don’t think the United States is as free as we might think, either. We haven’t had 4th ammendment rights in 50 years, our government is bought and sold every election, and all our social safety nets are bankrupt and non-functional. We get the worst of both worlds. We run the risks of getting shot, not being able to afford healthcare, and being oppressed by government organs, while receiving none of the privacy benefits of a free society, or the safety benefits of a massive state formation.
    P.S. Anzia, my mom was in the first class of women at Amherst!

    • Anzia Mayer

      That’s so neat about your mom! That must have been a really interesting time to be at Amherst.

      I agree that an aspect of liberty is risk, and the trick seems to be
      striking the right balance between liberty and public safety. That’s
      theoretically part of the “social contract” we make with government: we
      give up some rights in exchange for protection. A lot of Chinese bloggers called on America to adopt stricter gun
      control laws, but unfortunately, this has become such a delicate topic
      in the U.S. that politicians tend to dodge it. President Obama actually
      brought up the issue at a July 25 speech addressed to the National Urban
      League convention, and he proposed reviving the Assault Weapons Ban,
      but not much more. He spoke carefully about finding a “national
      consensus”and reinforcing rather than reforming gun control laws in a
      broader campaign against violence.

      You make important points, but I think the government does care about finding the liberty-safety balance, and the great thing about our system of government is its capacity to evolve (if slowly). Perhaps Churchill was on to something when he said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

  • Sunxiaohu

    I think that one aspect of liberty is risk. Guaranteed safety can only come from heavyhanded state actions. I don’t support gun rights, and I blame lack of weapon controls for a large part of this tragedy, but the above tweets demonstrate that the Chinese populace has yet to understand that freedom and risk are two sides of the same coin. I don’t think the United States is as free as we might think, either. We haven’t had 4th ammendment rights in 50 years, our government is bought and sold every election, and all our social safety nets are bankrupt and non-functional. We get the worst of both worlds. We run the risks of getting shot, not being able to afford healthcare, and being oppressed by government organs, while receiving none of the privacy benefits of a free society, or the safety benefits of a massive state formation.
    P.S. Anzia, my mom was in the first class of women at Amherst!

    • Anzia Mayer

      That’s so neat about your mom! That must have been a really interesting time to be at Amherst.

      I agree that an aspect of liberty is risk, and the trick seems to be striking the right balance between liberty and public safety. That’s theoretically part of the “social contract” we make with government: we give up some rights in exchange for protection. A lot of Chinese bloggers called on America to adopt stricter gun control laws, but unfortunately, this has become such a delicate topic in the U.S. that politicians tend to dodge it. President Obama actually brought up the issue at a July 25 speech addressed to the National Urban League convention, and he proposed reviving the Assault Weapons Ban, but not much more. He spoke carefully about finding a “national consensus”and reinforcing rather than reforming gun control laws in a broader campaign against violence.

      You make important points, but I think the government does care about finding the liberty-safety balance, and the great thing about our system of government is its capacity to evolve (if slowly). As Churchill said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.”