Why Are China’s Nationalists Attacking the Country’s Heroes?

To get the economy back on track, China is trying to champion its domestic companies and reassure entrepreneurs that it’s ready for business.

Its efforts are running into a problem: an online army of Chinese nationalists who have taken it upon themselves to punish perceived insults to the country — including from some of China’s leading business figures.

In recent weeks, bloggers who usually rail against the United States have turned on China’s richest man, calling him unpatriotic, and encouraged boycotts that have wiped out billions from his beverage company’s market value. When fellow tycoons defended him, they were attacked as well, by users whose profiles featured photos of the Chinese flag.

As the fervor spread, social media users also hounded Huawei, the crown jewel of China’s tech industry, accusing it of secretly admiring Japan. Others accused a prestigious university of being too cozy with the United States, and demanded the works of a Nobel-winning Chinese author be removed from circulation for purportedly smearing national heroes.

The state has often encouraged such nationalist crusaders, deploying them to drum up support, deflect foreign criticism or distract from crises. Social media users have suggested that the coronavirus originated in an American lab, and staged boycotts against Western companies that criticized China’s human rights record. Self-styled patriotic influencers have made careers out of criticizing foreign countries.

China’s tech giant, Huawei, has come under fire from die-hard nationalists online.Credit…Aly Song/Reuters
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