Right-Wing Populist Discourse on Chinese Social Media: Identity, Otherness, and Global Imaginaries

Brussels Working Papers 3/2019

31 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2019

See all articles by Chenchen Zhang

Chenchen Zhang

Université Libre de Bruxelles

Date Written: January 30, 2019


The past few years have seen the emergence of a right-wing populist discourse on Chinese social media that combines the claims, vocabulary, and style of right-wing populisms in Europe and North America with previous forms of nationalism and racism in Chinese cyberspace. In other words, it provokes a similar hostility towards immigrants, Muslims, feminism, the so-called ‘liberal elites’, and progressive values in general. This article examines how, in debating global political events such as the European refugee crisis and the American presidential election, well-educated and well-informed Chinese internet users appropriate the rhetoric of ‘Western-style’ right-wing populism to paradoxically criticise Western hegemony and discursively construct China’s ethno-racial and political identities. Through qualitative analysis of 1,038 postings retrieved from a popular social media website, this research shows that by criticising Western ‘liberal elites’, the discourse constructs China’s ethno-racial identity against the ‘inferior’ non-Western other, exemplified by non-white immigrants and Muslims, with racial nationalism on one hand; and formulates China’s political identity against the ‘declining’ Western other with realist authoritarianism on the other. We conclude by conceptualising the discourse as embodying the logics of anti-Western Eurocentrism and anti-hegemonic hegemonies. This article 1) provides critical insights into the changing ways in which self/other relations are imagined in Chinese popular geopolitical discourse; 2) sheds light on the global circulation of extremist discourses facilitated by the internet; and 3) contributes to the ongoing debate on populism and the ‘crisis’ of the liberal world order.

Keywords: Right-Wing Populism; Extreme Right Discourse; Social Media; China; Racial Nationalism; Authoritarianism

Suggested Citation

Zhang, Chenchen, Right-Wing Populist Discourse on Chinese Social Media: Identity, Otherness, and Global Imaginaries (January 30, 2019). Brussels Working Papers 3/2019 , Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3325917 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3325917

Chenchen Zhang (Contact Author)

Université Libre de Bruxelles ( email )

CP 132 Av FD Roosevelt 50
Brussels, Brussels 1050

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