Anti-Western sentiment in China

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Anti-Western sentiment in China has been increasing since the early 1990s, particularly amongst the Chinese youth.[1] Notable incidents which have resulted in a significant anti-Western backlash have included the 1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade,[2] the 2008 demonstrations during the Olympic torch relay[3] and alleged Western media bias,[4] especially in relation to the March 2008 Tibet riots.[5]

While available public opinion polls show that the Chinese hold generally favorable views towards the United States,[6] there remains suspicion over the West's motives towards China[6] stemming largely from historical experiences and specifically the 'century of humiliation'.[7] Some allege that these suspicions have been increased by the Communist Party's "Patriotic Education Campaign".[8]


Qing dynasty[edit]

Anti-Western sentiment manifested itself in the First and Second Opium Wars as well as the Boxer Rebellion when the Righteous Harmony Society attacked westerners, missionaries and converted Chinese Christians. The Qing dynasty was divided between anti-Westerners, moderates and reformists. A Manchu prince, Zaiyi, and a Chinese general Dong Fuxiang who led 10,000 Muslim Kansu Braves attacked foreigners and defeated them at the Battle of Langfang during the rebellion.


Hatred of foreigners from high ranking Chinese Muslim officers stemmed from the way foreigners handled Chinese affairs, rather than for religious reasons, the same reason other non Muslim Chinese hated foreigners. Promotion and wealth were other motives among Chinese Muslim military officers for anti foreignism.[9]

Kuomintang anti-Westernism[edit]

Some members of the Kuomintang party were anti-Western.

Kuomintang Muslim General Bai Chongxi led a wave of anti foreignism in Guangxi, attacking American, European, and other foreigners and missionaries, and generally making the province unsafe for foreigners. Westerners fled from the province, and some Chinese Christians were also attacked as imperialist agents. Americans, French, and British were attacked.[10] The three goals of his movement were anti-foreignism, anti-imperialism, and anti-religion.[11]

As a Kuomintang member, Bai and the other Guangxi clique members allowed the Communists to continue attacking foreigners and smash idols, since they shared the goal of expelling the foreign powers from China, but they stopped Communists from initiating social change.[12]

General Bai also wanted to aggressively expel foreign powers from other areas of China. Bai gave a speech in which he said that the minorities of China were suffering under foreign oppression. He cited specific examples, such as the Tibetans under the British, the Manchus under the Japanese, the Mongols under the Outer Mongolian People's Republic, and the Uyghurs and the Hui of Xinjiang under the Soviet Union. Bai called upon China to assist them in expelling the foreigners from those lands. He personally wanted to lead an expedition to seize back Xinjiang to bring it under Chinese control, in the style that Zuo Zongtang led during the Dungan revolt. It is important to noted that Bai Chongxi was a Hui himself.[13]

The Blue Shirts Society, a fascist paramilitary organization within the Kuomintang modeled after Mussolini's blackshirts, was anti foreign and anti communist, and stated that its agenda was to expel foreign (Japanese and Western) Imperialists from China, crush communism, and eliminate feudalism.[14] In addition to being anti Communist, some Kuomintang members, like Chiang Kaishek's right-hand man Dai Li were anti American, and they wanted to expel American influence.[15]


The causes of anti-Western sentiment in China include the collective memory of the period of Chinese history beginning with the two Opium Wars between 1839–1860 and ending with the expulsion of the Japanese after the Second World War which is known to the Chinese as the century of humiliation[16][17] when China was sacked by a western coalition. Wang Zheng wrote that it was "attacked, bullied, and torn asunder by imperialists".[18] Kenneth Lieberthal, a political science professor at the University of Michigan, has argued that the demonstrations in Western cities during the Olympic torch relay had "deep historical resonance" amongst Chinese, who suspect that after China's recovery from its fall in international stature from 150 years ago, "the West is trying to humiliate them again".[7] Supporting this view, a 2007 survey found that 45% of the Chinese general public believed that the U.S. was "trying to prevent China from becoming a great power" compared to 32% who believed that the U.S. accepted "China's status as a rising power", 23% were "not sure".[6] Although this sentiment has been partially assuaged by the return to China of Hong Kong and of Macau, the unresolved political status of Taiwan remains for some a reminder of China's weakness and division.[18]

James Kelly, former US assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, has noted that nationalistic sentiments and anger over the torch protests was more concentrated amongst Chinese under the age of 30.[1] Suisheng Zhao[8] and Kenneth B. Pyle[19] argue that a shift in Chinese education policy that these youth experienced is partly responsible for their increased nationalism. Zheng Wang argues that by the 1990s the international situation had reduced the appeal of Communism as a legitimizing ideology for China's rulers. As a result, the leadership reversed many of the Communist Party's changes to Chinese historiography from 1949 that interpreted Chinese history as a history of class struggle. Announced in 1991 and fully functioning by 1994, this "Patriotic Education Campaign" reinterpreted history in national terms, rehabilitating figures like General Tso who suppressed a peasant rebellion but stemmed a Russian invasion of Xinjiang, and acknowledging the role of Chinese nationalist (rather than just communist) fighters in the Second Sino-Japanese War. Students find personal resonance more in such narratives than in previous classes about Marxist doctrine because they hear about the atrocities against China not just from history textbooks but from their parents and grandparents.[18]

From 1999[edit]

1999 NATO bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade[edit]

On 7 May 1999, during Operation Allied Force, NATO aircraft bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese citizens. The US claimed that the bombing was an accident caused by the use of outdated maps but few Chinese accepted this explanation.[2] The incident caused widespread anger and following the attack Chinese officials described the bombing as a "barbarian act"[20] and a "war crime"[21] while Chinese students in Europe and America demonstrated against 'NATO fascism'.[2]

In China thousands were involved in protest marches in Beijing and other provincial capitals, some protesters threw gas bombs and rocks at the diplomatic missions of the United States and other NATO countries[22] while in Chengdu the American Consul's residence was firebombed.[2]

2008 Beijing Olympics torch relay protests[edit]

Pro-China Olympic rally in Perth, Australia, 2008

Prior to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games to be held in Beijing, the international leg of the Olympic torch relay was subject to widespread demonstrations primarily over "China's human rights record and Tibetan independence."[23] In London, thirty-seven arrests were made when protestors clashed with police as the torch made its way through the city[23] while in Paris the relay was cut short and the torch transported by bus after protestors disrupted the procession.[24]

Protests also took place in Athens,[25] Istanbul,[26] Buenos Aires,[27] Bangkok,[28] Canberra,[29] Nagano,[30] and Seoul.[31] In response, Chinese government officials condemned the protests[32] and overseas Chinese organised 'pro-China' counter-demonstrations at torch processions,[33] joined by counter-protests in many Chinese cities.[3]

Despite the protests being aimed at specific issues raised through western media, Chinese media sources, such as CCTV,[34] referred to the protestors as being 'anti-China'. In one instance, Chinese state-run news source China Daily reported that "[a]ll the recent protests against the 2008 Olympic torch relay are not against Chinese government, as some protesters repeated. They are against all of the ordinary Chinese people living everywhere in the world".[35]

Chinese activists organised protests outside Carrefour stores in at least 10 Chinese cities[36] and called on shoppers to boycott the French retailer following protests in Paris. Messages distributed via the internet and mobile phones had accused the company of supporting the Dalai Lama,[37] a claim denied by Carrefour CEO Jose-Luis Duran.[38]

Media bias[edit]

Chinese Netizens in both China and overseas have claimed[who?] that some Western media sources had given dishonest reports about riots in Tibet in March 2008. An article by the state-run China Daily reports that several Chinese activists accused, with substantiation, several Western media sources of misreporting and distorting the incident to tarnish China's image.[39] Chinese sources opined on the matter, arguing that Western media reports of the Tibet violence had displayed "ignorance and prejudice",[5] that the reporting of China more generally was "with few exceptions, only stories about censorship, spoiled food products, human rights issues, dangerous toys and the like... are published",[4] and "stoking the young people's repulsion to the West and in turn aroused the patriotic passion of the young people".[40] Several websites[quantify] were created to challenge the Western media's reporting of China, including,[41] whose founder Rao Jin[40] described Western media reporting as "white supremacy".[42]

In addition, the Chinese government has weighed in on the issue of media bias. Fu Ying, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom wrote that the Western media had attempted to 'demonise' China[43] while in April 2008, the Chinese Foreign Ministry demanded an apology from CNN after news commentator Jack Cafferty referred to the Chinese as a "bunch of goons and thugs" for which CNN subsequently apologized.[41]

James Kelly, however, has alleged that China's media censorship itself may be a major factor in fostering anti-Western sentiment, claiming that China's media gives a "very one-sided" view of the West.[1]

Tibetan independence[edit]

On 2 March 2009 the Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China published a white paper entitled: "Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet". In the paper the defeat of a Tibetan rebellion in 1959 is likened to the American civil war, arguing that China's abolition of Tibetan feudal serfdom was "entirely comparable to the emancipation of the slaves in the American civil war."[44] The white paper goes on to argue that by supporting the 14th Dalai Lama "Western anti-China forces" were guilty of ignoring historical facts regarding Tibet and that:

"It is thus clear that the so-called "Tibet issue" is by no means an ethnic, religious and human rights issue; rather, it is the Western anti-China forces' attempt to restrain, split, and demonize China."[44]

Cyber attacks[edit]

Following CNN's allegedly biased reporting regarding the March 2008 unrest in Tibet, CNN's website was hacked and replaced with a page proclaiming that "Tibet WAS,IS,and ALWAYS WILL BE a part of China". According to a report by Nick Lazaredes for Journeyman Pictures "patriotic hacking" by Chinese nationalists is on the rise and Western security experts estimate that there are up to 300,000 Chinese hackers ready to "wage a cyber-war."[42]

Surveys of public opinion[edit]

In 2008 a report was prepared by the Committee of 100 with the assistance of Zogby International and the Horizon Research Consultancy Group. Entitled "Hope and Fear"[6] the report outlined the results of opinion polls regarding Chinese and American attitudes towards each other. The report found that while a significant proportion of the Chinese general public believe that the Western media portrays China inaccurately, Chinese people generally hold favourable views of the U.S. and report themselves as being less 'highly patriotic' than Americans, as shown in the tables below:

Question asked: "Do you think that the U.S. media portrays an accurate picture of China?"
Chinese General Public Chinese Opinion Leaders Chinese Business Leaders
Yes 15 20 44
No 49 53 44
Not sure 36 27 12
Question asked: "How would you describe your impressions of the U.S.?"
Chinese General Public Chinese Opinion Leaders Chinese Business Leaders
Favourable 60 86 94
Unfavourable 26 11 6
Question asked: "On a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 is "not patriotic at all" and 5 is "highly patriotic," how would you rate your patriotism?"
U.S. General Public Chinese General Public
(1) Not at All 4 0
(2) 4 1
(3) 16 24
(4) 22 24
(5) Highly Patriotic 54 47
Not Sure 1 4

See also[edit]


  •  This article incorporates text from Encyclopædia of religion and ethics, by James Hastings, John Alexander Selbie, Louis Herbert Gray, a publication from 1916 now in the public domain in the United States.
  1. ^ a b c "Anti-western sentiment flourishes in China". ABC. 2008-04-24. Retrieved 8 June 2009. 
  2. ^ a b c d Peter Hays Gries (July 2001). "Tears of Rage: Chinese Nationalist Reactions to the Belgrade Embassy Bombing". The China Journal. Canberra, Australia: Contemporary China Center, Australian National University. 46 (46): 25–43. ISSN 1324-9347. JSTOR 3182306. OCLC 41170782. 
  3. ^ a b "Protests against 'Tibet independence' erupt in cities". China Daily. 19 April 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  4. ^ a b "Looking past Western media bias against China". China Daily. 2008-02-28. Retrieved 7 June 2009. 
  5. ^ a b "China criticises Western media". BBC News. 2008-03-25. Retrieved 7 June 2009. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Hope and Fear: Full report of C-100's Survey on American and Chinese Attitudes Toward Each Other" (PDF). Committee of 100 with assistance from Zogby International and Horizon Research Consultancy Group. 2008. Retrieved 2009-06-08. 
  7. ^ a b Peter Ford (17 April 2008). "Chinese vent anti-Western fury online". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 8 June 2009. 
  8. ^ a b Zhao, Suisheng: "A State-led Nationalism: The Patriotic Education Campaign in Post-Tiananmen China", Communist and Post-Communist Studies, Vol. 31, No. 3. 1998. pp. 287-302
  9. ^ James Hastings; John Alexander Selbie; Louis Herbert Gray (1916). Encyclopædia of religion and ethics, Volume 8. EDINBURGH: T. & T. Clark. p. 893. Retrieved 2010-11-28. (Original from Harvard University)
  10. ^ Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 99. ISBN 0-521-20204-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  11. ^ Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 99. ISBN 0-521-20204-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  12. ^ Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 100. ISBN 0-521-20204-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  13. ^ Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 124. ISBN 0-521-20204-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  14. ^ Frederic E. Wakeman (2003). Spymaster: Dai Li and the Chinese secret service. University of California Press. p. 75. ISBN 0-520-23407-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  15. ^ Jonathan Fenby (2005). Chiang Kai Shek: China's Generalissimo and the Nation He Lost. Carroll & Graf Publishers. p. 414. ISBN 0-7867-1484-0. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  16. ^ Friedberg, Aaron L.: "The Future of U.S.-China Relations: Is Conflict Inevitable?", International Security, Vol. 30, No. 2. (Fall 2005) pp. 7-45, p.20
  17. ^ "China, Humiliation & the Olympics". The New York Review of Books, vol. 55, no. 13. 2008-08-14. p. 3. 
  18. ^ a b c Wang, Zheng: "National Humiliation, History Education, and the Politics of Historical Memory: Patriotic Education Campaign in China", International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 52, No. 4. (December 2008) pp. 783-806, p.784
  19. ^ Pyle, Kenneth B.: "Reading the New Era in Asia: The Use of History and Culture in the Making of Foreign Policy", Asia Policy, 3. 2007. pp. 1-11
  20. ^ "Chinese demand U.N. meeting after Belgrade embassy attacked". CNN. 7 May 1999. Retrieved 9 May 2009. 
  21. ^ "World: Europe; Analysis: Nato's diplomatic blunder". BBC News. 8 May 1999. Retrieved 9 May 2009. 
  22. ^ "Families grieve victims of Chinese embassy bombing as NATO air campaign continues". CNN. 10 May 1999. Retrieved 9 May 2009. 
  23. ^ a b "Clashes along Olympic torch route". BBC News. 6 April 2008. Retrieved 11 May 2009. 
  24. ^ Walker, Peter (2008-04-07). "Olympic torch relay cut short amid Paris protests". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 11 May 2009. 
  25. ^ Anast, Paul; Spencer, Richard (2008-04-26). "Demonstrators disrupt Olympic torch lighting". London: The Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  26. ^ "Anti-China protest targets Olympic torch ceremony". The New York Times. 3 April 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  27. ^ "Argentine torch relay unhindered". BBC News. 11 April 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  28. ^ "Bangkok relay for Olympic torch". BBC News. 19 April 2008. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  29. ^ "Rival demonstrators face off in Canberra". ABC News. 2008-04-24. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  30. ^ Sheridan, Michael (2008-04-27). "Japan mobs Olympic torch of trouble". London: Times Online. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  31. ^ "Scuffles at South Korea torch leg". BBC News. 2008-04-27. Retrieved 2009-05-23. 
  32. ^ MacArtney, Jane (7 April 2008). "China condemns 'vile' London torch protests". The Times Online. Retrieved 7 June 2008. 
  33. ^ "San Francisco Olympic torch run moved amid protests". CBC News. 6 May 2008. Archived from the original on 30 June 2008. Retrieved 7 June 2008. 
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  36. ^ "Anti-Carrefour protests spread". China Economic Review. 2008-04-21. Retrieved 12 June 2009. 
  37. ^ "Carrefour faces China boycott bid". BBC News. 15 April 2008. Retrieved 11 May 2009. 
  38. ^ "Carrefour CEO Denies Backing Dalai Lama". Forbes. 19 April 2008. Retrieved 7 June 2009. 
  39. ^ "Lhasa riot reports show media bias in West". China Daily. 2008-03-22. Retrieved 7 June 2009. 
  40. ^ a b Deng Shasha (2009-05-24). "Chinese youth feel attached to country, aware of social issues". Xinhua. Retrieved 10 July 2009. 
  41. ^ a b Alexi Mostous (16 April 2008). "CNN apologises to China over 'thugs and goons' comment by Jack Cafferty". London: The Times Online. Retrieved 7 June 2009. 
  42. ^ a b Nick Lazaredes (2008). Cyber Warriors (Internet-Documentary). China: Journeyman Pictures. 
  43. ^ Fu Ying (13 April 2008). "Chinese ambassador Fu Ying: Western media has 'demonised' China". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 June 2009. 
  44. ^ a b Anon (2 March 2009). "Fifty Years of Democratic Reform in Tibet". Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China. Retrieved 10 July 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

 This article incorporates text from Encyclopædia of religion and ethics, a publication from 1916 now in the public domain in the United States.