The Atheist Manifesto


“Religion is the opium of the people.” — Karl Marx

Almost every Chinese who goes through some middle school education must, at some point, run into the famous statement about religion by Karl Marx. It is enshrined in text books that introduce students to the philosopher’s materialistic interpretation of the world, which considers religion as a “fantasy” used by reactionary forces to disarm the revolutionary proletariats by promising salvation in the afterlife while preaching endurance in the current one.

Some will argue that there is a Leninist spin in such a presentation of Marx’s view and that his is a more nuanced one that recognizes, albeit grudgingly, the historically progressive role of religion. Still, Marx’s view has become probably the only modern critique of religion that many ordinary Chinese are familiar with, besides Confucius’s largely agnostic approach to spirituality. It also forms the basis of the Communist Party’s self-branding of a fundamentally atheist party.

That being said, textbook does not dictate how millions of Chinese actually approaches faith, nor does Marxist dogma completely defines how the CCP handles religion in the People’s Republic. The harsh criticism of religion by Marx does not stop a large number of Chinese from embracing the teaching of Buddha, the message of Jesus Christ or the words of Mohammed. If anything, the “value vacuum” left by the retreat of a fanatic Maoist ideology since the death of the Chairman has increasingly been filled by religion, demonstrated by skyrocketing numbers of new converts.

At same time, however, the officially “atheist party” has seen its position shift dramatically on this thorny issue over the decades. From courtship in the early years for the sake of building political alliance, to open hostility in the radically leftist years as a result of internal political struggles, to reconciliation in the early days of the Reform and Opening period, and finally to cautious ambiguity that defines its approach today.

It is in this ambiguity that a recent revision of a low-level administrative regulation aiming at maintaining social order stirred up a great controversy online. In the draft change, authorities added a clause that, by the Chinese standard of social control, may seem innocuous: “Anyone who produces contents in publications or online platforms that contain insults or prejudice against a religion or ethnicity may be subject to administrative detainment from 10 to 15 days.” As a society dominated by a largely secular majority of Han Chinese, setting up certain mechanisms to prevent the abuse of minority ethnic groups does not appear controversial. Measures designed to prevent hate-speech are also not unprecedented. The 2009 Measures for Ethnic Unity Education enacted in Xinjiang, where a great number of ethnic minorities, particularly the Uighurs, live, also contain a clause that forbid hate-inciting speeches.

However, this time the outcry was loud and clear, with one Weibo post asking people to oppose the measure collecting 60,000+ forwards within a short period of time.

There are a few notable things about this wave of pushback against the regulation. First, it primarily targets Islam and Muslims even if the proposed clause does not specify any religion or ethnicity for which it is designed. Second, online mobilization for the cause concentrates in “pockets” of the cyberspace that have a track record of anti-Islam activism; and rather than a concern with freedom of expression in general, it appears to be sparked by a very specific grievance that has been gradually festering on the Chinese Internet: a discontent with the perceived (unprincipled) accommodation of the spread of Islam by the Chinese state.

Like many online sentiments that accumulate over time, it is likely shaped by the recurrence of events that are perceived (and interpreted) as having a repeating theme. Researchers may point to the violent riots in Xinjiang in 2009 as the starting point of the narrative of the Chinese state being “too accommodating” to ethnic minorities, particularly Muslim Uighurs. And as this recent online mobilization will show, the narrative has evolved and gained momentum from a host of new sources.

Many events that are reinforcing that narrative today may seem trivial: airlines carry only halal-certified foods aboard domestic flights; police in Shanghai hesitant to intervene in a bully case where supposedly Muslim beef noodle shop owners tried to stop others from opening competing shops; CCTV’s annual spring festival gala accused of distorting a Chinese New Year tradition to avoid mentioning pork. Compared to violent ethnic conflicts, these are stories of minor frictions that often flow beneath the surface of sensational news headlines.

Popular Weibo posts opposing the proposed measure cite the “secular joys” of the Han Chinese life as worthy of protection, going all the way back to the times of the Monkey King when such classic literary works as the Journey to the West could make fun of the ridiculous aspects of religion. “The proposed rule will destroy a core part of Chinese culture”, asserts one post. Some of the commentators see a slippery slope in front of them: “First you can’t eat pork, then girls can’t don short skirts…, then your kid can’t go to school because enrollment favors kids from certain religions. It’s about our very dear interests!”

This highlights the intrinsic contradictions in the Chinese experience with Islam, and, by extension, issues of ethnicity. On the one hand, the impression outside China has been influenced by its heavy-handed social control in regions such as Xinjiang, especially after the riots in the late 2000s. On the other, domestic experience, particularly in Han-dominated central and coastal areas, often contains an element of hurt and frustration. This may seem ironic given the overall economic and cultural advantage that the majority group enjoys, many of which related to its access to opportunities and public resources that tend to concentrate in the developed eastern provinces.

But on a micro, personal level, the experience is also very likely to be real. China’s ethnic policy of today, wherein religion constitutes an organic part, features a series of preferential treatment of minorities, ranging from affirmative action in higher education to leniency in the criminal justice system, some more controversial than others. The so-called “two restraint one leniency” policy, issued by the Party’s Central Committee in 1984, instructs law enforcement across the nation to practice restraint in arrest and execution and leniency in treatment when dealing with minority criminals. Even though the supposed intention of the original policy was to accommodate traditional customs in minority areas that could be criminalized under the sweeping campaign to crackdown on crimes in the early 1980s, it nevertheless led to a lingering situation where “in legal and civil disputes, authorities throughout the nation tend to side with ethnic minorities for the sake of preserving ethnic unity, even to the dissatisfaction of the Han Chinese.” Reports of police officers turning their eyes away from crimes involving ethnic minorities abound on the Chinese Internet.

China’s different approaches to religion in and outside the Xinjiang (and Tibet) Autonomous Regions, where “leniency” is probably the last word used to describe ethnic/religious policy there, is something worth keeping in mind when examining online sentiments on this issue. For instance, in this recent controversy, many who oppose the draft cited situations in places like Ningxia or Qinghai where the issue of Islamic expansion seems particularly salient. People share pictures of grand, luxury Mosques being built in those remote, poverty stricken areas in Western China with the blessing of local governments, and accounts of local children being organized to attend religious schools.

Many netizens online feel uneasy of such developments. And this is where Marx clashes with Islam. One of the major concerns that emerges from this wave of criticism is the worry that the Chinese society’s unique equipment to keep religion at bay, its atheist socialist ideology, can be severely constrained with the introduction of the proposed measure.

Xi Wuyi, a scholar of Marxism at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and a leading voice denouncing the amendment, embodies this unique Chinese response to Islam. In her strongly worded commentary that was posted online, she asserts that “to research religion and to critique theology is the classic academic paradigm of contemporary Chinese Marxist religion studies” and questions if the clause will undermine the “scientific atheists’ efforts to curb the negative impacts of religion”, a stated aim of the National Conference on Religion-related Work held by the Party in 2016. Her arguments were echoed by other influential personalities on Weibo, who are more colorful when expressing their disapproval: “Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, which topples biblical creationism, and The Internationale, which refutes the existence of gods, can all be taken as offensive to a certain religion. Should they be banned under the new rule?”

An atheist conviction is not their only weapon, especially when it comes to Islam. Broader concerns with women’s rights and the religion’s perceived aggressive hostility toward non-believers are also major factors contributing to online acrimony. Again, they are reflected in the online activism of an opinion leader like Xi Wuyi, who constantly intervene in cases of Islamic “intrusion” into secular freedoms. Just as the petition to scrap the amendment was ongoing, she mobilized public support for an ethnic Hui girl whose father threatened to kill her for her dating a Han boyfriend. A large portion of the Hui ethnicity are Muslims. The father allegedly told the girl that “killing you would violate Han Chinese laws but I would be celebrated as a hero by my Muslim brothers.” The mobilization to support the girl reinforced the sense of urgency felt by those dreading an Islamic encroachment into Chinese social values, further energizing the opposition to the proposed regulation.

For many commentators who piled on the topic, the invocation of Marx can be purely a strategic choice: citing the Party’s ideological idol in opposition to a governmental initiative seems politically acceptable as a “kind reminder” of its communist roots. It also speaks to an important aspect of this online revolt: the grievance is directed as much towards Islam the religion as it is to state favoritism and incompetence, hence the almost “scolding” element in the online criticism that’s designed to “alert” the Party of deviating from its “true color”.

Such “alerts” can be at times very specific, tracing the proposal to powerful religious figures that are able to influence Party policy. The message is that those figures, mullahs who wear governmental hats, have swayed a Party which so far have resisted religious interference into its rule of the country. The curious Taoist support of the campaign, which won applause online, only adds to the perception that the clause was created solely to block criticism of Islam.

A few commentators are careful in making a distinction between religion and ethnicity, separating what they consider religious prejudice, which for them is a false concept, and ethnic prejudice, which is much less defensible. They maintain that every person, no matter of what ethnic lineage, has the freedom to believe or not believe in a religion. It is also in line with the kind of thinking long advanced by prominent scholars such as Ma Rong, who advocates the “depoliticizing” of ethnic “group” identities and the uphold of “individual” identities. He believes that group-based preferential policies are making ethnic identities more acutely felt, and should be replaced by individual-based welfare policies blind to a person’s ethnicity.

Not everybody has patience for nuanced distinctions. This wave of opposition to the regulation also brings to the foreground some of the more disturbing elements in Chinese online discussions about the Muslim community. Blanket derogatory terms such as “cult” and “green cancer,” a term that derives from the religion’s symbolic color, are tossed around casually in conversations, which triggers the exact kind of worry that is probably behind the draft measure. “Demonizing Muslims will undermine ethnic unity in our country,” Prof. Ding Long declares in his article, accusing people like Xi Wuyi of “exaggerating the threat of Islam.”

Yet online sentiments cannot be easily tuned down by voices calling for more open dialogues, as developments overseas continue to feed into that narrative, with even the President of the United States signing off a Muslim travel ban. Violent events in countries like Sweden and France, which further fuels anti-Muslim rhetoric globally, were quick to find their way into Chinese cyberspace. The memory of the bloody event that occurred to Charlie Hebdo editors, also an aggression against expressions, only intensifies that sense of threat. In this regard, Marx’s other important teaching, the camaraderie among fellow proletariat brothers and sisters that transcends ethnicity and national borders, is less important to Chinese netizens eager to contain Islamic influence in the country. Their intense insecurity with Islam, energized by both a love for secular freedom and a frustration with unfair state policy, will likely shape religious and ethnic relationships in China for years to come.

The River


A great river flows, its waves wide and calm
Wind blows through rice flowers, bearing fragrance to both shores
My family lives right there by the water
I am used to hearing the punters’ call
And seeing the white sails on the boats

This is the beautiful Motherland
This is the place where I grew up
On this expansive stretch of land
Everywhere there is wonderful scenery to behold 

How flower-like are the young ladies
How big and determined are the hearts of the young men
In order to usher in a new era
They’ve woken the sleeping mountains
And changed the face of the river

This is the heroic Motherland
This is the place where I grew up
On this stretch of ancient land
There is youthful vigor everywhere

Great mountains, great rivers, a great land
Every road is broad and wide
If friends come, there is fine wine
But if the wolves come
Those who greet them have hunting guns

This is the mighty Motherland
This is the place where I grew up
On this stretch of warm and friendly land
There is peaceful sunshine everywhere

(Translation from Wikipedia)

In a University of Hong Kong (HKU) auditorium full of attentive listeners, a question was asked about “the first song in your life that inspires you”.  “Frank Sinatra’s My Way,” answered one man sitting in the front row. “What about you?” “It should be a song that senior students taught me in college, My Motherland,” said the man next to him.

The one asking the question was Lung Ying-tai, one of the best-known Taiwanese intellectuals of today and a former Culture Minister. The occasion was a “Hall of Wisdom” lecture she was giving about the power of songs in transcending time and history. The second respondent was Dr. Albert Chau, Vice President of Hong Kong Baptist University, a scholar who attended HKU in the 1970s. The song he mentioned was from the soundtrack of a 1956 Chinese movie that portrayed the China’s heroic efforts at the Battle of Triangle Hill in the Korean War.

The answer acted like an electric current that electrified the air in the room. The chemistry in the atmosphere suddenly became interesting. There was giggling in the audience. Lung, seemingly unaware of the song, asked how it sounded like. After a brief, awkward moment of silence, a few in the audience began to sing, in a hesitant, humming voice. “A great river flows, its waves wide and calm…” More people joined in and in no time it became a resounding chorus. “This is the beautiful Motherland. This is the place where I grew up.” On the stage, Lung watched the scene with curiosity. She laughed profusely, and then encouraged everyone to clap for those who were singing. The episode ended in a largely friendly atmosphere.

Two months later, when video clips of this exchange emerged on the Internet, those involved, particularly Lung Ying-tai, found themselves in a much less congenial environment.

“A mysterious embarrassment”(谜之尴尬), as nationalist outlets such as Guancha described the incident. Other outlets were even more blatant: “a slap on the face.”(打脸) They presented Lung’s response as a sign of humiliation rather than just humorous play-along, implying that Chau’s choice of the song served as a direct refute of Lung’s preaching.

In recent years, some people on the mainland have grown increasingly critical of Lung’s signature message of a liberal humanism, the elevation of fundamental human values ABOVE political disputes. Her declaration of “a disinterest in the rise of a great nation but a deep concern for the dignity of its small civilians” once won her applause across the Taiwan Strait, but has since met with ever stronger pushback. The occasion provides those who detest Lung an opportunity to get it even.

1949: River and Strait

Year 1949 was a defining watershed of Chinese history and of the fate of millions of Chinese families. As the People’s Liberation Army crossed the majestic Yangtze River with thousands of hired junks and pressed against Kuomintang’s last strongholds south of the river bank, Nanjing (the capital) and Shanghai, millions started their humiliating retreat across the Taiwan Strait. The Republic of China, which endured years of gruesome war against the Japanese fascists, was driven to exile not only by the militarily more capable Communists, but more importantly, by the infinite appeal of a People’s Republic serving the starved and embittered mass fed up with Kuomintang’s corrupt rule.

The river of history has diverged, irreversibly, since then. And it became a theme that writers such as Lung, herself the offspring of a Kuomintang official displaced to Taiwan, explore. In her Hong Kong lecture, she mentioned the ancient tunes of Silangtanmu (“The fourth son visiting his mother”) and the tender love songs written by Chen Gexin, a songwriter who earned his reputation in Shanghai in the 1930s. For the generation of Lung’s parents, the songs represented a past and a home that were forever gone. They exposed the wounds of those severed from homeland, and through their soothing tunes, healed the homesick souls.

Lung also touched on other types of songs. Those are songs with an overt political message. Jokingly, she referred to the kind of Kuomintang propaganda songs that she as kid was taught to sing: “Fight the communists! Eradicate Zhu (De) and Mao (Zedong)! Kill the collaborationists!”

There was no ambiguity as to what kind of songs Lung held to be superior. Those that appeal to the fundamental human emotions: the connection between mother and song, the love of men and women, are especially powerful when they imply a kind of subtle protest against the dehumanizing force of politics. It is in this line of thinking that she brought up the tragic fate of Chen Gexin, the songwriter whose songs warmed the tortured hearts of so many drifters in Taiwan, who himself remained in the mainland and was later sent to a labor camp like many of his peers in art and literary circles. It is seen as a case of politics devouring those who were simply being human, which for an intellectual like Long, represents what’s fundamentally wrong about political struggles.(Though there is evidence of Chen collaborating with the Japanese during the war.)

Her most famous book in the Chinese-speaking world, Great River and Sea: 1949, expands on essentially the same theme. By recreating the separations and suffering caused by the turmoil of the last year of the Chinese civil war, she tries to transcend party politics that have defined the dynamics between both sides of the Taiwan Strait by appealing to the shared values of family, filial piety and love. “Is there really a winner of the civil war? Everyone is a loser in that war. And I’m proud of being a loser’s daughter,” she writes in the preface of the book.

This intellectual tendency may explain why, at that very moment, Lung was caught a bit off guard. “My motherland” surely doesn’t fit into her category of humanizing songs above politics. But she might have also underestimated the song’s transcending power, a different kind. In her written response to the controversy, published by Southern Weekly, she admitted that her first reaction when hearing Chau’s answer was that “this was a Red Song (红歌)”, which implies cheap communist propaganda. Even though she maintained that she immediately understood what Chau meant by bringing up the song, a reminiscence of a special period in contemporary Hong Kong history, when young students looked at socialist China as an inspiring alternative to corrupt colonial rule, she somewhat downplayed the significance of the spontaneous chorus in the auditorium, suggesting that it would be a mistake to try and derive too much from that moment: “The river was just a river.”

The mother nation complex

For Lung’s more serious critics on the mainland, who are willing to give her the credit of handling the situation with grace, her major problem is the almost blind universalism that wipes out any meaning in the country’s historical struggles of the early 20th century. As scholar Liu Yang puts it in his piercing criticism, Lung’s attempt to depoliticize those songs she mentioned in her lecture erases the clear moral values originally imbued in them. “(For something as universal as “death”, there is a difference between the death of a murderer and that of a martyr… Without the sacrifice of the men and women that defend the nation, the tranquility of the river would not have be cherished this much.”

A similar critique can be found about her book on the civil war. It argues that her emphasis of the suffering and the “human cost” of the civil war blurs the historical responsibility of the Kuomintang government and belittles the sacrifice of those who fought in the Chinese revolution, as if it was a value-free natural disaster.

Liu attributes Lung’s intellectual leaning to her “confused” identity: the lack of a fully-grounded national affiliation pushed Taiwanese intellectuals such as Lung to embrace a “supra-national” set of universal values, which allows them to declare themselves “world citizens” and build their cultural confidence around the assumed “end of history”: they are on the right side of a lineal progression towards a liberal end-state. But the “return of history” in recent years and the reemergence of religious, racial and class strife globally make her ahistorical treatment of themes such as human suffering “embarrassingly inadequate.”

World citizen or not, it is pretty clear that at the very moment, there was a discernible disconnection between Lung Ying-tai and Albert Chau. The song got lost in the narrative that Lung painstakingly constructed at the lecture and became a disruptive outlier. And Lung’s dismissal of its significance not only met with criticism from the mainland, but also invited a pushback from within Hong Kong.

Even though Prof. Chau himself never came out to explain his choice of the song, those who are familiar with the Hong Kong of his student years provided their interpretation of what happened. They believe that by invoking the song, Chau was paying tribute to the “Fiery Red years” of the 1970s, where young students of Hong Kong, disappointed by the corrupt colonial rule of the British, turned to the Motherland for inspiration. The northward affection was a combination of a successful “united front” campaign waged by the communist government on the mainland and a genuine longing for a national identity that brought pride and dignity. Commentators brought up almost forgotten historical events such as the 1971 Hong Kong student protest against the United States for attempting to “return” the Diaoyu Island to Japan along with Okinawa and the subsequent tour of a Hong Kong student delegation in the mainland, carefully organized by the Chinese government to impress them with the achievements of the socialist state (in the middle of the Cultural Revolution). The tour successfully ignited the imagination of Hong Kong’s youth, still under the influence of leftist student movements everywhere in the world, about the possibilities of a socialist alternative to capitalist colonialism. In its aftermath, the Hong Kong student movement decisively oriented itself to the motherland, and one of its major achievements was the establishment of Chinese as official language in the British colony.

As a University of Hong Kong student of the class of 1979, Chow was possibly involved in the last wave of student activism of that era. Later on, a booming local economy and the mainland’s abandonment of a revolutionary position by itself would mute much of the movement’s core appeal.

Almost 40 years later, the buried memory of that decade surfaced again on the Chinese Internet with a new found relevance. When Luwei Rose Luqiu, a well-known former TV journalist from Hong Kong, cited those events in a Weibo post, she clearly took aim at a more recent sentiment on the mainland: “Some of those students were disheartened after what happened in 1989. The rest of them were considered ‘unpatriotic’ for their participation in the Umbrella Movement. But they continued to love the country by their own principles.” There is bitterness in such response: when netizens and media on the mainland hailed Chau’s act of national solidarity, they were probably unaware of where his national imagination came from and whether it’s identical with what’s broadly understood as patriotism by the mainlanders, just as the democratic ideals manifested in Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement were widely perceived as separatist impulses on the mainland. Other commentators built on Luqiu’s historical recollection and recounted the continued tradition of Hong Kong’s college students to orient themselves toward the motherland in the 1990s. At that time, students organized reading groups that brought in high school students to discuss the future of Hong Kong and of the motherland, “reading for the progress of history and the rise of China.”

This is a kind of complex that Lung Ying-tai probably didn’t fully grasp. The moment she branded “My Motherland” a “red song”, she underestimated the emotional appeal of those simple lyrics. As people pointed out, “red songs” typically referred to those created during the Communist Party’s Yan’an years (when it was a rebel government conducting socialist experiments in a mountainous enclave) and later during the Cultural Revolution. In both periods, songs were often overtly propagandist, unabashedly praising the Party or Mao himself. But “My Motherland” is different. Written in year 1956 as an interlude in a Korean War themed movie, its expansive lyrics transcend the war and the politics of its time. Rather, it speaks to the very fundamental aspiration of the Chinese people, who at that time, had barely emerged from the decades of turmoil and humiliation that preceded the founding of the People’s Republic. The folk song style (which the song writer borrowed from popular tunes of the early 1950s), the idyllic image of the scenery along the “big river” (which was based on the Yangtze River) and the overall mood of confidence and pride expressed in the song reflect the Zeitgeist of a newly built country finally able to defend itself. Despite the disastrous years that followed, the spirit of the song never stopped inspiring those who believe in national rejuvenation.

On Weibo, people also reflected on the ironic fate of the song in China, further complicating the categorization of this communist era oeuvre as pure propaganda. As one commentator recalled, the song, along with others that were not blatantly “revolutionary” in their messages, were banned during the Culture Revolution. Its creators, including the director of the Korean War movie, were persecuted as “Rightist elements”.


All those nuances were either lost or muted in that October encounter in Hong Kong. Lung Ying-tai could not immediately “get” Albert Chau’s spontaneous expression of his affection for the “motherland”. Nor was the complexity of a Hong Kong professor’s national aspirations fully understood by a mainland audience who hailed it as a rejection of Lung’s universalist message. Rather unfortunately, Luqiu’s account was met with another round of bickering about the legitimacy of the Umbrella Movement, a sign of deep-rooted division between today’s Hong Kong and the Mainland. The situation made some lament the “lack of shared assumptions for dialogue”.

If history is indeed a river, it seems that the people of Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China have each drifted on different rivers for too long. Even with the best intention and an openness for conversation, they find themselves unable to step into the same river anymore.

Subculture Hegemony


Try to think of great subcultures worldwide, those surrounding Japanese anime and Norwegian black metal might come to mind.  After January 21, 2016, you might as well put Chinese online forum in that pantheon.

On that date, tens of thousands of users from mainland China logged onto Facebook and “occupied” the comment sections of the pages of major Taiwanese news organizations and politicians to express their disapproval of Taiwan independence.

If as a non-Chinese speaker you are confused by references to “Diba”, “D8” or “Tieba” in news reports about this incident, it means you are normal. By definition, a subculture tries to construct an alternative identity that differentiates itself from the one bestowed by the parent culture. It often has its own language, symbols and rituals that may be unintelligible to an outsider. Not surprisingly, it took many usually Internet-savvy Chinese observers some time to figure out what was going on. Equally dazzled were the Taiwanese targets of this campaign.

Getting some basic understanding of that subculture has become somewhat imperative not just because it injects itself so forcefully into the high politics of the Taiwan Strait this time. Its permeation into the daily discourse of Chinese society and the favorable attention it gets from China’s propaganda machine warrant a deeper look into its root and temperaments.

Our protagonist this time is called “Diba”, a keyword-based online forum (or “Tieba” as they are known in Chinese) hosted by China’s largest search engine Baidu. It was at first just a regular Tieba dedicated to a mediocre Chinese soccer player, set up in 2004. Over the years, it has gone through major transformations that make it outstanding among the hundreds of thousands of Tiebas that exist, boasting a membership of 20 million, which easily dwarfs any other such forums in the Chinese cyberspace.

One of such transformations is to go beyond its designated “keyword”, “Li Yi”, the soccer player who said stupid things such as “my skills resemble those of Henry”, the French superstar. Since Henry was fondly referred to by fans as Henry the Great (Henri le Grand), members of the Tieba jokingly dubbed Li “the Emperor”, hence the forum’s nickname “Diba” (“Di” means emperor in Chinese). Participants of the forum initially gathered to make fun of Li Yi, but then quickly extended their sarcastic talents to whatever issues that attracted their attention.

As a recent analysis of the Diba phenomenon puts it, the forum gradually transcends its namesake and is increasingly organized around a unique discursive strategy: a veiled, satirical way of badmouthing someone that disguises itself as compliments. It’s the Chinese equivalent of singing hymn to Justin Bieber. The strategy also has a class signature to it: members of the group self-deprecatingly refer to themselves as “Diaosi” (another play with the pronunciation of “Di” but has the meaning of pubic hair), which is considered a label of those from a lower social class. Rather than avoiding a label like this, participants, mainly young males, embrace it proudly. Furthermore, they invented a host of terms applying to the opposite social class, such as “Gaofushuai” (“tall, rich, good-looking”), with very little resentment embedded in them. Instead, self-branded “Diaosis” use them with humorous resignation, adopting a posture of self-disarming capitulation. Both “Diaosi” and “Gaofushuai”, among other Diba-originated words, have find their place in modern Chinese language, a sign of the subculture’s ability to reciprocate its influence to the parent culture.

Why would a loosely organized online community so self-involved in constructing subtle jokes suddenly wake up to a nationalist call to confront the so-called Taiwan independence force?

Events in January alone could not fully explain such an eruption of enthusiasm, although they do serve as a trigger. Prior to the presidential election in Taiwan on January 16, public sentiments on the mainland were influenced by an agitator coming, ironically, from Taiwan. Since late 2015, a third-tier Taiwanese singer and former TV show host, Huang An, had been running a personal campaign against “Taiwan independence” by crucifying fellow Taiwanese celebrities in front of the mainland authority and public. His approach was clumsy and tacky, at one point involving holding a banner in front of the mainland’s Taiwan affairs office with anti-independence slogans. Yet it was also effective in its own way. Many Taiwanese pop stars named and shamed by Huang saw their business plans in the mainland disrupted for appearing to be sympathetic to the independence cause. Huang’s motivation for such uncalled-for agitation is unclear, as his behavior alienates the Taiwanese society, effectively burning the bridge back to his home market. Some conjectured that he was just trying to camouflage his practice of advertising for dubious health products in the mainland with disingenuous patriotic posturing. What’s more interesting is the mainland authority’s willingness to entertain such behavior and watch Huang lynch Taiwanese public figures with the mainland’s ultra-sensitive political taboo as a weapon.

Things got a bit heated up when in November 2015 Huang set his eyes on Chou Tzu-yu, a young Taiwanese pop star who had barely started her performing career in South Korea. Huang regards some of her acts in public, such as waving the Taiwanese flag in a video clip, as reflecting an “independence tendency”. But what finally agitated Huang into a full attack mode, as he later claimed, was Taiwan’s pro-independence media, which used Chou as an upholder of the Taiwanese identity and crowned her “the light of Taiwan”. The unfortunate 16-year-old saw herself sucked into a nasty swirl propelled by two mutually reinforcing forces: one that sees Taiwanese independence as an absolute, non-negotiable taboo and would err on the side of caution by eliminating any possible association with it, and the other that amplifies any conscious or unconscious expression of one’s own identity as a political statement. The result is a string of cancellations of her appearance in mainland TV shows.

Apparently under tremendous pressure, Chou released a pre-recorded apology on the Internet on January 15. In the VCR, people saw a pale, distressed girl wearing a black turtleneck. She read from a piece of paper with a blank face, saying she “felt proud being a Chinese” and expressing her regret for irritating the public from “both sides of the Strait”. In the end, she announced that she would suspend all her activities in China to “reflect on her mistake”. She bowed to the camera.

People on both sides of the Strait were indeed irritated, but for very different reasons. For those watching in Taiwan, the VCR was an appalling scene of a 16-year-old being politically bullied and humiliated publicly. Some of them vented their anger on a mainland TV star who joked about Chou’s stuttering performance in the video by flooding his Facebook post with criticism.

This became the detonator of a massive mobilization campaign at the Diba, where its millions of members vowed to give the other side a lesson.

On Jan 20, the Long March began. According to a first-hand account from a participant, “conscription” ads started to appear on the Internet asking people to join numerous “columns” formed to execute the campaign. There were groups responsible for translating materials into foreign languages so that “foreigners can be sympathetic to the cause”. Others were in charge of all the Photoshopping and graphic design of “pic-emojis”, which became the main ammunition of the campaign. Leaders of the mission set down rules that were at once militantly disciplinary and comically naive. There were rules about not using dirty language, and also those barring participants from using images of the top leader. People were asked to differentiate separatists from “the Taiwanese people.” You can be merciless to the former, but should be friendly to the latter.

The landing was set at 19:00 sharp. Participants were asked to register at Facebook, something many of them had never done until that very moment. Together with Twitter, YouTube and Google, Facebook is blocked in mainland China by the infamous Great Firewall. To get over the wall, netizens had to use VPN services, a cumbersome undertaking. This did not stop them from parachuting into Facebook en masse. In no time, comment sections under the posts of Apple Daily, Sanli News and Taiwan’s president-elect Tsai Ing-wen were filled with seemingly mass produced contents: patriotic poems, communist party slogans, pic-emojis, and pictures of food.

Some people on the mainland were repulsed by the shallowness of the message sent by the young patriots. Others laughed at their lack of erudition. By reciting textbooks and acting as if they were “educating” the other side, theirs was essentially a message of rejection: refusing to understand the aspects of the Taiwan society that are simply alien to a mainland mind. This is not an awfully unfair characterization. The “class struggle” mark on the guiding principles of the campaign was too glaring to not notice. The idea that people can be easily identified as “separatists” and “brothers”, and should be treated in completely different ways betrays the mindset from another era, a mindset that lingers in middle school textbooks and gets passed along to the millennials. Even though “rules” bar participants from using dirty words, they found other creative ways to intimidate their perceived opponents. Calling them “independence dogs” seemed to be perfectly fine for most of the Facebook crusaders.

Among the participants of the pageant, there is a visible tendency to approach things merely from a materialistic point of view, as if the Taiwanese people could be wooed by pictures of fancy cuisines or shiny skyscrapers. To be fair, this might be just a response to the caricature of the mainland by the Taiwanese side: the Taiwan pundits’ misrepresentation of the mainland as still living in the poverty stricken era of Mao hurt the pride of many across the Strait. But the notion that economic power trumps everything, and that a superior economic position is somehow equivalent to a superior value system is not only logically flawed, but also disconcerting when a large number of Chinese youth seem to take it for granted.

When the battalions of China’s young Facebook warriors were armed, organized and aligned along such an overarching logic, it is not surprising that their narratives were full of patriarchal metaphors wherein Taiwan was the “younger brother” and the “son”, even when they were showing good will.

Military terms notwithstanding, it would be a mistake to see these youngsters as an organized force answering the call of the Party. Their tone and style set them apart from the more uptight “online patrols” the Party dispatches to enforce its political creed. This is probably the most intriguing aspect of this Facebook saga: no one, left or right, seemed to be prepared for such a massive expression of patriotism, especially from this corner of the Internet. Even though official outlets such as the People’s Daily’s WeChat account spoke highly of the newfound patriotic zeal in the Chinese millennials and the Communist Youth League came close to giving it a virtual standing ovation, their moves were more like trying to catch up to a novelty they were (pleasantly) surprised of. Conservatives were also busy helping the millennials fend off attacks from the liberals, who immediately dismissed the kids as online “Red Guards”. Unfortunately, the liberals, who are traditionally more internet savvy than their rivals on the left, seemed to be as confused this time. Red Guard is clearly a misnomer: there is no indication that those youngsters are violent fanatics. So is “little pink”, the supposedly derogatory term coined by the liberals to describe what they consider as “mildly and playfully red”. But those more attuned to online subcultures pointed out that “little pink” was an existing community with very different political leaning.

The failure of existing opinion leaders to recognize, let alone understand, the young kids who jumped over the Great Firewall to bicker with the Taiwanese, is indicative of the generational gap between the old order on the internet and the emerging new. Cautious observers took a more detached position, without cheering or condemning the episode. They considered it a rare chance for young people from across the Strait to have direct dialogue about an issue that had proved thorny for an older generation.

Interestingly, this is hardly the first time that the Diba crowd collectively expressed their political stance through post bombardment. But their previous feats were obscured by the fact that they happened largely within the underground world of subcultures. A review of the ten-plus-year history of the forum shows that at least in 11 previous cases, they “carpet bombed” other forums for views they did not approve. Nationalism, albeit an unsophisticated version,  underlines 4 (out of the 11) such campaigns. In one case, they paralyzed a Tieba dedicated to a Taiwanese pop star for her disrespect of Nanjing massacre victims; in another, they overwhelmed a Korean singer’s forum because he allegedly beat up a Chinese pregnant woman. One analysis attributes this spontaneous airing of nationalism with the forum’s soccer origin. It is said that modern sports, particularly soccer, is closely associated with nationalistic sentiments. As Orwell once famously put, “There cannot be much doubt that the whole thing is bound up with the rise of nationalism — that is, with the lunatic modern habit of identifying oneself with large power units and seeing everything in terms of competitive prestige.”

There are others who read the Diba’s increasingly patriotic vibe as a result of the intentional guidance from its board managers, who, in interviews with the media, had indicated their interest in connecting the forum’s passive-aggressive cynical culture to the more upbeat mainstream discourse as a way to establish its legitimacy. And nationalism provides a perfect shortcut to that connection, given the forum’s largely young and male membership.

From a more macro perspective that locates the ascendence of the Diba subculture in the tectonic plate shift of China’s online opinion geology, the recent incident is a strong signal that the political pendulum of the Chinese internet is swaying momentously to the left after years of domination by liberal values. Insulated from the major battles on Weibo that decided China’s online sentiments in the past few years, the generation that has grown up chatting about ACG in obscure online communities using their own language begins to assert its own political values disregarding rules set by any established camps. The fact that they climbed over China’s notorious internet firewall to wage a patriotic campaign highlights the rebellion/allegiance contradiction in their action. The later shutdown of their VPN services reflects the authority’s uneasiness in handling this new force, and the intrinsic difficulty in co-opting it.

At this moment, it is hard to predict how this impulsive youth subculture would create any lasting political impact. The collective action might just be one of the ways a subculture reasserts and rejuvenates its own distinctive identity. Just like an active volcano, after a major eruption, the community relapsed into its everyday mode of nonsensical jokes and undecipherable jargons. Is it going to belch flames again in the future and occupy the Facebook page of Hillary Clinton, or overwhelm the Twitter account of Shinzo Abe, as some have suggested? Will it go beyond its current role of political taboo enforcer and public opinion vigilante, and adopt the more sophisticated strategies of other online subcultural communities such as Anonymous? Before anyone can clearly see the consequence, the best thing to do is to get familiar with some Diaosi vocabulary.

Further Reading on this Blog: Love Thy Country

You and Me, Ma and Xi

Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, left, shake hands at the Shangri-la Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Singapore. The two leaders shook hands at the start of a historic meeting marking the first top level contact between the formerly bitter Cold War goes since they split amid civil war 66 years ago. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, and Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou, left, shake hands at the Shangri-la Hotel on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2015, in Singapore. The two leaders shook hands at the start of a historic meeting marking the first top level contact between the formerly bitter Cold War goes since they split amid civil war 66 years ago. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)

The ANGLE is in the detail.

Initial response to the historic hand-shake between the two “misters” from across the Taiwan Strait is full of obsession with minute details, sometimes bordered on being excessive: digging up the pronunciation of dish names at the 1993 ice-breaking meeting between the two special envoys from both sides, which set thirty years of bumpy interactions in motion. But symbolism is always a big part of Chinese politics, especially when it comes to language. Up until this moment, reports about the meeting in mainland China are still flecked with quotation marks, which are meticulously put on every reference to political institutions in Taiwan, from the “presidency” to its “legislative yuan”, in lieu of putting “so-called” before each one of them.

“If titles are incorrect, words are not smooth.” The old Chinese saying applies perfectly to the decades of struggle between the Communists and Kuomintang, mainland China and Taiwan. Much of that can be traced through the names they called each other. An excellent piece by Beijing News’s book review section looks back at the 70 years since Chiang Kai-shek invited Mao to the fateful 1945 negotiation that determined China’s destiny right after the end of World War II. They referred to each other as “misters”, and toasted each other with even more amicable terms: “Wansui” (long live). The friendship lasted only for weeks, if not days. Neither side accepted the other’s conditions for peace, and references to each other quickly deteriorated into “gansters” or even “turtle monster”(an innuendo to Chiang’s bald head). Those derogative references lasted until both Mao and Chiang were dead, when new leaderships in Beijing and Taipei decided to set aside their bitter enmity by starting to adopt neutral titles.

It seems that the two parties, after 70 years, returned to their starting point. But for some, using “mister” actually represents a bigger concession from the mainland side, as it shows that the communist leader is willing to park the insistence that the Taiwan leader is but a provincial governor, therefore not an equal counterpart. He is also open enough to the idea of being presented as just “the leader of mainland China”, which in a way “condones the Taiwan authority’s governance of the island.” People are reminded of last year, when Ma proposed to attend the Beijing APEC summit as “leader of an economy”, which was rejected at that time. Small names, big meaning.

Beyond the minutiae, observers on this side of the strait did sense the grand strategic significance of the meeting. “Once the meeting between the two leaders were conceived to be an unreachable ceiling. Now it has become the floor.” Many believe that the precedent creates a new framework for bilateral interaction: a leader-to-leader platform is now possible. To be clear, regular party-to-party communication between the Communist and the KMT has long been re-established. In mainland China, party leader is usually also head of state. So it might give the impression that a top-level Mainland-Taiwan communication channel is already there. But in reality the Chinese head-of-state has never met with a sitting Taiwan president in person. And previous meetings were carefully arranged as strictly “party to party”, a compromise to bypass the tricky status issue. Yet as a Caijing Magazine commentary points out, such an arrangement has the limitation of restricting the mainland’s interlocutor to only the KMT, as Taiwan’s other major party, the Democratic Progressive Party, still has independence written in its charter, an insurmountable obstacle for the mainland to set up friendly party-to-party dialogue. A leader-to-leader platform, argues the article, could overcome Taiwan’s fierce and divisive partisan politics. When they meet, both would represent the political entity (mainland and Taiwan) as a whole, not party interests, which would create the favorable condition for a DPP president of Taiwan to appear at such occasions. With the DPP looking almost set to win the coming election, many people here are seriously predicting eight years of DPP presidency in Taiwan. Creating a precedent for such a summit when it is still possible, therefore, “gives peace a chance” in the following years when cross-strait relationship is going to be tested by unforeseeable events.

The meeting was widely praised across the spectrum in the Chinese cyberspace, a rare situation in today’s highly polarized opinion market. Moreover, many people felt strongly irritated by the CCTV’s clumsy and unnecessary handling of Ma Ying-jeou’s speech (cutting it abruptly after Xi’s).

Much of the overwhelmingly positive sentiment on Chinese social network sites can be attributed to a sense of healing wounds. The tragic and massively violent clash between the communists and Kuomintang costed millions of Chinese their lives, their family and their future. Popular accounts of those years of war and separation, such as Taiwanese writer Long Yingtai’s “Big River, Big Sea: Untold Stories of 1949”, resonate strongly with a public that is beginning to see the deadly partisan struggle as unfortunate, not a vindication of more progressive ideals. The strong public sympathy toward the Kuomintang veterans expressed during the run-up to China’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and a call for their formal recognition by the mainland authority, is a continuation of this sentiment. “Having gone through all the difficulties, the brotherhood remains; When we meet each other, a smile dissolves all our enmity.” (渡尽劫波兄弟在,相逢一笑泯恩仇) The expression appeared in countless articles, posts and commentaries about the Xi-Ma Summit. Or as film director Jia Zhangke puts it on his Weibo account, “The two (leaders) are also old acquaintances separated by mountains,” a theme of his most recent movie that explores separation and reunion.

It should be noted, however, that this sentiment of healing is very much predicated on the coherence of CHINESE history. The struggle between the two parties, and their subsequent split of the nation into two, is seen as a disruption of an otherwise uninterrupted line of historical advancement. In this regard, the hand-shake rejoins a grand national history. But for a part of the Taiwan society that rejects being part of this particular history, and has come to terms with an identity that is natively originated from the Pacific island, the whole affair could feel alienating or, at best, irrelevant.

In Hong Kong, a Shallow Blog of Reconciliation Has Deep Implications


(Image Courtesy of Apple Daily)

“Do Hong Kong people detest all mainlanders? No! Basically, we resent those whom our mainland brothers also resent: the ‘rich rednecks’(土豪), who are loud everywhere they go, have no taste, and are bad-mannered and self-centered.”

This is a quote from a widely read post on WeChat this week which is supposedly written by a Hong Kong author. The post is a response to an earlier incident that has once again rattled the cyberspace in both Hong Kong and mainland China.

On Mar 9, video footage of an act of aggression against innocent passers-by in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong, started to spread on social media. In the video, a group of Hong Kong youngsters, some of them masked, were shown bullying a woman and her little daughter from mainland China, whom they considered “parallel traders.” The little girl was terribly scared while her mother angrily quarreled with the offenders. There are also reports about the same group of bullies going after an old man who later turned out to be a native.

This is just another episode of the ominous drama that has been unfolding in front of the eyes of this country in recent years, from the milk powder frenzy to ugly confrontations at popular shopping locations, where Hong Kong nativists harassed shoppers from mainland China with abusive languages such as “locusts”. Even though many incidents look trivial in the details (some of them concern individual mainlanders’ etiquette in public space), when amplified by print and social media, the collective effect is a rapid alienation of the two communities (mainland and Hong Kong) from each other.

New incidents like the one on Mar 9 only rubs salt in the old wound. Not surprisingly, the Chinese cyberspace is filled with vitriolic comments and abuses that do not deserve much analysis. What interest me more are the spontaneous attempts at reconciliation on social media, which are different from the official posturing and clumsy off-line efforts. Some of such attempts use the usual tactic of distancing the “mainstream Hong Kong society” from the obvious act of extreme, showing evidence that the majority of the Hong Kong public condemns such behaviors. Even though it might be true in this particular case, it has limited effect on mainland Chinese netizens who have long associated the perceived hostility with the Hong Kong society as a whole. Some liberal commentators on Weibo tried to discount the mainlanders’ indignation by challenging them about their reactions to atrocities within the mainland. But such a provocative stance only further agitates those who are rightly offended.

This is when the aforementioned WeChat post appeared. To turn around a prevailing mood of mutual resentment, the author makes use of a story that happened almost in parallel with the bullying incident: a mainland laborer in transit from Singapore was stranded at Hong Kong International Airport after he missed his next flight. The man was so hungry that he pulled out an electric rice cooker from his luggage to cook meal in the middle of the airport. But instead of scolding him for “bad manners”, the local people extended helping hands to him after learning of his misfortune. Building on such a show of goodwill by the Hong Kong public, the author tries to strike a tone of reconciliation by invoking a vague sense of “class solidarity” as is shown by the quote at the beginning. By explaining the resentment in such terms, the author seems to be appealing to a sentiment on the mainland (a general loathing toward the newly rich) that he believes cuts across the Hong Kong/mainland divide. What the post also does, though, is throwing the entire Occupy movement under the bus in order to appease the uneasy mainlanders (“Most of Hong Kong people don’t care about politics. Only a tiny bunch of them gets ‘high’ with such things — and they had all shown up at last year’s Occupy Central activities.”).

If this vague invocation of “class solidarity” is more of a superficial show of goodwill to deflect tension, what it does highlight is the overall absence of such “value outreach” in Hong Kong’s social movements for the past few years.

Actually there have been serious arguments for the Occupy movement to proactively tap into the prevailing moods on the mainland to advance its objectives. In the middle of the intense stand-off last year, author and fellow blogger Joe Studwell wrote on the Financial Times that the movement should try to “resonate with (President Xi Jinping)’s mindset” instead of backing him into a corner. To do so, he argues that the movement should turn its focus to Hong Kong’s “tycoon economy” and the cartels that have been ripping off the ordinary people and strangling competition. He implies that China’s top leader, with his own anti-monopoly sentiments, might be more sympathetic to such a line of campaigning.

I’m not sure if Xi really cares that much about monopoly in Hong Kong. And it is probably too risky for a whole movement to play into the mindset of a single person. Nonetheless, the argument is still refreshing in the sense that it is one of the very few that have stressed the importance for the Hong Kong social movement to connect with the “zeitgeist” on the mainland. But what makes this argument unique also underlines the ironic truth that it is probably very far from a shared idea among the movement’s leaders. The consequence is a missed opportunity in creating real resonance between the two societies that could have made the movement much more politically potent for those in power.

In her in-depth piece tracing the intellectual evolution of both Taiwan’s Sunflower movement and Hong Kong’s Occupy movement, commentator Zhang Jieping recounts how, over the course of time, a set of complex forces re-shaping both societies’ socio-economic orders get reduced to a simplistic, politically charged concept of the threatening “China factors.” And by over-emphasizing the “China factors” in a multi-facet movement that is as much about resisting the erosion of local  governance systems as about fighting an unjust domestic economic order, activists run the risk of alienating a constituency that could have proved helpful for their struggles, as authorities in China increasingly need to accommodate public opinion in decision making. That might be the price of lumping individual milk powder shoppers together with power-wielding oligarchs.

Throughout the Occupy movement that garnered the entire world’s attention, public opinion on the mainland was distinctively characterized by a deep “antipathy” if not outright hostility. Even if much of it can be attributed to the heavy censorship and biased coverage by mainstream Chinese media, it is still disheartening to see the movement failing big in relating to an audience that had been equally disgruntled by political corruption, economic inequality and social injustices.

As the Marxist philosopher Slavoj Zizek has reminded the Hong Kong students, “Without economic rights, without social justice and solidarity, a ballot is merely a fetish.” Even if class solidarity might be just a myth, a value-based alliance is still worth exploring for those who truly care about the future of both societies. At least some mainland netizens are making efforts in this direction.



Milk Powder Nation

This week, a Hong Kong judge destabilized two fault lines deep in China’s national psyche with just one comment, causing earthquakes in the Chinese internet space with far-reaching aftershocks. As the Standard reports, Fan Ling court principal magistrate Bernadette Woo Huey-fang lashed out at parallel traders for smuggling infant formula from Hong Kong, and called the mainlanders’ reluctance to buy China-made milk powder a “national shame.”

Her comments definitely touched a raw nerve with a society already ultra-sensitive about the safety of its food. Ever since the first tainted milk powder scandal in 2008, the Chinese public’s confidence in the country’s dairy products has virtually collapsed and never fully recovered. In that incident, thousands of young children were sickened by infant formula laced with melamine, an industrial chemical added by producers to boost “protein” readings of their products. As a result of this and many other food scares, every new scandal will cause a heated national venting of discontent, which increasingly takes its target at the government. Early last year, the public debate about McDonald’s selling expired meat in China took an unusual turn when voices sympathetic to the American fast food chains started to challenge mainstream media’s “unfair” treatment of these companies. The commentators turned their fire toward the government, which they thought should be held accountable for not fulfilling its supervisory role over the Shanghai-based Chinese company that supplied the expired meat to McDonald’s. The debate marked a dismantling of the dominant nationalistic narrative that “foreign companies,” instead of domestic regulators, are to blame for such food scandals.

Not surprisingly, the Hong Kong judge’s comment unleashed another round of venting. Under the Weibo post by “Headline News,” a popular online news account with more than 30 million followers, the thousands of comments overwhelmingly shared the sentiment of the judge, with some going even further by claiming that there are too many national shames to give a damn. Serious commentators used the opportunity to deepen the discussion into a questioning of China’s “national strength:” The public’s insecurity about milk powder is a reflection of their lack of confidence in the country’s competence in general.

What the judge probably did not expect was the fact that she inadvertently stumbled on another fault line that has been very shaky since last year. Just when Chinese netizens were airing their disappointment with food safety, another line of questioning started to develop. “It is more shameless (for the Hong Kong government) to set restrictions for people to buy safe milk powder.” This came from comments picked up by BBC Chinese. Apparently it was referring to the quota system that the Hong Kong government set up in 2013 in response to a public outcry against mainlanders buying up powdered formula. Hong Kong parents complained that it was depriving their own babies of the access to this crucial product. Under the quota system, individuals leaving Hong Kong are allowed to carry no more than 1.8 kg of milk powder (roughly two cans), or they may face penalty and even jail time. A commentator at Southern Metropolis Daily echoed the sentiment of the BBC comment and questioned the value of the quota system itself, claiming that a “new equilibrium” of milk powder supply had been reached in Hong Kong under which the needs of both the Hongkongese and mainlanders could be met without restrictions. But other commentators’ concerns went way beyond the quota system per se. For them, a general anti-mainland tendency in Hong Kong should draw more attention, and this milk powder incident can easily be used to lend power to political oppositions to the mainland.

“We should not allow those who advocate ‘Hong Kong independence’ to use ‘anti-smuggling’ as a camouflage,” an op-ed on the pro-mainland Ta Kung Pao proclaims.