If you look at any thread about Trump, Islam or immigration on a Chinese social media platform these days, it’s impossible to avoid encountering the term baizuo, or literally, the ‘white left’. It first emerged about two years ago, and yet has quickly become one of the most popular derogatory descriptions for Chinese netizens to discredit their opponents in online debates.
So what does ‘white left’ mean in the Chinese context, and what’s behind the rise of its (negative) popularity? It might not be an easy task to define the term, for as a social media buzzword and very often an instrument for ad hominem attack, it could mean different things for different people. A thread on “why well-educated elites in the west are seen as naïve “white left” in China” on Zhihu, a question-and-answer website said to have a high percentage of active users who are professionals and intellectuals, might serve as a starting point.
The question has received more than 400 answers from Zhihu users, which include some of the most representative perceptions of the ‘white left’. Although the emphasis varies, baizuo is used generally to describe those who “only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”…
The term first became influential amidst the European refugee crisis, and Angela Merkel was the first western politician to be labelled as a baizuo for her open-door refugee policy. Hungary, on the other hand, was praised by Chinese netizens for its hard line on refugees, if not for its authoritarian leader. Around the same time another derogatory name that was often used alongside baizuo was shengmu (圣母) – literally the ‘holy mother’ – which according to its users refers to those who are ‘overemotional’, ‘hypocritical’ and ‘have too much empathy’. The criticisms of baizuo and shengmu soon became an online smear campaign targeted at not only public figures such as J. K. Rowling and Emma Watson, but also volunteers, social workers and all other ordinary citizens, whether in Europe or China, who express any sympathy with international refugees…
The anti-baizuo discourse in Chinese social media gained stronger momentum during the US presidential election campaign. If criticisms of the ‘white left’ in the context of the refugee crisis were mainly about disapproval of ‘moralist humanitarianism’ mixed with Islamophobia, they became politically more elaborate as Chinese critics of the ‘white left’ discovered Donald J. Trump, whom they both identify with and take inspirations from… Trump was taken as the champion of everything the ‘white left’ were against, and baizuo critics naturally became his enthusiastic supporters.
It is funny. Donald Trump is a threat to Chinese hegemony. He is not somebody the Chinese can push around. But notice how K-strategists recognize each other, and respect each other innately, even across national boundaries.
Pragmatism with an emphasis on self-responsibility seems to be the ideology of our post-ideological times. It is, in UK prime minister Theresa May’s words, ‘living within our means’. This is combined with a general indifference towards race issues, or even worth, with certain social Darwinist beliefs that some races are superior to others, leading many mainland Chinese netizens to dismiss struggles against structural discriminations as naïve, pretentious or demanding undeserved privileges.
Everyone recognizes that something is changing. It is K-selection in the air, but for now only a few are in the know.
This ridicule is devastating to leftist psychologies. You can see it in the article, which tries to argue that it is ridiculous, and may be a government sponsored program to deceive everyone. Surely lots of people cannot be laughing at the leftists.
For leftists to see an out-group, making fun of them in a way that will make their in-group view them as inferior is a great amygdala trigger. They are designed to appease the out-group to gain favor, while maintaining their assumed superiority among their in-group. They are not designed to be ridiculed by outsiders, in such a way that will make their own view them as inferior too.
This needs to be promoted throughout the entire alt-right, and we should begin disparaging leftists by saying, “as the Chinese call them, the White Left.”
This would also indicate that r/K may have a fertile ground in the K-selected East, if only we can get it translated and seeded there.
Clearly I will have to look into that.