Sunday, May 21, 2017

What do Chinese net users think of the white left?

If a Chinese net user wants to insult their opponent they are likely to use the derogatory term baizuo which means "white left." What do they mean by this?

According to one source:
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”.

Why would ordinary Chinese people dislike the Western left so much? Here is the reason given:
The stigmatization of the ‘white left’ is driven first and foremost by Chinese netizens’ understanding of ‘western’ problems. It is a symptom and weakness of the Other.

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’.

Many Chinese on social media came to identify Hillary Clinton with the white left and so supported Donald Trump in the American election. When one public intellectual, Rao Yi, took the opposing view,
An overwhelming majority of Zhihu users thought that Rao had only proved that he was typical of the ‘white left’: biased, elitist, ignorant of social reality and constantly applying double standards.

The Chinese seem aware that a modern liberal politics is suicidal:
According to Baidu Trends, one of the most related keywords to baizuo was huimie: “to destroy”. Articles with titles such as ‘the white left are destroying Europe’ were widely circulated.

To understand why the Chinese might reject the white left so firmly, it helps to consider moral foundations theory. This is a theory popularised by Professor Jonathan Haidt. Based on research into different cultures around the world, it was found that there are six basic moral foundations:

1. The care/harm foundation: the focus here is on maximising individual care and minimising harm, protecting the vulnerable.

2. The fairness foundation: not cheating the system, people rewarded according to their contributions.

3. The loyalty/betrayal foundation: being loyal to our tribe/team (including patriotism).

4. The authority/subversion foundation: respecting the authority or hierarchy necessary to preserve social order.

5. The sanctity/degradation foundation: protecting a sense of what is hallowed or sacred in institutions and ideals.

6. Liberty/oppression: not wanting to be dominated/bullied by a tyrant.

What Haidt found was that Western liberals are very strong on the first foundation (and also to a degree the sixth) but are not very committed to the others. Traditionalists, in contrast, were found to hold all six foundations in equal regard.

If, then, you are a Chinese net user, who is used to taking all six moral foundations into account, you are likely to perceive the white left negatively. You will see them putting all the emphasis on the first foundation (care/harm) - hence the criticism of the white left as being "hengmu:" overemotional, hypocritical empathisers. Similarly, the lack of emphasis on fairness (as proportionality) on the left leads to the criticism by the Chinese of the support by the white left for free riders. And, finally, the lack of a concern for the loyalty foundation leads the white left open to the accusation by the Chinese of destroying their own tradition.


  1. It's heartening that the Chinese can see through the western liberal nonsense. The next couple of decades are going to be crucial to the possibility of civilisational survival and it's essential that there should be at least one great power offering an example of a society that actually wants to survive.

  2. Moral Foundations Theory has no relevance to Chinese culture which is based upon hard headed Confucianism. In order to understand Chinese and do business with them you need to understand that they do not think like Western people and cannot be understood in western terms. They have their own philosophy and culture which has been, for almost 3 thousand years, been based upon the teachings of Confucius. The latter is based upon practical morality and not abstractions. Without a concept of good and evil, Confucius teachings are in essence about filial piety, kinship, loyalty and righteousness, group orientation, hierarchy, age and tradition.

    The Chinese regard western liberals as losers which is an entirely correct view, losers being exactly what they are. A Chinese web user does not think about the six moral foundations you list. They think only of what is good for me, my family and my tribe in the practical and factual areas.

    1. Moral foundations theory isn't intended to describe particular cultures but to see if the moral beliefs of a wide variety of cultures can be delineated into a common pattern. Even based on your own description, the Chinese beliefs do fit into some of Haidt's moral foundations. Filial piety and kinship fit into the loyalty foundation. Age and hierarchy into the authority foundation.

      Moral foundations theory is very useful at the moment for us because liberals have narrowed down the Western moral foundation so much - it helps us to see beyond the current moral template of liberalism. It opens up the moral horizons of Westerners, so to speak.

    2. The belief in family is key. This ensures the protection, in general, of the truly vulnerable.

  3. Actually, Jon Haidt found that liberals support the first two, harm/caring, and fairness (interpreted as equality not proportionality), but ignored 3, 4, and 5.

    1. My understanding is that he changed this (I'd have to go back to the last part of his book). He decided to make fairness about proportionality and then added the liberty/oppression foundation. But I could be wrong on this - happy to stand corrected if so.

    2. Only a liberal would interpret equalty of outcome as fairness.

    3. "Equality of outcome" is a characteristic of Leftism: e.g., Socialism, Marxism, Communism, etc.

  4. I would argue Haidt's work is outdated and in need of revision. Liberals valuing just 1 and 6 describes the white Liberals in the 1990's and early 2000's. Today, white Liberals value rule 1 and rule 1 alone. White Liberals today are quite willing to violate rule 6 by becoming tyrants themselves (e.g. hate speech laws) if they deem it necessary to protect a group of people they see as vulnerable (going back to rule 1).

    1. Anon, I would have to re-read Haidt's commentary to be more certain of my response, but I very much see your point. It's difficult today to see liberals as really defending the "demos" against a "tyrant" (though some do see Trump, in a feverish imaginative way, as someone who wants to become dictator). Liberals mostly have contempt for the "demos" - define themselves in opposition to it whilst supporting a managerial elite. And, yes, liberal figures like Merkel are moving increasingly toward repression of dissent.

    2. Liberals have never really changed. They always intended to impose their beliefs on everyone else. They want Utopia and Utopia implies totalitarianism.

    3. They also want 'Utopia' no matter what the cost in blood and treasure (of someone else, of course) -- WRT the cost in lives alone, Stalin and Mao each made Hitler look like a choirboy.
      Their present attempt to make 'Utopia' is going on right now in Venezuela, and the Leftist MSM is VERY quiet about it.