Like most of America, I was devastated on the morning of Wednesday, November 9th 2016. The impossible happened. The United States elected a KKK endorsed rapist to the most powerful position in this country. As a minority, I was horrified; and as a woman, I was absolutely disgusted.
Ill with a hangover and still in a state of shock, I rolled over in bed and reached for my phone. I had a slew of frustrated and hopeless texts from friends around the states. My Facebook feed was awash in anger, denial and filled with dispute. I opened my WeChat account to find…
“I saw that Trump won, Mary! You must be so happy to have such a charming and charismatic president in office, right?”
What? I had to do a double take. Did my Chinese friend just describe Trump as a charming person?
“I don’t understand this election stuff much,” another Chinese friend texted. “But looks like Trump is pretty good, right? Better than Hillary, anyway.”
Oh my god. What is going on!?
“Mary,” my boyfriend texted me yesterday. “My (Chinese) parents and all their Chinese friends (living in an extremely liberal state as U.S. citizens) voted for Trump.”
Although the hangover was fresh, I ran to the kitchen to find the closest bottle of wine I could. This was just too much.
Chinese people, even those living in the states, endorse Trump. My brain still can’t even compute it.
Why Do Chinese People Like Trump?
My Japanese friends do not like Trump. My Korean friends do not like Trump. To hear my Chinese friends–really, any minority–endorse Trump is beyond me. Still, I tried to stay rational and think it through. What in god’s name motivated their decision?
According to a poll by a Chinese newspaper Global Times in March 2016, 54% of 3,300 mainland Chinese respondents said they supported a Trump presidency. On Weibo (Chinese Twitter) there were 10 Trump fan groups with over 1,000 followers each, such as “Trump Fan Club,” “Trump Light of the World” and “Trump Commentary.” Chinese people in the groups commented that the Republican party is “more sensible” and “cares more about business and trade than human rights.”
Meanwhile, the communist party smugly nods with a smile and comments: “[The] Trump phenomena shows the U.S. public is getting weary of party politics” and that “the democracy America advocates has boundaries.”
So just what in god’s name made the Donald so popular in China?
- He’s a Businessman
Nothing speaks louder to the Chinese than money. Many middle-class Chinese seeking wealth and riches look at Donald’s extravagant hotels and lavish lifestyle and are instantly sold. To them, a man who knows business should be running the United States. Sadly, money still reigns supreme in China. In a place where an entire country and culture were decimated by an authoritarian regime, but later rescued through the power of money and economic revolution, it’s no wonder the citizens think that business is best in terms of politics.
Although many Chinese said they appreciated Trump’s focus on trade and economic development, they seemed to have missed the part about Trump’s pledge to slap 45% tariffs on all imports from China, which would cripple the U.S. and Chinese economy. Plus, most of Trump’s businesses and investments resulted in bankruptcy and failure–but hey, why get into the nitty gritty? He’s confident, wears a great suit and rich–good enough.
2. Clinton Was “Anti-China”
Both Bill and Hillary Clinton heavily criticized China–and when I mean criticize China, I mean criticize their human rights record and lack of climate change reforms. As Secretary of State, Clinton also pushed for a “pivot to Asia” alongside Obama as a means to further strengthen ties with the Asia Pacific in a changing world.
Apparently, Chinese people don’t like being criticized, and they don’t appreciate a “pivot,” either. Many Chinese saw the “pivot” as “containment” and were discontent with her bossy attitude in telling Beijing to stop its expansionist behavior. When it came to the South China Sea, they didn’t want to hear Hillary complain for another 4-8 years.
Chinese citizens wanted someone who was practical with money and didn’t make a fuss about silly things like, you know, freedom of speech and human rights.
Plus, social media in China was awash in ageism and sexism regarding Hillary. One Chinese (female) user commented:
“She is so old. Why can’t she go home and help raise children?”
I can understand their bitter sentiment toward the “pivot,” but in terms of human rights I’m simply baffled. Isn’t that why Chinese people immigrate to the United States? So they won’t get locked up for speaking their mind? Some acquaintances in China even told me that people “disappeared” for selling the wrong stock at the wrong time. Don’t they want to safely practice business and protect their assets? And don’t the Chinese flock to the U.S. for cleaner air and a better environment? Isn’t that exactly why Clinton and Obama pushed China into the Paris Climate Agreement?
Again, any criticism about China, even if it’s in the best interest of their people, is apparently bad.
3. Chinese Media Influence
Like Russia, when China knew that Trump had an actual shot at winning, they rolled with the punches and made him shine on TV. Nothing would split the U.S. more or ruin the enticement of democracy like an angry America with Trump as president–and they wanted to make that happen.
“From a comprehensive view, it would make it easier for China to cope if Trump is elected. This is because under the policy line advocated by Obama and Clinton, the political and military frictions between China and the U.S. will be more frequent.”
Chinese Media and government backed commentators were sympathetic toward Trump.
And by god, it worked.
I Know, Not ALL Chinese People Feel This Way
I have a lot of Chinese friends in China (like Z, god bless you) who was also stunned and shocked by a Trump presidency. Many Chinese-American friends are also disappointed in the results.
In a country that has been void of elections or any independent political movements for more than 70 years, it makes sense that Chinese citizens are still… well, confused. Chinese people just don’t understand how democracy works, and with a quick glance at their history and government, it’s easy to understand why.
However, the China response to Trump has made me wonder:
What would happen to China if they could actually vote for their leader?
For me, it’s a troubling thought indeed.
Brookings Institute: “What do Chinese People Think of Hillary Clinton?”
Brookings Institute: “What Do Chinese People Think of Donald Trump?”
Asahi Newspaper: “Chinese State Media Signal Trump Preference”
Fortune: “Donald Trump is Oddly Popular in China”