Chinese Reactions to the Japanese quake

I need to start this brief post by conceding that I’ve long been suspicious and critical of journalistic attempts to size-up ‘the average, ordinary, Chinese.’ China is too big, and too complicated, for such a model to exist. That noted, I think it is possible to get a somewhat representative sense of what’s going on in the heads of its internet users via peeks at its internet forums and oft-raucous microblogging platforms (in the same way that twitter can tell you something about what, say, US internet users are thinking). So, on that basis, let’s just say that the initial reaction has been complex.

To be sure, there was a substantial amount of – there’s no other way to put this – gloating – reflecting the long-standing bitterness that many Chinese still feel toward Japan, dating back to World War II (and which is still cultivated in schools and public society). Though that may be a distinctively Chinese reaction to the tragedy, it is by no means the only, or dominant, one (despite what you may be reading on twitter). Sympathy, condolences, and prayers flow from here, just as they do from other countries. In any case, a few hours after the quake I was asked to do a very quick piece for Foreign Policy on the Chinese reaction, entitled Schadenfreude and Sympathy in Shanghai. Since filing that piece, the essential China Digital Times has done a more comprehensive run-down, here.

I haven’t had much time to see what else is out there on the Chinese reaction, but I did see Max Fisher’s interesting piece on how the quake presents China’s navy with an interesting humanitarian opportunity, to say the least. It’s worth a read.

Finally, a very last minute announcement. This evening (March 13), at 19:00 PM, I’ll join Duncan Hewitt of Newsweek, and Rob Schmitz of Marketplace on the “Committing Journalism: how real is the story?” panel at the The Bookworm Literary Festival in Suzhou. I’m replacing NPR’s Rob Gifford, who has been called to more pressing matters in Japan.