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.


  1. I suppose if anything, it’s a great opportunity for the PLA Navy to start planting flags all over the place while the Japanese are preoccupied with more important things…

  2. In the four year history of this blog, I have erased fewer than ten comments left by visitors. The one left by ‘William,’ a few hours ago, was one of them – in large part because it was merely a link to a twitpic, and not a comment. William – I’ve emailed you an explanation, and invitation to come back and WRITE OUT whatever point that twitpic was supposed to make.

  3. It is ironic you had to erase multiple messages so soon after you told in public that you never had a problem with the comments you receive. ( You did well on the panel at the literary festival: You came across as a honest, hard-core, serious writer. which, you are.) I have received so many emails, messages and calls from friends all over the world including China asking after my family in Japan. It was very touching. I heard there were 15000 – 16000 Chinese people working in the area and 1000 or so students in Sendai where the earthy quake and tsunami hit very badly. I haven’t heard about their whereabouts. I hope they successfully ran for their lives. They certainly didn’t go there expecting anything like this.

  4. Adam, this article just reinforced my theory about the Ccp and up to a certain degree about mainland Chinese in general is this

    if disaster doesn’t fall upon the Chinese/Han people,we don’t care and it is not our problem…

    Why? Given the disAsters for the last ten yeArs at various places, the Chinese did very little if Anything at all in the world community despite their claim to be great country and number one country of the world….

    For example, 2004 Thai indoesnia earthquake and tsunami, china only gave token one million usd when others gave 10-100x more in assistance. With the Haiti eArthquake, again china gave token one million usd while others gave a magnitude more in money and resources. With this Japanese disaster, the Chinese proved my theory correct sending no money only ONE team of 15 search and rescue while other smaller countries(singapore sending at least TWO teams, Germans sending two teams,and uk sending multiple teams with newzealand sending teams over to japan to help) sending more resources and help (not to mention US sending one aircraft cArrier group with another there in a week or two)

    another evidence is the length the Chinese sends it’s navy to protect Chinese ships with regard to Somali pirates AND sending Chinese navy and airplanes to Libya and eqypt to evac the mainland Chinese for free, while charging Chinese from hkg sar for the evacuation

    with what the ccp is not doing and Chinese netiZens gloating, celebrating the Japanese disaster further reinforce my theory that Chinese doesn’t care unless disaster affects mainland Chinese

  5. Forgot to mention, the city of los Angeles and state of Virginia each sending their search of rescue team of fifteen each on top of what the US armies are sending in terms of search and rescue teams.

    Chinese govt and ccp is a total joke with their actions, their policies(1960s-present) and stroking it’s citizery to be nationalisticly hate anyone non-Han people

  6. Nulle:

    China sent a rescue team to Japan on Sunday. Details, here.

    For reasons which are not obscure to me, this post appears to be a magnet for ugly, stupid comments. So I’m closing this post to comments.

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