BEIJING – A viral video showing protesters in Hong Kong assaulting a Chinese citizen was recently posted on Weibo – a Chinese social media service similar to Twitter – under the hashtag “Protect Hong Kong.”
The hashtag has been viewed 7.8 billion times and is quite representative of the opinion held by a majority of mainland China’s population regarding the wave of mass protests and strikes that have been sweeping over the Chinese special autonomous region and former British colony for the past three months.
The first few weeks of protests in Hong Kong were met with silence from the mainland as Chinese authorities imposed a media blackout.
But as soon as reports emerged of violent clashes with police, the state propaganda machinery sprang into action.
The ban on hashtags linked to the protests in Hong Kong was lifted from Weibo and other popular social media sites such as Douyin (internationally known as TikTok) and news content platform Toutiao, where there has been a huge outpouring of support for Hong Kong’s police and authorities.
State-sponsored media outlets have been at the forefront of efforts to stir up the masses: China’s main national newspaper, The People’s Daily, said in an article on Monday that the violence exhibited by radical protesters was starting to show the “first signs of terrorism,” the same stance as the one adopted by Beijing.
State media seem to be more keen on circulating videos of demonstrators throwing objects or Molotov cocktails at police clad in riot gear than on disclosing why the protests began or describing the protesters’ demands.
This week, the top 15 trending topics were “All sectors condemn violence in Hong Kong,” “The Government responds after a journalist is attacked at Hong Kong airport” and “I also support the Hong Kong Police.”
In this last category, which has more than 1.59 billion hits, a large number of users displayed an avatar with the phrase “What a shame for Hong Kong” in English.
Another common slogan is the one made popular by a Global Times journalist who was beaten up by protesters that mistook him for an undercover agent: “I support the Hong Kong police; you can beat me up now,” which many used in their profile image, written in Chinese characters.
It is common to come across opinions such as that of T-Ann, who said that Hong Kong “is and always will be” a part of China.
The common response to videos of some protesters tossing the Chinese national flag into the river was to tell them to leave Chinese territory if they didn’t wish to be citizens of the country.
Others accuse the demonstrators of having a colonial mentality and blame them for not having been able to take advantage of having been part of the British Empire and being under the influence of the United States.
The US’ alleged interference in the affairs of Hong Kong with the aim of creating chaos in the city is another popular idea that has been milked dry by Chinese official agencies and media.
“What does the US want?” was one of the most shared hashtags this week. Promoted by state broadcaster CCTV, the hashtag exploded in popularity after a picture of an employee of the US consulate in Hong Kong meeting leaders of the city’s pro-democracy movement was leaked.
The US government’s reaction worries the Chinese: while some have already lost patience and demand Beijing take forceful action on the issue to put an end to the protests, others say that doing so by force “is what the US wants” and support the government, which recently reiterated its confidence that Hong Kong authorities will be able to resolve the problem.
Those who advocate the use of force welcomed the release of a short video showing numerous vehicles of the Chinese paramilitary police moving to Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong; the video has more than 1.7 million likes.
According to the specialized website What’s on Weibo, the few who come out in support of the protesters are victims of what in Chinese is known as the “human flesh search engine,” which could be translated as those who suffer the wrath of armies of organized trolls.
One woman wrote, “Respect to every person out there striking and protesting!” and a blogger with more than a million followers re-posted that message along with the woman’s photo in a bid to attract public attention to her. Some called her a traitor and others went as far as to post her personal details, a practice commonly known as “doxxing.”
There are also plenty of accusations directed at Western media outlets, which critics say are portraying protesters as the “good guys” and the cops as the “bad guys.”
Some of China’s defenders say they can’t make any sense of what they call the “angry” Hong Kong youth’s actions.