Recent Posts

Lonely Boys and Losers: Are we overstating the fenqing phenomenon?

This post is a response to two essays written this past weekend.  One on the blog Froogville that in turn sparked a response from Richard at The Peking Duck.  Below are my own thoughts, which began as a comment on TPD but ran long and so I’ve decided to post them here.

I don’t think that fenqing can be defined by a particular perspective or viewpoint.  Certainly adopting the CCP or Han nationalist worldview doesn’t make one a fenqing. Furthermore, it is far too simplistic to say that just because somebody accepts the CCP worldview on a set of issues this means they are “indoctrinated” or “brainwashed.”  But I would suggest that fenqing do share some traits in common with the CCP.  The CCP’s information/education environment is not only mono-message but actively hostile to dissenting perspectives.  Likewise, for me, the defining characteristic of a fenqing is not strong belief in a particular view, but rather an inability to accept that other valid perspectives might exist.

As with the CCP, a common strategy is to attack the speaker/writer rather than address an argument.  For the party, witness the continuing ham-handed attempts to paint the Dalai Lama as a “jackal in monk’s robes,” or the knee-jerk detention and intimidation of dissenters and protesters.  On a smaller scale, the fenqing follow the same playbook: Anti-CNN, ad hominem attacks on websites and blogs, Chinese exceptionalism (If you’re not from China, how dare you say…), all attack the messenger with very little said about the message.

The third characteristic reminiscent of the CCP (and the US government for the past eight years) is a consistent tendency to see complex issues in black/white with no room for nuance, complexity, or balance.  Fenqing bristle at the mere introduction of complexity into the discussion, so enmeshed are they in the certainty of a worldview cast in anti-intellectual stone fronted by a plaque that reads “New learning need not apply, I have all I will ever need.”

Finally, and this is perhaps of greater importance for historians, debate on history for fenqing, as it is for the CCP, is driven not by the spirit of historical inquiry and research, but by the emotional and political needs of the present.  The rich history of the Tibetan people is less important than justifying the PRC’s continued control over the region.  Anything that is irrelevant to that goal (or worse, complicates those claims) is attacked and dismissed.

At the same time, it’s easy to overstate the importance of the fenqing.  The fenqing are to most patriotic Chinese youth what the meth-riddled KKK rednecks on Jerry Springer are to the Republican party.  They are wildly overrepresented on the internet, and the web gives this whacked-out fringe a powerful megaphone that amplifies their voices and adds to their self-importance.

This is hardly scientific, but every once in awhile, if I get the chance, I’ll ask colleagues or friends about fenqing or show them some of the nuttier comments left on sites like The Peking Duck or Blog for China, and ask them their opinion.  “Lonely boys” is one of the most common replies, along with “morons,” “people of poor quality,” or “well-intentioned but without culture.”  Unscientific to be sure, but telling: I do think most of the fenqing are motivated as much by psychological warps as they are politics.  Young men (and there is a heavy gender component to this whole debate as might well be imagined), stuck in dorm rooms in Boston or Paris, socially isolated, sexually frustrated, and confronted with cognitive dissonance caused by the new information environment.  They huddle before their computer screens or clasp together in tight monolingual groups and vent.  (For that matter, that describes any number of “fenwai” in Beijing as well, but I digress…)

Last year I suggested this potential headline: “Angry Chinese youth finds girlfriend, loses virginity, decides ‘CNN not so bad after all.'”

Nationalism in China, especially online nationalism, is an important trend to watch.  While the PRC is an authoritarian government, it is not immune to the pressures of public opinion.  There is always the potential that in the event of an international (or domestic) crisis, online opinion, if left unchecked, could run ahead of the government position and so limit the options for a moderate response.  But if we are to accept that being a fenqing is less about a particular perspective than a style of debate, then it’s also clear that the fenqing are hardly the totality of the new Chinese patriotism.  They are a loud voice, to be sure, that is their modus operandi, but scratch the surface and they are quickly unmasked for who they truly are: lonely boys, bullies hiding behind ridiculous screen names, and anti-intellectual frauds.

Nevertheless, they can be hard to ignore, especially the online trolls that infest sites like The Peking Duck and others, though it’s wise to remember that despite the shrillness of their voices, the fenqing and the troll can best be compared to the short guy in the corner of the bar, whom all the women are ignoring, and so he decides to be as obnoxious as possible in the hope that somebody–anybody–notices him.  Frankly, it’s kind of sad, and so, I feel, are the fenqing.

76 Comments on Lonely Boys and Losers: Are we overstating the fenqing phenomenon?

  1. You said it all, and beautifully, too. This should be in the Wikipedia definition of fenqing.

  2. Yes. I agree. Beautifully described.

  3. Absolutely, couldn’t agree more with this well written piece!!!

    I am sure right now there are many fenqing belling up to their computers, fingers posed over the keys getting ready to fire off some lame attempt to dispute this article right now!

  4. Georgie Porgie // March 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm //

    I think writing them off as a bunch of sexually frustrated young guys belittles their significance and is not particularly accurate.

    I personally know of plenty of individuals that I would classify as ‘fenqing’ who are female, and plenty who are in relationships – thus presumably getting some action. I have also observed a disappointing unwillingness among the overseas Chinese community to publicly criticize the worst excesses of the fenqing (i.e. violently assaulting innocent bystanders at protests). It isn’t just the fenqing, patriotism/nationalism trumps rule of law for an awful large number of Chinese, even those living overseas.

    It’s all rather disappointing.

  5. “I have also observed a disappointing unwillingness among the overseas Chinese community to publicly criticize the worst excesses of the fenqing”

    I myself have noticed the lack of criticisms against Chinese nationalists by other Chinese people. This is in contrast to the many Americans and many British and many French who criticize their own American/British/French nationalists.

    I analyzed and documented this decrepancy and my findings I dub as “The Chinese Imbalance of Views Syndrome” which I encourage everyone to read here:

  6. read the comments at any american online newspaper, or god forbid a right wing political site like free republic or little green footballs, and you’ll get much the same tenor of angry wingnuttery. it’s a pretty common online phenomenon in many countries.

    as economic times get worse, people will focus their ire, their furious impotence, at whatever or whomever they’re used to hating. it’s likely to be ugly all around.

  7. “a common strategy is to attack the speaker/writer rather than address an argument.”

    “meth-riddled KKK rednecks on Jerry Springer”

    OK, how is this not attacking the speaker? This is just the pot calling the kettle black.

  8. There’s always a tendency to sneer at your enemies. But sometimes there’s a larger phenomenon at work. George is right, they are merely an extreme manifestation of the deep nationalism in the Chinese psyche.

    But now, step back for a bit. What do these reasonable, sexually-experienced, tall, athletic, socially-active people think about the Communist Party? It’s not always rah-rah-rah. Journalists have generally missed the fact that Tibet is an issue of nationalism.

    “Jackal in monk’s robes” is actually quite a catchy phrase. I foresee it entering the lexicon, like “Mother of all battles.”

  9. Politically Incorrect // March 16, 2009 at 3:31 am //

    Great post, with two small problems. First, I would think that “socially isolated, sexually frustrated” youths that need a “tight monolingual” environment would visit porn sites rather than political/social commentary blogs, let alone English language blogs. I think fenqins are more genuinely concerned about social/political issues than you have characterized, their specific points of view not withstanding.

    Second, the sites you mention are both English language blogs. If you read Chinese language forums and blogs inside China, you’ll immediately see that it’s cool to vent anti-government sentiments, but not pro-government comments, even though both types of comments are often equally full of bigotry rather than sound analysis. As the Hong Kong scholar Gan Yang points out, nowadays in China it takes more courage to express support of the government than to denounce the government. Contrary to what people outside China might imagine, it’s fashionable in today’s China to denounce the Chinese government, at least on the internet.

    But I completely agree with you that fenqin should be defined by the “inability to accept that other valid perspectives might exist” rather than by any particular perspective or viewpoint. There are both pro-government and anti-government fenqins. As far as I can tell, inside China there are more anti-government fenqins than pro-government fenqins. Unfortunately, many western media have habitually equated fenqin with nationalism.

  10. Politically Incorrect // March 16, 2009 at 3:51 am //

    Georgie Porgie’s comment is insightful. But I would say it’s not nationalism/patriotism that trumps rule of law. It’s the mob culture that trumps rule of law. Many western media have cheered on the internet vigilante (human flesh searches) in China, as they seem to have exposed many cases of government corruption, but human flesh searches have also been used to for gross violation of privacy and harassment. People (including journalists) need to realize that just because something can be used for anti-government purposes, it doesn’t mean it’s good. For China to establish a well-functioning liberal democracy, you’ve got to first nurture a culture for the respect of the rule of law and contain the mob mentality. The nurturing of such civic culture/norm is more difficult and more important than the establishment of formal political institutions.

  11. It’s beautifully written, but something don’t feel right. After you classify fenqing as someone who target the speaker not the argument, it makes me uncomfortable when you describe them as lonely undersexed losers at the corner. It would be an insult, both to fenqings and young males who are not so lucky in the sex game.
    Also, in my experience, if you do a survey in beijing, you may find that the fenqing ratio may be higher in middle aged women and men. Those who spend their youthful ages in Culture Revolution have every reason to be more radical and more cynical. If you’ve talked to cab drivers or have spend a day or two in the office of a SOE , you know what i’m talking about.

  12. Some good comments and I thought I might respond a bit because I see some misunderstandings here of the original article.


    This is something we discussed yesterday at brunch, because we all know female ‘fenqing,’ and it’s true not all fenqing are sexually-frustrated losers…but here’s the salient point:

    Any number of studies on the subject of nationalism, especially extreme nationalism (and not only in China), note the disproportionate representation of young men, especially young unmarried men, in such movements. It doesn’t take a team of demographers to identify a heavy gender component among the fenqing movement as well.

    But I do think overall you make a fair point.

  13. vel,

    I think you might have missed the point a bit.

    Yes, I am mocking the fenqing a little…but not because of their VIEWS or as way to silence those views. I have no problem with fenqing putting forth their own perspectives on any number of subjects, and allowing those perspectives to compete in the marketplace of ideas.

    I am attacking the fenqing for their tactics, specifically attacking the speaker so that ideas are left unexpressed. This is an important distinction which I believe may have escaped your attention.

    Finally, the line you cited was written to demonstrate the fringe nature of the fenqing movement and to acquit the saner and more balanced proponents of a “pro-China” perspective.

  14. Wu Ming/Tom,

    One could argue that nationalism/patriotism is a continuum, with rational and intelligent debate on one end and the fenqing/American lunatic fringe on the other. Such groups are ever with us, but my larger point is that it’s a mistake to conflate all who fall along this continuum with the extremists.

    As I mentioned in the post, nationalism in China is an important trend, worth watching, and the fenqing are certainly a part of that. But only a part.

  15. Politically Incorrect,

    Yeah, I like browsing the MIT BBS on which you occasionally see a fenqing flareup but that for the most part contains interesting discussions. And there’s always the “Strong China” board, which ranges from interesting to scary to funny, depending on the day. There are more. Here I was responding to two other posts which dealt rather specifically with English-language blogs and so limited my scope of inquiry accordingly.

    Just to repeat: I don’t think every pro-China or pro-government voice is, by definition, fenqing, in fact my point was quite the opposite of that. But I like your take as well, that a fenqing does not, by definition, have to be pro-China.

    Two other quick points:

    1) I do think the media has a tendency to conflate ‘fenqing’ with ‘Chinese nationalism,’ that’s one of the reasons for this post.

    2) I agree about the ‘mob mentality’ being a scary and counterproductive phenomenon. While respecting rule of law is important, I might also suggest that respect for the rights of our fellow human beings is as, or more, important.

  16. nichtech,

    I know middle-aged Chinese with strong views on the subject. I live in a small pingfang and a few of my neighbors, especially after a few, will hold forth on a number of topics in a rather boisterous manner.

    But if somebody was around during the GPCR, do they still qualify as “qing”? Is there a new word we should use?

    In all seriousness though, and to repeat the main point of the article: not all of those who espouse patriotism or even strong nationalist views are fenqing. It’s not the views themselves, I believe, that define the group, but rather a set of behaviors.

  17. Wow, there’s a Wikipedia article on fenqing?! I never thought to check.

    Of course, it’s always dangerous to generalise, particularly about a “movement” or social group that is so populous. It’s interesting that one of the common strands perceived in the Wikipedia piece is that fenqing are, in their various ways on various topics, critics of the Chinese government. I guess most of us – foreign bloggers in China, that is – tend to think mainly in terms of the kind of guys who comment on our blogs, who mostly seem to be strongly supportive of ‘the official line’, particularly on questions of foreign policy (although they may think sometimes that the CCP is not extreme enough or vigorous enough); sometimes even to the point where we wonder if they are paid stooges…. or secret policemen on the Internet beat….. or perhaps moonlighting cadres trying to get in some practice for the day when they may have to face the Western media.

    I hesitate to conflate fenqing with ‘troll’ – something I consciously refrained from doing in my frivolous little “essay”. Most of the arguably “fenqing” commenters on The Duck, for example – the ones whose comments Richard allows, anyway – although we might not like what they say or how they say it, and although they may have limited ability to actually engage in an argument, are not, I think, simply seeking to disrupt the discussion for the hell of it. And they do from time to time throw up points of some interest.

    Pffefer, for example, with whom I was recently jousting over on Stuart’s blog, makes quite a lot of very stimulating points. He just can’t string them together into an argument most of the time. I find ‘troll’ to be a very derogatory term, and I wouldn’t apply it to him.

    And that chap Cao Meng De who was on here at ‘Tibet time’ last year was perhaps arguably not fenqing at all, and certainly not a troll: wilfully provocative and extreme in some ways, yes, but overall quite intelligent and reasonable and willing to engage in a conversation.

    Most fenqing, I suppose, are active solely in the Chinese-language blogosphere. Many, perhaps, are active in other areas, but not on the Internet at all. If we confine our attention to the fenqing we know and love here and on The Duck and so on, I think it is reasonable to say that adopting a “CCP/Han nationalist worldview” is one of the defining traits (in almost all cases, at any rate); although I would agree with you, J, that the style of argument (or lack of it) is the other key feature.

    I take the point that patriotism/nationalism is not a sufficient condition for defining fenqing; but, seriously, how often have you encountered a Chinese nationalist on one of your blogs that was not fenqing? I fear it’s a vanishingly rare phenomenon. Would you hold up Cao Meng De as an example? Anyone else?

  18. Politically Incorrect // March 16, 2009 at 7:45 am //


    I was actually referring to forums and blogs inside China such as tianya, netease, and some Chinese luminaries’ blogs, rather than the mitbbs. It varies from site to site, of course, but generally anti-government fenqins are more active than pro-government fenqins.

  19. By the way, I know “brainwashing” is a terribly emotive term, and we should probably try to avoid it when we’re being serious and considered and non-provocative about a topic, but…..

    An “information/education environment [that] is not only mono-message but actively hostile to dissenting perspectives”, an environment that induces people to accept a “worldview on a set of issues” and engenders “an inability to accept that other valid perspectives might exist”…… well, that’s one of the best definitions of “brainwashing” I’ve heard. Thanks, J!

  20. PI,

    Yeah, that’s what I understood you as writing (hence my crack about “Strong China”), and I think your point about anti-government fenqing is an intriguing one. As I’ve said, I think being a fenqing is less about the stance one takes rather than the tactics or rhetoric one uses in support of that stance.

  21. Except Froog…noting similarities is not the same as arguing causality.

  22. I recommend to the readers to take a look at the long squalid history of “Americanism”. The common features are obvious and needn’t be restated. Let’s call it “Chineseism” and allow that it is a mirror. Both grow out of a fundamental insecurity and fear. Both [along with Russianism, Germanism [though the Germans, as a whole, have damped it down as they learned where can lead] etc.] are virulent and dangerous as they are self-blinding and anti-rational.

  23. Cryptic! What am I missing here? (Haven’t had my morning coffee yet….)

    I don’t think I attempted to say anything about causality. I was just curious as to whether you – spending far more time online than me, and in Chinese as well as English – have actually encountered extreme Chinese nationalists who manage not to be fenqing about it?

  24. If you mean, J, that I was implying a causal link between the extreme nationalist views and the behaviours/style of argument – well, no, I didn’t seek to address that.

    I think we infer that they usually have a common cause – as you suggest in the article here: the “information/education environment… not only mono-message but actively hostile to dissenting perspectives”.

    It might be said that there’s also a connection between the two, a kind of feedback loop. Extreme views tend to engender a reluctance to self-question or to be open to contrary viewpoints; and a weakness in argumentation (and open-mindedness) tends to make views more extreme. I think it probably starts with the Chinese education system, but snowballs from there.

  25. There are many commenters with strong views online who are not fenqing. The key is: do the commenters have strong views AND deny that any other perspective is possible?

    Keep in mind too, that your speaking of the online world, which I argue in the post has a tendency to magnify the fenqing yawp.

    You mentioned Pfeffer. Now he’s been known to cross the line on some sites, but at least on this one and Stuart’s he expresses, strongly, a particular point of view. At the same time, he’s also perfectly willing to revise his views, admit shades of gray, and even, on occasion, back down as part of a general conversation. That’s NOT fenqing behavior. Moreover, I do believe that he (at least here) comments in the spirit of moving a conversation forward rather than acting in the spirit of intellectual nihilism. Not to pick on Pfeffer, but he’s one of your common foes and so makes a useful point of reference.

    The writers of Blog for China are another example. Now that site, even among their stable of writers, does have its wingnut contingent, but many of the posters there, while certainly holding firm views on a variety of subjects, write in a thoughtful way that allows for nuance and complexity in their arguments. That’s not fenqing either.

  26. Ah, well, it seems to me as if you are conceiving of fenqing as being very close to ‘troll’.

    For me, it’s more about the vehemence of the views expressed – that will very often lead to troll-like behaviour and “intellectual nihilism”, but not always.

    To my mind, Pffefer and his ilk are most definitely fenqing, but not trolls.

    I guess I disagree with your fundamental point here. What I understand by fenqing (and the Wikipedia survey largely agrees with me, I think) is defined more by the kind of views adopted and the vociferousness with which they are upheld. The styles of argument you deplore here are a frequent corollary of this – particularly in blog-commenting fenqing – but I do not see them as an essential, defining feature.

    And yes, I’ve sometimes seen Chinese commenters write “write in a thoughtful way that allows for nuance and complexity in their arguments” even while “holding firm views on a variety of subjects”; but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone write in such “a thoughtful way” while “holding firm views” on issues of Chinese territory.

    Maybe I just don’t get around enough.

  27. Froog,

    Yes, we disagree on this point and I am, admittedly, providing my own analysis of the fenqing phenomenon that may differ from, say, Wikipedia. But that’s sort of the point, to separate well-intentioned and sincere expressions of patriotic viewpoints from those on the lunatic fringe who seem to get most of the attention.

  28. When I see the words “lunatic fringe”, I remember how badly I need a haircut.

  29. I think that you over simplified the Chinese feeling about Tibet issue and western media. In my circle of American Chinese, (mostly from mainland and some from Taiwan, they are all with families and jobs), in most social gathering when Tibet issues were mentioned, they all very critical of western media, believing western media deliberately mispresent Tibet issues, such as never once mentioned on CNN that US recongnised Tibet as part of China instead independent country before 1950.

  30. I would say (more seriously) that there is a spectrum here – many, perhaps most online Chinese nationalists are fenqing (because nationalism arouses strong emotions); some fenqing are nothing but trolls (because strong emotions and extreme views tend to lead to anti-intellectualism).

    I wouldn’t define fenqing only as ‘nationalist’ or ‘extreme nationalist’, but I wouldn’t define them only as ‘troll’ either. I think there are links between the three terms. Maybe we need a Venn diagram.

  31. Froog,

    I agree about the spectrum, I just think you and I disagree about where to draw the line.

  32. Lei,

    You almost fell into the trap. You need to read the whole article before simply fixating on the word “Tibet.”

    Unless you consider yourself a fenqing, and I’m guessing you don’t, you’ll see that I was using Tibet as an example of a particular style of debate, NOT as a summation of “Chinese feeling.”

    I have no doubt that you and your friends have your own perspective on the issue of Tibet and the Western media, just as I’m sure that you and your friends are intelligent and worldly enough to realize that there are also many other valid perspectives on this complicated issue.

  33. The Fenqings are ugly and they are not a fringe in that respect. They need extreme makeovers.

  34. Nels,

    New feature for your blog? Extreme Fenqing Makeover?

  35. This is somewhat tangential, I hope you don’t mind, Jeremiah…
    I agree Pfeffer et al are not fenqing, but I do resent their unwillingness to address arguments they dislike, instead of holding the commenter in question responsible for policies and actions they are opposed to. Just because I am American does not mean I agree with, much less can be held personally responsible for, the policies and actions of my government. I and other critics of China’s Tibet policy are not hypocritical because we hold our own country to the same standards, and admit it does not reach those standards. Moreover, just because we do not comment on the actions of our countries when our countries are not the topic of discussion does not mean we do nothing in other situations to criticize or change the policies of our countries.
    End rant.

  36. “I have no doubt that you and your friends have your own perspective on the issue of Tibet and the Western media”

    I think one of the things that characterizes a ‘fenqing’ response is the tendency to reduce broader issues to a single nationalistic argument. Lei’s own reply above betrays this to a degree:

    “…such as never once mentioned on CNN that US recongnised Tibet as part of China …”

    This typifies the predominant view among Chinese (promoted effectively by their government) that the Tibet ‘issue’ is one of national sovereignty whereby the western media are all trumpeting to the tune of Tibetan independence. This is simply a distortion of reality, effectively moving the debate away from the more common western media reports relating to serious human rights abuses.

    The independence part of the Tibetan issue is reported, but not adopted by western media sources. Fenqing have great difficulty getting their heads around the difference, possibly because their own media is a dogmatic reflection of government policy.

    Anyway, I see fenqing as not merely the bored and the undersexed venting their narrow minded views, but would also include some very intelligent overseas Chinese who take any semblance of criticism of the Motherland as a cue to express rabid anti-western sentiment.

  37. “Keep in mind too, that your speaking of the online world, which I argue in the post has a tendency to magnify the fenqing yawp.”

    I think the online world magnifys many points and that it is the clever writer that doesn’t get overly tempted but that.

    … Actually this comment was prompted by my new fondness of the word “yawp” which I have never read it before. The political pup speaks.

  38. Re: Wuming “[read] a right wing political site like free republic or little green footballs, and you’ll get much the same tenor of angry wingnuttery. ”

    Have you read the DailyKos or Huffington Post recently (or in the last few years)?

    The issues J brought up are not Chinese/foreign, or right/left issues. People who seek out political blogs etc. are naturally the ones that have the strongest feelings about politics. It is natural that responses are emotional rather than rational.

    Political sites are, for the most part, natural “toxic” zones, so is it a suprise that fenqing only add to that toxicity?

  39. So I guess I am not a fenqing by Jeremiah’s definition but definitely a fenqing by froog’s definition? Wow, I am flattered.

    A couple of things,

    (1) froog seems to be suggesting that anybody who agrees with the CCP on certain things and issues ( “supportive of the official line”) is a fenqing. Chinese nationalists are most likely fenqing (feel free to correct me if I am wrong here, froog). Then my question would be, given that “fenqing” is a derogatory term, are we automatically assuming the CCP is evil or at least bad? And are we saying nationalists, at least the Chinese nationalists must be seen in a negative light? If I reject such nonsensical and simplistic views (that the CCP is bad, that Chinese nationalism is bad etc.), does that make me a fenqing? Again feel free to correct me anytime froog, but my understanding of what froog is saying is basically, any Chinese person who doesn’t share his critical views of China, who doesn’t agree with him is a fenqing, even though he or she might not be a “troll”. Correct?

    (2) froog mentioned that Wikipedia labels another group of people who are often overlooked, that is those who “in their various ways on various topics, critics of the Chinese government”. I think these people do exist in great numbers and they tend to be what I consider “ultra-nationalists”.

    (3) I think PI raised a very good point, which is on Chinese language sites there are equal number of people, if not more, who are very critical of the CCP and its various policies. I see them all the time on various Chinese sites. Has it ever occurred to you that people being defensive might explain why the majority of Chinese commenters who comment on English language blogs are so-called “supportive of the official line”, or at least are “Pro-China”? I have said it once that it is OK for me, my wife to say that my baby is ugly, but for you my neighbor to tell me that my baby is ugly, could be very upsetting. This is hardly an exclusive Chinese trait, I have seen many westerners getting defensive about it when getting grilled by criticism and challenges from foreigners.

    (4) By Jeremiah’s definition of fenqing, “an inability to accept that other valid perspectives might exist”, in my opinion some foreigners (authors and commenters alike) in the English language China Blogsphere could be considered fenqing since many of them often dismiss and belittle the opposing view as “brainwashed” and “indoctrined”.

  40. Stuart,

    “the Tibet ‘issue’ is one of national sovereignty whereby the western media are all trumpeting to the tune of Tibetan independence. The independence part of the Tibetan issue is reported, but not adopted by western media sources. ”

    Western media might not be balantly advocating for Tibetan independence, but they are pretty much sticking to the TGIE party line. I am not talking about those specific sympathetic “reports” that paint a bleak picture of Tibet here, I am talking about those general background info they provide to the readers. I bet 99% of news, news analysis that come out of the western media would mention something to the effect of “China invaded Tibet in 1951, the Dalai Lama led a failed uprising against the Chinese rule in 1958 and fled Tibet”. They made it sound like Tibet was a sovereign country that had absolutely ZERO ties with China and China just invaded it out of the blue for no reason. No historic background info is provided usually.

    By the way, folks, a question to you all, what do you call people like nanheyangrouchuan? To me he is a typical fenqing.

  41. I think we’re getting to the point where people are only reading the comments rather than the post before commenting.

    Two quick points, Pfeffer….I noted the ‘fenwai’ phenomenon in the original post, you might want to check it out. Yeah, it was tongue in cheek, but obviously such views exist and everybody knows it.

    If the baby is ugly, I would restrain myself from saying so (though I might joke about it with mutual friends later, the world being what it is.) But if the wife is beating the child in public, does only the husband have the right to intervene? What if he stands by and watches as the child turns blue? Just wondering.

    Somebody from Peking University is just as entitled as I am to blast American society for, say, paying insane bonuses to CEOs while tent cities form in state capitals. I don’t get to say, “Hey, even though you’ve done the research you can’t say that because you’re not an American citizen.” For me to immediately attack or dismiss this fictional researcher as ‘anti-American’ would be to call a play from the fenqing playbook. And who knows, perhaps our PKU friend might have a perspective American economists missed, that’s the wonderful thing about the marketplace of ideas. But that said, not every idea or conclusion is going to boost people’s personal or collective self-esteem, and sometimes things need to be said anyway in order to call attention to problems which require addressing. Another example: The anti-war demonstrations around the world prior to the invasion of Iraq. I know these irked a lot of Americans — especially Fox News — but I thought it was healthy and important to demonstrate to our rather closed-minded president that, in fact, the world was not with him on this.

  42. Pfeffer,

    Wouldn’t he be a “fenwai”?

  43. Jeremiah,

    I didn’t miss the “fenwai” part in your article, but I thought the term”fenqing” should apply to both Chinese and non-Chinese as “fenqing” is not just a Chinese phenomenon.

    The wife is beating the child in public? I am not sure what “in public” means. If she is beating the child inside her house or on her property, do I as a neighbor have the right to barge in and stop her or should I call the police? I would wait, trying to find out what’s going on (maybe it is just a case of parents spanking their kids?), withhold my judgment for a minute. If I deem it a serious situation that warrants intervention, I would call the police, I wouldn’t just break into their house uninvited.

    Of course I am entitled to my opinion, I might think that child-beating woman is a moron, but I will definitely refrain from telling her husband that “your wife is a moron”. I would though, politely tell him that he needs to do something to stop it from happening again.

    Jeremiah, I understand what you said about your PKU friend. The same can be said of anyone who is commenting on China. Anybody can say whatever he/she wants about anything. You might or might not agree with what your PKU friend says about the US and how you feel about it and how you deal with it is your issue. However, there are people out there who might be vehemently disagree with what your PKU friend says and they might not like what he said. That doesn’t make them fenqing, does it?

  44. In public=not in a private home, does this really require a crib?

    Not liking something is not the issue, so let’s not make it the issue. A fenqing would more than dislike it. They would attack the speaker (how dare you! You don’t understand the US! How can you hurt the feelings of 300 million American people!). Then they would refuse to address the argument. “I already KNOW that the US system is the fairest most equitable system in the world. You’re only writing these things because you HATE the US and you want to see it FALL! Don’t you know CHINA is bad, too! Therefore you have NO right to say these things!” And they would return to those themes again and again and again and again with no nuance or movement regardless of the conversation.

    I think I’ve been pretty clear where the goal posts are here. Let’s keep the ball on the pitch, shall we?

  45. That last comment is quite funny. If I have time I may steal it for a separate post.

  46. Serve the People // March 17, 2009 at 9:26 am //

    Professor Melvyn Goldstein once wrote:

    “As a classic nationalistic dispute, the Tibet question pits the right of a people, Tibetans, to self-determination and independence against the right of a multiethnic state, the People’s Republic of China, to maintain what it sees as its historical territorial integrity. Such disputes are difficult to resolve because there is no clear international consensus about the respective rights of nationalities and states. The U.N. Charter, for example, states that the purpose of the world body is to ensure friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination, but it also states that nothing contained in the charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters that are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state. The ambiguity about when entities have the right to seek self- determination has made international opinion an important dimension of such disputes, and the struggle to control representations of history and current events is often as intense as the struggle to control territory. In the case of Tibet, both sides have selectively patched bits and pieces of the historical record together to support their viewpoints. The ensuing avalanche of charges and countercharges is difficult to assess, even for specialists.”

    You rarely see the Western media discuss the Tibetan issue in such a clear way. Instead they
    dwell on human rights and religious freedom, secondary or tertiary issues at most.

  47. And the ball sails into the stands and hits a guy standing in the concession area…

  48. “And the ball sails into the stands and hits a guy standing in the concession area…”

    LOL. I think, regretfully, I get credited with an assist for that one. In my defence I did try to relate my response to the matter in hand.

  49. The problem is with Richard’s Pekingduck blog. I tried to post stuff all the time and it never gets posted. He never allow others with opposing views heard in the blog. Might as well call it censorship.

  50. I don’t think that’s THE problem.

    The New York Times usually doesn’t publish my letters to the editor, either. And every time I ask CNN for screen time, I’m usually turned down. The New Yorker won’t publish my stories and I can’t book a gig at Carnegie Hall.

    Outlets, great and small, have editorial control. That’s NOT the same as censorship. Deciding not to publish something in a particular space does not stop you, me, or Richard from creating our own outlet (starting a blog, founding a newspaper, buying a television station) and saying whatever the hell we want.

    To confuse that with a state using its power and authority to deny a voice to its citizens through legal or extra-legal intimidation is to misunderstand the concept of ‘free speech’ and granting Richard such power by comparing him to an authoritarian government will only serve to validate his already considerable ego. (joke.)

    Short form: Richard may or may not have deleted your comment, but he’s not going to arrest you or your family for coming over here and talking about it, right?

  51. There are people who just like to be anti everything for the sake of attention. They pick fights on English “laowai” blogs for the same reason, but maybe because all the bridgebloggers tend to write things like politics about China and describe China or the Chinese as a whole, the disagreeing voice sounds like radical nationalism, but I really doubt that they even know what it means.

    Or maybe they know that being nationalistic is what the West tends to generalized about the Chinese youth, so by following this image and pushing it to the extreme (the harsher, the more ridiculous, the better), it is really a guarantee for attention, maybe he can get interviewed next time when a journalist wants to write a story about nationalism in China. To cater the “other” created image of self is what you might call it.

    There are other Chinese English bloggers followers that are lack of information on the issue or language skills to express properly so they choose to quit by saying mean things, which is more of a frustration than being angry, though it can appear so.

    There are Chinese who see bridge bloggers as a messenger to the Western media or the representative of it, who failed to do a good job on explaining the Tibet issue. It collectively fell into the spins created by governments and NGOs of whatever kinds , maybe because China fails to create its counter spin as it is always considered as illegitimate source every time it gets quoted. Also, who can say no to a “humanized” angle of the story well prepared by those organizations? Looking at AP’s coverage , the main source for international news in the world, from 3.14 to 4.30, 406 stories, 323 if you take the repetition out, top 2 are stories on Olympic torch relay, being interrupt or being tear gassed(67) and government reactions (36), does it help to understand the issue? Looking at the protester’s comments on TV interviews, I do not believe they will accept another valid perspectives either because most of them become the mouthpiece of NGOs as well, because they FEEL it is the right thing to do. Then how can you expect the Chinese to not get angry or frustrated, of course, bridge bloggers will be the first to attack, not because what they write or say, but because they represent the Western media among the Chinese.

  52. Su,

    Thanks for your ideas and your comments. I think the ‘bridge blogger’ phenomenon is an interesting and important trend to watch.

    If I might gently add my own thoughts here:

    Anger is okay. For example, when I read about people being arrested for having dissenting views, I get angry.

    And I don’t believe a “disagreeing voice” necessarily equals radical nationalism, as I’ve written about four times now.

    In the post, way back up at the top of the page, I was pretty clear listing a set of behaviors I thought defined the fenqing. Nothing in that list relates to a specific set of views or emotions, but rather tactics and behavior.

    Isn’t it possible, to resort to cliche, to disagree without being disagreeable?

  53. Pffefer,

    I think I stated my position most clearly in Comment 31.

    I think fenqing is hard to define, and am wary of attempting to. We find it a (too) convenient label for a certain kind of Chinese blog-commenter; I see it as an essentially jokey term, not necessarily derogatory, or not strongly so. This is where Jeremiah and I differ: he wants to make it extremely derogatory, limited in application to an extreme fringe who are capable only of abuse rather than argument – basically the same as ‘troll’.

    I don’t see the value of defining the concept so narrowly – when that is not, as far as I can see, how most people perceive the term. I wouldn’t want to extend the extremely derogatory connotations of ‘troll’ to the broader mass of netizens who are often considered, and maybe even self-defined, as fenqing, but are capable of engaging in some sort of debate about their views.

    For me, the key element of fenqing is the “anger”: they get so emotional about their views that this often gets in the way of any rational discussion. I think they also tend to be characterised by certain types of opinion which arouse such extreme emotion – particularly nationalist opinions.

    I don’t think anyone who is a Chinese nationalist (or who supports the CCP) is necessarily a fenqing. However, it does tend to be the case that almost everyone who espouses Chinese nationalist or pro-CCP viewpoints on blogs like this does so in an extreme manner, with excessive emotion, and with poor (or no) argumentation. That’s what I would call fenqing.

    No, I don’t think that the CCP is an absolute evil, and I don’t think everything they do is wrong. I don’t think anyone who supports the CCP is wrong or stupid or crazy. The CCP enjoys a far higher level of approval from its citizens than just about any other government on earth, and I don’t think that’s just down to the control of information in this country; it’s because, on certain levels, they’re not doing a bad job.

    What I tend to take issue with are the products of CCP propaganda, the ‘party line’. On issues like Tibet, Taiwan, and so on, the range of points made by most Chinese commenters is very, very, narrow, very, very predictable.

    I like you, Pffefer. You raise a lot of very intelligent points. However, you are so tightly wound that you frequently go off in all directions at once rather than following a line of argument; you do stoop to personal attacks; you do rehash standard ‘party’ arguments. I hope you are not offended to be considered – by some – a fenqing. I do not mean it in Jeremiah’s extreme sense. But for me, the kinds of opinions you hold, and the vehemence with which you express them is definitive of fenqing. You are ANGRY. And that anger, unfortunately, often gets in the way of a good debate.

  54. Western coverage on third world issues is biased, the bias is even more obvious on TV. They tend to focus on dramatic, violent and tragic images while giving very little context or explanation to the events. This happens when given full access of information.

    Also, they failed in the coverage on Iraq war, twice, with full access of information.

    So, is censorship really the key problem?

    Even if it is, doesn’t it require even more ethics when reporting on such a complicated and sensitive issue without access of information?

    24-7 news circle does not necessarily help the audience to understand global issues. This report as it happens way of journalism limits the space for investigative stories with a more in-depth context, instead, repetition creates a false sense of the audience being close to the event. The demand for images lowers the ethical standard of journalists as the aesthetic value rises. Budget on international reporting is still being cut so the journalists have to work on technical stuff instead of learning the background information(explain the Nepalese police) and wire service (leader of 24-7 news circle) is still the main source for international news globally for the same money saving reason. So what is the purpose of all these? Profit. And for journalists, they constantly forget the compromise they have to routinely make within the system because the false idea of professional journalism makes them believe that by simply reporting little by little of what is happening, an objectivity can be reached.

    I had great hope for Western media and it is the reason why I came to Canada to study journalism, but I have to say that that the Tibet coverage kinda blew me away and so far I have not heard any journalist or blogger or media worker criticize this poor quality journalism within the system but blame China’s censorship. Yeah, the mistakes are not good, but they are not serious, can be ignored. Maybe they should learn more from their own academy where all these issues have been soo well studied. :S urgggg…frustration!!!

  55. Tibet independence is an opinion. It is Ok if western media sympathetic to it. It was a fact that major western countries recognize Tibet as part of China instead of independence country before 1950, and western media lied about this.
    So in your opinion it is OK for western media to lie/mislead public about some facts just because they are sympathetic some righteous opinions.

  56. Your fact, as our many facts when looking at history, is subject to interpretation, especially in a situation that was highly complex and fluid. If you’re unwilling to admit to complexity and nuance in history, well than you simply dive into the realm of anti-intellectualism and so become a bit of a case study for our debate.

    For example, whether the “Western media” lies can also be problematized. (For example, all Western countries, Peru included? Lichtenstein? Every journalist? Because that’s A LOT of people in a conspiracy. Did they meet all at once face to face in planning this, or was a conference call sufficient?) If I ask a Tibetan journalist, am I going to get the perspective as yours? Perhaps, perhaps not.

    I can understand the frustration on the part of many proud Chinese, because a lot of media coverage by companies based in Europe and America has been quite bad, but blanket statements of black/white motivations assigned to ill-defined entities does little to further understanding.

    And such is the difference between a thinking person and a fenqing.

  57. Ah, I understand now! It’s OK to use bigoted stereotypes, as long as they’re used to demonstrate the fringe nature of the fenqing movement and to acquit the saner and more balanced proponents of a “pro-China” perspective. I’ll remember this for next time I need a straw man in my argument.

  58. vel,

    Well, I guess it depends which side of the line you find yourself on.

  59. ‘Fenqing’ doesn’t strike me as a new concept, just a new word to describe a rather common phenomenon:
    ‘A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.’
    – Churchill

  60. An interesting conversation, that I won’t get involved in except to say that I prefer froog’s definition of fenqing, which strikes me as broader and as having less overlap with “troll.”
    What I really want to know is: did you try sending that headline to The Onion? Is it too obscure for their American orientation, or do you think they might actually do it?

  61. Okay, a tiny bit more on my first point, following what froog said: given the dictionary definition of fenqing, wouldn’t it be actually wrong to classify them as people driven more by a need for attention than by anger? Or is your point basically that there is no such thing as fenqing, that they are really just a kind of troll and not really a social phenomenon of any importance in themselves?

  62. re #14, #20

    see comment 19 – 26 on this post

    Seems like Stuart is “attacking the speaker so that ideas are left unexpressed. ” and “engenders an inability to accept that other valid perspectives might exist”

    So is stuart by your definitions a “fengqing” ?

  63. I agree that whether Tibet should be independent in future is complicate issues. But “US recognized Tibet as part of China before 1950” is just simple fact can be easily verified by a call to US state department or old official maps. Why make this fact deep and complicated?
    Based on my conversation with people in US, I believed that more that 90% people in US believed Tibet was a recognized independent country before 1950 and the Chinese invaded it out of blue in 1950. Where they got their information? If you watched CNN’s reporting regarding Tibet, you know why most people got the wrong facts. BTW I don’t think many US citizen get their information from Peru media.

  64. Pugster’s comments do get published. Go look. They are delayed because I have to screen them first, but 9 out of 10 times I let them go.

  65. “the kinds of opinions you hold, and the vehemence with which you express them is definitive of fenqing. ”

    Ahh, so it does matter what opinions I hold. If my opinions are the exact opposite, anti-China as opposed to “pro-China” (to borrow it from Jeremiah), would I be considered a fenqing?

  66. Lei,

    I sense this is an issue about which you feel strongly, and that’s fine. I think that most thinking people, whatever their stance on the Tibet question, would agree that Tibet’s status prior to 1949, and especially between 1912-1949 is not easily defined one way or the other. There was a lot of uncertainty in the region at the time, and that uncertainty made black and white distinctions difficult to ascertain.

    It’s one of the reasons I teach history, to help people understand that the story behind the story (to borrow a phrase) is a complicated one and that it’s worth learning. If you have time, you might want to check out some of the other posts on this sites, I tend to approach this issue with the belief that both sides in the debate have misrepresented history and eschewed complexity to serve contemporary political needs. But then again, this isn’t a Tibet thread.

    As for the media and Peru, if you’re beef is with the American media, a particular news outlet, or a certain series of stories, it helps your argument to be specific about that. Generalized indictments of “Western Media,” as my tongue-in-cheek response suggested, are perhaps too broad to be truly effective.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  67. Serve the People // March 18, 2009 at 8:54 am //

    I came across with this interesting story in LA Times,

    California Democrats hesitate to honor Dalai Lama,

    The Chinese consulate was blamed for defeating this bill in the newspaper. But my guess is that the Chinese communitiy in California lobbied against it. The fight agains the Tibetan separatists appears to be quite rewarding to China. It generates tremendous public support both within and without China. China should let this struggle continue indefinitely and never give an inch. The harder China fights, the more respect it receives.

    • StP,

      This story/link was actually up in the Twitter box on my site most of yesterday. Interesting story and I’d be particular interested in substantiating your guess. Any other sources other than the ones used by the LAT?

      Also, this would probably have fit better on one of the Tibet threads.

  68. Serve the People // March 18, 2009 at 10:25 am //


    I haven’t learned to use Twitter. It is on my to-do list.

    I have no proof to my speculation. California is a futile ground of pro-Dalai sentiment. I do not think the Chinese Consulate alone has the ability to derail this piece of legislation. Other than lobbying by the local Chinese community, I can not imagine any other constituents to be motivated enough to have this bill killed.

    Yes, this is about Tibet. It is also about the Fenqings. The Fenqings are most effective when they talk about Tibet. Look at what they have done. They turned the public opinion in China decisively against the Western media, and persuaded the overseas Chinese to become ardent supporters of the PRC for years to come.

    • The no proof thing does somewhat limit the utility of the example, but I might suggest that lobbying a assembly person because somebody has a reasoned and articulate disagreement with the politics of the Dalai Lama doesn’t make one a fenqing, calling an office and blathering about “hating China” and “jackals with monk’s robes,” etc., well…that’s another thing.

  69. Jeremiah, thank you, just a final quick point.
    You are right. There are two sided opinions on China/Tibet issues, just as some other countries:

    However the ways some major west media (CNN, PBS frontline, some news papers) reporting of China/Tibet issue are quite different from the reporting of other similar issues. Many Chinese feel that those media gave one-sided anti-China view and distorted some facts to make China more sinister. After last year’ bloodshed and Olympic touch relay, this type of feelings are more common among Chinese people. So I just want to point out that there are more in those Fenquin’s angry posts than lonely young men without enough sex.

    • Lei,

      I would agree about those other countries, but I wonder if we were having this discussion on a board devoted to, say, Indian history, with patriotic Indian and Pakistani voices commenting, would they be making similar complaints? Bias is an interesting thing. George Bush’s White House and its supporters frequently complained about the “biased media” in relation to Iraq. No matter how much W. tried to paint the Iraq War in black and white terms, there were those damn media outlets doing stories that suggested the situation was messier and far more complex than the official line.

      As I said to your earlier comment, I have no doubt that many patriotic Chinese are frustrated with the tone of coverage in Europe and America. But, for example, you just expressed this view in a very rational manner, and many others do the same. I have no problem with that, I don’t entirely agree with you but I see where you’re coming from and I understand your perspective, and that’s the way forums such as these are supposed to work.

      Once again, my view, and I’m sensing some disagreement here from certain camps, is that being a proud, patriotic Chinese person, even one who is angry about a particular issue, does not equal “fenqing.” A fenqing is less about a particular stance or perspective than a stubborn refusal to accept that alternative perspectives or nuance might exist as well as a particular style of commentary that doesn’t allow for debate or discussion pf certain issues.

      Don’t make the mistake, as do many in the media, of equating “Chinese people,” “Chinese views,” or “many Chinese” with “fenqing.” The former describe a large number of people with thoughtful views and ideas, the latter is a lunatic fringe.

  70. Pffefer, you’re such a unique specimen, we probably have to come up with a new word just for you.

    Yes, fenqing are commonly perceived (by Chinese as well as foreigners, I think; even by fenqing themselves) as being at least partly defined by their vociferous nationalism. If someone is anti-nationalist, or less vociferously nationalist…. then we need a different term for them.

    There are distinct groups in many countries and of many political persuasions who share the fenqing failings of excessive emotion and poor argumentation. One or two earlier commenters on this thread have pointed out that you can find similar phenomena on political blogs in almost any country. But we have to use different terms for them – fenqing is by convention restricted to Chinese (who are vehemently nationalist).

    The criticism implied in the term fenqing is, as Jeremiah has emphasised in this article, not attached to the views themselves, but to the attitude underlying them (anger, irrationality) and the way they are presented.

    I may not agree with a lot of Chinese nationalist/CCP views, but I respect your – or anyone else’s – right to advocate them. I just wish you wouldn’t get so ranty about it.

    I think you’ve often found, Pffefer, that in fact our views are quite close on many things (for example, I am not in favour of independence for Tibet, and I would like to see the Yuanminyuan bronzes returned to China). I think, if you were a little calmer and more open-minded, you might even find that you share some common ground with your nemesis, Stuart.

  71. @j – re. your comment to lei’s comment, there is actually a pretty virulent online hindu right element that is remarkably similar to fenqing (or, for that matter, the american online right). there has been a couple of threads discussing it in relation to a recent history by prof. wendy doniger over at chapati mystery lately.

  72. Wu Ming,

    Sorry to be unclear, that was my point. This idea that the world is “out to get China,” you could find similar complaints around the world against media bias, etc. Lei’s point was that it was only China/Tibet that receives such negative attention, to which I should have replied “wouldn’t we find such complaints…”

    Sorry for the rhetorical imprecision.

9 Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Jeremiah Jenne
  2. Jeremy Breningstall
  3. Richard Burger
  4. Glyn Moody
  5. How to be a fenqing » The Peking Duck
  6. About fenqings « Justrecently’s Weblog
  7. Fenqing distance China from the real thing |
  8. Nationalisme i Kina: Rui Chenggang udgiver ny bog |
  9. Laoliu

Comments are closed.