The Chinese government seized the building that formerly housed the U.S. consulate in Chengdu on Monday and allowed a communist crowd to convene outside the premises to wave Chinese Communist flags, set off fireworks, chant slogans, and take selfies.
The American flag was lowered at dawn on Monday, after which “competent Chinese authorities entered through the front entrance and took it over,” according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
“Chinese soldiers goose-stepped in front of the consulate while teams of workers in hazmat suits and officials dressed in white short-sleeved dress shirts and black briefcases entered the mission. Workers draped grey cloths over signs bearing the consulate’s name,” the UK Guardian reported.
One amusing detail noted by the Guardian was a Chinese worker who spent about 20 minutes attempting to pry the brass plaque with the seal of the U.S. State Department off the front of the building before giving up in frustration. Either the workers were eventually able to remove the plaque or they simply covered it up with a cloth, because by Monday morning Reuters reported it was no longer visible.
“People stopped to take selfies and photos, jamming a footpath busy with shoppers and families with strollers on a sunny day in the city of Chengdu. A little boy posed with a small Chinese flag before plainclothes police shooed him away as foreign media cameras zoomed in,” the Australian Associated Press reported.
Chinese state media strove to portray a festival atmosphere around the consulate shutdown, with the Global Times quoting “netizens” who hailed the closing as “courageous and admirable” and suggested doing victory dances outside the building.
While foreign media like the Guardian and Reuters reported large and boisterous crowds waving flags and chanting slogans outside the consulate, Chinese state media complimented the crowds on their restraint and said all the fiery anti-American rhetoric was to be found online, supposedly because “today’s youths in China understand, more than ever, the power of silence and the weakness of shouting.”
The Global Times said the heated online rhetoric reflects “Chinese public sentiment toward the U.S. bullying of China” and their conviction that America’s effort to “separate the Communist Party of China from the Chinese people is doomed to end in failure.”
Although Chinese state media did not dwell on it, the Guardian noted that some of that energetic “public sentiment” on Chinese social media included death threats and crude insults like “pack up your stuff and get lost, Yankees.”
The Chinese Internet directed a good deal of its vitriol against the wife of Chengdu consul general Jim Mullinax, a popular food writer named Chuang Tzu-i. Taking a page from Western cancel culture, Chuang’s critics went through her old social media posts and found one she wrote in February that compared her evacuation at the height of the coronavirus outbreak to the Jews fleeing Nazi Germany in World War II.
“I had a fleeting thought whether the Jews were like us when they left their homes to hide from the Nazis before World War II. Then I shook the emotions out of my head, telling myself that I’ll be back soon,” the Taiwanese-born Chuang wrote in February to her 600,000 followers on Weibo, the Chinese analogue to Twitter.
At the time, response to her post was divided between those who thought it was somewhat inappropriate to make comparisons to the Holocaust and others who simply wished her well and hoped she could return to Chengdu soon.
Now that relations between the U.S. and China have deteriorated further, and some other posts critical of Chinese policies in Hong Kong and Tibet have been spotlighted, Chuang is accused of being a “two-faced web celebrity” who drew in Chinese fans by writing about food but has supposedly been revealed as a “secessionist” and subversive.
“Get out of here, a bunch of spies … you don’t have a clue how much your husband and his men have spied on Tibet and Xinjiang?” one Weibo user posted on Chuang’s account. Others accused her of being a Taiwanese saboteur, and a few threatened her with violence if she returns to Chengdu.
The Global Times reported that the U.S. Embassy’s farewell message to the Chengdu consulate also drew an angry backlash online. The message said “we’ll miss you forever” and included a video spotlighting the history of the consulate and its friendly relationship with local people, but supposedly it infuriated Chinese “netizens” because they think the graceful farewell was deceitful and “hypocritical.”
“Observers said most Chinese web users have already learned the tricks the U.S. used to play to show their hypocrisy and so-called ‘care’ to human rights or freedom, while in fact, they are infiltrating China by recruiting proxies, building connections with separatists and collecting intelligence, which are all typical tricks of a color revolution,” the Global Times thundered, repeating the Chinese Communist Party accusation that the sinister United States is trying to foment a regime-change “color revolution” in China.
The Global Times found an anonymous “observer” who said the “simple and naive” tricks of American diplomats have “failed to fool the Chinese people.”
According to this “observer,” U.S. support for Tibet was the last straw for the Chinese people, not so much the U.S. government shutting down the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas last week on allegations of espionage activity.
“This has challenged the bottom line of the Chinese people. The unity of the nation cannot be challenged, and clearly, the US Embassy wants to separate ‘Tibetans’ from the rest of Chinese, rather than acknowledge that ethnic Tibetans are also Chinese nationals. This will surely anger Chinese people, and it shows that US diplomats don’t understand China at all,” the Global Times’ anonymous source expounded.
Even Chinese media reports allowed that some people in Chengdu seemed sorry to see the U.S. embassy go and expressed sorrow about the state of relations between the two countries. One fellow noted by the Australian Associated Press tried to unfurl a banner with a message to the Chinese government, but he was hustled off by police before he could finish.
Evidently local residents who worked for the consulate are especially unhappy to see it go. The Global Times claimed that “some Chinese employees were not properly compensated with laws and regulations” after they were abruptly laid off.