Chinese ‘Netizens’ Brand Academics ‘Traitors’ for Work with Japan

A man surfs the internet in Beijing on June 15, 2009. The designers of controversial Internet filtering software that China has ordered shipped with all new computers said they were trying to fix security glitches in the programme in the latest blow to the plan to include the filtering software …
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images

Chinese social media users launched an online attack on 144 Chinese intellectuals last week after learning they participated in a Japanese government-funded cultural exchange program in Japan from 2008-2016, Reuters reported Wednesday.

“Two netizens, operating under the pseudonyms Diguaxiong Laoliu and Guyan Muchan, who each have more than six million followers on their Twitter-like Weibo accounts, accused the intellectuals of currying favour with Japan for financial gain,” Reuters reported June 9. “They joined an online ‘name and shame’ campaign to brand the intellectuals as traitors.”

“Netizens” is China’s preferred term for social media users. The Chinese Communist Party strictly censors all opinions it does not approve of on the few legal social media platforms in the country, so the continued existence of the comments that remain suggest approval from Beijing – particularly those allowed millions of followers.

“(Jiang) got the money from the Japanese government and tried to flatter Japan — traitor,” an unidentified user of the Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo wrote in recent days, the South China Morning Post reported on June 8. Weibo is China’s largest legal social network.

“The hashtag [statement] had been read 70 million times as of Tuesday afternoon,” according to the Post.

The social media user referred to Chinese writer Jiang Fangzhou, who spent three months in Japan in 2016 for a cultural exchange sponsored by the Japan Foundation, which is operated by Japan’s foreign ministry. Jiang published a book about her time in Japan in 2017 titled One Year in Tokyo, which Chinese netizens derided as Japanese-funded “propaganda” in statements posted to Sina Weibo over the past week. The Japan Foundation is funded by “[Japanese] government subsidies, investment revenue and private sector donations,” according to the Post.

The foundation’s Japan-China intellectual exchange program began in 2008 to “deepen mutual understanding and establish closer relations between Japan and other countries while promoting global intellectual exchange,” according to the Japan Foundation’s official website. The Tokyo-based entity has sponsored the travel of 196 Chinese intellectuals to Japan as of 2019, according to Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Online attacks on prominent participants of the exchange began last week in China after “nationalistic netizens noticed their names among a list of 144 Chinese intellectuals who had been sponsored by the Japan Foundation to visit Japan from 2008 to 2016,” according to Reuters.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs defended the Japan Foundation’s China-Japan intellectual exchange on Wednesday.

“It is common practice in international relations to engage in various forms of exchange of visits,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Weng Wenbin told reporters at a regular press briefing on June 9.

“As important close neighbors, China and Japan see a lot of personnel exchange,” he said.

“A couple of years ago, the two sides agreed to arrange mutual visits for 30,000 young people in five years,” Weng noted.

“A two-way study and travel program for young students backed by both governments is also being drawn up and will be carried out gradually after the pandemic is brought to an end,” he revealed.

“We hope that through sustained, sound, and steady people-to-people exchange between the two countries, we will be able to enhance mutual understanding, build up trust and deepen friendship,” the foreign ministry spokesman added.

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