I wish that I had seen this article when it was first published, 7½ months ago:
Chenchen Zhang¹ | | 11 May 2017
If you look at any thread about Trump, Islam or immigration on a Chinese social media platform these days, it’s impossible to avoid encountering the term baizuo (白左), or literally, the ‘white left’. It first emerged about two years ago, and yet has quickly become one of the most popular derogatory descriptions for Chinese netizens to discredit their opponents in online debates.
So what does ‘white left’ mean in the Chinese context, and what’s behind the rise of its (negative) popularity? It might not be an easy task to define the term, for as a social media buzzword and very often an instrument for ad hominem attack, it could mean different things for different people. A thread on “why well-educated elites in the west are seen as naïve “white left” in China” on Zhihu, a question-and-answer website said to have a high percentage of active users who are professionals and intellectuals, might serve as a starting point.
The question has received more than 400 answers from Zhihu users, which include some of the most representative perceptions of the ‘white left’. Although the emphasis varies, baizuo is used generally to describe those who “only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment” and “have no sense of real problems in the real world”; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to “satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority”; they are “obsessed with political correctness” to the extent that they “tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism”; they believe in the welfare state that “benefits only the idle and the free riders”; they are the “ignorant and arrogant westerners” who “pity the rest of the world and think they are saviours”.
Apart from some anti-hegemonic sentiments, the connotations of ‘white left’ in the Chinese context clearly resemble terms such as ‘regressive liberals’ or ‘libtards’ in the United States. In a way the demonization of the ‘white left’ in Chinese social media may also reflect the resurgence of right-wing populism globally.
And, further down:
The term first became influential amidst the European refugee crisis, and Angela Merkel was the first western politician to be labelled as a baizuo for her open-door refugee policy. Hungary, on the other hand, was praised by Chinese netizens for its hard line on refugees, if not for its authoritarian leader. Around the same time another derogatory name that was often used alongside baizuo was shengmu (圣母) – literally the ‘holy mother’ – which according to its users refers to those who are ‘overemotional’, ‘hypocritical’ and ‘have too much empathy’. The criticisms of baizuo and shengmu soon became an online smear campaign targeted at not only public figures such as J. K. Rowling and Emma Watson, but also volunteers, social workers and all other ordinary citizens, whether in Europe or China, who express any sympathy with international refugees.
The article notes that the Chinese government very heavily censors the internet, and that it also has its own agents provocateur, who try to get memes the government wants stirred up, particularly internationally, but many Chinese immigrants to the United States use the term as well, feeling slighted by the preferences given ro refugees, and believing that, as Asians, they are particularly discriminated against under Affirmative Action programs.
I would not wish to take all of the Chinese meaning to baizuo, because I certainly don’t want to echo Chinese government propaganda. But it is, perhaps, a better term than special snowflake, which is often used derogatorily against the oversensitive, whiny left. I see the snowflakes as really not that sensitive, but rather cannily able to use protestations of being insulted for their own political gain. In that vein, baizuo seems more accurate. Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, Peter Daou and the like seem to be thick-skinned enough not to worry if someone insults them, but know how to use those insults to manipulate others.
The definition given in the third quoted paragraph, that the baizuo are “those who ‘only care about topics such as immigration, minorities, LGBT and the environment’ and ‘have no sense of real problems in the real world’; they are hypocritical humanitarians who advocate for peace and equality only to ‘satisfy their own feeling of moral superiority,’ (and) they are ‘obsessed with political correctness’ to the extent that they ‘tolerate backwards Islamic values for the sake of multiculturalism’,” seems apt to me; how else can we explain the sympathy among the homosexual left for the Palestinians and Muslims, who would happily slaughter homosexuals in the name of their religion. Christianity and Judaism certainly disapprove of homosexual activity, but it isn’t Christians or Jews who imprison, and sometimes execute people for homosexual activity. What else explains the left who advocate peace and equality, yet support those groups which use terrorism to advance their goals, and would impose legal inequality on those who are not like them?
Conservatives have long been baffled by the intellectual torpor among highly educated leftists who are seemingly unable to see the inherent contradictions in their positions. Robert
Stacey Stacy McCain spends a great deal of bandwidth noting how the feminist left falls silent when sexual assailants, presumably their greatest villains, turn out not to be heterosexual white Christian males. Personally, I have simply chalked up the left’s positions to be anything opposed to conservatives, regardless of whether such positions make any coherent sense. If George Bush (in the past) or Donald Trump (today) is for it, then the left must be against it, even if it was once a more liberal position, such as the belief that cutting the corporate income tax rate would make American businesses more competitive, which President Obama supported during his 2012 re-election campaign.
The baizuo is the reflexive liberal, the one wedded to the extreme positions of those they see as aggrieved and discriminated against minority groups, as long as those positions attack the long-established culture of Western civilization. How else can we explain the support of the baizuo for those sexual and anti-social behaviors which lead to increased poverty among the minority citizens they claim to so strongly support?
So, Chinese origin or not, possibly Communist government propaganda or otherwise, my personal website, The First Street Journal, will now add baizuo to our stylebook. A more appropriate definition and concept for the American left would be difficult to find.
¹ – Chenchen Zhang has a PhD in Political Theory from LUISS Guido Carli University and a PhD in Political Science from Université libre de Bruxelles. She has worked as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Copenhagen. She can be reached at @dustette.