Revealing Chinese Comments On French Unrest, Jordan in Aspen
“Blame is a lazy man’s way of making sense of chaos.” ~ Douglas Coupland
Jordan will be at the Aspen Security Forum this week. If you’ll be around, say hi!
The following is a guest article by Dylan Levi King.
Chinese social media and online opinion portals often feature commentary about the outside world. As the Great Translation Movement has revealed, sometimes those posts are quite provocative; for instance, there was conversation among Chinese men about securing Ukrainian refugees as slave-wives. Of course, those posts are demeaning and ugly — but a closer examination suggests that their shared crude fantasy is also a fusillade in the gender war unfolding in China.
I noticed the same phenomenon while translating some inflammatory articles about the recent unrest in France. The posts of anonymous political theorists on Zhihu and Weibo are interesting not for what they tell us about events in France, but for what they say about the path the commentariat feels China should take.
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On July 3 and 4, a pair of articles posing contradictory causes for the unrest circulated widely on Zhihu. Both were published by Meidiqi Xiaoying 美第奇效应 (the account name comes from Frans Johansson’s 2004 business book The Medici Effect, which was popular in Chinese translation). While these articles superficially describe France, commentary on China itself is detectable below the surface.
The first article — “‘French Spring’? French Riots and European Deindustrialization” “法国之春？”：法国大骚乱和欧洲去工业化 — paints a picture of Western Europe as a postindustrial wasteland, where the Third World proletariat brought in to provide cheap labor is now going hungry:
In fact, deindustrialization has severely hit the employment rate in Western Europe. Preliminary estimates show that the unemployment rate among young people in France is as high as 17%, and this is the figure revised by the “French Bureau of Statistics” (those who have not found a job for several consecutive months are considered as having no intention to work and are not counted as unemployed). The actual unemployment rate may be over 30%. With no money and no work, isn’t there plenty of time for riots and looting?
The deindustrialization in Europe has seriously impacted the living standards of Europeans.
In 2022, the per capita meat consumption in Germany was only 52 kg — a decrease of 9 kg from five years ago — marking the lowest meat consumption since the reunification of East and West Germany. For context, per capita meat consumption in China was 61.2 kg in 2020. Germans are known for their love of meat, but under conditions of low income, high inflation, and high commodity prices, their per capita meat consumption is even lower than China’s. This begs the question, “Who is the developed country, and who is the developing country?” Deindustrialization has severely impacted the purchasing power and living standards of Western Europeans.
The article also posits the Arab Spring — a wave of popular unrest that began in Tunisia in 2010 and spread throughout the Middle East — as a close analog to the tension in France. The author points to the same pressures of declining standards of living in the Arab world in the 2010s and Western Europe in the 2020s leading to similar urban strife — and predicts that this unrest will not mark the last time we see chaos in Europe:
As with the Arab Spring, this blaze in France will not stop at its border — it will ignite all of Western European society.
The author ends with an even bolder prediction about the fate of the West:
King and nobles, generals and ministers — such men are made, not born! [Ed.: This is Burton Watson’s translation of a defiant line spoken by rebel leader Chen Sheng 陈胜 ahead of the Dazexiang Uprisings 大泽乡起义, as recorded in Records of the Grand Historian 史记]. Can Europeans just lie down and enjoy high salaries? Times have changed. Western Europe, which once swept across the globe through industrialization, will be engulfed in turmoil due to deindustrialization.
This conclusion is based on an obsession among the anonymous Zhihu commentariat: industrial growth is China’s panacea. That is, the expansion of industrial society will solve all economic and social problems in China, as well as any other states that could take up the model.
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The second article — “The Population Bomb Behind the French Spring” 法国之春背后的人口炸弹 — offers a similarly distressing view of France. Despite deindustrialization, the author claims, population growth in France has picked up speed — partly because of the importation of Third World labor, and partly because of the high birth rates among North African immigrants. But this increase has given rise to problems of its own:
At first glance, it doesn’t seem as though France has the population issues that East Asia does — but if you look closely, it is a very serious problem.
Last year, out of a net increase of 200,000 people in France, 160,000 were from abroad, and especially from North Africa and the Middle East. The actual population born in the country (ie. births minus deaths) had a net increase of only 56,000 people, which is the lowest level since World War II.
And there are issues with the composition even among those born in France.
Among newborns, statistics show that over 40% are born out of wedlock. (France has a legal arrangement by which cohabiting boyfriends and girlfriends can receive tax reductions and benefits.) Moreover, the proportion of newborns who are Muslim and not of French ethnicity is also very high.
The author gives credence to the idea of immigrants from the Global South replacing “French Catholics” — albeit he is less concerned with this narrative than the problem of countries simply having too many mouths to feed.
Again, this is a description of French and Western European problems — but it is also a reflection of problems back in China, too. The pro-natalism, population-growth orthodoxy to which the CCP and private birth-rate boosters have turned in recent years has been criticized by fringe commentators as basically futile — a backdoor for opening up immigration or, without sufficient industrial growth, a recipe for disaster. (The Yuwa Population Research 育娲人口研究 think tank — represented by economist Ren Zeping 任泽平 and CTrip founder James Liang 梁建章 — is a good example of a pro-natalist private organization.)
Another fascinating article that circulated in the wake of the French riots was titled, “What are the real facts behind the French riots?” 法国骚乱的真相？ Posted on Xingkong yu Sikao 星空与思考 by a Weibo account which gained traction via its provocative articles on the conflict in Ukraine, it was also shared by Maoist portal Wuyouzhixiang 乌有之乡. It dispensed completely with demographic or economic explanations, instead charging US intelligence with sowing the seeds of chaos in France.
The target of subversion by “Anglo-Saxon-Jewish forces” was President Macron himself, who, shortly after an early April trip to China, struck a defiant note in his comments on the militarization of East Asia and the possibility of opening a NATO office in Tokyo. The author then explains the motives of US intelligence: if France maintains and Western Europe succeeds in winning “strategic autonomy,” they will join an “anti-American” bloc:
From the perspective of the Anglo-Saxon-Jewish financial oligarchs: in terms of the entire Eurasian continent — or even the whole world — China, Russia, and Europe (mainly France and Germany) make up the backbone of resistance against American bullying. China is the greatest challenge; Russia is a tangible threat; and Europe, especially France and Germany, is the key bargaining chip that needs to be controlled, and whose reversal would concern the balance of power between the two sides.
To be sure, there is not much proof given for any of these claims, except that, as he writes, “French police are being shot by American rifles diverted from Ukraine” (法国警察被来自乌克兰的美国步枪射击).
Here, too, although describing events in France, the author clearly has his eyes on China. The roots of this theory come from the idea that civil unrest around the world is manipulated only by the tentacles of US intelligence (the National Endowment for Democracy, for example) — which are themselves given direction by a powerful, secret cabal. In other words: if there is chaos or unrest over social conditions in China, it will be caused by the actions of the US deep state, directed by Anglo-Saxon-Jewish oligarchs.
The Path the Fringe Commentariat Would Have China Take
Left without proper context, it might not be immediately apparent that these articles reflect obsessions among fringe Chinese political commentators about the need for industrial expansion over all else, the terror of demographic replacement, or the prospects for chaos in China. They are actually pertinent to France only at the most superficial level.
These articles reveal how these online amateur pundits would save China: cranking industrialization to the max; accepting that pro-natalist policies cannot solve demographic collapse; and maintaining stability by smearing activists as pawns of American intelligence.
As with the aforementioned online discussions of trafficking Ukrainian refugees as sex slaves, the observations of the fringe here may seem ugly. Even so, it’s nonetheless important to understand the actual message — the authentic ugliness, let’s say — instead of settling for an easy read.