The Chinese government’s position on the Israel-Hamas war has evolved from non-committal to “anti-Western neutrality,” designed to vilify the U.S. and win over Arabic publics. The result of this position is reflected in China’s domestic media ecosystem: state media has shown more sympathy towards Palestine, and social media has amplified rising antisemitism. However, some mainland and diasporic Chinese voices are trying to cut through the noise to express nuanced reactions of solidarity, not instrumentally with one or another party to the conflict, but with the civilian victims of both sides. Through a more progressive, principled stance, some have also found common cause by highlighting links between the Chinese government’s repression of its own peripheral territories and the Israeli government’s repression of Palestine.
The outpouring of antisemitism on Chinese social media may align with Beijing’s policy aims, but these appear to be based less on principle than on opportunism. Daisuke Wakabayashi, Tiffany May, and Claire Fu from The New York Times described how antisemitic content online can be leashed or unleashed according to the Chinese government’s geopolitical interests:
On China’s heavily censored internet, inflammatory speech critical of Israel is rampant, with commenters seemingly emboldened by [the Chinese government’s refusal to condemn Hamas]. And China’s state-run media is seizing on the conflict to accuse the United States of turning a blind eye to Israeli aggression, while perpetuating tropes of Jewish control of American politics.
[…However,] Chinese authorities consider anti-Zionist speech — when made by Muslims in China — as extremist, said Darren Byler, a professor and anthropologist studying Uyghur culture and Chinese surveillance at Simon Fraser University, in Canada. Chinese courts used anti-Zionist texts as evidence in a 2018 trial involving a Kazakh Muslim in Xinjiang. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison over extremism charges. [Source]
At the same time, as Liyan Qi wrote in The Wall Street Journal, this rise in antisemitic expression was facilitated by a government crackdown on civil society and promotion of nationalist bigotry:
The signs of a shift in Chinese sentiment coincide with rising nationalism and anger at the West, especially the U.S.
[…] Many nationalist-leaning influencers have also fueled anti-Jewish sentiment. One influencer, with more than half a million followers on Douyin, said China shouldn’t shelter Jews displaced by crises in the future. The post received 170,000 likes.
Yaqiu Wang, a research director at Freedom House, a nonprofit group based in Washington that tracks the global state of democracy, said years of crackdown on civil society in China have successfully silenced many who acted as a balancing force in online debates.
“These haters are vocal but that doesn’t mean everyone is thinking like that in China,” Wang said. “People who think differently don’t voice their opinions anymore.” [Source]
In an interview with Global Voices, independent journalist Vivian Wu explained what sort of media has been available to Chinese internet users in this information environment:
Surprisingly, this time, there is an abundance of information related to the Gaza crisis made available. The emphasis seems to be on highlighting protests in Europe and the US. Digital platforms and online streaming sites, such as Douyin and Kuaishou, feature footage, some being translations of international news reports into Chinese, many coming with various nationalist perspectives and may contain sensationalized content. Scenes showing protests and disturbances in European countries, like Germany and France, are frequently used to underscore the importance of social stability, Xi Jinping’s leitmotiv to justify his own policies in China. Certain footage also focus on the hostages taken by Hamas, but make little mention of Chinese victims of the conflict.
[…] However, there are still many who seek a deeper understanding of the issues. Books on Muslim and Jewish histories, the intricacies of the Gaza conflict, religious and social customs, and documentaries on related topics are garnering increased attention. [Source]
Some Chinese news outlets and commentators have published content about the crisis that goes beyond one-sided bellicosity and cynical nationalism. A longform article in Sanlian Lifeweek shared narratives from civilians on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the war. An essay from the anthropology-themed WeChat account 结绳志 (Jiéshéngzhì, “Tying Knots“) offered a reading list on the history of the region and highlighted how it is always the civilians who bear the most suffering in times of war. Another article, from current affairs and fact-checking WeChat account 老牌恶棍 (Lǎopái E’gùn, “Venerable villain”) reiterated this theme and described the horrific images of war in the internet age: “War is no longer a series of cold casualty figures transmitted from the front lines, but a ruthless bloodshed that everyone can witness with their own eyes.” Writing for the WeChat public account 新新默存 (Xīnxīn Mòcún), seasoned journalist Qin Xuan (秦轩) recounts his personal experience reporting from Israel, Palestine, and other locations in the Middle East. Condemning war and the trauma it causes, Qin praises those on the fringes of popular opinion who work for peace:
My standpoint is to oppose ethnic antagonism, pay attention to suffering, and oppose tyranny and hatred. We should address the suffering, avoid inflicting further harm, and work towards healing. Anyone who derives pleasure from hateful attacks is a scoundrel.
War is a last resort. War causes suffering, which in turn incites people to seek revenge. [Chinese]
Some commentators went a step further by voicing principled empathy, in contrast with the interest-driven stance of the Chinese government. Popular Weibo newsblogger Creamy Banana (@Creamy蕉, “Creamy jiāo”) argued that “[Israel] can be a victim and a villain hurting others at the same time,” and that “supporting Palestine means supporting justice” rather than “a specific regional political group.” At the Lausan Collective, an anonymous group of Tibetans and Hongkongers shared a statement in solidarity with Palestinians by drawing on their common struggles against colonial oppression:
As our oppressors and colonizers borrow tactics from each other, we, as the oppressed and colonized, lend each other our understanding and solidarity. It is in this vein that we urge fellow Hongkongers and Tibetans to understand Palestinian suffering in its own context.
[…] It is crucial to emphasize that our solidarity as Hongkongers and Tibetans comes from understanding this long historical perspective of colonialism and apartheid. Our solidarity includes grief for all victims who have borne the cost of violent settler colonialism, a project that spills blood inside and outside the fence.
[…] We call on those in our communities to be in solidarity with Palestine—to reject a shallow perfunctory politics that does not uphold nor affirm the humanity of the Palestinian people, and to embrace truly liberatory politics that recognizes the shared fates and humanity of all fighting against oppression. [Source]
Chinese feminist groups also voiced their support for Palestinian liberation along intersectional lines. The Nvzei Collective, established by Chinese feminists at the College of William and Mary in the U.S., called for freedom for all Palestinian people under Israeli occupation, including women and sexual minorities, and called for overseas Chinese students and other international students to stand up in support. In another statement of solidarity, Chinese Feminism Toronto, an online group whose members are based both in mainland China and abroad, also criticized the Chinese government’s superficial allyship to Palestinians alongside its military support to Israel and abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet:
Chinese Feminism Toronto stands firm in our support of the Palestinian people’s fight for liberation and decolonization, and their right to resist settler colonialism and white supremacy. We join forces with our partners and allies in calling for an immediate ceasefire to stop the ongoing occupation, apartheid, and genocide led by Israel.
[…] We must emphasize that anti-Zionism should not be equated with anti-Semitism. We condemn the fact that mainstream media has been perpetuating this harmful conflation of Palestinian liberation with anti-Semitism, influenced by Western Zionist propaganda and the spread of false information. The use of state-led propaganda and false news is reminiscent of what we witnessed across mainland Chinese media during the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. We charge mainstream media with being accomplices in the genocide and call on it to align itself with the right side of history.
[…] We are aware of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) support for the two-state solution, but it is important to differentiate this from Palestinian liberation. In fact, the PRC has, regrettably, deepened its economic and military ties with the State of Israel in recent years. Concurrently, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime has conducted and continues to carry out genocide and operate concentration camps in East Turkestan (Xinjiang) and Tibet against the Uyghur and Tibetan communities. Therefore, portraying China as a “third-world ally” disregards the ethnic cleansing and oppression that the CCP has perpetrated and continues to perpetrate. We categorically condemn the CCP’s actions and by no means do we align ourselves with them. [Source]
Groups in other Sinophone communities made efforts to help educate their peers about the plight of the Palestinians. In Taiwan, New Bloom Magazine presented a night of film screenings about Gaza in coordination with the Palestine Film Institute, and raised 8,000 NTD for the Middle East Children’s Alliance to help provide medical aid, clean water, food, and psychological support for those affected in the region. CitizensDailyCN, a diaspora group for overseas Chinese students on Instagram, used its stories to draw attention to Israeli airstrikes on Gaza refugee camps and translated some media content about Gaza into Chinese. The Xin Sheng Project, a Chinese intercontinental diaspora group that provides alternative, progressive perspectives on widely circulated issues on WeChat, also shared two examples of how to have conversations with one’s Chinese family members that educate them about the injustices suffered by the Palestinian people. The group also issued a statement in solidarity with Palestine:
We support the Palestinians’ right of return and decolonial, revolutionary, land back struggle against the ongoing violence of Zionist settler-colonialist project by any means necessary.
We reject not only false narratives proclaiming “both sides” arguments, but also false equivalencies between Palestinian resistance and anti-semitism or terrorism.
Upholding our mission to combat mis- and disinformation, we emphasize that violence began with both the decades-long violent occupation of Palestine and the stark power imbalance between the US- and NATO-backed Zionist state and Palestinian resistance.
The Palestinian reclamation of their land gives us hope for many other Indigenous resistance movements and decolonial revolutions worldwide. [Source]
Uyghur diaspora groups have had a mixed response to the Israel-Hamas war. Given the political support by the Palestinian Authority and other Arab states for China’s crimes against humanity in Xinjiang, many Uyghurs have been reluctant to voice support for Palestine. Some groups, such as the World Uyghur Congress and Canada’s Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, issued statements shortly after October 7 strongly condemning Hamas’ terrorist attack, but so far none of them have issued statements about Israel’s military response, despite growing international calls for a cease-fire. In an interview with The China Project, Uyghur human rights lawyer Rayhan Asat highlighted the irony of China’s calls for Israel to respect the rights of a people it is collectively punishing, when China has used similar collective punishment methods in Xinjiang:
Countries should not take China’s words seriously but, given the roles that the Western governments have played during the Israel-Hamas conflict in particular, they are making China look great, because China’s assuming a role of a peace-broker that it is not entitled to nor qualified to play when China, itself, is committing atrocity crimes and carrying out collective punishment.
[…] There are lessons to be learned from this conflict. Any sort of atrocity cannot go on forever, because it only creates further tension between different ethnic groups where there’s a power dynamic that creates discriminatory treatment against the oppressed.
[…] I see the irony too strikingly. China says Israel should heed the Palestinian struggle — advice China cannot follow itself. [Source]
Domestic security, in Palestine and Xinjiang, is one domain where connections between Israel and China can be drawn, despite differences of context. (Just this week, the Chinese embassy in France tweeted a viral meme, later shared by another Chinese diplomat, comparing Xinjiang to Gaza.) In 2010, Israeli military personnel traveled to Beijing to help train Chinese military spokespeople in “public legitimacy.” Amnesty International has documented a growing number of HikVision facial recognition cameras in occupied Jerusalem, which one researcher said “helps bolster apartheid.” Israeli company Cellebrite, which produces equipment for hacking cell phones, has worked extensively with Chinese government actors. Joshua Wong said that Cellebrite technology was used by Chinese authorities to hack into his phone after his detention in December 2019. In Jacobin, Promise Li argued that these connections provided inspiration for China’s surveillance state in Xinjiang and provide an opportunity for bridging liberation movements in China with that in Palestine:
Chinese elite police academy researchers have also publicly studied Israeli counterinsurgency measures against Palestine as an inspiration for Xinjiang’s surveillance state. [This] has strategically eliminated secular and nonviolent oppositions and weaponized the rise of Islamic militant groups to justify broad repression of Palestinians, Uyghurs, and other ethnic groups. In fact, Pan Yue, the current head of China’s National Ethnic Affairs Commission, said that the PRC should learn from the United States’, Russia’s, and Israel’s colonial methods to introduce Han settlers to its western frontier.
[…] China’s trade with Israel offers an opportunity for solidarity between advocates of Palestinian liberation and opponents of repressive PRC policies. Targeting businesses and institutions that support the Chinese state from abroad has been a key strategy for overseas dissidents. Protesting and boycotting Chinese trade with Israel as part of the broader Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign — like DJI, formerly DaJiang Innovation Science and Technology Company, a private Chinese company that receives PRC state funding and that has produced drones and other military equipment for the Israeli military — provides more avenues for this approach, while bridging the struggle for greater freedom in China with the Palestinian cause. [Source]