On March 19, Fox News host Tucker Carlson spiritedly despised US Secretary of State Antony Blinken for allegedly embarrassing the United States for his lack of aggression during his meetings with Chinese delegates. Later in his segment, Carlson belittled New York MP Jerry Nadler for warning against the use of the term “China virus” to trigger hate crimes against people of Asian origin. All of this was accomplished through Carlson’s introduction of the term “baizuo,” which he claims – in part through the misrepresentation of scholar Chenchen Zhang as part of the Chinese state media – of what the Chinese refer to as weak, impressionable US liberals, and warns against that the Chinese government is aware of US weakness and is trying to take advantage of it.
Baizuo (白 左, literally “white left”) has been around for about 10 years – but it has grown in importance after Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in 2017. It means something like “woke up” – as already mentioned, a scornful tone by conservative critics of the progressives. Today it is a ubiquitous insult used on China’s internet and hurled at anyone whose views can be viewed as ridiculously naive or directly at odds with social stability and national security. But depending on which side of the Pacific Ocean – or the US-China conflict – you are on, the nation you are talking about can be very different.
Originally, bai (白, “white”) mainly referred to race, and the term was more subtle. DD Yang, co-host of popular Mandkultur pop culture podcast Loud Murmurs, said when she first heard the term baizuo it was used to describe a group of American students who indulged in poverty tourism for theirs Fill up resumes. “Baizuo is reminiscent of white liberals from rich countries with an imperialist past who have flat, simple moralistic views of the world. There is always an undertone of hypocrisy, privilege and self-righteousness, ”said Yang.
But that meaning soon shifted. The “white” did not mean race, but referred to naivety or ignorance. It wasn’t long before Yang himself was called “Baizuo” by the same people who made fun of narcissistic white rescuers.
“I was referred to as Baizuo in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election on Weibo for not supporting Trump and it was very hurtful because it implied that my causes were not real and I was trying to act white like I forgot who I am, ”she said.
Anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) diaspora Chinese, especially Trump supporters, use the term against those who do not support Western conservative causes or politicians. Baizuo is particularly used against anyone who puts progressive values before the Chinese – which, in the view of conservative immigrants, often include people like Asian supporters of the Black Lives Matter. Because of its association with Trump, some writers have attributed the term’s popularity to the United States’ failed engagement in China, a kind of heightened pragmatism fueled by anti-CCP sentiments. Chinese Trump supporters in the United States seemed drawn to his supposedly tough stance. Trump is seen by his Chinese fans as a strong man who is solely focused on his own survival and dominance. He alone has the determination to clash with the CCP while a baizuo would be ineffective and weak in his position.
For the anti-CCP faction in the United States, the “left” is interpreted very literally – and mapped onto the politics of China itself, where left generally means Maoist and right-wing free market advocates or anti-Maoist personalities. In a tweet, US-based dissident writer Cao Changqing compared the Black Lives Matter movement to the Cultural Revolution and the protesters to the Cultural Revolution Red Guards wreaking havoc across China.
My parents, who saw the Cultural Revolution as teenagers, explained to me the generational scars that created such an irrational logic in Cao’s generation in the Chinese diaspora. The few similarities between social unrest and disorderly behavior during large-scale protests have triggered waves of trauma for Chinese people whose lives derailed as a result of the harrowing madness and the consequences of the Cultural Revolution. For them, idealism evokes the passionate, deadly, often sanctimonious Maoist passion of the Cultural Revolution, and therefore any mention of uplifting marginalized people and destroying the status quo today is interpreted as a preamble to a breakdown of all social orders. For them, the Baizuo ideology is not only silly but also dangerous and threatens the relative stability and prosperity they enjoy.
However, this affiliation is only applicable to anti-CCP users overseas. In the mainland, where it is most widely used, the word is mainly used by pro-CCP spokesmen who attack liberals who are brainwashed by foreigners or who are too preoccupied with human rights. In both cases it is an attack on those who put questions of justice and identity before the demands of national size.
The feeling of racial treason is often used by staunch CCP supporters who use the term in China. “When Chinese nationalists use the term baizuo, they try to convey a sense of competition in that white people have been the world’s hegemon for so long, but now China is rising. So we Chinese will take control of the world and take over hegemony, ”said Yao Lin, political scientist at Yale Law School.
When a person or a cause in China is referred to as a “baizuo,” they are often mocked for their concern about the negative impact China’s rise on the world scene has had. At the height of China’s tech and real estate boom in the 2010s, those who questioned the morals behind the mechanisms of rapid growth were often viewed as too weak and short-sighted to understand the need to become strong at any cost. It was “no pain, no gain” with steroids.
In the hugely popular trilogy The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, the central idea of the series is the zero-sum game of geopolitical Darwinism: dominate or be dominated. Perhaps the books owe their popularity to a widely accepted belief in China that a clash of nations is inevitable, and the best way is to stifle any distractions that keep China’s people from merging into one unbreakable monolith.
In this way of thinking, the United States and Europe have amassed their wealth and power through ruthless imperialism and exploitation and are now weakening as too much attention is paid to privileged considerations of multiculturalism and human rights. This is a mistake, nationalists argue, that China cannot make. This mindset has inevitably led to the coining of the less common term huangzuo (黄 左, “yellow left”), which refers to an overly idealistic Chinese liberal who pursues the same useless dreams of multiculturalism and equality as the white liberals, of which he has fallen off the top of the world to be too soft. Anti-baizuoism is a vow not to lose focus and make the same mistake.
This week there has been a strange transition between the two forms of nationalism. In the wake of Carlson’s segment, many Chinese Weibo users expressed a pleasant surprise that their own jargon was used against “Bai Deng”, a pun on the name of US President Joe Biden that uses the same character for “white” “Baizuo” was used. They viewed Biden’s relatively measured rhetoric as a kind of national treason, just as Baizuos in China have forgotten what best serves them and their own country. In contrast, Trump was perceived as a strong man who happened to be on the other side.
And for many users, there is one final aspect – an ugly, sexist tone. Baizuo is often paired with another term: Shengmubiao (圣母 婊, “holy mother’s bitch”) – a particularly gender-specific way of accusing someone of waking up. When used against men, baizuo takes on a distinctly emasculating tone. In this context, the silly, overly sentimental issues that soft-hearted women care about are worthless compared to mastering and removing weaknesses. Whether it’s backing Trump or backing Chinese President Xi Jinping, the Baizuo tossing around is an affirmation of users’ longing to put power first.