If you had no other choice but to stick to China’s state media – and, given censorship, that is the case for quite a few people on the mainland – you might believe that protests in Hong Kong are entirely staged by hostile foreign forces bent on destabilizing the government.
According to Hong Kong University’s China Media Project, “the foreign conspiracy frame has been one of the most widely used in Chinese coverage… of the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.” On the People’s Daily, China’s most authoritative newspaper, the deputy head of Institute of Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Mo Jihong, informs us that “behind the back of occupy central you can see the ‘shadows’ of some western countries. [..] There are elements of foreign forces’ involvement behind the back of Hong Kong’s street politics.” And that is “a very dangerous sign, it has constituted a serious threat to the future prosperous and stable development in HK.”
The Global Times – usually more direct and less compromising than its peers – only hints at how “young people are susceptible to the instigation of the internal and external malicious forces….” We do not know who those powers are, but a reasonable guess would be the United States and, this being Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, too.
Foreign Minister Wang Yi himself has touched on the topic of potential foreign meddling. He has been much more nuanced, as one could expect from a high official, but did not fail to bring up the topic during a visit to the United States. Speaking to his American counterparts, he warned Washington “to speak and act with caution, abide by the promise of non-interference with China’s internal affairs, and send no wrong signals to the outside world.”
Foreign influences rarely fail to spring up in Chinese media to play the part of bogeyman. The apparent danger of foreign intrusions and machinations has been a constant in modern Chinese history. The fear that foreigners are bent on damaging the country dates back to the opium wars, and has developed through years of vexations – the age which, to use a common phrase in Chinese rhetoric, is deemed the ‘century of humiliation.’ “Nationalism born of humiliation,” says Orville Schell, one of America’s foremost experts on China, is “like genetic material you can’t get off the genome. It keeps re-expressing itself.”
It is surprising to discover just for how long the sense of humiliation and the loathing of foreign intrusion have been able to survive. There are two factors, however, that help explain this phenomenon. One is how tragic Chinese modern history has been: in an interview with the Cairo Review of Global Affairs, Mr. Schell argues that to understand why these feelings still exist you have to consider “how deep the humiliation was and how strong nationalism became as a result.”
And then, of course, there are less historical and more political factors, for international boogeymen come in handy when the government needs to explain situations such as the current crisis in Hong Kong take place. Nationalism can be used to inoculate the masses against a possible contagion from the riotous city, for you would not support protesters if you knew they are stooges of foreign powers, would you?