Peer reviewed analysis from world leading experts

Decrying Chinese-language media risks ostracising Chinese-Australians

Reading Time: 5 mins
Participants wear glowing vests as they look out to the Sydney Opera House from the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia during a press preview of the Vivid Climb Mandarin for Chinese-language tours of the Sydney icon, 18 May 2017 (Picture: Reuters/Jason Reed).

In Brief

Even though Chinese-language media have been around from the first Chinese migration to Australia in the 19th century, understanding in mainstream society of the nature and function of this sector is at best partial and simplistic and at worst misinformed and erroneous.


  • A
  • A
  • A


  • A
  • A
  • A

When looking at the reality of Chinese-language media in Australia outside of the popular misconceptions, one sees a perplexing and complex picture of the sector’s fast-changing landscape. China’s state media have made significant inroads into Australia’s ethnic Chinese media, of which the majority now report on China favourably by contrast to the mostly anti-communist stance of a few decades ago.

A change that is less heeded (yet is arguably as important, if not more so) has been the emergence of new online Chinese-language news media, whose popularity and impact is exponential thanks to the ubiquity of WeChat — the most popular Chinese social media platform both within the People’s Republic of China and globally.

The emergence of this digital and social media sector, which in Australia caters mostly to younger-generation migrants and international students from mainland China, has seen the relationship between China’s state media and Australia’s Chinese-language media become blurred and more ambiguous.

Nationalistic or patriotic pro-China sentiments erupt from time to time in these new online media, especially when China and Australia are at odds over certain issues. But what are the sources of these sentiments?

The reality is that pro-China patriotism in the diaspora is a child with many foster parents, none of whom can claim sole credit for its growth. The official state ideology indeed promotes loyalty to China and by implication to the political party that rules China. But equating nationalism among members of the diaspora with Chinese government activity gives indoctrination efforts more credit than they deserve while denying Chinese individuals the capacity to make up their own minds.

A more powerful and insidious source of nationalism is the market — something that mainstream Australian commentators persistently overlook. Market patriotism (a global not merely Chinese phenomenon) helps explain the modus operandi of many cultural productions. Mainstream commentators often quote China’s Global Times as the nation’s official mouthpiece, but the nationalistic and sometimes jingoistic tone in its reporting on China’s foreign policy is driven more by a mandate to sell copies and increase circulation than by a need to toe the Party line.

Patriotism has also become the most profitable emotion to ensure cinematic box office success. Wolf Warrior II (Zhan lang II) — centring on the story of China’s successful and epic-scale evacuation of Chinese nationals from world trouble-spots — mixes all the classic Hollywood ingredients: action, spectacle, adrenaline and a healthy dose of pride in one’s own country. Released in July 2017, Wolf Warrior II broke numerous box office records and became China’s highest-grossing film ever. Its main goal was to capitalise on nationalism — the only game in town.

Patriotism takes on new forms in the age of the internet and social media. Strong emotions, words and reactions such as love of one’s country and hatred for a national enemy can spread like a virus. Since more clicks mean a higher chance of monetisation, capitalising on patriotism is both politically safe and financially lucrative for bloggers, micro-bloggers and video streamers. Patriots are often little more than internet-based fans peddling the sentiments of other people (especially celebrities) without too much original thought of their own. In Chinese, they are derogatively referred to as ‘melon-eating mobs’ (chi gua qunzhong).

A sub-category of the internet-based social identity that has contributed to promoting pro-China patriotism is the ‘little pinko’ (xiao fenhong). These tend to be young people (many of whom are living or studying outside China) who have direct or personal experience of living as a minority in the West. While on a daily basis these individuals are by nature non-political, they have a tendency to ‘rise to the occasion’ when China is demonised or wrongly criticised.

The Yang Shuping incident (where a Chinese student at Maryland University became the person every Chinese netizen loved to hate for criticising her motherland and singing the praises of America) testifies to the power of little pinkos. Since the rise of China, and especially since the 2008 Beijing Olympics, little pinkos have become watchful of things being said or done that may ‘hurt Chinese feelings’. Their responses are usually visceral, and even though they may use official rhetoric in promoting a love of China, it is erroneous to imagine that they are creatures of the government.

Australia’s digital Chinese-language media became the main platform for the war of words between Chinese swimmer Sun Yang and Australian champion Matt Horton during the Rio Olympic Games and again when the Australian swimming team’s website was hacked — another example of the digitally savvy little pinkos in action.

The source of this nationalistic sentiment is complex, and the Australian media’s own problematic coverage of many China-related issues is increasingly another spur to Chinese patriotism.

Currently, the production of the ‘Chinese influence’ narrative has become an industry. But if its proponents continue to talk about Chinese students’ patriotism, the Australia–China relationship and Chinese migrant community media in ways that are one-dimensional, they may well end up alienating this community and harming social cohesion in multicultural Australia, not to mention jeopardising Australia’s productive economic relations with China.

Wanning Sun is Professor of Media and Communication Studies in the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, University of Technology Sydney.

This article appeared in the most recent edition of East Asia Forum Quarterly, ‘China’s influence‘.

Comments are closed.

Support Quality Analysis

The East Asia Forum office is based in Australia and EAF acknowledges the First Peoples of this land — in Canberra the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people — and recognises their continuous connection to culture, community and Country.

Article printed from East Asia Forum (

Copyright ©2024 East Asia Forum. All rights reserved.