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Conversations with My Father

The rise of the Chinese Trump supporter

白左 & 圣母:“Libtard” and “Holy Mom”

My parents are Chinese immigrants, and they love Trump.  

It doesn’t matter if he calls COVID-19 a “China Virus,” blowing the dog-whistle to spur on anti-Asian violence during the pandemic. It doesn’t matter if he escalates the trade war with China, banning WeChat, TikTok, and Huawei, and shutting down the Chinese Consulate in Houston. It doesn’t even matter if he’s a hateful xenophobe who puts immigrant children in detention camps, while pandering to white supremacists. Regardless of Trump’s anti-China vitriol, they nod along in agreement.

Under the Obama administration, my parents identified as Democrats. But they are part of an increasingly vocal group of Chinese voters across the country who have been mobilizing in support of the NYPD during the Black Lives Matter protests. 

“Don’t talk to me about the 白左 baizuo (white left) nonsense,” my father scolded me after learning that I helped organize a counter-protest against NYPD in support of Black Lives Matter in Flushing, “You are a shame to Chinese people. We need the police to protect us from violent Black criminals. The ideas you are spreading are dangerous to society.” 

To my surprise, many Chinese immigrants in Flushing, Queens feel the same way as my parents do. In the months following George Floyd’s murder by white police officer Derek Chauvin, the majority of Chinese social media posts about 黑命贵, a derogatory term for Black Lives Matter, echo anti-Black sentiments, making no distinction between looters and protestors, and displaying videos of Black violence and criminality, especially against Asian victims.

Many blame Black Lives Matter for increasing Black-on-Asian violence, repeatedly citing higher crime rates by Black Americans as “objective” reasons for why more, not less, policing is necessary. Chinese Americans who support Black Lives Matter are sometimes accused of being “race traitors,” brainwashed by white Left ideology, and neglecting to stand up for their own people.

On June 22, the Chinese New York Residents Alliance organized a pro-NYPD protest in opposition to Black Lives Matter. This conservative group has thousands of followers on WeChat — more than any other local mobilized Chinese voting base. On July 3, they combined forces with 17 同乡 tongxiang “hometown associations” of immigrants from various provinces across mainland China, and organized in front of the Flushing Library to show solidarity with the police. Participants remarked that it was the first time they have seen so many Chinese people come out to support any social cause.

“There are few moments I am proud of being Chinese,” one marcher tweeted, “This is one of them: New York Chinese take to the streets to support the New York police!”

A pro-police group gathers in front of the Queens Public Library.

“This protest of Chinese people shows just how important the NYPD is to our community,” said one organizer at the protest. “Many Chinese are apathetic to American politics, but we came out today because we care so much about this issue.”

This growing group of “Law and Order” protestors say they are alarmed by last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests. Some are survivors of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and identify as anti-Communist and anti-Left. Others are pro-Communist Party members of 同乡 hometown associations, who want to show their respect for government and police during a time when mainland China has been cracking down on Hong Kong pro-Democracy movements.

A smaller gathering of second generation, young Asian Americans confronted the pro-NYPD rally in a counter-protest to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter. But there was little communication between these two groups.

A group of Asian Americans in counter-protest, to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter. Photo by Kate Zen

A group of Asian Americans in counter-protest, to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter.

While Asian Americans have largely voted for Democrats since 2000, there has been a significant increase of Trump supporters since 2016, with thousands of Chinese members in the group Chinese Americans for Trump (华裔北美川普助选团), and over 90,000 Chinese subscribers to the conservative Chinese American Alliance, which has promoted Trump’s reelection over WeChat.

About a month later, an estimated 2,000 Chinese protestors showed up at a Republican pro-landlord march led by the New York Chinese Property Owners Alliance on August 15, waving American flags and wearing MAGA hats. As landlords, they demanded the right to evict tenants who can’t pay their rent during the pandemic, asking for lower property taxes, and more funding to increase police presence in schools. 

Landlords march at a Republican rally demanding the right to evict tenants, lower property taxes, and increased police presence in schools. Photo by Kate Zen

This may seem surprising to many New York liberals, who assume that working class immigrants in Flushing, Queens, would support anti-racism and tenant rights. However, many Chinese internet users express contempt for that kind of “white leftist.” The word 白左 baizuo (“white left”) is derived from the term 白痴 baichi (“moron”), and translates roughly to the Chinese version of “Libtard.” It has also been used to make fun of American college-educated Chinese, including international students, who advocate for feminism and pro-LGBTQ social justice causes. 

When members of the Chinese Feminist Collective put up signs in midtown Manhattan to show their solidarity with Black Lives Matter in a project called “Chinese for Black Lives,” they were ridiculed online by some Chinese users, who called them “ugly,” “stupid,” “leftover women who can’t get men to marry them.” They said that Asian Americans should instead stand up for their own people against Black violence and criminality, repeating the mantra that “Asians have to stand up for ourselves.”

Members of the Chinese Feminist Collective put up signs in midtown Manhattan to show their solidarity with Black Lives Matter in a project called “Chinese for Black Lives.” Photo by Kate Zen

For many Chinese internet users on popular forums like 知乎 Zhihu, the “white leftist” language of Black Lives Matter is considered politically naive, and reflective of “white guilt” that should not apply to Asians. They say that Asian Americans are also victims of racism, but receive less “special treatment” than African Americans do, referring to the ways in which Asian Americans allegedly  face discrimination in admissions to Ivy League universities, while performing better on average in standardized tests than their non-Asian peers.

Among new Chinese American immigrants in New York, education is the single issue that they are most passionate about. Hundreds of Chinese parents rallied in front of City Hall in support of keeping the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) rather than considering more holistic application criteria to increase diversity in the city’s most selective schools. 

These vocal Chinese parents believe that affirmative action for Black and Hispanic students would take away spots from their sons and daughters. They are adamant about keeping a “meritocratic” admissions system based on test scores, proclaiming that education is one of the few pathways for immigrant class mobility. While a 2016 National Asian American Survey showed that 70 percent of Asian Americans support affirmative action, only 41 percent of Chinese Americans agree. 

A recent research paper analyzing 1,038 posts on Chinese social media platform 知乎 Zhihu showed that many Chinese netizens also oppose refugee settlement, and are increasingly anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican under the Trump administration. Chinese netizens ridiculed Angela Merkel for acting like a 圣母 shengmu “Saint Mother,” making fun of bleeding-heart liberals who show sympathy to disadvantaged social groups. Right-wing Chinese netizens blame Merkel for weakening Germany by bringing in unwanted Muslim immigrants.

These Chinese netizens on Zhihu espouse a realpolitik that embraces hard power and domination, and questions the efficacy of self-proclaimed leftist democratic values. This tendency has only exacerbated during COVID-19 due to U.S. failures to keep the pandemic under control, in stark contrast to Chinese autocratic efficiency in protecting public health and more rapidly recuperating the economy. 

What’s at question is not just American incompetence under Trump, but also the entire American post-War project of a Liberal world order, with the American military at the hilt. 

Under Trump, it was easier to question values of democracy, feminism, LGBTQ rights,  affirmative action, and “universal” human rights, which many Chinese netizens dismiss as not truly universal, but rather hypocritical American propaganda — an instrument of white imperialism used to humiliate and weaken China on the international stage for the sake of U.S. economic and political interests.

This manner of rejecting anti-racist, feminist and LGBTQ activism as “American imperialism” conveniently ignores China’s own issues of anti-Black racism against African migrant workers in Canton during COVID-19; its violent repression of Uyghur and Tibetan ethnic minorities; and its growing gender inequality, contrary to Communist Party rhetoric. 

By characterizing Black Lives Matter as “white leftist”, these Chinese netizens invisibilize the efforts of African Americans and other people of color who lead in struggle against white supremacy in the United States, while simultaneously excusing their own refusal to participate in this “white guilt”. 


Second Generation Asian Chauvinists

Beyond intergenerational differences in political views between Asian immigrants and their American-born offspring, what is harder to understand is why so many second-generation Asian Americans, raised in the United States, also disdain “woke” Asian American “social justice warriors”, calling these activists “Boba Liberals,” claiming that they are performing to white liberal elite ideas of racial ideology, which they say are hyper-focused on Black vs. White issues, and has no place for recognizing the Asian American struggle. They accuse Asian Americans who are vocal about “centering Blackness” and Black Lives Matter of being out of touch with the struggles of their own people. 

Some Asian Americans on Reddit (mostly men, see #HypermasculAZN) who dismiss APA organizers (mostly women and LGBTQ) as “white leftists” catering to “white guilt” — seem quick to ignore that the “politically correct” language of intersectional feminism which they call “white” actually comes out of a history of Black feminist writing, from the Combahee River Collective to Kimberly Crenshaw. The assumption that Asian-Americans on the Left are aspiring to whiteness when they fight for social justice, erases the history of solidarity between Asian and Black movements internationally, which do not hold white leftist values as their point of reference.

One of the most vocal Asian American groups that have risen in popularity during the pandemic is the “#TheyCantBurnUsAll” movement. China Mac and William Lex Ham, the rapper and actor duo who co-founded this hashtag proudly proclaim themselves to not be activists. As entertainers, they believe they are above the political spectrum of Left and Right, and claim they are simply “for the people.”

“Who will stand up for us if we don’t stand up for ourselves?” these men preach. Their words and self-centering gestures eerily echo the ethnocentrism of more Conservative groups on WeChat that cry out “Yellow Lives Matter”, and “we must stand up for ourselves.”

Asian American masculinity in self-celebration. Photo by Kate Zen

Curiously, this aggressively self-promoting, protest-as-entertainment crew, has adopted the “Asians for Black Lives” hashtag, but is dismissive of long-standing networks of Asian American community organizations like CAAAV and MinKwon that have been organizing for years for tenant rights and labor rights in Asian immigrant communities. CAAAV stood up for Akai Gurley in the 2014 shooting by Chinese police officer Peter Liang, and have long stood in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. 

But these Asian entertainers come onto the scene and act as if they are the first and most important people to ever stand up for Asian Americans. Rather than supporting Movement for Black Lives principles to defund the racist police and prison systems, they claim credit for the creation of the Asian Hate Crimes Task Force in the NYPD, and support their friend, Steven Lee, a Chinese police officer with a domestic violence record for political office. Rather than engaging in good faith with community organizations that are part of the broader social movements against mass incarceration, immigration detention, and systemic poverty, their ethnocentric and chauvinistic messaging more closely resembles the Asian American version of Tea Party populism. 

Yet they have a loyal fanbase, especially among other young Asian American men who feel disenfranchised. Much like the affronted white Nationalists in Clinton’s “Flyover Country” who found their voice under Trump, their protests embolden Asian Americans who are angry about their own marginalization and feel invisibilized by the Left. During a time when the Liberal consensus is being questioned globally, they cater to political realists who believe in dominance, strength, and self-interest.


The Politics of Resentment

“Americans say China doesn’t protect human rights,” my father tells me, “and this is true. America has better social welfare programs, and treats its poor better than China does. There is no safety net for old and sick people in China, and everybody works harder to survive. China is actually more Capitalist than America is, and America is more Communist,” my father explains. 

Our dinnertime conversations have become long performances, where he speaks and I have learned to rhythmically nod along. Mmhmm. 是的. It’s better that we don’t fight.

Since the 2016 election, my dad has become an avid follower of 郭文贵 Miles Kwok, a self-proclaimed Chinese billionaire in exile at an expensive Central Park hotel suite, who says that he is wanted by the Chinese Communist Party for exposing its corruption. Kwok created GTV Media with his closest associate Steve Bannon, Trump’s former campaign manager, who previously worked for Breitbart News, also known for its extreme right-wing promotion of white supremacist views. Miles Kwok and Steve Bannon have built up a fanatical base with overseas Chinese like my Dad, who are critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

My father grew up during the Cultural Revolution and was part of the “lost generation” of over 17 million urban teenagers 知識青年  sent down as middle schoolers to rural parts of the country to do hard labor in farms, mines, or the army. He spent seven years of his youth being “reeducated by peasants” to become a “good revolutionary.” This mass migration separated kids from their families, cut short their education, and many lost their lives doing hard labor in the deserts of Inner Mongolia and the jungles of Yunnan. 

Like many other Chinese immigrants in Flushing, my father is traumatized by the Leftist idealism of his childhood — a reign of terror that led to over three million deaths by political persecution, and over 30 million who died of starvation during the Great Leap Forward. 

A popular poster in China during the Cultural Revolution and Great Leap Forward.

Having left China right after the Tiananmen massacre, my father is disillusioned by the disastrous results of Maoist utopian propaganda. Maybe for this reason, he is upset by news of popular uprisings like Black Lives Matter, and disappointed in me for participating in it. Since my father left China in the early 1990s, rampant economic changes have replaced old Communist ideals of cooperation with a new hyper-capitalist competitiveness. Gone are the days of camaraderie — always undergirded by neighborly mutual surveillance and the perpetual terror of being labelled a 坏分子 “bad element” or 反革命 “counterrevolutionary.” In its place has risen an equally repressive mentality, obsessed solely with money, status, competitiveness, and suspicious of any displays of altruism.

“You can’t trust anybody in China anymore,” my Dad tells me, “The society is so harsh, and the government is so repressive that nobody cares about anyone else anymore. If an old woman falls over in the middle of the street, nobody will help her, because they are afraid that woman might try to rob them or scam them.” 

Over dinner, I can’t get a single word in without my father rebuking me with his own political pronouncements:

“The U.S. treats other people badly, while China treats its own people badly. Americans like to talk about human rights, but American democracy is all about protecting American military interests, and American money.” 

I agree with my father about some of the hypocrisies of the U.S., especially when it comes to how the country treats people of color, both domestically and abroad. 

Out of anger against the United States, some indigenous activists, like Red Nation and Nick Estes, and prominent Left intellectuals like Vijay Prashad, criticize American imperialism, and in the same breath, also defend China and the Chinese Communist Party. They echo CCP propaganda, going so far as to defend Uyghur genocide-deniers like the Qiao Collective, an online publication formed to suppress the Hong Kong democracy movement.

What is bewildering to me about the defense of the Chinese Communist Party by left-wing American activists, especially indigenous activists and people of color, is that China has actually been extremely repressive in the treatment of its own ethnic minorities. China’s suppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, its cultural genocide in Tibet, its disputes in the South China Sea, and its intentions to extend influence into Mongolia, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa through the Belt and Road Initiative — demonstrate an imperialistic mandate that is second to none in the thousands of years of history of the “Middle Kingdom.” 

However, some leftists see China as the only superpower challenging American hegemony; so in order to stand in opposition to the United States, they support China. This monomaniac infatuation by some members of the American Left for the Chinese Communist Party actually mirrors the MAGA-hat-wearing, pro-Trump rallies of Chinese immigrants in Flushing, who singularly voted for Trump in order to usher in the downfall of the CCP.

These two extremes meet at the shared point of resentment for the other, which is the very point where you find candidate Trump. In Flushing, that point of convergence is the Queens Library on Main Street.

The Flushing Library is the point of converegence. Photo by Kate Zen

In front of the Flushing Library on any given weekend, you will find Chinese Democracy Party activists on one side, flyering and calling for the overthrow of the CCP, while demanding freedom for political dissidents held in labor camps in China. Many of them also carry an American flag.

Last year, I asked one volunteer passing out pamphlets about Chinese imprisonment of Falun Gong members, if he will vote for Biden or Trump in the upcoming election:

“Of course I’m going to vote for Trump,” he told me. “Trump is the only person bold enough to challenge China. This is all that matters to me. Obama was terrible at this. I don’t think Biden will be as strong as Trump against China.”

On the other corner of the Flushing Library, the pro-CCP landlord alliance that is demanding eviction courts to re-open so they can get rid of “lazy tenants” during the Pandemic, is also waving American flags. They are the self-proclaimed, hardworking Chinese business owners, living the American dream. They want more public funding for the NYPD to protect their property. Their fliers say that they want Chinese people to “rise up like Black people,” and vote — but vote for Republican candidate Tom Zmich, whose campaign website says he “100 percent supports the police.” 

Campaign flyer last year, urging Chinese Americans to vote for a Republican candidate. Photo by Kate Zen

Whether you support the Communist Party, or are against the Communist Party, the majority of Chinese immigrants in Flushing have found a reason to oppose Black Lives Matter, and vote for Trump. The political spectrum of Left and Right in China and the U.S. don’t map well onto one another. You just can’t make sense of one in terms of the other.

While CCP-censored social media on WeChat is spreading anti-Black racism and promoting the NYPD, the right-wing media in America is accusing the Communist Party of bankrolling Black Lives Matter.

At home, on Skype, my Chinese tutor who lives in Wuhan last year gave me a long lecture about her theory on why everyone should support Trump: “In China, we all support Trump. Because Trump is making America fall down. We want to see America fall. In Taiwan, they support Trump too, because the Taiwanese want China to be weaker. They want to see China fall. Whether you want China to fall, or America to fall, everybody should vote for Trump.” 

Resentment politics in a nutshell.