How the U.S. Elections Went Down in China

Some cried, while others longed for democracy -- or Hillary Clinton.

aachina-us-election-web banner.jpg
Andy Wong/AP

Chinese bloggers, activists, and journalists took a moment to reflect on politics within their own country after U.S. President Barack Obama's reelection victory. The fascination with the presidential race, which we have noted before, starkly contrasts with a seeming lack of interest in their own leadership transition which takes place during China's 18th party congress that begins Nov. 8.

Voter Envy on Twitter

There are not too many of them. But the mainland Chinese who use Twitter are a fascinating bunch to follow. The social networking site is blocked by the Beijing government. To access it, users need a virtual private network (VPN) service, which generally can only be purchased with a foreign currency credit card. China's Twitter users, then, are a mixture of tech-savvy intellectuals and human rights activists who have the cash or the overseas connections to get a VPN with an overseas credit card. They are probably the people China's incoming group of conservative new leaders fear the most.

Their early Tweets about Obama's victory showed a profound sadness China does not have a democracy and a deep understanding of both China and America's political systems.

Hu Jia (@hu_jia), a well known AIDS and democracy activist, urged his Twitter followers:

"Do not be concerned about who is running for office or their philosophy. Pay more attention to how the process of democratic campaigning works."

One part of Obama's victory speech that won Chinese Twitter users' hearts was this comment: "people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today."

A Chinese Twitter user with the handle @langzichn said, "when I heard that, it made me want to cry."

Others complained Obama could do more to stick up for them. A Chinese national with the handle @liushui1989 commented:

I always feel it is such a shame Hillary Clinton was not elected four years ago. She has been much more outspoken on human rights in China than Obama.

Some expressed confusion about which party Chinese activists should have supported. In China, people associate the liberal economics of the Republican party with rebellion against the Communist regime.

Mo Xu, a Chinese columnist (@mozhixu) tweeted: 

We Chinese folk, who are liberals on ethical issues such abortion, homosexuality and euthanasia, should be anti-Republican. But when it comes to economics, we should be more inclined to supporting the ethos of freedom which the Democrats are comparatively averse to. 

While another took advantage of the U.S. election to poke fun at China's political propaganda.

A Twitter user writing at @hnjhj who describes himself as a software engineer based in Shanghai, Melbourne and Hong Kong, channeled the editorial tone of Beijing government-run newspaper People's Daily to write:

Warm congratulations to the American people. Under the wise leadership of the Party Central Committee headed by the wise and brilliant Obama, you have crushed the attempted usurping of power by the counter revolutionary group led by Mitt Romney.

Predicted Victory on Sina Weibo

Meanwhile, on China's largest microblogging platform -- used especially by young professionals and students living in China's cities -- the response was more effusive. As of Wednesday evening, Obama's win was a trending topic with almost 7 million posts in 24 hours. Bloggers congratulated the president with thumbs-up or smiley-face emoticons. One blogger from Jiangsu province wrote, "Even though this isn't my country's matter, I personally like Obama. Congratulations." Another took his win as a mark of astrological success. 

Overall, bloggers on China's Sina Weibo were unsurprised by the results. One user wrote, "Sure enough... Obama!" and another posted, "I predicted right!" Another blogger said dryly, "Obama's reelection was always a foregone conclusion." Some of that may have been based on their own desire to see the president reelected. In two online polls conducted on the day of the election by the Global Times and Sina Weibo, 80% of Chinese surveyed said they would vote for Obama over Romney given the chance.

One blogger from Guangdong wrote, "I suddenly realize that the number of Chinese paying attention to the US election far outstrips those paying attention to 18 big," he said referring to the congress. Several retweeted another blogger's translation of Obama's remark on citizens of other countries still fighting for the right to vote.

Still, they were skeptical. A Chinese publication Dangjian had published an 11/6 article highlighting the billions of dollars spent on campaigning in the US. The editorial stated that US democracy "is not a model for the world." Indeed, some netizens questioned the efficacy of US democracy. Another blogger from Guangdong referred to Obama's former campaign motto and said, "In four years, other than time passing, it seems there has been no 'change.'"

Presented by

Naomi Rovnick and Lily Kuo

Naomi Rovnick is a Taiwan-based reporter for Quartz. Lily Kuo covers emerging markets for Quartz.

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