‘Little Devils’: Olympic Loss Spurs China-Japan ‘Blood Feud’

·4 min read
Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images
Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

The Olympics are usually a time of patriotic pride and celebration in China, but this year, they’re also giving nationalistic trolls the chance to put their deep-rooted hatred of Japan on full display.

In the past few days, users on Weibo—the Chinese equivalent of Twitter—raged about Japan’s leading gold medal count, attacked referees over “unfair rulings,” hurled nasty insults at celebrated Japanese Olympians, calling them “little devils” and “dwarf pirates,” and praised a Chinese artistic gymnastics athlete for choosing an anti-Japan war song for floor music.

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The fervor gained momentum on Monday, after Japan’s table tennis pair Jun Mizutani and Mima Ito beat China’s Xin Xu and Shiwen Liu in the mixed doubles. It was the first time since 2004 a country other than China had won gold at the sport in the Olympics.

Losing world dominance in table tennis, a sport that represents immense pride for China, was a major letdown. Even harder to swallow was the fact that the victory went to Japan, a country resented by many in China thanks to the Communist Party’s national ideology and the complicated history between the two nations, including China’s loss in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894 and World War II-era atrocities like the Nanjing Massacre.

Immediately after China’s defeat on Monday, a flurry of embittered users flooded Weibo with their opinions on the loss. Though some said that it might trigger a good “wake-up call” for the national team to strive for the best, others baselessly suggested that the referees made unfair calls in favor of Japanese athletes.

Caught in the wave of rage was Japanese actor Yuki Furukawa. He received intense backlash on the social media platform for asking his nearly 4.5 million followers, “You watching the Olympics?” during the Monday game. Furukawa soon deleted the question and posted in English, “I’m really sorry if I have offended you. Really didn’t mean for all this… I asked at the wrong time. Should have been more careful of my words.” Despite his apology, Chinese netizens lambasted the actor as a “funny clown” and demanded he “stay out of China.”

More fury erupted days later, when Japanese right-leaning tabloid Yukan Fuji printed a giant headline that read, “China’s National Humiliation” on the paper’s front page, referring to the table-tennis loss. Chinese social media quickly picked up the piece and outrage swept the comment sections.

“A small man intoxicated by success! Can’t imagine that in a developed society, they’re still so narrow-minded!! So pathetic!!,” read one comment. “Those Mary bitch… I suggest you get dispatched to Syrian war and use your Mary glory to enlighten the people there,” another user wrote. “Mary bitch” is internet slang used to describe people who are kind and respectful to an intolerable degree, a reference to the Virgin Mary.

Several hashtags about Japan’s Olympic performance continue to crowd the social media platform, and on Wednesday, another was spawned by the China vs. Japan women’s water polo tournament. At the center of the conversation was a video that showed a Japanese water polo player swimming on top of a Chinese player, with the latter struggling underwater. Within a few hours, the hashtag garnered more than 380 million views. Thousands of Weibo users accused the Japanese athlete of “murder” and called Japan “a shameless country.” Soon, internet users identified the Japanese water polo player as Marina Tokumoto, and carried their anger to Twitter and Instagram. China won the game 16-11.

Also trending were several memes with captions like, “Bearing in mind our blood feud with Japan is every Chinese person’s default setting,” “Don’t get close to Japan, or you’ll suffer from misfortune,” and “Share this image and Japan won’t get a single more gold medal!” Another hashtag discussing Chinese youth becoming increasingly hostile towards Japan quickly climbed up the microblog’s hot search.

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“I only watched the Olympics for three days,” one user posted. “But my anti-Japan sentiment is even higher than [it was] watching anti-Japanese war TV series with my dad for the past five years.” Another wrote: “Before [the Olympics]: Need to be objective and fair. [Japan] has aspects we should learn from and respect. Now: When does the island sink?”

In contrast to the zealous nationalism gripping mainland China, the other side of the strait reacted differently. Although frustrated by Taiwan’s loss to Japan in the table tennis mixed doubles the day before, Taiwanese politician and member of the Democratic Progressive Party, Chia-yu Kao, posted on July 26, “Seeing that Japan won over China, my anger from yesterday is all gone,” along with the hashtag #TaiwanJapanFriendship and #FeelsGoodToBeatChina.

Comments on Kao’s post struck a celebratory tone. “Nothing makes me happier than Japan defeating China,” one read. “Thank you Japan for not making me listen to China’s national anthem.”

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