The nature of the Internet is such that these sentiments are amplified and assume a semblance of dominance. Its manifestation is by definition partial but not holistic, extreme but not representative. Little wonder that any casual visitor to the Chinese digital public square would find a China filled with the most extreme expressions of populism and nationalism.
Those who understand the nature of this medium would know that these expressions, while legitimate, are far from reflecting the general views of average netizens, much less the population at large. When put into an objective analytical framework, it is, at best, but one of the barometers of public opinion, and certainly not the most significant. At worst it is what Foreign Policy magazine has recently termed the “People’s Republic of Rumors.”
The frustration of the pseudo-literati
Now enter the pseudo-literati. China’s dramatic ascendancy in the last 60 years has brought prosperity to hundreds of millions of ordinary Chinese people, yet has left this particular group in a psychological vacuum. For centuries, the literati, or Shidafu, have dominated imperial China’s politics through the meritocratic Keju exam. They belonged to the intelligentsia but were effectively China’s ruling class through a vast bureaucracy. Their claim to moral authority was in accordance with the Confucian ideal that they ruled for the benefit of the people.
Much of China’s political and literary history had been written to reflect the triumphs and sufferings of generations after generations of aspiring and practicing literati. Ever since the fall of imperial China, the Chinese intelligentsia has never ceased to identify itself as the inheritors of the Shidafu mantle with a rightful claim to political power. During the Mao era they were kept completely on the sidelines and sometimes brutally repressed. Since Deng’s reform 32 years ago, they have seen their livelihoods improve and liberties expanded significantly.