Trending on Weibo now with over 320 million page views at the time of writing is the US Navy destroyer Ralph Johnson (拉尔夫·约翰逊) passing through the Taiwan Strait on Saturday afternoon, February 26 (#美海军驱逐舰正在穿越台湾海峡存#).
The topic hashtag page was initiated on Weibo by state media outlet Global Times, with one of their posts on the issue receiving thousands of comments and over 500,000 likes.
Many responses underneath the post, which reported the US Navy destroyer transit through the Taiwan Strait, were anti-American:
– “What on earth is the US doing?! Do they want to start a war?!”
– “This world would be a better place without America.”
– “The whole world should unite against the US.”
Others posted videos showing the spokesperson of the Ministry of National Defense saying that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will resolutely fight “Taiwan independence” forces and that as long as provocations regarding “Taiwan independence” do not stop, the PLA will continue to defend China’s national sovereignty and territorial borders.
These remarks were made by the Ministry of National Defense during a regular press conference on February 24.
Over the past few days, Taiwan has become a recurring topic on Chinese social media in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, with some bloggers writing that “Ukraine is being beaten, [but] it is Taiwan that should be afraid” (“乌克兰挨打，该害怕的是台湾!”), drawing parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan and saying that the speed of the Russian offensive should be a warning to Taipei.
At the time of writing, the Weibo hashtag page did not include any information about the passage of the Ralph Johnson being a “routine activity”, as it has been described by the American military.
The US Navy destroyer Ralph Johnson is carrying out a routine transit through the Taiwan Strait. Long planned.
— Idrees Ali (@idreesali114) February 26, 2022
Many on Weibo think that the US is getting nervous. “The United States is really scared that mainland China will seize this opportunity to take Taiwan while the world’s attention is on Ukraine,” one person writes, with another Weibo user asking: “Was provoking Russia not enough for the US?”
By Manya Koetse
©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chinese Social Media Reactions to Israel-Hamas War: Pro-Palestinian Sentiments and Anti-Semitic Discourse
Chinese perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict are influenced by China’s historical context and perceptions of its role in the world today.
After the Hamas attacks began on October 7, the Israel-Hamas war has been a major topic of discussion on Chinese social media.
Over the past two weeks, a series of critical events have unfolded since Palestinian militant group Hamas fired more than 5,000 rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel and infiltrated Isreal. The attacks killed a large number of Israeli civilians, including the 260 deaths at the Supernova music festival massacre. As deadly fights continued, the Israeli government formally declared war and retaliated against Hamas.
Israel has since dropped some 6,000 bombs on the Gaza Strip, killing hundreds of Palestians. More than a million people have fled their homes in the Gaza Strip.
On October 17 and 18, various media reported that at least 500 people were killed in a devastating blast hitting the Al-Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City, a day before US President Biden arrived in Israel for a wartime diplomatic trip, marking a public show of support for Israel.
While Palestinian officials blamed Israel for the hospital blast, Israel asserts it was a rocket launched by an Islamist militant group that caused the explosion. This claim was later backed by American officials, who cited intelligence suggesting that the explosion was indeed caused by an armed Palestinian group.
On Chinese social media sites, various discussions related to the Israel-Hamas war and all the latest developments have attracted a lot of attention. From October 7 to October 19, the Weibo hashtag “Palestian-Israeli Conflict” (#巴以冲突#) received over 2 billion views. One hashtag related to the Gaza hospital explosion received over 320 million views in a day (#加沙地带一医院遭袭数百人死亡#).
Amid all of the hashtags, posts, videos, images, and discussions on Chinese social media, we have identified three prominent trends concerning the Israel-Hamas conflict: growing pro-Palestinian sentiments, a surge in anti-Jewish racism, and an increased focus on China’s role on the world stage and how its calls for peaceful resolutions contrast with U.S. policies.
1. Pro-Palestine Sentiments
There is a clear trend on Weibo, as well as on other Chinese social platforms like Douyin and even Xiaohongshu, that netizens are demonstrating greater support for the Palestinian side than for Israel.
Some posts (here, here) argue that if the recent attacks on civilians by Hamas militants are labeled as “extreme terrorism,” Israel’s actions against Palestinians over the years should be seen as a form of “mild terrorism.”
This view is repeated by many bloggers and regular netizens all over Chinese social media, where numerous videos depict bombings in Gaza, emphasizing heartbreaking scenes of severely injured children and their grieving parents and siblings.
In Weibo’s ‘hot’ section, which features currently popular posts, it’s evident that there’s a stronger emphasis on images and videos portraying the suffering in Palestine compared to those depicting hardships on the Israeli side.
These distressing videos evoke significant sympathy on Chinese social media, where some commenters suggest that the Hamas movement is becoming more prominent because of the suffering Palestians are enduring (“If my child were killed like that, I would immediately turn into a terrorist as well.”) Others argue that Hamas should be seen as guerrilla fighters rather than terrorists.
The pro-Palestinian sentiments go beyond netizens’ views alone, and are strengthened by Chinese media reports and official positions. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s initial response to the conflict focused on expressing concerns about the escalating tensions and voicing China’s stance that civilians should be protected and that further deterioration should be prevented.
They reiterated that the fundamental solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the path to peace, according to China, lies in the implementation of the “two-state solution” (两国方案) and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
Days later, on October 13, Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Wang Yi stated that the “historical injustice suffered by the Palestinian people” lies at the root of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, emphasizing the “two-state solution” and the importance of realizing the dream of an independent State of Palestine.
Wang also stated on October 15 that Israel’s bombing campaign had gone “beyond the scope of self-defence” and that it “should stop collective punishment of the people of Gaza.”
One Weibo newsblogger called Creamy Banana (@Creamy蕉, 140k fans) writes:
“What many people do not understand is that when we support Palestine in the Israel-Palestine [conflict], is that we do not support a specific regional political group, that we do not support or oppose a specific racial group, and that we certainly do not support a particular religion. None of that. In this issue, supporting Palestine means supporting justice, supporting the weak, supporting the eggs resisting the high wall, it’s as simple as that.
For instance, during World War II, when Jews were massacred by the Nazis, we sympathized and supported the Jews because they were the weak ones and the victims at that time. Now, Israel is involved in genocide against Palestine, killing civilians, attacking hospitals, and it is the Palestinians who are the weak and the victims. Former victims—the Jews—have now become the perpetrators.
Good people and bad people, justice and evil, they are all relative and ever-changing. This may be the complexity of human nature. There is no absolute goodness, no absolute evil. You can be a victim and a villain hurting others at the same time.”
While the blogger argues that the pro-Palestine sentiment on Chinese social media is unrelated to politics or race, this isn’t exactly accurate. Many Chinese netizens’ support for the Palestinians is closely connected to current geopolitics, America’s pro-Israel stance, existing prejudice towards Jews, and China’s own historical context.
As suggested by Yiyi Chen in “The Basis of China’s Pro-Palestine Stance and the Current Status of Its Implementation” (2013), China leans towards supporting the Arab side because, in the Chinese perspective on the Israel-Palestine conflict, Israel was established by aligning with the Imperial powers of its era. In this context, the Palestians are seen as sufferers of imperialism (p. 216).
This deeply resonates with many Chinese, who, both explicitly and implicitly, associate the current Palestinian issue with China’s historical scars of the “hundred years of national humiliation,” during which China also suffered from imperialism by Western powers and Japan from 1839 to the 1940s.
“The Gaza children shaken and trembling from Israeli bombardments experience scenes similar to what China went through during the War of Resitance against Japan,” one Weibo user wrote: “So don’t say that it has nothing to do with you.”
“We’re helping Palestine, but we’re helping ourselves from 70 years ago,” (“帮的是巴勒斯坦，也是七十几年前的自己”) one commenter (@
姜橙橙_捏唐冽大脸) wrote, receiving over 5500 likes. Others reiterated similar views, writing: “It’s because we endured hardship that we now hold the umbrella for others who are suffering.”
Another reason for the pro-Palestine stance, as detailed by Chen, is rooted in reciprocity. The Chinese tend to support the Palestinians as a way of reciprocating the solidarity shown by Arab countries during the 1960s and 1970s when China was isolated due to Western animosity (p. 216).
Furthermore, and this is particularly evident in the numerous posts and blogs within China’s online media landscape, support for Palestine also stems from opposition to the United States and a lack of trust in Israel due to the close alliance between the U.S. and Israel.
This distrust also extends to American media, which is seen as biased and untrustworthy on Chinese social media platforms. For instance, when the New York Times modified its headlines about the Gaza hospital blast to reflect new information indicating that Israel might not be responsible, many Chinese netizens viewed it as another instance of American media deliberately distorting facts and concealing the truth.
“They did it because of political correctness,” some suggested: “They were afraid to trigger the anger of the Jewish people.”
2. Anti-Semitic Sentiments
Apart from the general pro-Palestinian views on Weibo, there are also voices on Chinese social media denouncing Hamas and the people who support them. For instance, when a video captured students from New York University (NYU) tearing down posters depicting Israeli children held hostage by Hamas, many commenters condemned their actions and questioned why they didn’t go to Gaza themselves. Others comment general phrases such as, “The Hamas evil must be eradicated” (“消灭哈马斯恶魔”).
But despite some condemnation of Hamas, it is hard to find many strong pro-Israel voices on Weibo these days.1 Notably, the Israeli Embassy in Beijing, which is one of the most popular foreign embassy Weibo accounts with 2.4 million followers, is currently not only shadowbanned on the platform (it does not immediately show up in search results), it has also disabled comments on many of its posts or is showing only a limited number of replies.
The posts that do allow comments do not only show strong anti-Israeli sentiments, denouncing Israel as a state engaged in acts of terror and genocide in Gaza, but they also display instances of anti-Semitic racism.
For instance, when the Israeli Embassy posted about the Kutz family, murdered by Hamas terrorists in their home, some netizens commented: “Auschwitz misses you.”
References to the Holocaust, Hitler, Goebbels, and related topics are also evident in many other posts on Weibo. Some bloggers (@扫天下媒体, over 70,000 fans) write things such as “(..) the Germans have since long seen through the true nature and character of the Jewish people.”
Alongside openly anti-Semitic comments, there are anti-Semitic conspiracy theories circulating on Chinese social media. Some of these theories mention Hollywood actors or American political figures of Jewish descent, hinting that Jews control different parts of America’s political, entertainment, and business sectors.
The ubiquity of anti-Semitic comments in China’s online media sphere may be surprising, especially considering how bilateral relations between China and Israel have blossomed since the 2000s.
Not only did a 2019 Pew Research Center study discover that the Israeli public held a “very favorable” opinion of China, but a 2016 China Radio International feature also sought the views of Chinese people on Jews and Israelis. The responses were generally positive, with many respondents describing Jews and Israelis as “very smart” (Yellinek 2022, 185-192).
There are also those who generally express pity for Jews, considering them “stateless” or “oppressed,” and empathizing with their historical struggles. This is one of the reasons why the Holocaust, and Holocaust studies, have received relatively more attention in China than in other Asian countries (Haime 2020; Timmermans 2016).
In 2010, the animated film A Jewish Girl in Shanghai (犹太女孩在上海) was proudly described as “China’s first homegrown Jewish film” – it was part of a renewed remembrance of shared Jewish-Chinese history (read more). The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum was opened in 2007 to commemorate the Jewish refugees who lived in Shanghai during World War II, and the first musical themed around the Jews in Shanghai saw the light at the Shanghai International Arts Festival in 2015, the same year when a renewed Chinese translation of The Diary of Anne Frank was published.
However, the perception of ‘Jews’ or ‘Jewishness’ in China is multifaceted and often conflicting, as shown by various studies. According to Zhou Xun (2016), Chinese attitudes towards Jews and Jewishness are often a mixture of curiosity and envy, yet Jews are primarily seen as a racialized ‘Other’ who differ significantly from social groups in China. Xun suggests that anti-Semitic language in China is frequently borrowed from Western sources, but that the racialized discourse itself is inherently rooted in Chinese society.
The many popular books that exist about Jews in China, ranging from What’s Behind Jewish Success to 16 Reasons for Jews Getting Wealthy, demonstrate that the authors’ perceptions of Jewishness are often riddled with misunderstandings and stereotypes. These books frequently highlight the perceived success of Jews in business and education to promote values highly cherished by the Chinese (Ross 2016, 25-30).
While many prevailing opinions and stereotypes about Jews in China today revolve around their perceived success, intelligence, and warmheartedness, there are also those who portray them as devious, dominating, and cruel.
The recent surge of anti-Semitism on Chinese social media underscores that ‘Othering’ and stereotyping of Jewish people can focus on their perceived admirable traits in times of flourishing Israel-China relations, but that this praise, exaggerated and rooted in prejudice, can just as swiftly turn into hatred in times of Israel-Palestine conflict escalation.
3. Sending Help: China as Responsible World Leader
Another key trend within Chinese online discussions about the Israel-Hamas conflict is the focus on China’s role as a geopolitical influencer: many see China as a promoter of global peace that is “mending the world.”
Within this context, the topic of China providing humanitarian assistance to Palestinians gained traction on Weibo recently (#中国政府向巴勒斯坦提供紧急人道主义援助#, #中方向巴方提供紧急人道主义援助#), referring to China’s efforts to provide emergency humanitarian assistance to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
“We bring emergency relief, others bring bullets,” some commenters wrote.
This ubiquitous narrative of China as a responsible, fair, and peaceful global power, supported by Chinese state media reports, underscores a distinction between American and Chinese influence on the world stage. It implies that the U.S. frequently interferes and provokes conflicts, while China discreetly offers aid and works to reduce tensions.
In this context, reports of Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi telling his U.S. counterpart, Anthony Blinken, that the United States should genuinely play a constructive role in the Israel-Hamas war and push for a political solution sparked hundreds of online comments praising China for being a responsible and peaceful leader (#中方呼吁召开巴以冲突国际和会#) .
On October 18, the United States vetoed a UN resolution calling for a humanitarian pause in the Israel-Hamas war, citing Israel’s right to self-defence. China was one of the countries voting in favor of the ‘humanitarian pauses’ resolution.
In response to the American decision to vote against the resolution, China’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, said: “We cannot help but doubt that some countries do not genuinely wish to resolve the issue” (#联合国巴以问题决议草案遭美一票否决#).
Among the comments are statements like: “This clearly indicates a lack of desire for peace.” “They’re the tumor of the world.” “The U.S. is lacking moral values.”
One popular Weibo reply suggested that “the rabbit is quietly patching up [mending] the world” (“兔子总在默默为世界缝缝补补”). In this context, the ‘rabbit’ is ‘China’, referring the Chinese webcomic Year Hare Affair (那年那兔那些事儿) in which different animals represented different countries.
These phrases about China “mending the world” have been posted numerous times on Chinese social media (also: “世界破破烂烂，兔子缝缝补补”). Some of these posts also include a political cartoon showing Western media solely focusing on a crying baby in Israel while turning their backs to the bodies in Gaza.
Meanwhile, there are also many commenters who simply express their hopes for a swift end to the war. “I hope for peace between Palestine and Israel. War is merciless.”
Some netizens also just share their appreciation for living in China. “We are not living in peaceful times, but at least we’re living in peaceful China.”
By Manya Koetse
1 Given the scope of this article and its time sensitivity, this comment exclusively focuses on online discussions on Weibo on October 16-19, and it does not reflect the period prior to the current Israel-Hamas conflict
Chen, Yiyi. 2013. “The Basis of China’s Pro-Palestine Stance and the Current Status of Its Implementation.” Digest of Middle East Studies 22 (2): 215-228.
Haime, Jordyn. 2020. “Chinese Philo-Semitism: Why China Admires the Jewish People.” Student Research Projects. 26. https://scholars.unh.edu/student_research/26
Ross, James R. 2016. “Images of Jews in Contemporary Books, Blogs, and Films”. The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, edited by James R. Ross and Song Lihong, Boston, USA: Academic Studies Press, pp. 24-36.
Timmermans, Glenn. 2016. “Holocaust Studies and Holocaust Education in China”. The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, edited by James R. Ross and Song Lihong, Boston, USA: Academic Studies Press, pp. 185-205.
Xun, Zhou. “Perceiving Jews in Modern China”. The Image of Jews in Contemporary China, edited by James R. Ross and Song Lihong, Boston, USA: Academic Studies Press, pp. 5-23.
Yellinek, Roie. 2022. “China’s Media Strategy Towards Israel.” Israel Affairs 28: 184-198.
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“Oppenheimer” in China: Highlighting the Story of Qian Xuesen
Qian Xuesen is a renowned Chinese scientist whose life shares remarkable parallels with Oppenheimer’s.
In late August, the highly anticipated U.S. movie Oppenheimer finally premiered in China, shedding light on the life of the famous American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (1904-1967).
Besides igniting discussions about the life of this prominent scientist, the film has also reignited domestic media and public interest in Chinese scientists connected to Oppenheimer and nuclear physics.
There is one Chinese scientist whose life shares remarkable parallels with Oppenheimer’s. This is aerospace engineer and cyberneticist Qian Xuesen (钱学森, 1911-2009). Like Oppenheimer, he pursued his postgraduate studies overseas, taught at Caltech, and played a pivotal role during World War II for the US.
Qian Xuesen is so widely recognized in China that whenever I introduce myself there, I often clarify my last name by saying, “it’s the same Qian as Qian Xuesen’s,” to ensure that people get my name.
Some Chinese blogs recently compared the academic paths and scholarly contributions of the two scientists, while others highlighted the similarities in their political challenges, including the revocation of their security clearances.
The era of McCarthyism in the United States cast a shadow over Qian’s career, and, similar to Oppenheimer, he was branded as a “communist suspect.” Eventually, these political pressures forced him to return to China.
Although Qian’s return to China made his later life different from Oppenheimer’s, both scientists lived their lives navigating the complex dynamics between science and politics. Here, we provide a brief overview of the life and accomplishments of Qian Xuesen.
Departing: Going to America
Qian Xuesen (钱学森, also written as Hsue-Shen Tsien), often referred to as the “father of China’s missile and space program,” was born in Shanghai in 1911,1 a pivotal year marked by a historic revolution that brought an end to the imperial dynasty and gave rise to the Republic of China.
Much like Oppenheimer, who pursued further studies at Cambridge after completing his undergraduate education, Qian embarked on a journey to the United States following his bachelor’s studies at National Chiao Tung University (now Shanghai Jiao Tong University). He spent a year at Tsinghua University in preparation for his departure.
The year was 1935, during the eighth year of the Chinese Civil War and the fourth year of Japan’s invasion of China, setting the backdrop for his academic pursuits in a turbulent era.
One year after arriving in the U.S., Qian earned his master’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Three years later, in 1939, the 27-year-old Qian Xuesen completed his PhD at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the very institution where Oppenheimer had been welcomed in 1927. In 1943, Qian solidified his position in academia as an associate professor at Caltech. While at Caltech, Qian helped found NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
When World War II began, while Oppenheimer was overseeing the Manhattan Project’s efforts to assist the U.S. in developing the atomic bomb, Qian actively supported the U.S. government. He served on the U.S. government’s Scientific Advisory Board and attained the rank of lieutenant colonel.
After the war, Qian went to teach at MIT and returned to Caltech as a full-time professor in 1949. During that same year, Mao Zedong proclaimed the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Just one year later, the newly-formed nation became involved in the Korean War, and China fought a bloody battle against the United States.
Red Scare: Being Labeled as a Communist
Robert Oppenheimer and Qian Xuesen both had an interest in Communism even prior to World War II, attending communist gatherings and showing sympathy towards the Communist cause.
Qian and Oppenheimer may have briefly met each other through their shared involvement in communist activities. During his time at Caltech, Qian secretly attended meetings with Frank Oppenheimer, the brother of J. Robert Oppenheimer (Monk 2013).
However, it was only after the war that their political leanings became a focal point for the FBI.
Just as the FBI accused Oppenheimer of being an agent of the Soviet Union, they quickly labeled Qian as a subversive communist, largely due to his Chinese heritage. While the government did not succeed in proving that Qian had communist ties with China during that period, they did ultimately succeed in portraying Qian as a communist affiliated with China a decade later.
During the transition from the 1940s to the 1950s, the Cold War was underway, and the anti-communist witch-hunts associated with the McCarthy era started to intensify (BBC 2020).
In 1950, the Korean War erupted, with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) joining North Korea in the conflict against South Korea, which received support from the United States. It was during this tumultuous period that the FBI officially accused Qian of communist sympathies in 1950, leading to the revocation of his security clearance despite objections from Qian’s colleagues. Four years later, in 1954, Robert Oppenheimer went through a similar process.
After losing his security clearance, Qian began to pack up, saying he wanted to visit his aging parents back home. Federal agents seized his luggage, which they claimed contained classified materials, and arrested him on suspicion of subversive activity. Although Qian denied any Communist leanings and rejected the accusation, he was detained by the government in California and spent the next five years under house arrest.
Five years later, in 1955, two years after the end of the Korean War, Qian was sent home to China as part of an apparent exchange for 11 American airmen who had been captured during the war. He told waiting reporters he “would never step foot in America again,” and he kept his promise (BBC 2020).
Dan Kimball, who was the Secretary of the US Navy at the time, expressed his regret about Qian’s departure, reportedly stating, “I’d rather shoot him dead than let him leave America. Wherever he goes, he equals five divisions.” He also stated: “It was the stupidest thing this country ever did. He was no more a communist than I was, and we forced him to go” (Perrett & Bradley, 2008).
Kimball may have foreseen the unfolding events accurately. After his return to China, Qian did indeed assume a pivotal role in enhancing China’s military capabilities, possibly surpassing the potency of five divisions. The missile programme that Qian helped develop in China resulted in weapons which were then fired back on America, including during the 1991 Gulf War (BBC 2020).
Returning: Becoming a National Hero
The China that Qian Xuesen had left behind was an entirely different China than the one he returned to. China, although having relatively few experts in the field, was embracing new possibilities and technologies related to rocketry and space exploration.
Within less than a month of his arrival, Qian was welcomed by the then Vice Prime Minister Chen Yi, and just four months later, he had the honor of meeting Chairman Mao himself.
In China, Qian began a remarkably successful career in rocket science, with great support from the state. He not only assumed leadership but also earned the distinguished title of the “father” of the Chinese missile program, instrumental in equipping China with Dongfeng ballistic missiles, Silkworm anti-ship missiles, and Long March space rockets.
Additionally, his efforts laid the foundation for China’s contemporary surveillance system.
By now, Qian has become somewhat of a folk hero. His tale of returning to China despite being thwarted by the U.S. government has become like a legendary narrative in China: driven by unwavering patriotism, he willingly abandoned his overseas success, surmounted formidable challenges, and dedicated himself to his motherland.
Throughout his lifetime, Qian received numerous state medals in recognition of his work, establishing him as a nationally celebrated intellectual. From 1989 to 2001, the state-launched public movement “Learn from Qian Xuesen” was promoted throughout the country, and by 2001, when Qian turned 90, the national praise for him was on a similar level as that for Deng Xiaoping in the decade prior (Wang 2011).
Qian Xuesen remains a celebrated figure. On September 3rd of this year, a new “Qian Xuesen School” was established in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, becoming the sixth high school bearing the scientist’s name since the founding of the first one only a year ago.
Qian Xuesen’s legacy extends well beyond educational institutions. His name frequently appears in the media, including online articles, books, and other publications. There is the Qian Xuesen Library and a museum in Shanghai, containing over 70,000 artefacts related to him. Qian’s life story has also been the inspiration for a theater production and a 2012 movie titled Hsue-Shen Tsien (钱学森).2
As is often the case when people are turned into heroes, some part of the stories are left behind while others are highlighted. This holds true for both Robert Oppenheimer and Qian Xuesen.
The Communist Party of China hailed Qian as a folk hero, aligning with their vision of a strong, patriotic nation. Many Chinese narratives avoid the debate over whether Qian’s return was linked to problems and accusations in the U.S., rather than genuine loyalty to his homeland.
In contrast, some international media have depicted Qian as a “political opportunist” who returned to China due to disillusionment with the U.S., also highlighting his criticism of “revisionist” colleagues during the Cultural Revolution and his denunciation of the 1989 student demonstrations.
Unlike the image of a resolute loyalist favored by the Chinese public, Qian’s political ideology was, in fact, not consistently aligned, and there were instances where he may have prioritized opportunity over loyalty at different stages of his life.
Qian also did not necessarily aspire to be a “flawless hero.” Upon returning to China, he declined all offers to have his biography written for him and refrained from sharing personal information with the media. Consequently, very little is known about his personal life, leaving many questions about the motivations driving him, and his true political inclinations.
We do know that Qian’s wife, Jiang Ying (蒋英), had a remarkable background. She was of Chinese-Japanese mixed race and was the daughter of a prominent military strategist associated with Chiang Kai-shek. Jiang Ying was also an accomplished opera singer and later became a professor of music and opera at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing.
Just as with Qian, there remain numerous unanswered questions surrounding Oppenheimer, including the extent of his communist sympathies and whether these sympathies indirectly assisted the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Perhaps both scientists never imagined they would face these questions when they first decided to study physics. After all, they were scientists, not the heroes that some narratives portray them to be.
■ Farewell to a Self-Taught Master: Remembering China’s Colorful, Bold, and Iconic Artist Huang Yongyu
■ “His Name Was Mao Anying”: Renewed Remembrance of Mao Zedong’s Son on Chinese Social Media
1 Some sources claim that Qian was born in Hangzhou, while others say he was born in Shanghai with ancestral roots in Hangzhou.
2The Chinese character 钱 is typically romanized as “Qian” in Pinyin. However, “Tsien” is a romanization in Wu Chinese, which corresponds to the dialect spoken in the region where Qian Xuesen and his family have ancestral roots.
This article has been edited for clarity by Manya Koetse
References (other sources hyperlinked in text)
BBC. 2020. “Qian Xuesen: The man the US deported – who then helped China into space.” BBC.com, 27 October https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-54695598 [9.16.23].
Monk, Ray. 2013. Robert Oppenheimer: A Life inside the Center, First American Edition. New York: Doubleday.
Perrett, Bradley, and James R. Asker. 2008. “Person of the Year: Qian Xuesen.” Aviation Week and Space Technology 168 (1): 57-61.
Wang, Ning. 2011. “The Making of an Intellectual Hero: Chinese Narratives of Qian Xuesen.” The China Quarterly, 206, 352-371. doi:10.1017/S0305741011000300
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