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Poll: Support for Palestine in China, Mixed Feelings Toward Russia

China Academy Poll is a bi-monthly product that offers the most up-to-date, on-the-ground sentiment analysis among China’s youth.

January 3, 2024
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The ongoing armed conflicts between Isreal/Palestine and Ukraine/Russia are constantly testing, if not dividing public opinions worldwide. Unlike the U.S. or Europe where relationships with the four parties involved naturally elicit intense and overt reactions due to historical and geographcial reasons, Chinese public is experiencing subtler manifestation of “taking sides”. To put our finger on the pulse of the situation, we initiated a poll on Bilibili deliberatly asking people to pick sides in the two ongoing wars. Bilibili is one of China’s most widely used social media platform among the Gen Z demographic. With a total of 34,873 votes and insights drawn from all the comments on the poll, the result allows us to identify not only current trends, but also debates that could foreshadow future courses of public opinion.

Highlights:

1) An overwhelming support for Palestine and Russia is shown through voting, yet the reasons and emotional intensity prompting these two choices vary tremendously

2) Many requested an option of neutrality especially on the issue of Ukraine/Russia

3) Some followers of entertainment accounts have openly expressed detest in seeing, let alone participating in, such discussions of politics

The poll was conducted from Nov.24 to Dec.7, during which Israel and Hamas agreed to a temporary, and short-lived ceasefire which only lasted for a week. Majority of the respondents cast their votes in the first week since the poll started, a plausible response to news widely circulated on social media at that time. This would include the news of the Israeli army advising the Gazan people of safe evacuation areas by referring to an online map, where the Gaza Strip was divided up into more than six hundred numbered blocks, a move perceived to leave Gazan people little choice of being kept out of fire.


*The poll was published or promoted by six Bilibili accounts in the two major sections Bilibili is known for: Current Affairs Commentary and Dance, aiming to attract attention from different subgroups. According to backstage data from these six accounts, majority of their followers fall under the demographic category of male under 25 years old. Please note that the demographic of poll participants doesn’t necessary align 100% with demographic of the account followers, but we consider it a strong indicator considering Bilibili’s unique ecosystem- it is an amalgamation of close-knit fan-based communities formed by each account, rendering fairly high participation within these individual community.


Demographic details of the account followers can be found at the end of the article.  

A. Overwhelming sympathy towards Palestine: parallel drawn between Israel/Palestine war and Japanese invasion of China

Analogy is spontaneously drawn on Chinese social media between Isreali army and Japanese army during Japan’s invasion of China, particularly after Isreali army started attacking Gazen civilian institutions. For native Chinese, images of desperate Palestinian civilians contrasted with heavily armed Isreali forces easily evoke memories of the China-Japan war where China was on the receiving end of atrocity from a formidable opponent, and hence were able to elicit strong sympathy towards Palestine. Some participants even quoted pro-Palestine policies in the Mao era, along with China’s support of national liberation movements all over the world during the Cold War era, as grounds for their vote now.

B. Neutrality on Russia/Ukraine: conflicted emotions towards Russia

An unproportionally high vote of support to Russia disguises various layers of attitudes behind such vote. The following summary illustrates various reasons motivating such vote:

1) An understanding of Russia’s frustration over NATO expansion and a neighboring administration aligned with Western policies to the point of being perceived puppet.

2) Disapproval of NATO and its military operations since its inception

3) Realpolitik appreciation of Russia’s role-Russia provides a precious buffer zone between China and NATO. A defeated or a collapsed Russia would otherwise leave northern China at the mercy of NATO.

It is worth noting that complaints of a lack of a “neutral stance” on the issue of Russia/Ukraine are prevalent in the comment section. Several popular comments emphasized that Russia’s operation constitutes an invasion, a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, and a clear defiance of international laws. Whether or not these comments indicate support for Ukraine is unclear as many stressed a clear distinction between the Zelensky regime and the Ukraine people, with their sympathy clearly falling solely on the latter. These convoluted attitudes mirror Chinese people’s interpretation of the country’s official stance on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict: disapproval of invasions of sovereign country (China has not officially recognized Russia’s claim to Crimea and the annexed eastern Ukrainian states), while reckoning a realistic need of stronger ties with Russia.

As a result, many participants have phrased their stance as “I stand with my country” to avoid further justification for their vote to Russia, which we believe to have contributed to an 83% voting population in favor of Russia.

C.  A leftist narrative of “Anti-imperialism” narrative is brought up in the discussion

While the majority of poll participants view NATO as an ever-expanding imperialist power, with Zelensky as a sad pawn destined to be sacrificed, a significant portion of the voters labeled Russia as a betrayer of the Soviet Union, who cast aside its socialist ideals in pursuit of capitalist imperialism. This subgroup has left comments demonstrating their support for all the ‘proletariats’ on both sides while refraining from showing sympathy toward either Ukraine or Russia.

D. Views diverge by interest in international politics

People who don’t follow international politics closely disapprove ostensible display of political stance. This is evident in the comment section of Influnencers in the dance section who, by publishinb this poll, have attracted criticisms along the lines of “focus on dancing and don’t get involved in politics.” Such criticisms are rarely imposed on influencers in the current affairs commentary sections.

A social media interpretation of the poll:According to a trending meme picture on China’s social media, each quadrant corresponds to a subgroup that holds a certain set of values.

For those who vote for Palestine/Ukraine: Pacifism and a general compassion for the disadvantaged.

For those who vote for Palestine/Russia: A strong disapproval of the current world order and a view that China and the emerging Global South have the potential to provide an alternative to the US-led world order.

For those who vote for Israel/Ukraine: A belief that the existing US-led world order benefits the world and should be supported.

For those who vote for Israel/Russia: Social Darwinism, where the fittest should rightfully survive. This sentiment is likely a legacy from China’s ‘century of humiliation’ since 1839 when China was left vulnerable to invasion by imperialist powers.

It should be highlighted that people who sympathize with Ukraine were often generalized as supporters of the U.S. before the current Ukraine Israel war broke out.

There are also quite a number of half-joking comments about ‘standing with all these four / none of them.’ The logic behind this is that the two ongoing conflicts drain the military power of the US-led NATO, leaving China enough time and breathing room for its ultimate goal of reunification with Taiwan.This realpolitik approach is also reflected by Hu Xijin, former editor-in-chief of the state-owned media Global Times, who has been ridiculed by Chinese netizens from time to time for his perceived inconsistent, contradictory remarks on current affairs. A joke on Hu runs like this: “Over time, Hu may appear in every quadrant of the coordinate” .

Demographic Data

Subscribers of six Bilibili accounts, categorized under two sections of Bilibili—Current Affairs Commentary and Dance—have participated in this poll. The features of each account, including the number of subscribers, areas of focus, and demographic details, are listed below.

底浪Wave (main/politics, 72k subs)

鹏城杰森 (politics, 810k subs)

毒舌的南瓜 (politics/history, 1.69m subs)

耿清清呀 (dance, 761k subs)

优瑞可kk (dance, 341k subs)

訴沫沫沫沫 (dance, 227k subs)

底浪Wave (politics, 72k subs):

Gender: Male 81.8%, Female 18.2%

Age: 0-16 8.3%, 16-25 35.2%, 25-40 37.9%, >40 18.6%

Region: Guangdong, Shanghai, Jiangsu, Beijing, Zhejiang

Top Tags Viewed by Subscribers: Daily life, Funny, History

鹏城杰森 (politics, 810k subs)

Gender: Male 92.2%, Female 7.8%

Age: 0-16 ~10%, 16-25 ~40%, 25-40 ~35%, >40 ~15%

Region: Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shanghai, Beijing, Zhejiang

Top Tags Viewed by Subscribers: Daily life, Funny, Games

毒舌的南瓜 (politics/history, 1.69m subs)

Gender: Male 82.6%, Female 17.4%

Age: 0-16 ~10%, 16-25 ~40%, 25-40 ~35%, >40 ~15%

Region: Guangdong, Jiangsu, Shandong, Zhejiang, Beijing

Top Tags Viewed by Subscribers: Daily life, Funny, Games耿清清呀 (dance, 761k subs)

Gender: Male 88.1%, Female 11.9%

Age: 0-16 ~5%, 16-25 ~45%, 25-40 ~35%, >40 ~15%

Region: Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shandong, Beijing

Top Tags Viewed by Subscribers: Daily life, Funny, Games优瑞可kk (dance, 341k subs)

Gender: Male 91.0%, Female 9.0%

Age: 0-16 ~5%, 16-25 ~50%, 25-40 ~30%, >40 ~15%

Top Tags Viewed by Subscribers: Daily life, Funny, Games訴沫沫沫沫 (dance, 227k subs)

Gender: Male 92.5%, Female 7.5%

Age: 0-16 ~10%, 16-25 ~50%, 25-40 ~35%, >40 ~15%

Region: Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Shanghai, Shandong

Top Tags Viewed by Subscribers: Daily life, Funny, Games

As shown in the respective demographic charts, followers of the participating accounts are predominantly male in their 20s, primarily from China’s comparatively developed southeastern coast.

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