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Inside China's online nationalist army

How social media users weaponized patriotism

The recent anti-protest backlash highlights a crucial change in the nature of online nationalism in China. (Illustration by Shohei Yasuda and Yuri Morita)

TOKYO/NEW YORK/HONG KONG -- The November protests in China against President Xi Jinping's draconian zero-COVID strategy made global headlines as the biggest public act of anti-government resistance in decades.

The demonstrators, some of whom even called for Xi to step down, laid bare their frustration at long lockdowns that have damaged the economy and people's livelihoods.

But some prominent Chinese social media commentators saw a very different universe. These nationalist netizens accused "foreign forces" of stoking the rage -- a conspiratorial idea long used by the ruling Communist Party to discredit opposition.

The anti-protest backlash highlights a crucial change in the nature of online nationalism in China, a force capable of humbling powerful people and international brands. Such ultra-patriotic campaigns were once openly led and directed by state media. Now individuals play a more prominent role, Nikkei Asia data analysis has found.

Explore the full infographic story here.

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