‘The NBA Incident Has The Entire Nation Acting Crazy’

This Chinese hottake was too hot for Tencent

I’m Jordan Schneider, Beijing-based host of the ChinaEconTalk Podcast. In this newsletter, I translate articles from Chinese media about tech, business, and political economy. If you were forwarded this email, for free weekly updates free to…

In China this past week, discussions about the NBA have run rampant. At first, the state was happy to allow vitriol to flow against the league — this after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey tweeted support for Hong Kong’s protesters — but after a few days, perhaps sensing it had overplayed its hand, the Chinese Communist Party has pulled back.

But while the discussion was at its peak, the following article was published on WeChat by an anonymous Chinese commentator, arguing for a less hysterical response. Below, we have translated the article in full.

The author — who has about 50 articles to his name, and runs ads for a Xiaomi-backed brokerage firm helping mainlanders invest in the US — argues that freedom is a core socialist value and that constraints to freedom of speech endanger society. He finds absurdity in two incidents from the Chinese internet: in one, a person who posted a harmless joke about Pokemon’s “Team Rocket” was forced to issue a lengthy self-criticism and apology; in the other, a father and son have become estranged because of the father’s unwillingness to give up his fandom for the Rockets.

Using a really unfortunate analogy with Nazi Germany — which I’ve begrudgingly translated out of fidelity to the original — the author concludes by arguing that all the bluster around Morey’s one tweet came out of Chinese people’s deep insecurities. 

Finally:

We need to think clearly about using the language of war. Apart from feeling a little better about ourselves in a sad way, there’s nothing to gain from it. On the contrary, it will make us not watch the NBA, not travel to the “beautiful island” (Taiwan), and even fall out with our relatives and friends because of a difference in opinion. Think carefully, is this worth it?

This article remained on WeChat for two days before Tencent took it down. But it is still available on Github.

This article first appeared in SupChina, an independent digital media company dedicated to informing, entertaining, and educating a global audience about business, technology, politics, and culture in China. They also host my podcast!

If you’d like to help with future translations (I can pay!), join the ChinaEconTalk wechat group, or are in need of a mandarin tutor add me on wechat at JordanSchneider.


The NBA incident has the entire nation acting crazy

Originally published October 11, 2019, on the WeChat channel “Landlord Economics” (房东经济学). Translated by Pieter Velghe and Jordan Schneider.

The NBA incident is in full throttle, as if sports fans have become enemies overnight, to the point where everyone is itching to get a piece of the NBA. The opinions expressed here may be different from that of most people, but I hope within this irrepressible maelstrom we’ll get some diversity of thinking.

To start from the top: What exactly did Morey say again?

What’s interesting is that, while people were calling for a boycott of the NBA, few people actually know exactly what it is that Morey said in the first place.

What caused all this was a tweet by Morey [on October 4], who posted a picture that read, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.”

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Looking at these words, I don’t see any intent to support “Hong Kong independence” and divide China. What he expresses is: Fight for freedom, stand together with Hong Kong. Even if he clearly says he supports the protesters, independence is not one of their five demands.

That Morey’s remark provoked such a strong reaction is really quite puzzling. He said he “stands with Hong Kong”; is Hong Kong not part of China? Why is it that, by standing with Hong Kong, we become so angry? Could it be that we subconsciously already look at Hong Kong as an enemy? If that’s the case, then who really is the separatist?

The other sentence, “fight for freedom,” has also attracted a lot of controversy. You have to know that freedom is written into the core socialist values of our country, whether it is the Mainland government, the Hong Kong government, or the Hong Kong police, whose job it is to protect the freedoms and rights of the residents of the city.

I can also say that I stand with Beijing today, and thus exercise the core socialist values, including “freedom.”

In today’s open and progressive China, if you are still sensitive about a term like “freedom,” then you’re letting down all the martyrs who over the last hundred years have given their lives to ensure the prosperity of our country and the well being of our people.

Does Morey have the right to express his personal views?

Being a Rockets executive and a U.S. citizen at the same time, can Morey use his Twitter to post something that represents his personal views? He later deleted the tweet and said that his personal opinion does not represent the Rockets.

If a person has no room to express one’s opinion because of his or her position, it will lead to a dangerous situation where the higher your status, the less freedom you have. But that’s what’s happening in this world.

From this point of view, it is perfectly reasonable for us to ask Morey to resign, because his words represent himself. But to totally boycott a club or the NBA as a whole because of Morey is logically untenable.

This matter has also agitated American society, with American people, the U.S. Congress, and entertainment industry all reacting strongly. What’s unsettling about this for Americans is that an American has been asked to apologize for expressing support for freedom. This crosses a red line for Americans.

They might think: I can insult my own president in America without a problem, but if I say something else, you’re going to try to control me?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s expression and American “double standards”

While Morey and the Rockets were under great pressure in both China and the United States, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he values the Chinese audience, but at the same time also supports Morey and [Brooklyn Nets owner] Joseph Tsai. He doesn’t support either view, specifically, but supports their right to freely express their personal views.

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“We are not apologizing for Morey exercising his freedom of expression.”

Many viewers pointed out that the NBA commissioner’s reference to “freedom of speech” constitutes a double standard, because the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers was once severely punished for “racist” remarks.

The incident went like this. In April 2014, Donald Sterling, then the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, was exposed by the American gossip magazine TMZ for saying to his ex-girlfriend in a private conversation that “It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you’re associating with black people.” After Sterling’s allegedly racist remarks came to light, NBA stars including Kobe Bryant and LeBron James condemned him one after another. The Clippers even considered suspending a game. Barack Obama, then the U.S. president, also said that Sterling’s remarks were offensive and racist and that NBA commissioner Adam Silver should put forward suggestions on how to deal with the situation.

In the end, the “exposed” Sterling was banned for life by the NBA and fined $2.5 million. Sterling also didn’t have a choice but to sell the Clippers to former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer for $2 billion.

Sterling was punished for his remarks. Today, Morey is not facing punishment. Was Sterling deprived of the right to express his views as an individual (and not as a representative of the team)? Is this not a “double standard”? No, not really.

Sterling was punished not because he was the owner of the Clippers. He was punished for racism. Even ordinary people accused of discriminating against another race will face severe punishment [in the U.S.].

Let’s establish again the nerve centers for China and the United States. For China, it’s the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and for the United States, it’s racial discrimination.

From Sterling’s past remarks you can directly see his prejudice toward black people. But in order to deduce from Morey’s words — “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” — that he supports Hong Kong independence and the breaking up of China, you would need to make several logical jumps.

The logic is unclear, the standard is unclear. What double standard are we talking about again?

What are Western values?

In the discussion of double standards, we often talk about “Western values.” There is no denying that any value system has blind spots. It is hard to say that a certain value system is perfect; we can only say that a certain value system is the least bad. It must be admitted that “Western values” are probably “least bad,” otherwise they wouldn’t be welcomed by most of the countries in the world in the 21st century.

How do you define the “West”? Are Japan, South Korea, Australia, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan considered Western? If we look at geographical location, then the “West” has already spread all over the world.

What is the core of Western values? It is fairness, justice, freedom, and sympathy for the weak. These core values almost completely coincide with our Chinese socialist core values, so that shows that common values exist in all of humanity. As long as you are a normal person, you will fully yearn for goodness. That’s exactly why racial discrimination has become an untouchable red line. This is not only America’s “political correctness,” but is also important in Europe, Canada, Australia, and many other countries.

By contrast, in some places [in China], people say that black people are black devils, white people are white pigs, Indian people are “ā-sān” (阿三), Korean people are “bàngzi” (棒子), Japanese people are devils, Russian people are hairy, Vietnamese people are monkeys…these vilifying epithets are unimaginable in other countries. [Note: The author uses derogatory Chinese words for the respective groups.]

Who lifted the veil?

The world is diverse and each country has its own values. Therefore, only by seeking common ground and expanding cooperation can we mutually profit. The same has always been true for the NBA: setting aside ideological disputes and carrying forward the sports spirit benefited a vast Chinese audience and brought ample benefits to NBA shareholders. As for the disputes lurking in the background, it is naturally best to preserve the veil and turn a blind eye.

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The NBA’s revenue has grown from 2 to 8 billion USD in recent years.

Morey’s tweet is said to have lifted a veil between China and the United States, but is this really the case?

We mentioned earlier that Morey posted his message on Twitter, which is a website that the vast majority of Chinese netizens currently cannot access. On Twitter and Facebook, people from around the world, from the domains of politics, popular culture, and entertainment, will from time to time publish some unfriendly remarks toward China. So why is it that it’s only this time that there’s been such a big fuss? I don’t believe it’s possible without people in the background fanning the flames.

Overcompensation and blowing with the wind

Over a short period of time, denouncing the NBA became a fad that swept across China like a wave. Enterprises and individuals, one after the other, posted statements about ending their cooperation with the NBA, regardless of whether or not they actually had cooperation with the NBA. It was as if you’d be ostracized for not getting on the NBA’s case. Up-and-coming stars like Cai Xukun [a pop idol made fun of for his lack of handles] joined the pile-on, which is laughable and sad.

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‘Slam dunk master’ Cai Xukun

Since the incident began, a witty netizen posted a joke on his WeChat Moments about a “rocket,” referring to a trio of rockets — Team Rocket — in the Japanese animation Pokémon. You can clearly see the reference in the second picture, below.

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Translation:

I still support the Rockets, regardless of how much you vilify them, after all I’ve been with them since the beginning. Every time they have been bitterly defeated, they have gotten up again to meet new challenges. They have inspired me in the many days and nights of my countless struggles. Thank you, Jessie, James, and Meowth.”

He did not come up with the joke himself but copied it from the internet. Still, because of this post, he had to apologize to more than 100,000 people on the company’s [China Sports] official public WeChat account. One has to understand that China Sports is a large company with registered capital in the tens of millions and annual revenue of hundreds of millions.

Translation of his apology:

On the afternoon of October 8, our employee XXX posted an inappropriate message on his WeChat Moments, which caused harm to society. After the incident transpired, our company severely criticized and educated the subject on this matter. XXX acknowledges the inappropriateness of his remarks and has performed deep reflection and self-criticism (see below).

Apology Letter

Dear friends,

The post I published on my WeChat Moments this afternoon about Team Rocket was really inappropriate, therefore I sincerely apologize here to everybody.

My intention was to entertain everyone with some harmless humor. The “Team Rocket” does not at all refer to the NBA team but to the fictional “Team Rocket” from the famous cartoon “Pokémon” (where the famous Pikachu comes from). But to send this kind of message at this time led to a dispute among friends, and has hurt the feelings of everybody. Hereby I express my apologies!

I was born in the 1990s and I am a patriot. Please do not misread me. During the National Day military parade I was also brimming with tears for the greatness of our nation, and I also hope that I can apply my meager strength to the fullest to strive for the prosperity of our country!

I apologize again to everybody. In the coming days, I will receive lessons on how to best fulfill my duty. I will apply my strength to the fullest to learn from every match, I will devote my strength to the national sports endeavor!

China Sports, a large company with a registered capital in the tens of millions and a revenue of hundreds of millions, publicly apologized for a private joke by one of its employees.

‘Spirit of Hitler, fate of Jews’

What’s more frightening is that animosity toward the NBA has aroused hostility in the hearts of ordinary Chinese. There was a case online of a father and son who broke off their relationship, with the poster talking about it with pride and swearing by his action.

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Translation:

Because my father will continue to support the Rockets, I broke off my ties with him.

My dad doesn’t have many hobbies, his only hobby is playing and watching basketball. He started watching Rockets games during the era of Yao Ming and has watched them for more than 10 years, so now he’s already considered a diehard Rockets fan. This morning, I talked with him about this Morey thing; he said that what the director of the Rockets says doesn’t concern the Rockets themselves, and that he will continue to support the Rockets like before. I immediately got angry and fought with him all morning to the point that we’ve broken off our relationship. If he doesn’t apologize, I won’t be having any more contact with him. There’s no problem, the interests of the country are bigger than the family, it’s bigger than anything. Alas, the last day of the holiday, and I’m all worked up.

Some people said on Zhihu [China’s version of Quora] that they wish there were a hundred more 9/11s and that they would kill all the people in Hong Kong and the U.S. If these users used their real names, if their remarks were known by government agencies of any other country, they might not be allowed to leave the country for the rest of their lives, or in China they might be blacklisted.

Translation of Zhihu screenshots:

“Also, I hope Bin Laden can be resurrected. If he doesn’t have enough planes, we will give him, give him a hundred, and send Hong Kong to ruins, blow up Hong Kong till it burns like a pig. Seven million Hongkongers, we will roast them one by one.”

“The. People. Of. Hong. Kong. We. Can’t. Leave. One. Standing.

Americans. We. Can’t. Leave. One. Left. Alive.”

“We warn the NBA this time, we won’t only show the Americans, we want to show you Hongkongers and Taiwanese people, we have to tell you, your NBA American daddy is yielding to us, you don’t have to sweat it.

We can support 9/11, we can also support bombing Taipei and burning down Hong Kong with petrol bombs. You can either become roasted ducks or jump in the ocean and drown. There are only two choices if you’re not on the same page with the Mainland.

People of Hong Kong and Taiwan, I’m telling you, you don’t have to think we’ll always treat you as compatriots. If you recognize America, then I’m sorry, we can treat you as invaders any time.

Adding you up together makes for 27 million people, that’s also our elimination target. We don’t lack population, 27 million people is nothing to us. We don’t lack bullets, and the grenades left over from last century haven’t been used up.”

I also don’t know what these people are like in their daily lives, what role they play and what it is that makes them so cruel and bloodthirsty. However, from experience, the more people speak in such an aggressive tone on the internet, the more likely it is that these people go through life frightened. It can be said that these people are Hitler in spirit, but in reality are like Jews.

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The fate of cannon fodder: over a hundred years ago, the Boxers were publicly beheaded by the Qing.

Individual happiness yields collective success

We need to think clearly about using the language of war. Apart from feeling a little better about ourselves in a sad way, there’s nothing to gain from it. On the contrary, it will make us not watch the NBA, not travel to the “beautiful island” (Taiwan), and even fall out with our relatives and friends because of a difference in opinion. Think carefully, is this worth it?

Everyone should do a good job in his own life, be kind to family and friends, and make one’s life more prosperous, comfortable, free, and harmonious. This is the most sincere and simple patriotism.


The above article was first published on SupChina.

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