Official Chinese state media had a field day Thursday with the invasion of the U.S. capitol by armed supporters of Donald Trump. It called the incident “a beautiful sight” and used it as a chance to advance Beijing’s narrative on Hong Kong and promote China’s system of governance.
State outlets and even the country’s foreign ministry spokeswoman focused in particular on comparing Wednesday’s Washington, D.C. riot to a 2019 incident when Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters occupied the city’s seat of power, the Legislative Council.
That incident happened in June 2019, just days after an estimated two million Hong Kong residents took to the streets for a peaceful antigovernment protest. Nancy Pelosi called the movement a “beautiful sight to behold.”
On Wednesday, hours before the MAGA crowd stormed the White House, Hong Kong police swooped on 53 pro-democracy activists — including an American lawyer — who oppose Beijing’s increasing stranglehold on the semi-autonomous region. The mass arrests have been widely condemned by rights activists and leaders worldwide.
On Thursday, outlets including the state-affiliated though tabloid-esque and hyper-nationalist Global Times and the China Communist Youth League parroted Pelosi’s language applying it to the D.C. events. The Youth League captioned photos of the chaos in the U.S. capitol on its official account as “real images of the most beautiful sight.”
When asked indirectly about the appropriateness of such commentary at a regular press briefing, China’s foreign media spokeswoman Hua Chunying doubled down. The “sharp contrast” between the language American politicians and media used to describe the Hong Kong incident and the current situation in D.C. “deserves serious and profound reflection,” she said. (She also called on the U.S. to “take necessary measures to ensure the safety of journalists” — an irony coming from China, the world’s top jailer of reporters in both 2019 and 2020.)
Beijing deliberately obfuscated the differences between the two cases. While Hong Kong demonstrators were seeking to safeguard the city’s democratic freedoms, MAGA protestors were seeking to overturn the results of a democratic election.
Beijing’s propaganda apparatus was also quick to report on Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani stating that the D.C. events show “how fragile and vulnerable Western democracy is,” as well as similar commentary from Russia. Meanwhile, they have gone out of their way to make other comparisons between China — depicted as stable, united and collectively fighting the epidemic — and the chaotic U.S.
State broadcaster CCTV used screenshots and translated quotes pulled from Twitter-users fearing “civil war” in the U.S. on its news program about the riots.
It later posted a photo on Weibo under the now-viral hashtag “Two different shots from behind of China and America on the same day,” which has since been viewed more than 69.6 million times. The image shows rioters climbing the walls of the White House juxtaposed with a group of Chinese “volunteer students and teachers” in full PPE together pushing forward a transporter full of anti-viral supplies through the snow in Dalian city.
Patriotic comments flooded flooded in below. “China fights the virus while America riots – grateful to our motherland!” wrote one of most popular in a common refrain. Another wrote: “This photo could be on the cover of Time Magazine — it’s a testament to this era!”
Online, Chinese social media users compared the event to scenes from films and video games. “This looks very familiar — isn’t this the same scene as depicted in ‘Tom Clancy’s The Division 2?’” one asked, creating an image that photoshopped little health bars over the heads of protesters heading towards the Capitol.
Meanwhile, the phrase “Trump Supporters Break Into U.S. Capitol” was the second most viewed hashtag on Weibo, with more than 710 million views by early evening.
The U.S. government is frequently held up in China as the paragon of democracy, and so its recent disarray helps Beijing discredit the system’s broader model and values.
The Global Times ran an English-language rundown of the incident with the headline “Chinese Netizens Jeer Riot in U.S. Capitol as ‘Karma,’ Say Bubbles of ‘Democracy and Freedom’ Have Burst.” In a separate Chinese-language analysis, it cited a Chinese scholar as saying “this very iconic day will be a ‘Waterloo’ for the U.S.’s international image.”
State broadcaster China Radio International tweeted a quote in English from an Al-Jazeera op-ed that said Wednesday night’s chaos was “only the beginning,” stating: “Over the next four years, the remaining shreds of American ‘democracy’ may not just continue to unravel, but the whole rotten edifice could implode.”
An op-ed published by CGTN, the English-language branch of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, said the incident was “a clear demonstration of team failure” of Trump, Republicans, and U.S. governance’s inability to respond to long-standing issues like the rise of ultra-nationalism and racial inequality. “The shining city on the hill has been decaying from inside for a long time,” it said, calling Wednesday’s events its “glittering disintegration.”