This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.
Social media users have been taking aim at Chinese official commentator Hu Xijin, the former editor of the nationalistic Global Times newspaper, after he claimed Michelle Yeoh’s Oscars win as a victory for “Chinese cultural genes.”
“Congratulations to Ms Michelle Yeoh, so happy for her,” Xi posted to his account on the social media platform Sina Weibo after Yeoh became the first person of Asian descent to win a Best Actress award at the Oscars. “China is rising, and Asia is rising, and people of Chinese and Asian descent will definitely be more and more in the public eye.”
“More people of Chinese descent will take advantage of that momentum and achieve new pinnacles,” Hu wrote. “We should be cheering on anyone of Chinese descent who carries China’s cultural genes.”
Publicly available information suggests that Yeoh’s ancestors fled Fujian before the Communist Party founded the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and crossed an ocean to settle in Malaysia.
Hu’s comments sparked a number of skeptical and satirical responses despite tight political censorship and warnings that more than 30 users had already been blocked for “malicious comments” by noon GMT on Wednesday.
“First off, congratulations to Michelle Yeoh, and secondly, she’s not Chinese, so stop claiming the credit for yourself,” Sichuan-based user @Harvey_flies_the_plane commented.
Others asked why the movie that swept the Oscars on Sunday, “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” was banned in China.
“Hu, why can’t we see this movie in China, given that it has gotten such high praise?” @IndyQueen_hehehe wanted to know, while @Kung_Fu_master commented, “This is just envy – she’s not even Chinese” and @new_century_virgin_warrior added a “doubt” emoji, with the comment: “Isn’t she Malaysian? What does she have to do with China?”
What Hu meant to say was that the Oscars were the glory of America, since “nobody in China has ever won one,” @Run_to_the_Sun_2022 said.
According to Beijing-based user @Sun_Jinpeng_1012, Yeoh’s Best Actress award was the result of her personal effort, while @Teacher_Tucker from Liaoning was considerably more blunt, commenting: “This has nothing to do with you.”
Current affairs commentator Cai Shenkun said Chinese state media consistently try to take ownership of any achievement by people of Chinese descent, even if they have scant ties to the People’s Republic of China.
“They try to make out that overseas Chinese carry the genes of some kind of Chinese civilization, and express pride over their achievements,” Cai said. “They are always trying to take credit, which I think is absolutely ridiculous.”
Cai said the irony was that Yeoh and others like her were only able to achieve what they did because their ancestors had left China.
“There wouldn’t be so many outstanding people of Chinese descent if they hadn’t escaped that country,” he said. “Yet now they’re being claimed as Chinese [by Chinese media and commentators].”
Current affairs commentator Lu Nan said that the ruling Chinese Communist Party ultimately lacks confidence in its own achievements, and seeks to claim other people’s for their own.
“This is particularly clear in the case of Michelle Yeoh,” Lu said, drawing a parallel with state media’s lionizing of skier Eileen Gu during the 2021 Winter Olympics. “There is no way such a brilliant artistic achievement would be possible in China, where culture and ideas are all behind bars.”
“They can’t train actors like her themselves, because art requires freedom of thought,” he said.