Survey: 60% of Chinese Sad Over bin Laden’s Death

A front page of a newspaper featuring a picture of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, in front of the White House in Washington, DC, on May 2, 2011. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Summary from The Washington Post:

Anti-American sentiment continues to be rampant among Chinese Internet users, most of them educated elites.

Immediately after the Navy SEALs’ successful mission that killed bin Laden, China’s Phoenix TV website conducted an online poll on the death of the world’s No. 1 terrorist. By midnight Tuesday, more than a half-million people responded. Asked “How do you feel about the death of Osama bin Laden,” 59.9 percent said they were “saddened, because an anti-American fighter has fallen.” About 20 percent indicated that they were “happy that he is dead.”

The same poll showed that while a clear majority strongly endorsed bin Laden’s anti-American “heroism,” almost 60 percent of those polled expressed disapproval of bin Laden’s indiscriminate killing of innocent people.

The strong anti-American hatred was reflected in website after website, microblog after microblog, across China’s vast cyberspace. In the most popular online chat room, Strong China Forum (qiangguoluntan), hosted under the aegis of the Chinese Communist Party’s official mouthpiece, the People’s Daily newspaper, almost all comments on bin Laden’s death predicted a gloom-and-doom future for the United States, as the death of bin Laden, they say, will expedite America’s decline.

Here is a translation of part of the original survey:

From Phoenix TV website (Chinese Only)
Percentages are based on 480,212 survey responses as of May 13, 2011.

1. How do you feel about bin Laden‘s death?
1. Happy, the head of terrorism is finally brought down (18.3%)
2. Sad, an “anti-American hero” has fallen (59.9%)
3. Much to ponder, it takes 10 years to sharpen a sword, American finally had its revenge (12.2%)
4. [I’m a] bystander, what does his life or death have to do with me? (9.6%)

2. How do you view Bin Laden?
1. He’s the number one terrorist, and a threat to world peace (18.6%)
2. He’s an anti-American hero, but his terrorist acts that hurt innocent people cannot be accepted (57.6%)
3. He’s a fanatic fundamentalist; splitting from traditional Islam has made him a legend (15.4%)
4. Cannot be explained (8.4%)

3. Do you think Bin Laden’s death is an effective blow to terrorism?
1. Yes, this is a war against terrorism, and terrorism will be curbed (16.8%)
2. Yes, Islamist extremism is on the decline, and this marks the end (2.4%)
3. No, bin Laden is not the central figure, and his death will have no impact on terrorism (24.7%)
4. No, more people will join the extremist forces, and terror activities will intensify (47.8%)
5. Cannot be explained (8.3%)

Why do so many Chinese seem to have anti-American sentiment?

We spoke with Lynn White, Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. Here is what he told us over the phone.

Do 60% of Chinese people really feel bin Laden was a “hero”?

I’m not sure they do, in a full way. It is a very complicated question…

Two feelings: The first is that in the population broadly in China, there is a kind of skeptic-cynic attitude. On the one hand, there is some admiration to the United States. On the other hand, there is a feeling among a lot of people—and that would especially would apply to people who reply to an online survey, in other words, who tend to be more intellectuals—the feeling the United States is maybe trying to keep China down, to prevent China’s rise, of which they are very proud.

Another way to put that, though, is that that sample is not quite the same as the Chinese leadership. The Chinese leadership is so concerned about the dangers of instability… that they, I think, want to rock the boat less than the sample of people who might reply in large numbers that way in the survey. In other words, both, the whole population of China and the leadership may be a little bit more calm about this than that statistics of 60% would suggest.

Is there any Anti-Americanism In China?

If the question is if there is any Anti-Americanism in China, the answer is “yes”. If the question is if there is some basis for it the answer to that is “yes”—as there is also basis for anti-Chinese feelings in the United States. After all, leaders of very large countries with all sorts of interests—they don’t completely agree on everything, or their populaces don’t completely agree on everything. It’s perfectly natural.

The question is what are the results of that. And I trust and hope that future Chinese leaderships, such as the one coming next year, will not rock the boat. That is, they may have certain resentment of the United States, but you know, what will they do about it? And we might ask the same question of Americans, if American have certain resentments of China… what they will do or decide not to do about those differences is much more important question.

What do the survey results mean?

We should make a distinction between attitudinal surveys and behavior or actions. It’s the actions that are much more important.

And what should we think of the survey? We should ask questions about surveys like this, the kinds that I have asked: what were the alternative answers, what was the sample, does it really represents what everybody in China thinks? It doesn’t.  It doesn’t represent what most farmers think because those farmers don’t go online. It doesn’t represents what the top of the leadership thinks because the top of the leadership has more responsibility, more need to care for the effects of its actions than those people who respond to a survey like this.

It should teach us to think better, teach Americans to think more clearly about what attitudinal expression like this means. I don’t think they mean that much actually.

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