Israel as Perceived on Chinese Internet

Israel is a country that, despite its small population and size, is among the most frequently mentioned and discussed countries in worldwide media and web. This coverage is more often than not from a critical perspective, particularly in Western news publications, and usually places heavy emphasis on political issues such as territorial disputes and religious conflict. In China as well, content relating to Israel can frequently be found. However, in stark contrast to their Western counterparts, Chinese mentions of Israel tend to be for the most part overwhelmingly positive and often cover a more diverse range of topics. This positive vibe towards Israel is perhaps most prominently evident on the Chinese web, where both online newspapers and user generated content on social media platforms speak of Israel with an air of indirect praise.
There are several major news publications in China, of which People’s Daily and Xinhua are perhaps the most well-known with online platforms. Searching for “以色列” (pronounced yiselie, meaning Israel in Chinese) on these news sites yields a wide scope of coverage on Israel that spans far beyond wars and regional conflict. Rather, there is heavier focus placed on the country’s technological and scientific advancements, economy and startup culture, and occasionally even Israeli tourism. On People’s Daily alone, a news source that is essentially a governmental organ, the most recent articles about Israel range from an Israeli breakthrough study regarding diabetes, to a piece on the participation of Check Point, an Israeli network security company, in the World Internet Conference. Likewise in more regional web publications such as the Hong-Kong based Nanzao Post (SCMP), the most recent articles that mention Israel cover topics such as female Nobel Prize winners, and the influx of Chinese investors visiting Israel despite increased tension in the region. Furthermore, while many online Chinese news publications do not touch upon the Middle Eastern conflict as frequently as in the West, the instances in which it is mentioned are often from a far more sympathetic standpoint.
While online news sources typically reflect the country’s officially accepted views, the other main form of internet presence is user-generated content on social media platforms. In China, the main searchable web-based social networks are Weibo and Youku. Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, also provides the signature hashtag feature that allows a user to view trending topics and search by hashtag keyword. Here too, paralleling the generally pro-Israel content found on Chinese online news publications, the user-generated content is also largely positive. The topic pages for #以色列# or #Israel# on Weibo reveal that this hashtag has been used roughly 18K times, and shows images that are mostly of users vacationing in Israel or otherwise political memes in support of the country. The same can be said of Youku, China’s Youtube, in which videos relating to or mentioning Israel are seldom found, though when they are they tend to be generally positive, uncritical and often even admiring in tone.
When searching for 以色列 on Youku, the top auto-search queries are all positive and range from Israeli songs, film and military prowess.
In fact, the only observable difference between social media vs. online newspapers' coverage of Israel seems to be the frequency of mentions. Whereas in official newspapers Israel is often a hot topic for one reason or another, on most Chinese social media it is less commonly discussed. This is most likely because of the harsh censorship enforcement in China, a factor which results in these social media platforms being used to share light news or pop-culture items rather than serious content. In fact, all top-10 of the current trending Weibo hashtags have some pop-culture reference and have been mentioned upwards of 2 million times. Accordingly, the few posts that do mention Israel generally refrain from any heavy themes or direct agendas.
The most recent #以色列# post mentioned that “Tel Aviv is an unexpectedly modern and very sophisticated metropolis that is ideal for business”.
In conclusion, it seems like the Chinese by and large have a very fond impression of Israel, at least based on their internet coverage. This is likely due to their admiration and identification with the resilient spirit of the Jewish people despite the hardships of their past, a history that is very similar to that of the Chinese. Israel is a country that has beaten the unlikely odds of existing and even flourishing in a frequently hostile region. China too has achieved the unthinkable despite extremely complex circumstances it endured in the 20th century, embarking on a rapid and unbelievably efficient economic turnaround that has and will continue to change the world. China views Israel as a partner, not a foe, and its internet coverage of Israel wholly reflects that.