Chinese “Liberals” for Trump!

Beaconism and the Trumpian Metamorphosis of Chinese Liberal Intellectuals

Journal of Contemporary China, Vol. 30 (2021), Issue 127, pp. 85-101; published online: 18 May 2020, DOI: 10.1080/10670564.2020.1766911

Yao Lin
Yale University, Law School
Date Written: January 28, 2020


This article examines the puzzling phenomenon that many Chinese liberal intellectuals fervently idolize Donald Trump and embrace the alt-right ideologies he epitomizes. Rejecting ‘pure tactic’ and ‘neoliberal affinity’ explanations, it argues that the Trumpian metamorphosis of Chinese liberal intellectuals is precipitated by their ‘beacon complex’, which has ‘political’ and ‘civilizational’ components. Political beaconism grows from the traumatizing lived experience of Maoist totalitarianism, sanitizes the West and particularly the United States as politically near-perfect, and gives rise to both a neoliberal affinity and a latent hostility toward baizuo. Civilizational beaconism, sharing with its nationalistic counterpart — civilizational vindicativism — the heritages of scientific racism and social Darwinism imported in late-Qing, renders the Chinese liberal intelligentsia receptive to anti-immigrant and Islamophobic paranoia, exacerbates its anti-baizuo sentiments, and catalyzes its Trumpian convergence with Chinese non-liberals.

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