Saw this interesting question and discussion on Reddit: You have (probably) never encountered a Chinese shill on Reddit, in which the author explains why Chinese shills on Reddit likely don’t exist.
The economics of it don’t make sense.
Being fluent in English at a high enough level to debate politics with someone else on Reddit while pretending to be their countrymen is an exceedingly rare trait in China. Consider that 1) India’s English proficiency is leaps and bounds ahead of China’s and 2) When speaking to an Indian English speaker, you can quickly tell that they are not North American, what chance do Chinese internet trolls have? The only people in China who speak English at that level have been educated in top international schools or studied abroad for years. These people are too busy or too highly paid for them to take a job shilling for the Chinese government on Reddit.
Think of how dreadful the ROI on this project would be. The Chinese government paying someone at least 40,000 USD a year to argue with people on Reddit.
It’s less than that. According to Payscle, a translator makes CNY 100,167, which is only $15,000 based on the current foreign exchange rate. Also, software can help cut costs and time.
If there are no Chinese government shills, why are there so many strongly pro-China opinions?
This one is easy. Chinese people are very nationalistic. Many Chinese-Americans/Canadians/Australians still strongly identify with China and have both the knowledge and inclination to argue with people online. These people are simply arguing their own deeply held beliefs as opposed to a shill who argues what they are paid to argue.
I don’t think nationalism is the primary reason. A question I have pondered is, why is there such a closeness or similarity between American young-adult online culture and contemporary Chinese youth culture, but also why there is such an affinity between China and the U.S than between, say, Germany and the U.S. or the U.K. and the U.S, despite Europe being closer historically, ethnically, racially, and politically to American than China. Some explanations are discussed here and here, but I want to expound on these.
Many pragmatically-minded, consequentialist people understand that China is trying to manage its economy and society the best it can, and although censorship may be ethically and morally wrong, may be justified in certain instances, which explains the lukewarm reception. A distinction must be made between the Chinese government and Chinese people and culture. Reddit, for example, is indifferent or lukewarm to the former but can relate to the latter due to cultural and intellectual similarities, as I will discuss.
Although China’s government is ostensibly Communist, the People’s Republic of China has made strides in embracing capitalism, with much success. China’s economy has been booming since the 90’s whereas Europe and other regions are stagnating. China is entrepreneurial, and a lot of young Americans who embrace ‘hustle culture’ on sites such as Reddit can respect that. AliBaba, Tencent, Sina, NetEase, and Baidu are just a handful of hugely successful multi-billion dollar tech companies that originated from China. There is the common HBD argument that Chinese people lack creativity, but China is pioneering CRISPR gene editing and other cutting-edge research and technology. There are also many prominent Chinese mathematicians who have made great leaps in number theory, such as Terence Tao and Yitang “Tom” Zhang. Meanwhile, Northern and Southern Europe are less entrepreneurial and appear stagnant by comparison. They don’t seem to have thriving technology industries, nor are they pioneering medical and genomic research. Continental Europe has never been able to match its intellectual heydays of the pre-WW2 era and has ceded ground to China and America.
China is high IQ, and there is a positive correlation between national wealth and IQ. Much like how Silicon Valley and New York–due to wealth, innovation and high IQ–are the cultural and economic epicenters of the Western world, Beijing and Shanghai (which are also wealthy, high tech, and high IQ) are the epicenters of the Eastern world. There is a sort of economic, cultural, and intellectual symbiosis and affinity (such as rich Chinese buying up America’s real estate and America exporting its culture to China) between these regions despise ethnic differences and geographic distances.
Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Tim Cook and other tech titans–due to the aforementioned cultural and economic reasons–have huge respect for China and Chinese people, and seek to open and expand business relations with China, and by transference, because many people on Reddit like Elon Musk, also like China too. Mark Zuckerberg reportedly knows Chinese. Elon Musk visited Beijing and Shanghai and on Twitter posted photos and praised China’s “energy and vigour”. Chinese employees and Apple fans went ‘wild’ after Tim Cook’s tour of Apple stores.
As evidence of cultural reciprocity, just as many America’s top business and political leaders love China, the rich and smart Chinese love America. They love its culture, which why they import billions of dollars of it and emulate it domestically (like Shanghai Disneyland), and they love America’s top-rated companies, top-rated elite schools, and elite universities.
Despite communism, many young Chinese are infatuated with capitalism and wealth. The same sort of get-rich-or-die-trying mentality that permeates popular Reddit subs and subculture such as /r/wallstreetbets and /r/financialindependence and /r/investing is also prevalent among the Chinese youth culture, especially in the well-connected, Americanized upper classes (although this is also quite prevalent too in South Korea and Singapore). The Chinese, especially in Hong Kong, were among the biggest speculators in Bitcoin from 2013 until 2016, when the authorities finally clamped down and began shutting down the exchanges. It’s not just online–many of Las Vegas’ high rollers are from China. Furthermore, an exceptionally competitive sexual marketplace, where men outnumber women, means men need to compete and flaunt material wealth to be worthy. If men in America think the dating market is bad, it’s much worse China, which can explain the epidemic of single men in China; many of the same struggles Chinese men are going through, American millennials and gen-Z can relate to.
The same sort of self-deprecating irreverence of American online culture is found in modern Chinese cinematic culture, such as Jackie Chan movies.
News from China frequently makes waves in America, and vice-versa, whether it’s designer test-tubes babies, empty apartments, luxury consumer spending, or brain scans of elementary school children. American policy makers and intelligentsia are acutely aware of China’s ascendancy and are keeping close tabs of China’s economy and daily developments, with the rapt attentiveness of a kid listening to the radio for snow-day school closures.
In the early 20th Century, Britain ruled. Then during the Cold War, Russia was the number one competitive threat. And in the late 80’s and early 90’s, it was Japan. Now, China is considered to be the ‘successor’ to America, and wealthy Chinese are playing an increasingly important role in the U.S. economy, and are among the biggest consumers of luxury goods and American intellectual property, both of which can explain why America’s political and business elite seem especially deferential to China, almost to the point of being obsequious. This is why Chinese is taught in some of America’s most elite schools and why America’s top technology companies are so enamored with China. Even Trump’s daughter Ivanka, despite Trump’s threats against China during the 2016 campaign, is getting involved:
When Ivanka Trump’s 5-year-old daughter Arabella Kushner serenaded visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping with a Mandarin folk song earlier this month, it prompted an outpouring of affection from many in China. In America, it probably prompted at least a little envy among other parents of young Mandarin learners.
President Donald Trump may be known for his threats to knock China down a peg or two, but his grandchildren are part of growing desire among American families to help their kids take advantage of China’s global rise—with Mandarin skills.
Although president Donald Trump hasn’t specifically addressed the issue, Billings said, his recent remarks on the importance of US-China relations during Xi’s April visit, and the fact that his grandchildren are students of Mandarin are positives.
Trump himself in 2018 said he has “very deep respect” for China and the “noble traditions of its people.” When Trump ran for president, Chinese factories produced merchandise such as dolls, clothes, and posters in Trump’s likeness that people proudly wore and displayed. That never happened with earlier presidents. Even left-wing publication The Atlantic in an article Why China Loves Trump wrote “Trump may make more sense in China than he does in Washington.”
Possibly owing to China’s single-party system, the Chinese are less focused on cultural and political matters and are more pragmatic. While Americans are divided over gender and politics, the Chinese are focused on building their economy, starting businesses, and improving their lives. Half of America hates the other half. Americans are losing friendships, not over actual betrayal and deceit, but over differing political beliefs. However, the sudden and huge popularity of the IDW and its patron saint Jordan Peterson, on sites such as YouTube and Reddit, is evidence of a demand by young people for a more nuanced and rational form of discourse that eschews partisan combativeness and divisiveness. Jordan Peterson in a video says he has many Chinese fans and wished his Chinese viewers a happy new year, and his books and lectures have been translated to Chinese. Admittedly, I have my own ideological biases, but imagine how much better things would be and how much more happiness there would be if there was less political division. We ( Americans) criticize China’s government, yet we’re four weeks into a government shutdown that could easily have been avoided. Can you imagine the People’s Republic of China willfully shutting down operations over a minor budgetary disagreement? The Chinese do not suffer such nonsense.
Overall, there is no need for China to hire shills to affect American sentiment of China when such sentiment is already mostly positive.