Heart of glass

Heart of glass, aka 玻璃心 is a condition that seems to affect many Chinese people lately. This term is used to refer to someone who gets easily offended, especially on the internet. I think the first time I heard it was from a Hong Kong colleague; it appears that people from Taiwan and HK love to use this term when talking about mainlanders. And what can I say? I think they’re right. Chinese people are offended very easily, especially by foreign criticism. It’s also said in Spain that Spaniards can bash Spain and Spanish things all they want, but a foreigner doing it is completely unacceptable. However, it’s really a whole different level here in China.

If you follow international news, you might have heard the phrase “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people”. It’s an expression that Chinese officials love using when they have a disagreement with some other country. And, oh my, China has disagreements with so many countries that this sentence has become a cliché. Let’s have a look at some examples:

  • Canada arrests a Huawei top executive: Canada is hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.
  • Australia wants an investigation about the origins of coronavirus: Australia is hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.
  • South Korean pop band mentions the anniversary of the Korean War during a speech: Pop band is hurting the feelings of the Chinese people (I didn’t understand this one at all).
  • Swiss jewelry brand lists Hong Kong as a separate country in their website: Jewelry brand is hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.
  • German car brand posts a quote from the Dalai Lama on their Instagram: Car brand is hurting the feelings of the Chinese people.

I think you get the idea. Be careful with what you say, because you can hurt the feelings of the Chinese people! But who exactly is asking the Chinese people if they are feeling hurt or not? That’s the key piece of information I’m missing. I don’t think my husband was consulted about his feelings towards any of those actions.

This great infographic from Bertelsmann Stiftung tails who has hurt the feelings of the Chinese people the most. Who’s the winner? Japan! (In this case, hurt feelings are understandable as they are probably related to the horrible things Japan did in China during the war).

I’ve also witnessed this phenomenon myself. Once, in one of the WeChat groups I’m in, a couple of foreign women were commenting that they had seen children peeing or pooing in the street or in public transportation in China. It’s a friendly group and they were not being nasty or abusive, just saying that they had seen it themselves. A Chinese woman took offense and was very angry at them, asking how they would feel if someone said those things about their country. Well… if a foreigner told me that the streets in Spain are full of dog shit and stuck chewing gum, I’d reply: “Yes, it’s true and it’s absolutely disgusting”. I wouldn’t feel personally attacked as I’ve never left a dog poo or threw a chewing gum on the street myself, but many people do, and I’ve often complained of the dirty streets myself. (By the way, I’ve also seen children pooing in the street and peeing in the bus in China).

Another thing happened a few weeks ago, when one of the cartoons my son likes to watch suddenly disappeared from Chinese streaming platforms. After an online search, I found out the cartoon had been removed because an episode about the Korean holiday Chuseok (which is also celebrated in China and called Mid-Autumn Festival) made children believe that the holiday was originally from Korea. I thought this was an idiotic reason for erasing all of the show’s seasons (can’t concerned parents just explain that it’s a holiday celebrated in several countries?) but it seems the show also committed the mortal mistake of “showing incorrect maps“. Guess which words are included in that news report… yep, you guessed it, the cartoon “hurt viewers’ feelings”. Later on, my husband told me that China and Korea have been fighting for ages about which country invented the Mid-Autumn Festival.

As the cartoon was originally made by a Korean company, some people thought they were settling the score and teaching children that the holiday is originally Korean.

So why are Chinese people so easily offended? In this great blog post from a Chinese professor living in South Africa, the author posed this question to a friend, who replied: “I don’t know why I feel offended when people raise criticisms about Chinese policies on Tibet, Taiwan, and family planning… I just can’t control myself and feel like I’m being insulted personally”. That might be the key: Chinese see an affront to China as an affront to themselves personally. The rise of patriotism and nationalism during the last few years might be also related.

I wonder if this post will hurt someone’s feelings…