A butchered Aesop’s fable from the Twitter account of the Chinese embassy in Ireland has drawn mirth from observers and highlighted the growing sensitivity of Chinese diplomats to international criticism.
As China engages in international disputes, the belligerent and aggressive style of communication of some of its foreign officials has earned the nickname “wolf warrior diplomacy.”
Thursday’s Twitter post pushed back on such accusations, but appeared to lose something in translation as the author navigated English allegories and the need to maintain an image of Chinese strength.
Riffing on the fable of the Wolf and the Lamb, a story of tyrannical injustice in which the lamb is falsely accused and killed, the post queried: “Who is the wolf?”
“Some people accused China for so-called ‘wolf-warrior diplomacy.’ In his well-known fable, Aesop described how the Wolf accused the Lamb of committing offences. The wolf is the wolf, not the lamb ... BTW, China is not a lamb.”
The confused analogy prompted attempts to unpack its meaning.
“[H]e leaps in with the fable of the wolf and the lamb ... but as he gets to the end, he realises he’s left himself open. China can’t be portrayed as a weak lamb that will be eaten up. China is strong, powerful! So he adds the ‘BTW,’” Foreign Policy deputy editor James Palmer said.
“I honestly don’t think the embassy staff meant to say that China is the wolf in this fable, but I scratch my head about what they meant to say through this fable,” said Victor Shih, a University of California, San Diego academic. “[If] it’s something like ‘China is innocent like the lamb in the fable except China is a wolf’ then don’t use the fable!”
While the Twitter post sparked ridicule, it also highlighted the growing enthusiasm of Chinese diplomats to show toughness.
“There’s always been this performative aspect of being an official in the party structure, but we’re hearing it louder now,” said Margaret Lewis, a China specialist at Seton Hall University, New Jersey.
Wolf warrior posts are usually made on Western social media platforms such as Twitter (banned in China). Some have landed a hit: an illustration and post about findings of suspected war crimes by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan prompted an angry news conference by the Australian prime minister, but Palmer said their intended audience is usually Chinese government superiors.
“It counts as success if your boss, or your boss’ boss, sees it and thinks it reflects the right political line,” Palmer said. “There’s maybe some small bonus in a dumb post that gets mocked a lot because if you’re getting measured for impact at all, it takes no account of the qualitative impact, only the quantifiable one.”
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