Why did “white liberals”（白左）become so hated in China?
First, the question should clarify what’s actually meant by baizuo (白左) in the Chinese context. The bai appears to come in part from baichi (白痴, a moron), and it’s meant in the same way as “libtard” is meant in the U.S. by certain conservatives. It doesn’t mean “white” (i.e., European or Euro-American) liberals. It means “Chinese people who have adopted the values of liberalism.” “Libtard” is probably a better translation than “white left.”
The word seems to have gained wide usage first on Zhihu, as some others have pointed out. Zhihu is very much a Quora clone in China, and during the 2016 U.S. presidential race, some Zhihu users answering questions related to Trump and U.S. politics started using the term. For the most part, the so-called baizuo are “hated” by Chinese conservatives really only in the same sense that so-called “social justice warriors” or “libtards” are hated in the U.S. by stridently conservative people: They’re seen as denying supposed biological realities, seen as contemptibly naïve, as slavishly adopting values that sound nice but are thought to be impracticable.
Layered onto this, often, is a sense of race-treason — that by endorsing these values, the so-called baizuo is being too critical of values held by (the majority of) Chinese people. This is where bai has a kind of double entendre: The people from whom these values were adopted were “white,” and they’re also “morons,” thus baizuo. And so Chinese people who support gender equality or gay rights, who opposed racism and Islamophobia, who would like to see minority nationalities (especially Uyghurs and Tibetans) treated with a little more dignity, who champion the rights of the disabled — these people are often treated as also being “anti-Chinese.”
The funny thing is that so much of the discussion is quite far removed from China itself, and is instead about politics in the U.S. When these debates are transposed to China, a lot of shoehorning is necessarily involved. After all, China isn’t exactly a country of immigration; it has a vanishingly small black population; and with only 21 million or so Muslims in a country of 1.4 billion, Islam isn’t exactly threatening to take over. Nevertheless, the Guangzhou neighborhoods where many Africans live are singled out for racist abuse, and somehow people manage to feel threatened by the supposed “Halalization” of China or the sinister spread of Sharia Law. This stuff is cribbed directly from alt-right sites in the U.S. It would be laughable if it weren’t so ugly.
Kuora is a weekly column.