A wave of anti-Denmark sentiment has flared up on the Chinese internet after Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a cartoon about the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak and refused to apologize for what many Chinese people saw as an example of racism and tone-deaf reporting.
The cartoon appeared in the newspaper on January 27. It depicted a Chinese national flag with the five yellow stars normally found in the top left hand corner replaced with drawings of five coronaviruses. The image was shared on Chinese social media, where it provoked an instant backlash. Critics said the cartoon was a blatant insult to China.
On January 28, China’s embassy in Denmark also condemned the newspaper, saying that the satirical drawing by the Danish artist Niels Bo Bojesen was devoid of “any form of sympathy or empathy,” and that it has “transcended the lower boundaries of civilized society and the ethical boundary of freedom of expression, and insults human conscience.” In the statement (in Chinese) published on its website, the Chinese embassy also asked the publication and the artist to “repent for their mistake” and “publicly apologize to the Chinese people.”
In response, Jyllands-Posten managing editor Jacob Nybroe said the newspaper stood by its decision to publish the cartoon, arguing that there was no intention of ridiculing or mocking the situation in China behind the image. “We couldn’t apologize for something that we don’t believe is wrong,” she told Danish newswire Ritzau, adding that the main cause of the debate was “two different types of cultural understanding.”
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen also stressed the importance of freedom of expression in Denmark. “We have a very, very strong tradition in Denmark not only for freedom of expression, but also for satirical drawings, and we will have that in the future as well,” Frederiksen said. “It is a well-known Danish position, and we will not change that.”
It should be no surprise that the “it’s just satire” argument didn’t fly with angry netizens on the Chinese internet. Worse, the unapologetic attitude on the Danish side only further infuriated critics, who have been posting anti-Denmark remarks and illustrations on social media. Below is a collection of the most aggressive attacks:
“I hope the virus defeats you in no time. You racist trash.”