A Chinese nationalist pundit known for his inflammatory criticism of the United States has attracted ridicule online after he was shown attending a party celebrating Independence Day at the US embassy in Beijing – and apparently having a great time while there.
Sima Nan, a 67-year-old blogger, rode the wave of rising nationalism in China to become one of the country’s most influential online commentators, amassing more than 40 million followers across various Chinese social media platforms.
His blistering attacks against Washington have earned him a reputation as an “anti-American fighter” – he has blamed the US and NATO for provoking Russia’s war on Ukraine, decried American support for Taiwan and mocked the US government for failing to control gun violence and the coronavirus.
A self-styled patriot, Sima has also targeted his wrath at Chinese intellectuals, entrepreneurs and doctors who he has accused of “betraying” China and “colluding” with the West.
Now, the blogger is facing accusations of hypocrisy, after he shared his experience attending the Independence Day celebration hosted by the US embassy on Tuesday, which featured American style food – including burgers and pizza – and live music.
“Surprised! American ambassador Nicolas Burns invited me to dinner,” exclaimed the headline of an article Sima posted Wednesday.
In the article, he praised the “spectacular” food offered at the event, to which “national day celebrations at the Russian embassy cannot compare,” he said. (Though the Russian embassy’s ice cream is tastier, he concluded after eating four scoops of American ice cream).
Sima also observed the “festive atmosphere” of the US celebration, in contrast to the discussions on “serious topics” by guests at the Russian embassy.
He also posted photos of the event, including one showing him shaking hands with Burns in broad smiles.
“When ‘Mr. wolf-warrior Ambassador Burns’ testified in the US Congress, he looked so fierce, and I wrote several articles and made several episodes of programs attacking him. In private, he is a mild-mannered little old man who smiles quite casually,” he wrote.
The article and photos drew a firestorm of mockery on Chinese social media, especially from liberal-leaning users who have long chaffed against Sima’s ultra-nationalistic stance. The day before the event, Sima had blasted the US proposal to provide Ukraine with cluster bombs as “an act against humanity.”
“This is typical hypocrisy, what he says and what he does are entirely different,” said a comment on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform.
“It’s not a big deal for Chinese people to participate (in the event). Although relations between the two countries are tense, exchanges are still necessary,” said a widely circulated commentary on WeChat, China’s super app.
“But Sima Nan is different! He’s an anti-American pioneer and fighter, and one of the most popular patriotic online influencers promoting positive energy. Is it appropriate for him to celebrate the birthday of the United States?”
Following the criticism, Sima posted two articles Thursday defending his decision to attend the US embassy event, citing the importance of people-to-people exchanges in bilateral relations.
“If attending the US embassy’s national day celebration makes me a suspected American spy, will I become a Russian spy for attending Russian embassy’s national day celebrations?” he asked, adding that he had previously taken part in celebrations at the Russian embassy for two years in a row.
This is not the first time Sima has faced controversy. Last August, he was forced to apologize for owning property in California, after having repeatedly dismiss it as unfounded “rumors.”
In a video, Sima confirmed reports that his family had bought the house for $257,000 in 2010. But he claimed he and his family had never lived in the property, which was bought as an investment.
“With a very heavy heart, I must now apologize to everyone for having committed such a grave, unforgivable crime,” he said. “I am extremely remorseful that I let down my online followers.”
Some of Sima’s critics have accused him of using patriotism for business.
“It is impossible for him to hold any real beliefs and stances, it all comes down to how to get the most profit,” said a comment on Weibo.
“Sima Nan is not alone. He is the epitome of millions of Chinese who, after the policy of reform and opening up, adapted to an environment where profit-seeking has replaced faith. They talk about ideological doctrines but only care about doing business at heart.”