With a green headband, a camouflage uniform, and a Palestinian flag patch, a man dressed as a Hamas fighter appears in a social media video, pointing a rifle and a knife at the camera.
But he is not a member of Hamas or any other armed group but a vlogger on the Chinese video website Bilibili.
Over the past two months, netizens in China have cheered for Hamas and shared cartoons featuring Hamas fighters on social media platforms.
Some have posted images of themselves dressed as Hamas fighters. In one cartoon, three smiling cats dressed like Hamas figures sit on the ground in a tunnel, each eating a can of beans.
An automatic weapon lies nearby. One commentator gushed in response:
‘How cute!’ Another said: ‘When you sacrifice yourself for the people you have nothing to fear.’
The videos, which keep coming in each day, highlight how many in China accept the narrative that Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and other countries, is engaged in a legitimate national liberation struggle.
In the weeks after the Israel-Hamas conflict broke out on October 7, overwhelming support for the Palestinian side flooded the Chinese Internet accompanied by strong antisemitic sentiments.
Since then, Manya Koetse, the founder and editor-in-chief of the news website What’s on Weibo and a Dutch Sinology scholar, said antisemitic comments on the Chinese Internet have decreased.
The move followed a meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping in mid-November.
She pointed out that it may be because Beijing has tightened controls or because the war is no longer a hot topic on social media.
“Since around the Biden-Xi meeting, it seems like Weibo and Douyin [the Chinese version of TikTok] have been making efforts to make antisemitic videos and posts less visible,” Koetse said.
“I also do a lot of video scrolling and barely come across videos related to Palestine anymore. Compared to October, it went from all over to slightly noticeable,” she added.
At a routine press briefing on October 30, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said the country’s laws “unequivocally prohibit disseminating information on extremism, ethnic hatred, discrimination and violence via the internet.”
Still, VOA found many videos on Bilibili depicting Hamas in a positive light. The videos depict an image of Hamas as heroic and capable on the battlefield. The title of one video read:
Hamas marched barefoot into an Israeli military post, killed 10 people, and escaped unharmed.
A compilation video of attacks launched by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad is called Thirty Best Goals of the Hamas Al-Qassam Brigade and the Jihad Al-Quds Brigade, depicting the attacks as soccer games.
Such videos don’t always credit the sources of the images, but some have the Al Jazeera logo.
In the comment section of these videos, netizens left messages praising Hamas.
They compared their attacks on the Israeli army to the Chinese Communist Party’s counterattack against the Japanese during World War II. One highly liked comment read:
It can be said that in them, we can see the figures of the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army fighters among the white mountains and black waters in the old days.
Under a video that appeared to show Hamas fighters greeting a child, one comment said: “Only by fighting a way out for children can the children grow up healthy and happy.”
Netizens use the affectionate term “fellow countrymen” to describe Hamas fighters. Videos of them attacking opponents on the battlefield are often described as “blockbusters.”
In late November, a Hamas cartoon video went viral on Bilibili.
Receiving more than 160,000 views and 14,000 likes, it showed a Hamas fighter appearing as a cartoon cat attacking an enemy tank with a rocket launcher. Pictures of Hamas cartoon cats were also reposted on Weibo.
Netizens affectionately refer to them as Ha Meow Si or Meowmas.
“Hope all the cats are safe and complete their mission,” one comment read.
The author of this animation is the influencer “National Juche Party” on the social media platform X, which was formerly known as Twitter.
Posted in English, he claimed to be in North Korea. VOA was unable to contact the author to confirm his identity.
In the original post, the “National Juche Party” stated that the cat in the animation was made by artificial intelligence. Yet the animation on the battlefield comes from the Japanese anime Metal Skin Panic MADOX-01.
On Bilibili, some netizens posted videos of themselves dressed as Hamas fighters. A vlogger named “AK-74mOfficial” wore the costume of a Hamas soldier and explained in front of the camera how to destroy Israel’s main tank, “Merkava.”
Under these videos of Hamas cosplayers, netizens discussed how to buy the clothing. Some netizens said they were sold on Chinese e-commerce platforms Pinduoduo and Xianyu.
Others posted photos of themselves dressed as Hamas fighters in the comments section.
VOA confirmed that there are indeed merchants on Xianyu selling the same green headbands worn by Hamas fighters. On Taobao, another Chinese e-commerce platform, Hamas flags were on sale.
Some Bilibili vloggers who support Hamas admit their thinking is shaped by Beijing’s official position on the Israel-Hamas conflict.
“There is no clear designation of Hamas in China,” wrote one, adding:
I think it is a resistance group, maybe because of the empathy from the anti-Japanese war. In the future, if China designates it as a terrorist group, I will delete all of [the posts].
Yang Han, an Australian commentator and former Chinese diplomat, told VOA that support for Hamas on the Chinese Internet is the result of official propaganda.
“China’s official narrative is to support Palestine, criticize Israel, and downplay the terrorist acts of Hamas,” he said in an email.
“Therefore, young people, especially those with a nationalist Wolf Warrior complex, naturally admire and worship Hamas as a symbol of national liberation and resistance to colonization,” Yang added, pointing out:
Especially in the context of the confrontation between China and the United States, the United States is anti-Hamas, so [the young Chinese] must support Hamas.
In a survey released by China’s state-run Global Times last year, 72% of young people aged 14 to 35 said their opinion of the US was “poor” or “very bad.”
People in this age group are the main users of Bilibili. Data released by the site in July showed that its users are concentrated under 30, with an average age of 22.8.
Wenhao Ma produced this article for Voice of America.
Adrianna Zhang contributed to this report.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.