White Hat, Black Hat, White Hat: QAnon Sentiment Towards Xi Jinping, March 2018 – April 2022

White Hat, Black Hat, White Hat: QAnon Sentiment Towards Xi Jinping, March 2018 – April 2022

Despite the general splintering of the QAnon movement, 8kun’s /qresearch/ board is still going strong. While traffic on the imageboard has waned over time, it still regularly draws over 300 posts an hour and over 1000 unique active posters every three days, according to the site’s self-reported activity statistics. This is notably active for any imageboard, making /qresearch/ still the most active hub of Q discussion outside of Telegram (and perhaps Truth Social).

This piece will focus on /qresearch/’s perception of Xi Jinping, President of China and Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party. To date, the QAnon community’s affinity for Xi Jinping has received almost no attention. But it’s one of the most surprising things about QAnon culture. 

In most right-wing spaces, we would expect a near-zero level of positive sentiment about Xi, who leads the largest Communist Party on the face of the Earth. But our sentiment analysis of over 2,000 Xi-related posts on /qresearch/ show that Xi is far from universally despised; indeed, at both the start and end of our research period, /qresearch/ posters were more likely to be pro-Xi than anti-Xi. 

In between those bookends, Donald Trump’s association of COVID with the CCP caused Xi’s reputation with anons to plummet. But the fact that there was pro-Xi sentiment to start with – and that it took an earthshaking event like COVID to put Xi’s reputation in the tank – is fascinating. 

Why does /qresearch/ seem to largely approve of the man at the head of one of their most hated organizations? Even if we know how his reputation took a nosedive, how did it recover?
To examine these questions, we turned to the posts captured in our archive, dChan.

METHODOLOGY

We searched our 8chan/8kun archive for posts made between March 8, 2018 and April 30, 2022 containing the string “Xi.” We also specified that results must not contain the word “notables,” which aimed to filter out a genre of posts which we knew would have little or no substantial discussion of Xi. (The end date reflects the date on which we pulled our sample.)

An important limitation of this study is that it excludes Twitter and Facebook, which were the centers of gravity for the QAnon movement before January 2021, and Telegram, which was the center of gravity after that month. It is possible that /qresearch/ is not representative. However, we note that for at least part of our period, analyst Elise Thomas observed trends in Q Telegram that were strikingly similar to what we document here.

Our initial search captured 9,647 posts. We further filtered the results to remove posts containing URLs; these tended to either have Xi’s name somewhere in the link or to be a long blockquote from an article, neither of which is useful in a sentiment analysis. We then divided the posts into two groups: Posts from March 1, 2020 and onward were selected for closer analysis, and the earlier (pre-COVID) posts to be used  as a baseline. This left us with 3,910 posts in the analysis group. From these, we selected a uniformly random sample of 2,000.

We reviewed their content and, where necessary, their context before coding them as either Irrelevant/Ambiguous (1,119 posts, 56%), Pro-Xi (275 posts, 13.8%), or Anti-Xi (606 posts, 30.3%).

Similarly, we took a random sample of 235 posts from the baseline group – that is, the pre-COVID period – and coded them into the same categories: Irrelevant/Ambiguous (153 posts, 65.1%), Pro-Xi (63 posts, 26.8%), or Anti-Xi (19 posts, 8.1%). This gives us a baseline of 76.8% positive sentiment for posts from the baseline period that were not Irrelevant/Ambiguous (95% CI: 67.6% – 86% positive sentiment).

Of the analysis group posts, we then focused on the 881 posts that were not Irrelevant/Ambiguous and used them to visualize average sentiment per quarter.

For the post-baseline period, our findings are illustrated below. Each point represents average sentiment for the quarter beginning on the date indicated; the blue-shaded area is the 95% confidence interval.

We now turn to a qualitative description of these trends.

Part 1: The Pandemic

Once the COVID-19 pandemic began shutting down businesses and daily life across the United States in March of 2020, President Trump was quick to associate the pandemic with the Chinese Communist Party. On /qresearch/, the CCP became a major villain practically overnight. The “chicoms,” short for Chinese Communists, were portrayed as out to destroy the West, or operating with the Deep State in order to implement a “great reset.”    

By summer of that year, mentions of Xi were largely negative, ranging from generic insults aimed at the Chinese President to accusations that he was associated with, or indeed controlled, American political figures such as Nancy Pelosi and Anthony Fauci (often stylized as Faux-Xi). 

In this narrative, the COVID-19 pandemic was a Chinese plot, and Xi was largely considered as culpable in this plot. To many posters, Xi and the CCP were one and the same, the Party being little more than a vehicle for Xi to achieve his ambitions. (This is basically true: Xi has purged opposition and installed himself as dictator-for-life, and his control over the Party-State is not in any serious question.)

This interpretation of events was far from unanimous, however. From the first posts in our dataset, we can see an alternate hypothesis—that Xi and the CCP are in fact enemies, akin to Trump and the American Deep State. In this worldview, Xi is actually a freedom fighter, working his hardest to free China from the CCP’s 70 year hold over the nation’s people. Xi, Russian President Putin, and sometimes North Korean dictator Kim, are portrayed as working with Trump in order to overthrow the global Deep State (often described as the New World Order).

Post ID 8489260 describes the theory in a way that hits all of the common trends that believers tend to share.

“DS”, in this user’s post, means “Deep State”. Knowing this, we can understand what this poster believes—that Xi and other true Chinese patriots are working with Trump in order to topple Deep State dominance over the Chinese people. 

One of the most frequently cited examples of proof for this theory is Trump’s November 2017 meeting with Xi within Beijing’s Forbidden City. A man who Trump had, prior to the pandemic, frequently expressed support for couldn’t be a bad guy. There had to be something more going on; and so, for some posters, Xi was re-characterized as a Chinese equivalent to Trump, just as Putin was his Russian equivalent.

Regarding the pandemic, several other users argued that Xi had acted to prevent or otherwise mitigate the extent of what the board still generally looked upon as a CCP-originated bioterror attack. One user supposed that he had personally delivered the virus to Trump, so that Trump could quickly and efficiently produce and distribute some sort of “antidote”. Others posited that the Wuhan lab, within which many board users believed the virus had originated, was a Deep State operation over which Xi had no power.

Even at the height of the pandemic, when attitudes towards Xi were at their lowest, a small minority of posters continued to insist that Xi was, in fact, an ally of Trump. But as the pandemic became less important in the minds of /qresearch/ posters, and their attention turned instead towards the 2020 Presidential Election, this view became vanishingly rare. 

Part 2: The Election and its Aftermath

Theories regarding supposed election fraud exploded on the board immediately following Trump’s failure to achieve legitimate victory. Notably absent from our samples, however, are theories involving Xi. During the month of November, 2020, of 29 anti-Xi posts, only two allege Chinese involvement in any sort of election fraud scheme, with neither giving any specifics on what these plots entail.

Most anti-Xi posts from this period are either just treating Xi as some form of boogeyman (e.g accusing him, and by extension the CCP, of owning the US until Trump came along, or accusing him of being a part of a conspiracy to track and control human movements), or are just pure racism. While the movement as a whole was at this point in time quickly radicalizing and would soon play a major part in the January 6th attack on the U.S Capitol, Xi Jinping was (at least within the confines of 8kun’s /qresearch/ board) largely left out of the countless new conspiracy theories circulating among the QAnon community during these few months.

On the pro-Xi side of our records, we have significantly fewer posts from this period, but what posts we do have are interesting. In /qresearch/ post 11490614, we again have an anon reiterate and explain the Forbidden City meeting theory, this time tying it into the recent election. In post 11780921, another anon mentions the theory, again guessing that Trump and Xi were, in fact, “on the same side”. In 12005894, somebody wonders if “Xi is the one releasing Hunter Biden drops”. 

The rhetoric doesn’t change much on either side leading up to January 6th, despite the otherwise violent rhetoric on /qresearch/ during this period. Pro-Xi posts continue to argue that Xi and Trump are working together, Xi being part of a global anti-Deep State alliance. Anti-Xi posts are much less coherent and are usually just insults or outright antisemitic, sinophobic manifestos.

This brings us to the inauguration, and the beginning of the Biden administration. While Xi will absolutely continue to be a punchline, a constant target of antisemitic and sinophobic copypasta, and a popular target for insults, his reputation will simultaneously continue to rise. As the Biden era wears on, we will see the movement continue to praise dictators across the globe, increasingly including Xi.

Part 3: Year One of the Biden Era — Jan 20, 2021 – Jan 31, 2022

All of these posts are from the first week after Biden’s inauguration, and are just a small number of the anti-Xi posts from this period. The anti-Xi faction of the movement has largely unified at this point, with their core message being that Joe Biden is entirely compromised and controlled by Xi and the CCP. Throughout 2021, these theories (excepting the consistent racist and antisemitic posts about Xi) are the overwhelming majority of anti-Xi posts collected in our data.

Of course, it isn’t just Joe Biden who is claimed to be compromised; other regularly mentioned Democratic Party figures include Barack Obama and Rob Klain. Mitch McConnell is also subject to similar theories, and Fauci is still brought up from time to time. Anybody who a poster dislikes at that moment, often including other anons, is called a Xi puppet.

On the pro-Xi side of things, things are starting to get even more convoluted than normal. During this period, Q was on hiatus, not posting at all from late 2020 until mid-2022. In Q’s absence, /qresearch/ and other Q-centric communities began to create their own theories from the “breadcrumbs” that Q had left behind. Q, when they were actively posting, often attempted to guide believers into certain theories, and discouraged other interpretations. With Q gone, that rationalizing force, however small it was, also vanished, and so many segments of the movement Q had spawned began to spiral out of control.

While this is only one anon’s perspective, it represents a major rift between the pro-Xi and anti-Xi posts found within our data. Anti-Xi posts from this period – mid-2021 – tend to be either antisemitic copypastas containing rhetoric clearly intended to “JQ-pill” /qresearch/ readers or simple racist insults targeting Xi’s ethnicity, alongside the shorter, less complex posts simply accusing those the anon dislikes of being a Xi puppet.

Pro-Xi posts begin at this point to take a very different appearance, looking more like the early rambling theories about exactly how Trump and the White Hats will defeat the cabal that have always characterized /qresearch/ and associated forums. Many resemble chain emails, like this post, a purely anecdotal story about a local butcher shop owner who heard from an elderly woman that Xi, Putin, and Trump were, in fact, working together to take down evil.

Part 4: The Putin-Xi Anti-Soros Axis, Feb 2022 – Apr 2022

In early 2022, two key developments boosted pro-Xi sentiment above 50% for the first time since the pre-COVID era.

First, billionaire George Soros – a conspiracist bogeyman who plays a prominent, and sinister, part in QAnon’s mythology – described Xi Jinping and the Chinese regime as “the greatest threat open societies face.” Sure enough, some anons responded by deciding Xi must be a white hat after all.

Another small bump in pro-Xi sentiment occurred when, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Soros wrote an op-ed that claimed the invasion occurred after “Xi appeared to have given Putin carte blanche to invade and wage war against Ukraine” during a February 4th meeting with Putin. After the Gateway Pundit covered the op-ed, we saw increased pro-Xi sentiment with posts like this:

But it was the invasion of Ukraine itself that gave Xi his biggest bump in popularity. At first glance, this seems odd: China wasn’t even a combatant. Why should the war be a factor?

First, you have to realize that anons have always been wildly pro-Putin. Indeed, Putin was the subject of our first attempt at sentiment analysis; after coding 1,000 responses, we had to abandon the study because sentiment was so universally pro-Putin that there was nothing interesting for us to say about the data:

The reasons for this pro-Putin attitude are outside the scope of this study. but interested readers can pick up any well-written essay on why Christian nationalists in general are pro-Putin; that’s the right starting place. What matters here is that anyone who’s seen as being on the same side as Putin, in the Ukraine war or in any other endeavor, will enjoy increased popularity among anons.

And indeed, the notion that Xi, Putin, and Trump are working together as “white hats” becomes even more prevalent after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This sentiment has become extremely common among pro-Xi posts.

In addition, many posts rhetorically link Xi to Putin by making claims that parallel Russian propaganda. 

Several posters took claims about supposed Ukrainian “biolabs” that the Deep State / Cabal was using to develop sinister new weapons – which, in spring of 2022, was rapidly becoming the most popular explanation anons offered for why Russia “had to” invade Ukraine – and applied them to Taiwan. Others suggested that Xi had to “cleanse” Taiwan of the Deep State’s influence: 

In short: because Xi was seen as supporting Putin’s invasion of Ukraine (which anons were and are overwhelmingly supportive of), anons began to see him as pro-Putin and, by implication, pro-Trump and pro-Q.

As the very last post in our sample says: “Vlad & Xi are ‘onboard’, if you haven’t noticed yet. Same team, and it ain’t against ‘The Plan’, in any way, shape or form, but for it.”

Why Are Pro-Xi Views So Common Among Anons?

It’s striking that QAnon communities could have even a trace of pro-Xi sentiment, let alone that pro-Xi sentiment would sit at over 50% at both the beginning and end of our study period. 

QAnon is a deeply political conspiracy theory, and specifically a deeply conservative one. Because conservatives see themselves as anti-communist, one would expect a near-zero rate of positive sentiment about Xi in every conservative community. So why is QAnon different? We propose several overlapping explanations.

EXPLANATION A: TRUMP WOULDN’T PRAISE A BAD GUY

First, QAnon isn’t just conservative—it is ardently pro-Trump. In QAnon culture, Trump is always right (both factually and morally). Trump’s occasional positive comments about Xi put QAnon believers on the horns of a dilemma: if Trump is in favor of Xi, Xi couldn’t be bad. But Communists are bad, and Xi is a Communist.

Q’s followers were able to draw on several features of QAnon culture, such as its emphasis on secret truths and hidden power struggles, to square the circle: what if Xi was a good guy (thus making it acceptable for Trump to praise him)? Further, what if – although to all outward appearances he leads the Chinese Communist Party – he’s secretly engaged in a shadow war against the CCP, just as Trump is engaged in a shadow war against the Deep State? 

In other words, existing features of QAnon culture act as a kind of scaffolding on which any belief can be erected, as long as it’s consistent with the movement’s core belief in Trump’s goodness and rightness. Anything will fit on that scaffolding, even a belief as absurd as “the leader of the world’s largest Communist Party is in fact an anti-communist crusader.” 

EXPLANATION B: QANON CULTURE DISCOURAGES MAINSTREAM OPINIONS

Another explanation lies in the fact that QAnon positions itself as firmly outside the mainstream, and pro-Xi sentiment is not only outside of mainstream conservative culture but also mainstream liberal culture. We have already outlined the reasons for conservatives to be anti-Xi; liberals tend to be pro-human-rights and pro-democracy, and are opposed to Xi on the grounds that he’s a dictator who is currently engaged in crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. 

Thus, there is no space in mainstream American politics where a pro-Xi sentiment would be seen as normal or appropriate. 

For a movement that refuses to be part of the mainstream, this is a plus and not a minus: a pro-Xi position can actually signal virtue instead of vice in this social context. (We could nuance this a bit and say that QAnon has a love-hate relationship with the mainstream, ultimately hoping to replace mainstream opinion:  think of slogans like “We are the news now.” But certainly, the movement refuses to be part of the currently existing mainstream.)

EXPLANATION C: CONSPIRACY THEORIES ARE INHERENTLY HOSTILE TO EXPERTISE AND TO FACT-BASED ASSESSMENTS OF REALITY

Finally: we have often, though informally, called QAnon a “reality inversion field.” For a more academic treatment of this idea, we highly recommend Michael Barkun’s “A Culture of Conspiracy.” 

Barkun describes conspiracy theories as a kind of “stigmatized knowledge” which can never be endorsed by the institutions that act as gatekeepers to respectability – academia, the news media, etc – because conspiracy theories tend to be anti-factual. These gatekeepers, after all, are credible largely because they’ve shown that they have a broad range of factual and theoretical knowledge which other experts recognize and accept.

Conclusion

In the face of opposition from experts, conspiracists don’t abandon their ideas. Instead, they develop narratives to explain how their theories can be both true and rejected by the socially accepted arbiters of truth. Typically, this involves describing the gatekeeping institutions as being in the thrall of some overarching conspiracy. 

From there, it’s a short leap to the assertion that nothing the gatekeepers put forth is the truth, and that anything the gatekeepers would scoff at is at least possibly true.

Through this mechanism, anons have developed the “reality inversion field” that makes even nonsense seem plausible: maybe the world’s most famous communist really is fighting a secret war against the Communist Party he leads!


We would like to thank Sara Aniano for contributing to this research.

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