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Chinese and American City-Dwellers Differ on Trump Win

City-dwellers in China and the United States are among the greatest beneficiaries of the international trade deals President-elect Trump says he’s against, but the two groups responded differently to the outcome of the U.S. election, and the contrast was palpable between the thousands of posts on the Chinese Internet and a series of anti-Trump protests that have lasted more than a week in New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and other outward-looking American cities.

While many Chinese netizens in Beijing, Shenzhen, Chengdu, and Beihai responded to the U.S. election with happiness, a large group of urban American protesters continued to express their discontent with Trump more than a week after he defeated his democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

The users of Chinese social media platform Weibo viewed Trump’s isolationist “America First” proclamations from the campaign trail as an opportunity for Beijing to advance its foreign policy interests around the globe. Weibo user “Big Hero” from Shenzhen, the first city in China to embrace and profit off foreign investment and trade, wrote that Trump’s proposed retreat from Asia meant that China could exert greater influence over Japan and other nations in the Asia-Pacific, “From now on, the Americans will compete with us mostly on trade, and won’t interfere with China’s power.” “Little Handsome” from Chengdu, a city of over 7 million people considered an economic gateway to the south and west of China, concurred: “Trump’s policies are conducive to Chinese people and to the working interests of the Chinese middle class.”

Many protesters standing in the rain in front of the Trump International Hotel and Tower in New York’s Columbus Circle on November 9, the night after the election, fretted about the same Trump proposals that drew praise from Weibo users half a world away. New Yorker Gavin Lodge, who brought his two sons, aged five and three, to the rally, focused on the harm he felt the Republican victor could do to America, “I am afraid of the repercussions to our economic strength. I am afraid of the repercussions to our relationships internationally,” Lodge said. “They could really hurt my kids’ future stability.”

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11.09.16

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Some at the New York protest also grappled with fears that Trump’s election would cause the U.S. to lose its global status as a standard bearer for democratic values and respect for human rights. Lily, a 15-year-old student at LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, said she couldn’t understand how America’s voters could elect “a racist, sexist bigot.” Suzanne Cushing, 55, worried about Trump’s ability to lead, his views on climate change and abortion rights, and the chance he’ll have to make appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court. “I have family in Italy, and the young kids there are posting on Facebook about how frightened they are of Trump’s America,” Cushing said. “I don’t think it’s just affecting us here, I think it’s really taken a toll on people all over the world.”

Urban Chinese netizens, however, appeared less frightened of the U.S. president-elect. Some said Beijing has much to gain from a man who has indicated he may roll back civil liberties, as James Palmer pointed out in an essay in Foreign Policy. Weibo users took a dim view of Clinton’s focus on human rights and plan to continue Obama’s pivot to Asia. “A democratic presidency is more unfavorable to China,” wrote user “Yell at the Sky 2012” from Beihai, an important port city in south China’s Guangxi province that, thanks to global trade networks, is one of the fastest growing cities in the world.

Official Chinese media outlets and some Weibo commentators read the outcome of the U.S. election as a victory for China’s one-party state, where leaders are groomed and selected carefully, and a loss for a pluralistic democracy whose citizens can elect a man of no experience in government to the highest office in the land.