The hidden face of comradeship: Popular Chinese consensus on the DPRK and its implications for Beijing’s policy

Xu Hui Simon SHEN

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

15 Citations (Scopus)


As China’s economic and foreign policies increasingly move away from the country’s past socialist ideals, Beijing’s attitude towards the DPRK has, in recent years, begun to subtly change. However, the close historic ties that exist between the two ruling communist parties prevent such changes from being overtly publicized in official discourses; criticizing the DPRK in China readily results in serious protests from Pyongyang. The popular perception in China of the DPRK, which is far more critical than the official version, is, on the other hand, hard to hide. In an authoritarian nation where exhibiting sentiments contrary to the party-state’s policy is still not a safe and established practice, the Chinese people have increasingly relied on the platform of the Internet to express their views on various aspects of policy, including that towards the DPRK. This makes the Internet a rich resource for academics to gauge down-to-earth public opinion and how it contrasts with the official policy. Drawing on systematic, qualitative research on the online community, this article wishes to explore the possible differences between the written policy of Beijing and popular Chinese perceptions, or consensus if any, towards Pyongyang. The article is written in three parts. The first reviews the relevant literature on Beijing’s contemporary policy towards the DPRK, the role of Internet opinions in Chinese foreign policy making, and introduces our methodology. The main part of the article typologizes and analyses the images as perceived by Chinese Internet users of the DPRK, its leaders and polices, as well as Beijing’s DPRK policy, in order to highlight the differences between official policies and online opinions. Explanations for the discrepancies with the official line and the possible implications of our findings for China’s future policy on the DPRK are discussed in the concluding section. As witnessed from the research, surprisingly, there was relative consensus of opinion among the different available viewpoints towards the DPRK regime, as both the Chinese nationalists and the liberals are likely to pressure Beijing to walk further away from Kim Jong-il in the future. Copyright © 2012 Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)427-443
JournalJournal of Contemporary China
Issue number75
Publication statusPublished - May 2012



Shen, S. (2012). The hidden face of comradeship: Popular Chinese consensus on the DPRK and its implications for Beijing’s policy. Journal of Contemporary China, 21(75), 427-443.