While little known in Australia, PhD Candidate Lei Xiying has left no small mark in China, this time going viral in China with a brazenly nationalistic video. Since arriving at ANU in 2011 to pursue studies in international relations, Lei has published widely in both Australian and Chinese media, yet only recently has his output attracted the attention of the west.
The first instance was a July 25 article in Foreign Policy which examined a widely circulated piece by Lei on Chinese nationalism. In it, Lei alleged that many of the actions of so-called Chinese nationalists have actually been part of a conspiracy to undermine the credibility and respectability of Chinese nationalism.
As an example, Lei cited a bombastic photo in which a shirtless middle-aged man holds a beautifully hand-written banner that reads, ‘Those offending against China, however distant must be punished’, with the character for ‘punishment’ having a nuanced meaning that can refer to capital punishment. Yet on the side of the poster, the scribe had written, ‘Addressed to American President Putin’. Surely, Lei argued, this case and others demonstrate a movement to discredit patriotism in China.
In China, however, Lei appears to have first garnered widespread attention with his campaign to encourage Chinese patriots to post photos of themselves with the Chinese flag online. Lei, for his part, posted numerous photos all over Canberra, including the above photo with the now Vice Chancellor of ANU Brian Schmidt. Ironically, Lei is wearing a Spanish national football team tracksuit in the photo.
Just last week, Lei received significant attention from Australian media, including an article and interview by Fairfax China Correspondent Philip Wen, after the Dujia media company, which he claims to be vice-president of, published an extremely nationalistic video which received extensive attention on Chinese social media.
The video draws on fears of a disruptive revolution within China, showing and images videos from the current refugee crisis, and blaming US forces for covertly instigating such events. Set to rousing orchestral music and clips of military parades, the video accuses ‘die-hard’ Chinese human rights lawyers of being American agents, and ends with the message, ‘Protect China, watch for colour revolutions!’
Lei was invited to the Australian Prime Minister’s official dinner in honour of Presidents Xi Jinping’s 2014 visit to Canberra, and in 2014 founded the Australian Association of Chinese PhD Students and Young Scholars. He is currently a committee member of the All-China Youth Federation, which is a collection of Chinese youth organisations centred around the Chinese Communist Youth League.
Responding to Lei’s activities, ANU stated that it is a ‘strong supporter of the right to free speech. That right extends to academics and students.’
However, Lei’s profile on the ANU Bell School website has been removed in recent months, and his former office is now occupied by other academics. Furthermore, Lei himself has expressed his disdain for Australia on a Chinese social media account. ‘Once I graduate I’m going to immediately leave this dumb c**t unsophisticated Australia, America’s servant; doesn’t even have one bit of capability for independent thought’. His doctoral supervisor could not be reached for comment on this matter; however, friends of Lei said that he is still pursuing a PhD at ANU.
As to Lei’s motivations, many believe Lei to be a true believer in the Chinese Communist Party’s ideology. An acquaintance of Lei, however, tersely responded to a question about Lei’s motivations by saying, ‘He’s gained lots of publicity from it.’