Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has a love-hate relationship with China. And according to interviews with a number of Chinese political analysts, the mixed feelings might be mutual.
Trump has accused China of stealing American jobs and cheating in trade deals, but he also insists that he loves China and its people. He referenced "China" so much that a viral video last year counted Trump saying the word 234 times in public speeches.
The Chinese officials are not buying Trump's proposed rhetoric about China. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Chinese Finance Minister Lou Jiwei called Trump an "irrational type" and said the U.S. "wouldn't be entitled to world leadership" if it followed Trump's proposed trade policies towards China, which call for a 45 percent tariff on Chinese exports to the United States.
But the Chinese official's attitude doesn't always jibe with the opinions expressed both on Chinese social media and by ordinary Chinese people.
Though an international poll conducted by YouGov on more than 20,000 adults in every G20 country revealed that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton is better liked among Chinese citizens, Trump generates far more support and interests on Chinese social media. On Zhihu, a popular counterpart of Quora in China, topics centered on Trump had four times as many followers as the ones centered on Clinton.
There are several reasons as to why Trump garners more attention among the Chinese people, and it's not all from people who genuinely like the candidate.
"We have to understand that the population that closely follows the U.S. election is fairly limited, and they are primarily the upper elite class in China," said Kecheng Fang, a former reporter at Southern Weekly in China who currently researches Chinese politics and media at the University of Pennsylvania.
"As China progressed economically, the elite class developed a strong support for Darwinism, they view the society as the law of the jungle; under this situation, every success depends on your personal struggle. If you fail, it's your own fault for being lazy or for not trying hard enough, and so the government doesn't have that responsibility to help you," said Fang. "When they reflect this ideology to the U.S. election, they cannot understand why the Democratic Party are so stressing on the rights of the minorities."
The Chinese elites' perspective on social Darwinism developed into what Fang referred as a "strange resonance" with Trump's political correctness.
"The core reason that Trump's policies resonate with some Chinese people is because of the different understanding of a society," Fang said. "The Chinese doesn't understand what is 'political correctness' because in China, there's only one dominant race, as the Han nationality takes up more than 90 percent of the total population. So, many Chinese people don't understand how it feels like to live in a diverse community like the United States."
The image of business success and boldness that Trump cultivates has also played an important role in influencing some Chinese people to support and respect him.
"Trump has a good understanding of global economy and business operation," said Tim Zheng, a Chinese student studying at USC who says he supports the candidate. "His experience in multiple industries will help the government make beneficial economic decisions."
"[The Chinese] admire people who state things in a bold way, and who seems to be strong and decisive leaders, and this is one of the reasons why Vladimir Putin is popular in China," said Clayton Dube, Director of USC U.S.-China Institute.
A Chinese poll conducted eight months ago showed that "the Chinese who like [Vladimir] Putin were more likely to like Trump," Dube said. "About 52 percent of Chinese who were polled this spring had a favorable view of Putin in Russia as had towards Barack Obama in the United States."
Chinese Trump supporters believe that his economic success may translate to politics and could play to China's advantage, defending Trump's criticism of China as a temporary ploy of his campaign.
"Many Chinese people think that Donald Trump is a businessman, and what do businessmen care about? It's economic benefit," Fang said. "China has one of the largest business markets in the world, so they think that Trump will still do business with China if he becomes president, even though he currently talks ill of China."
Some Trump supporters on Chinese social media have defended Trump's remarks on his Access Hollywood tape as "normal" conversation between men in private.
"People around me hardly talked about Trump's sex tape scandal," said Yanmei Yang, a journalism student at the Renmin University of China. "Like, many people would at least retweet news about Hillary's email scandals, but I hardly saw any news about Trump's sex tape incidents. I think because a lot of people here thought it's not that big of a deal."
However, the majority of the Chinese people are watching the U.S. election as a reality show, with Trump as the "reality show star."
"Trump's image as a presidential candidate is really different from that of the Chinese officials, so many people thought it's quite new and unusual, so they are interested in seeing what might happen if he becomes president," Yang said.
The U.S. election also reinforced China's stance on a one-party policy.
"The portrayal in the [Chinese] media is quite negative. It shows the failures and the weaknesses of American democracy," Dube said.