Mrs. Zhang, a businesswoman from Beijing laughed as she told me, "We all thought that Britain was the most stable country. These things that have happened recently, we can't believe it! You've all gone nuts."
The Brexit referendum and ensuing political implosion can be pretty entertaining if the consequences don't directly affect your life. Twitter and Facebook are blocked in China, but local social media platforms such as Weibo and Wechat give millions of Chinese the opportunity to engage in the spectator sport of post-referendum-UK-watching. In China, government and transitions of power are notoriously opaque, so for Chinese people the recent drama in the UK is a window into the workings of a modern democracy.
Chinese netizens have taken a shine to the new PM, giving her the adorable nickname, "Auntie May". Over 19 million people have read posts tagged #Britain's Female Prime Minister on Weibo, China's version of Twitter. So what do they make of her?
FIRST LORD OF THE MICS
In China's parliament, politicians emotionlessly deliver lengthy pre-approved jargon-filled speeches. So the UK's unscripted Prime Minister's Questions comes across as pretty off the chain. One Weibo user took it upon himself to post May's first PMQs online, adding Chinese subtitles for his fellow netizens. The video was viewed over 3 million times in 24 hours.
One user commented, "Both sides have their crew jeering and shouting, it feels like they are about to break into a rap battle." Another commented, "If you didn't tell me, I'd think it was an old people's hip-hop show."
In this showdown, newcomer MC Theresa won the netizens' admiration.
On Auntie May they said:
"Too hype! The new Iron Lady has crushing strength!"
"she doesn't really answer any of his questions, but she does politics well"
"amazing, she's rational and has a sense of humour"
But one user generously added that "the questions he asked are important".
A post narrating the new UK foreign secretary's long history of offending foreign people was received warmly, I guess. Weibo user Emily Lee's comment "HAHAHHAHAHAHAHA" received over 700 likes.
"ANTI-IMMIGRATION INTERNATIONAL STUDENT KILLER"
One in four of the UK's international students come from China, contributing billions of pounds to the UK economy. One widely shared article described May as an "International Student Assassin" and a "fully-fledged decimator". During her time as Home Secretary, Auntie May introduced multiple measures to make it harder for international students to study and work in the UK, including getting rid of the Post-Study Work visa for non-EU international students. Netizens were unimpressed with her lack of friendliness towards Chinese, especially considering the billions of dollars that China has invested in Britain in recent years. One user described it as "the final dying breath of the British Empire", while another wrote, "she's thinking about the interests of her own people, a trustworthy leader!"
RUN THE WORLD (GIRLS)
Many saw May's power grab as a win for women's empowerment, with some envisioning a new matriarchal world order headed by Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Hilary Clinton South Korean prime minister Park Geun-Hye. A female Weibo user paraphrased Chairman Mao, exclaiming, "women hold up half the sky!" Synia Tampon Company took the opportunity to wish Auntie May good luck, posting on Weibo, "more and more women are involved in politics, girls, be true to yourself and work hard to realise your ideals!"
Theresa May's style and appearance was dissected online by fashion magazines such as ELLE China. Her bold headmistress vibe and leopard print shoes won her many fans.
"Auntie May is nearly 60, not everyone can hold down high heels at that age yo!"
"Auntie, you're so strong ah!"
"Love at first sight! I really like this woman, maybe something can happen between us…"
"Truly a nice pair of legs."
One gushing photo article invited readers to "experience Auntie May's aura", and an entrepreneurial user posted links to their online shoe shop in the comment section. The excitement about her style is more understandable when you see what China's political elite look like:
Other comments on her appearance were more backhanded or just rude:
"If it wasn't for the hunchback she'd be just perfect."
"I don't know why. But every time I look at her I feel uncomfortable."
"If you wanted to make a horror film you wouldn't need makeup."
MARXIST COMRADE, POTENTIAL RULER OF THE WORLD
All children in the Chinese education system must study Marxism and Mao Zedong thought – it is compulsory even in university. Many Chinese web users were surprised and impressed that themes of social justice and serving the less well-off were central to May's inaugural speech.
"It sounds like she's the leader of the Labour Party. When did supporting low-income workers and not working for the interests of the privileged elite become the guiding principles of the Conservatives? The world is changing too fast."
One user welcomed Comrade May, "Thumbs up for Britain's new leader! Serving the common people is the most important task for government, and it isn't easy, especially in a capitalist country. I really admire Marx, who showed that humanity's most beautiful future is communism… As for how to tread the communist path, there are many forms!"
Her speech was so appealing that someone suggested inviting her to govern the world's most populous nation, " We can ask her to come and be Chinese Prime Minister. She'd do better than the guys we have at the moment."
And another raised the possibility of consensual world domination; "If she can put what she says into practice, the whole world will want to be part of the British Empire."
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