Notwithstanding the hostility between the two neighbouring nations over the border dispute, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has emerged as a popular face on Chinese social media, earning the nickname of ‘Modi Laoxian’, a term that translates to ‘Modi the immortal’ from its netizens. An article published by US-based strategic affairs magazine The Diplomat, such reverence towards an international leader is rare for the Chinese and implied that they thought of Modi as “different — even more amazing — than other leaders”.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has an unusual nickname on the Chinese internet: Modi Laoxian. Laoxian refers to an elderly immortal with some weird abilities. The nickname implies that Chinese netizens think Modi is different – even more amazing – than other leaders,” Mu Chunshan, a journalist known for analysing Chinese social media, especially Sina Weibo, wrote in an article titled ‘How is India viewed in China?’.
Sina Weibo, a Chinese social media platform akin to Twitter, has over 582 million users. PM Modi, a known face in China, interacted with the people of China regularly on the same platform between 2015 and 2020 and boasted of 2.44 lakh followers when he moved off Sina Weibo as relations between the two nations took a hit.
In his article, Chunshan says Chinese netizens feel that India under the leadership of Modi can maintain a power balanace among major countries in the world, and also point to some of his policies as different from his predecessors. According to Chunshan, netizens in China see Modi’s attire and physical appearance as Laoxian-like.
He further writes that Chinese netizens admire India’s ability to maintain friendly relations with Russia, the United States as well as countries of the Global South. “So the word ‘Laoxian’ reflects the complex sentiment of Chinese people toward Modi, combining curiosity, astonishment, and perhaps a dash of cynicism,” Chunshan wrote.
“I have been doing international media reports for nearly 20 years and it is rare for Chinese netizens to give a nickname to a foreign leader. Modi’s nickname stands out above all others. Clearly, he has made an impression on Chinese public opinion,” he added.
Since assuming office at the Centre, PM Modi has hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping and former Premier
The praise by the Chinese for Modi, however, does not come without cynicism. In his article, Chunshan says Chinese views of India are very complicated – but generally based on a sense of superiority and self-confidence.
“Of course, most Chinese people don’t like to see India get too close to the United States, but they also think China and India can still cooperate. The subtext is that India can’t surpass China, so the challenge to China is controllable. Just as many Chinese people reason that India can be friendly with the United States because it isn’t strong enough to be a threat, they believe China and India can cooperate using the same logic,” he wrote.