With his Photoshop depiction of the alleged war crimes of the Australian army in Afghanistan, the young Chinese artist, who caused a diplomatic storm, has become a national hero in China.
The lesser known Beijing computer graphics artist, who calls himself Wuhe Qilin, has doubled the number of his followers in China’s Twitter-like service Weibo since one of his controversial images was tweeted on Monday by Chinese diplomat Zhao Lijian.
The doctored image, which remains pinned to the top of Zhao’s timeline, shows a grinning Australian soldier killing a small Afghan child. It was liked more than 61,000 times on Twitter at the time of writing.
Shocked by the killing of Afghan civilians and prisoners by Australian soldiers. We strongly condemn such acts and call for them to be brought to justice. pic.twitter.com/GYOaucoL5D
– Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) 30 November 2020
The tweet from the spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry triggered a renewed war of words between Canberra and Beijing, which has since rejected repeated opportunities to apologize and at the same time denied that the image was fake.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison described the picture as “repugnant” and said his government had contacted Twitter to have the post removed, but the website had kept the picture live, albeit hidden behind a graphic warning.
Patriotic social media users in China have flooded the Weibo site of the Beijing illustrator, who calls himself a “wolf warrior” artist. The phrase refers to two Rambo-style Chinese films of the same name and now defines a new style of assertive and aggressive approach to diplomacy.
Zhao is often described with the same nickname.
The number of Wuhe Qilin’s followers has risen sharply since he praised Zhao’s use of images and writing: “I hear Morrison has some opinions about my illustration?
On Tuesday, he consolidated his cult status among China’s weibo users when he created another image called “To Morrison”.
The illustration shows Morrison covering corpses with a large Australian flag while pointing a group of photographers at a little boy in red, who presumably represents the artist himself, trying to draw the atrocities on a canvas.
The caption below reads: “Apologize!”
Twitter users have flooded the last tweet from Prime Minister Morrison with replies containing the image that was liked more than 1 million times on Weibo.
In a 1000 Essay for the Chinese Communist Party’s Falcon Newspaper, Global Times, Wuhe Qilin admitted the same day that the illustration was created in Photoshop on November 23.
He said he found it “hard to believe” that the Australian head of state did not agree with his work. Morrison’s anger should have been directed at the Australian government and army instead, he wrote.
The artist said he was “inspired” to create the illustration after reading reports of last month’s investigation by the Australian armed forces into the war crimes committed by Australian special forces during the war in Afghanistan.
The Brereton report found that the country’s elite forces unlawfully killed at least 39 prisoners and civilians between 2005 and 2016.
“Of course, the elements depicted in the picture and the scene were not objective,” Wuhe Qilin wrote in the state newspaper. “In reality, an Australian soldier was not standing on an Australian flag, covering the head of a young Afghan man holding a lamb.
He insisted that the picture in the ADF report was “based on facts”. He said that the audience should not focus on whether the picture was genuine, but instead look at its content.
Wuhe Qilin had not responded to Washington Newsday’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Taiwan calls on Australia to help prevent war with China
This week’s diplomatic dispute has taken relations between Australia and China to a new low, just days after Beijing tried to stifle Australian wine imports with tariffs ranging from 107 to 212 percent.
Political tensions between the Asia-Pacific neighbors have led China to target Canberra’s lobster, barley, coal and sugar.
Australia said it would consider challenging the recent wine blockade of its largest trading partner at the World Trade Organization.