It was the slap heard ‘round the world.

The 94th Academy Awards is perhaps best remembered by the confrontation between actor Will Smith and comedian Chris Rock.

Although many memorable movies won prestigious awards, the world instead kept its thoughts on “the slap” and its eyes on social media.

How did Chinese netizens react to this unbelievable turn of events? The answer may surprise you.

Wait — what exactly happened?

During the Academy Awards ceremony, presenter Chris Rock made an insensitive joke targeting Will Smith's wife Jada Pinkett Smith and her hair. 

Smith, with the cameras still rolling, then marched up the stage to where Rock stood and slapped him squarely in the face.

After sauntering back to his seat, Smith then shouted at Rock to “keep [his] wife’s name out of [his] mouth.” 

Meanwhile, Rock tried to make jokes about the situation, saying things like “Oh wow! Wow! Will Smith just [smacked] me.”

Of course, there were a lot more expletives flung around.

Wow, okay. How are people in the U.S. reacting?

Many U.S. netizens reacted with disbelief, especially on Twitter. 

After all, how did something so dramatic just unfold on live TV? Was it unscripted, or a giant PR stunt? U.S. viewers were unsure.

Some users were gripped by rage. Some users called for Smith to be banned from future Academy Awards shows. Users started tweeting with the hashtag “BanWillSmithfromOscars.” Some users even called for Smith to be charged with assault.

Smith did eventually receive a 10 year ban from attending any Academy event.

By contrast, many U.S. netizens appeared to commend Rock’s attempts at staying professional even after getting slapped on live TV.

That’s intense! So, how are people in China reacting?

The situation is nearly the complete reverse on the Chinese internet. 

Type in the hashtag “Will Smith went on stage to hit someone” (#威尔史密斯上台打人#) on Weibo and you’ll see a thread with at least 390 million views.

Many top comments defend Smith’s actions, while also going after Rock. 

Memes circulating on Douyin and Weibo and many top comments criticize Rock’s joke rather than Smith’s outburst.

Why are Chinese netizens' attitudes a complete 180?

This difference in reaction likely stems back to filial piety. Filial piety is the belief driven by Confucian thought where people must show reverence to their parents and ancestors. 

This manifests itself today as China’s extreme emphasis on families and that family members must be protected at all costs.

Many Chinese netizens agree that Smith’s actions, from the slap to the vulgar words exchanged afterwards, were completely justified, as he was defending his family. 

After all, according to them, Rock’s joke was a breach of respect and an attack on Smith’s family. 

It was only right for Smith to get angry over this accusation, and, as the man of the family, go to dramatic lengths to defend the accused.

Confucianism is still incredibly ingrained in Chinese culture. Confucius' works have clearly influenced many decisions in the personal lives of Chinese citizens.

The U.S. does not have a historical figure with quite the same scale of influence of Confucius. As a result, it is logical as to why U.S. netizens have a nearly completely opposite opinion.

What did you think of this incident? Are you sympathetic with Smith’s actions? Let us know in the comments below!

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Chris Jiang

Chris is a student attending the College of William & Mary studying public policy and public health. He hopes to share the joys of Chinese culture with the rest of the world.
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