China social media users were in an uproar Tuesday over viral footage of a passenger dragged off an overbooked United Airlines flight, after some reports suggested he was of Chinese origin.

The videos taken on the plane and posted to Twitter showed the man, reportedly identified by another passenger as ethnically Chinese, being forcibly pulled screaming from his seat by three security personnel.

china united airlines uproar
Photo: Jayse D. Anspach, via Twitter.

“He said, more or less, ‘I’m being selected because I’m Chinese,’” fellow passenger Tyler Bridges was quoted as saying by The Washington Post. The man’s ethnicity and identity were however not officially confirmed.

Twitter — along with other Western websites such as Facebook and Google — is blocked on the mainland by the country’s ruling Communist Party, which fears the unregulated spread of information it deems politically sensitive.

But footage of the Sunday showdown on the flight from Chicago to Louisville, Kentucky was reposted to China’s Twitter-like Sina Weibo, where the subject quickly became the top trending topic, garnering over 120 million views and 80,000 comments.

Many of them were highly nationalistic in tone as they decried perceived racism.

“Shameless! We won’t forgive them. Ethnic Chinese around the world please boycott United Airlines!” wrote one commentator.

“There is a long history of discrimination against Asians. I hope Chinese people realise this reality and support domestic products,” another user said. “Don’t feed those who look down on us!”

It is a common sentiment among many mainlanders to view ethnic Chinese living abroad — even those with no ties to China — as compatriots.

United Airlines claims itself to be the biggest carrier to China, with more nonstop US-China flights and to more Chinese cities than any other airline, according to their website.

The company did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment, but its CEO Oscar Munoz apologised for “having to re-accommodate” customers and said the manhandled passenger was being contacted directly to resolve the situation.

“Asian American or not, as a consumer who paid for his ticket, he was treated like a prisoner,” one Weibo commenter said. “Things are better here at home.”

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