Flying Shoes

We didn’t want to write about the shoe thing, but here we are, writing about the shoe thing.

Everybody knows that a month and a half ago, someone chucked a shoe at former (!) President Bush during a press conference in Iraq. Much merriment was shared by all, and the Chinese netizens, as one might expect, certainly joined in the fun. But how do they react when the shoe’s on the other foot? (Zing!)

Not very well, it turns out. On Monday, China’s own Premier Wen Jiabao got the shoe treatment while giving a speech at Cambridge in England. According to the New York Times, this shoe-thrower wasn’t as adept as his Iraqi counterpart: “The shoe missed Mr. Wen by at least 30 feet, but security officials promptly escorted the protester from the hall.”

Before he threw the shoe, he reportedly yelled something like “You should be ashamed of yourselves, how can you listen to the lies he’s telling?” After he chucked the shoe, he was apparently booed by the audience, a discerning sort. After all, as the vice chancellor of Cambridge told the BBC, “Cambridge is a place where ideas are put into play, not shoes.”

Much to his credit, Wen Jiabao handled having a shoe thrown at him like a true professional. The same could not be said for the rest of China’s reaction.

People were lot less amused than they were the Bush shoe throwing a month ago. Many web posts and reports about it appear to have been blocked or otherwise “harmonized”, what has remained (graciously translated by ChinaSMACK) is pretty intense, ranging from the predictable indignation to the (sadly also predictable) blind xenophobia: “Foreign devils, go to hell.”

A number of people, including some western bloggers, have questioned whether Wen, widely regarded as ‘one of the good guys’ deserves this sort of treatment. We here at ChinaGeeks tend to agree with something we saw on Jottings from the Granite Studio: “I’m not condoning what happened to Wen Jiabao, but I like the fact I live in a world where state leaders have to duck a shoe every once in awhile.”

In the end, though, whether throwing a shoe at Wen is right or not — and we’re pretty sure that regardless of your politics there are better ways to express your opinions than through the lobbing of footwear — it’s sort of beside the point. As one of the commenters translated by ChinaSMACK pointed out, “It proves that we are indeed a big/powerful country now, as who would bother with a small/weak country?”

Who, indeed? China has become an international player, and as such, they’re going to need to get accustomed to the fact that that means they’re going to have to duck some shoes every now and then. Global powers are going to get criticized. America is takes criticism from all sides more or less constantly; it comes with the territory.

But the government (and many Chinese people) don’t seem to have fully grasped this yet. Anyone who pays attention has seen pretty much every Western power accused of “hurting the feelings of the Chinese people” through criticism over the past few years. Ryan of Lost Laowai things China needs to grow up:

Countries, much like people, don’t gain true power by crying “it’s not fair!” every time something doesn’t go their way. And, they most certainly don’t garner the respect of others by not being able to gracefully handle criticism.

So, as my dear parents said to me not too long ago: if you want people to treat you like an adult, act like an adult. Or, to put it another way, grow the hell up.

Luckily, not everyone in China is taking the “fenqing” (angry youth) approach to international diplomacy. If reading ChinaSMACK’s comments (both the Chinese and foreign ones) is depressing to you, you would do well to check out Jotting’s from the Granite Studio’s report on moderate voices in the Sino-US relationship. As they put it, “it’s […] good to remember that not all Chinese voices are fenqing, not all American voices are Neo-Cons, and that dialogue can happen when the ideologues and extremists tone down their blather and let the grown-ups do the talking.”

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