Wang Hongzhe thinks so. The Chinese netizen (going online by the name RNAmonkey) recently conducted a little experiment to see whether Chinese people would pay more attention to a foreign critical voice than a domestic one, and subsequently discussed his results with The New Yorker‘s Evan Osnos. His conclusion? Yes.
Wang wrote an article about Chinese culture called “All of China is a Knock-off (山寨 shanzhai)”, criticizing the proliferation and popularity of imitations rather than genuine innovation. But rather than sign it himself, he published the piece online under a pseudonym: Steven Zuckerberg. Chinese news media picked up the piece and it circulated the internet as a translation of an essay written by an American who had spent part of his youth in China. Osnos writes, “The piece was polarizing, drawing criticism from China’s patriots and praise from liberal Chinese writers who credited a foreign writer with an astute observation.”
This wasn’t Wang’s first foray into cultural criticism. He told Osnos:
Before this little trick, I wrote some sincere essays about the Chinese Internet and pop culture to express my thinking…But Chinese netizens always regarded my essays as bullshit. They did not understand them, and, more importantly, they were not willing to understand them, because of my identity as a Chinese guy.
So Wang decided to write another piece and post it under a foreign name as a deliberate experiment. After seeing the essay copied by several news portals and comments pile up, Wang spoke with Osnos about the potential reason for his findings:
As Wang sees it, people gave more credence to “Zuckerberg”’s appraisal than to “Wang”’s because China spends too much of its time on the hunt for prejudice, only to “find out what this prejudice is based on and give one’s own response or counterattack.” They “feel some kind of invisible threat—that a foreigner might understand China more deeply than ourselves.”
The original piece can be found here (Chinese), along with tons of comments, some of which we have translated below:
Fuck, I didn’t read the essay.
This essay is really “knock-off” (山寨)
An American, just jealous…If you wanted to use Knock-off products you couldn’t.
This has made him think of the Chinese restuarants taking root all over America, the Chinese-made products in supermarkets, and the industrious Chinese immigrants, he feels the difficult-to-articulate resistance of a juggernaut that’s rolling over and changing the world.
Those who didn’t read it all support it. Those who read it all oppose it. Those who read none of it report it to the authorities. Me, I only persisted through 2/3.
Someone who doesn’t even understand “knock-off” (山寨), trying to write about “knock-offs”, I feel it’s actually quite “knock-off”.
What’s so great about America, this proves that whatever you can make we can make too.
[In response to the previous comment] Aren’t all American things made in China anyway? Retard.
Very deep, this [the author] is a master/expert on China.
There were also a large number of comments with variations on either “Well-written!” or “Too long”.
Also see: Danwei’s coverage.