By now you have probably seen this story already. In case you missed it, there’s basically nothing more to it than this: An American basketball player, apparently the guy in the picture below, threw money out of the bus as his team was leaving a game in China on May 23. Many of the Chinese high school students around scrambled for the money. The story has since popped up on the Chinese internet, provoking heated debate, mostly about whether or not the Chinese students embarrassed themselves and their country by picking up the money.
What the story has also brought to light, though, is a bunch of ugly cultural misunderstandings. First and foremost, let’s address the American who threw the money to begin with. I’m assuming that he’s a high school student as they were playing in a high school gym and none of the articles have indicated otherwise. Anyway, what the hell was he thinking? I’ve taught enough high school students in my day to know that most of them have very poor decision making skills, but this is really a bit ridiculous, and whether or not the event has embarrassed the Chinese, there’s no doubt this guy’s behavior is an embarrassment to Americans (and a source of frustration for the American expats struggling every day to correct misconceptions about how Americans are all rich, arrogant pricks).
It’s impossible to say for sure what his motivations were, but I’d guess it was a combination of “my American money turned into so much Chinese money!” and a common American misconception that Chinese people are all dirt poor. Whatever his reasons, shame on him. (For the record: he is probably not “makin’ it rain”, as one ChinaSMACK commenter suggested, as that generally term refers to throwing a bunch of money at women, often strippers or other women who one expects might take their clothes off when presented with large sums of money falling from the sky).
Of course, the Chinese commenters on this issue brought some pretty good prejudices to bear as well. We’ve got xenophobia (“American devil” 美国鬼子), racism (“Fuck, American black donkey” 妈的，美国黑驴), classic misunderstandings about gun ownership (“If this incident happened in an American campus, maybe the students there would have a gun battle!”, via ChinaSMACK), and of course, inexplicable animated gifs. The original Chinese story translated by ESWN even used “Laowai” in the title, which is at best a term that’s controversial among expats, and at worst a derogatory slur.
The sad thing is, no one learns from this kind of incident. The Chinese commenters fume on their forums, westerners act bemused and/or troll on ours, and the idiot throwing the money probably won’t ever know it became such a big deal. There is still far too little interaction between Chinese people and Americans, and far too little cultural education in both countries (although America is much, much further behind). As long as things stay like this, things like this are going to keep happening. Was this a disaster? No, it wasn’t, but it has proved embarrassing for almost everyone involved, and brought out some pretty nasty prejudices (on both sides) too. I think this Chinese commenter’s animated gif sums the whole thing up pretty well: