The following American political advertisement has been making the rounds among China watchers even as it makes the rounds on television sets in America. James Fallows also wrote about the ad, praising its technique if not its content.
As I see it, there are two issues with this. The first is obvious, and Fallows points it out as well:
If you know anything about the Chinese economy, the actual analytical content here is hilariously wrong. The ad has the Chinese official saying that America collapsed because, in the midst of a recession, it relied on (a) government stimulus spending, (b) big changes in its health care systems, and (c) public intervention in major industries — all of which of course, have been crucial parts of China’s (successful) anti-recession policy.
This is undoubtedly true. But then Fallows takes things a step further than I’m willing to go:
Although I realize that many Chinese people will take offense at it, mainly the chortling section at the end, for me it passes the test for the proper use of “foreign menace” themes in US discourse. Although the ad is clearly meant to make Americans shudder at the idea of a Chinese-dominated future, at no point does it say that the canny foreigners did anything wrong. It uses them as a spur for us to do better — which, as laid out at length here, is the right way to use foreign comparisons. And the stated argument, even from the triumphalist Chinese professor, is that the Americans erred by turning away from their own values.
I can’t agree with that. For one thing, as he’s pointed out earlier, the ad is patently misleading. It’s hard for me to believe that any argument based on lies is ultimately what’s best for the American people. But moreover, the ad reinforces the paranoid idea that Chinese people are somehow intent on replacing America, and using their ownership of US debt to turn Americans into slaves. The bluish tint, the eerily synthetic-but-vaguely-asian-sounding soundtrack, the cultural revolution posters, and the sinister group laugh at the end of the advertisement are all meant to make us feel threatened. The professor is shifty from the start, but the whole room erupts into laughter at his joke and we, the audience, can see the truth: all Chinese people want to destroy or enslave America. This argument is just as stupid coming from American political groups as it is when it’s coming from the propaganda arm of the Chinese government.
Fallows is right; the ad doesn’t explicitly say the Chinese have done anything wrong, but the atmosphere created in the advertisement certainly implies it. And while this will probably work as a “spur for us to do better”, it will also work to further the deepening suspicions many Americans already harbor about Chinese people.
In fact, it already has. That link will take you to a poorly-doctored version of the same video, with the subtitles replaced. The new subtitles advance a far more paranoid (and profane) version of the China-America entanglement.
Of course, C.A.G.W. isn’t the only political group waving the “Chinese devils” flag to rally the troops ((Because now that there’s a democrat in office, we’ve got to stop all this wasteful spending and go back to the carefree, thrifty days of George W. Bush!)). Many democrats, faced with more difficult races than they were hoping for, have adopted similar tactics, although because they’re democrats, they’ve generally done it much less competently.
So, a message to all American political organizations: if you’re going to play the China Boogeyman card, could you please do it in a way that makes sense and is based on reality, rather than the made-up future where China is a small-government, high-tech, education capital but still apparently adorns the walls of its classrooms with Cultural Revolution era kitsch?
[Incidentally, there’s something else that bothers me about the ad. Granted I’m not a native speaker, and I’ve long since given up on hearing anything other than a southern or Taiwanese accent coming out of the mouth of anyone “Chinese” in something filmed in the US ((Apparently, CAGW couldn’t find any 东北人 to play the professor because they are all 活雷锋 and wouldn’t do something that demeaning.)), but the “professor’s” cadence on that last sentence makes my teeth grind. I’m not talking about the tones, the way he says 现在他们都得给我们干活 sounds weird. And now that I think about it, shouldn’t there be a change-of-state 了 there?]