Western coverage of Chinese economics, or how I learned to patronize a billion people

Josh Hart

Staff Writer

On Oct. 27, several American media outlets caught wind of a Chinese television commercial depicting animated characters singing a jaunty, vaguely-indie English-language tune extolling the virtues of China’s five-year economic plan. The coverage ranged from amusement to outright hostility, but all the coverage had something in common – a fierce Orientalism, a commitment to “othering” China. Most of the coverage focused on the absurdity of the video, its “psychedelic” qualities, the “youth culture”-based animated characters, the “upbeat” tune, etc.

This coverage fails to recognize that American television commercials covering the apparent financial destiny of the country are just as colorful and loud, the Met Life commercials featuring Peanuts characters being one example.

I think this fascination with China’s humorous commercial partially comes from ignorance in regards to their economic policy. There is nothing strange about a government that utilizes a social market economy, essentially a form of state capitalism, to advertise their economic plan. Unlike the mixed economy utilized by the United States, Chinese state capitalism has specific, tightly controlled goals. To fail to alert the public to these changes would be disastrous.

Americans have a bad habit of assuming that everyone who does not behave exactly like us is worthy of extra scrutiny, worthy of being placed as an object of entertainment. This media attention boils down to surprise that a foreign government that is stereotyped as totalitarian has a sense of humor, a not-so surprising statement of ignorance from a culture that appears to be steeped in it.

Orientalism has been a persistent characteristic of American media for more than 100 years, from the Middle Eastern exhibition at the 1893 World Columbian Exhibition in Chicago to the celebration of war crimes in a 2003 New York Times article to editorials excusing racial fetishism.

Noam Chomsky said it best, perhaps. “It all comes down to not being a stranger. Get out of your bubble. Racism and ignorance in the media can only be dealt with by being willing to learn about other people. Don’t be a stranger.”

For the media to make this change, we have to stop treating non-Western entities’ actions that are merely a part of the human condition (in this case, humor) as something newsworthy.