the social media production of mutual assured cross-cultural contempt in the US and China

By now, most have heard that Global Times, the Party’s international mouthpiece printed an editorial which called for the Chinese public to permit a moderate amount of corruption; if you haven’t jump over to Fauna’s piece at ChinaSmack for translation of the article and web responses. The self-justifying rhetoric and virulent counter-attacks illuminate the cynicism and anger that increasingly characterize public debate in the PRC micro/ blogosphere. Moreover, the virulence and smugness of English language responses to the post need to be analyzed in terms that explain the ongoing social media production of mutual assured cross-cultural contempt in both the US and China.

In many ways, the cynicism of the exchanges remind me of populist diatribes in the US; I actually can hear Mitt Romney and other anti-gay or anti-black or anti-women or anti-child advocates calling for “moderate levels of discrimination” and exhorting the country to “understand” the necessity of continued legal inequality because there are so many incompatible definitions of discrimination and we need to respect everyone’s traditions. The pseudo-rational justifications for continued discrimination understandably anger those who directly suffer the consequences of said laws and customs.

Just how closely does the tone and rhetorical form of US and Chinese popular debate mirror each other? Below, I have copied the Chinese editorial and substituted the following keywords, underlining the substitutions in text:

  • discrimination for corruption
  • prejudiced for corrupt
  • strong economy for development
  • prejudice for income
  • America for China
  • Western for Asian
  • Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney for Railway Minister and Party Secretary Liu Zhijun (and yes, in both countries we keep pandering to our lowest acceptable prejudices and greed, respectively)

I have made these substitutions to make a simple point; although the effects of economic globalization and political inequality are different in the PRC and the USA, nevertheless the turn to cultural justification and excuse-mongering is similar. Moreover, tone of the debate transcends relative levels of legal freedom of expression. The anger and absurdity of debate in the Chinese micro/ blogosphere is matched by the anger and absurdity of debate in American television and radio programs (Hello, weibo and Fox News).

The implications of this point, however, are far from simple when our respective national debates end up in our interlocutor’s public sphere. For US citizens, for example, it is difficult to understand the prevalence of and popular resignation to Chinese corruption. Likewise, most Chinese see US concerns about gay marriage and reproductive freedom to be a cases of privileged angst. In the worst case scenario, we focus on the other’s words to explain/ justify our inability to reach mutual understanding because, it seems so obvious, that our interlocutor has such fuck-up values. As a result, in both both countries, we end up focused on the cultural content of public debate, rather than on a shared political-economic structure that has created what are in both the PRC and USA, untenable situations.

So, another call for creative rethinking of what forms cross-cultural understanding and dialogue might assume when translation might do more cross-cultural harm than good.

The modified text begins below:

The American Public Should Permit a Moderate Amount of Discrimination

It was announced yesterday that Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney won the Texan nomination. This piece of news once again touched the public’s most sensitive nerve, that dealing with discrimination. From a national perspective, there is indeed continuous news of discriminatory officials being elected, which does give people the feeling that discrimination is “unending/overwhelming”. They aren’t catching/arresting less, it’s that you can never catch them all [never finish catching them all]. Just what is going on?

America obviously has a high incidence of discrimination, and the conditions for completely eliminating discrimination do not exist at present. Some people say, as long as we have “democracy”, the problem of discrimination can be easily solved. However, this kind of view is naive. The West has many “democratic countries”, such as Indonesia, the Philippines, India, etc. where discrimination are all much more severe than America. But America may very likely be the Western country with the most pronounced sense of “resentment towards discrimination”.

This is related to America’s “serve the people!” official political morals having deeply been engrained in the people’s heart throughout society. However, the reality is that the market economy has attacked its practicality/feasibility, resulting in government officials who half-heartedly observe it or have even betrayed it constantly slipping through various cracks in the system. America is a country that has been deeply penetrated by globalization and the high standards of integrity of developed countries is already known by the American public, and with information coming from different periods and different circumstances being forcible stuffed into America’s sphere of public opinion, bitterness and consternation can find no relief.

Discrimination in any country is unable to be permanently controlled/cured, so the key is to control what the degree that the people will permit/allow. However, to do this is particularly difficult for America.

Singapore and China’s Hong Kong institute a policy of high pay to discourage discrimination. Many Chinese political candidates are wealthy, and normally when someone becomes a government official there, they accumulate renown and connections. After office, they can use then various “revolving doors” to change all they have accumulated into financial return. However, these options and possibilities are not available in America.

Giving government officials power to discriminate is something American public opinion cannot accept. Allowing government officials to step down and use their influence and connections to discriminate against groups is something the system does not allow. Allowing the prejudiced to become government officials is something that people find even more unpalatable. The legal prejudice of America’s government officials is very low, and the compensation for officials of some places is often realized through “unwritten rules”.

All of American society now has some “unwritten rules”. In industries that involve the public welfare such as doctors and teachers, “unwritten rules” have also become popular. Many people’s statutory prejudice isn’t high, but they have “gray prejudice”.

What are the boundaries for “unwritten rules”? This isn’t clear. This is also one of the reason for why there are relatively many discrimination cases now, with some even being “cases of a community of discrimination”. Amongst the people, there is the popular saying that “what is commonplace amongst the people cannot be punished by the law”, and the moment government officials believe this saying while believing “others are the same as me”, then he is already in danger [of becoming prejudiced].

Those who engage in discrimination must be strictly investigated, and not to be tolerated, as this would greatly increase the risk and cost of discrimination, creating the requisite deterrent effect. The government must make the reduction of discrimination the biggest objective of their governance.

The people must resolutely increase supervision through public opinion, pushing the government to fight discrimination. However, the people must also reasonably understand the reality and objective fact that America is unable at its present stage to thoroughly suppress the discrimination, and not sink the entire country into despair.

Writing this definitely does not mean we believe fighting discrimination is not important or should be put off. Quite the opposite, we believe fighting discrimination indeed is the number one problem that must be solved for the reform of America’s political system, and it is also the common demand of the entire country.

However, we believe that fighting discrimination is not something that can be completely “fought” nor completely “reformed” because at the same time, it needs “strong economy” to help solve it. It is a problem of the individual prejudiced officials as well as the system, but that’s not all. It is also a problem of the American society’s “overall level of strong economy”.

Fighting discrimination is a difficult/entrenched battle in the strong economy of American society, but its victory at the same time hinges upon the clearing of various obstacles on other battlefields. America can never be a country where other aspects are very backward and only its government officials are egalitarian. Even if it is for a time, it won’t last long. Eliminating discrimination would be a breakthrough/turning point for America, but this country ultimately can only “advance overall” [any specific progress requires overall progress/strong economy].