I thought today’s young Chinese see Mao as a big joke

commupolitan.jpg

If so, then why did these Chinese students in New Zealand get so bent out of shape over the spoof above? From another blogger (source of the photo as well):

A mob of angry Chinese students protested at Massey University yesterday after Chairman Mao was lampooned on the cover of the student newspaper. Students likened the cover of Chaff, which this week satirises women’s magazine Cosmopolitan, to the anti-Muslim cartoons circulated around the world in February.

Tempers flared outside Massey’s library as about 50 Chinese Massey and UCOL students and a Chinese lecturer confronted Chaff staff. Students said the issue is racist and the last straw, as many have also suffered verbal abuse on the streets of Palmerston North.

Tianxiang Mao said it was common for Asian students to be lambasted with racial slurs when driving. “People yell `F-ing Asians’ when we are in the car driving down the road. I don’t say anything. What can I do?�

UCOL student Xing Tang said Chaff staff are ignorant of Chinese culture. “Chairman Mao is like Jesus to us,” he said on the verge of tears. “We pay $20,000 in fees and a Musa fee (which funds Chaff) and this is how we are treated.â€?

This raises all sorts of interesting questions now being debated over in the Duck Pond – is Mao the equivalent, in China, of Milton Berle or of Jesus? Inquiring minds want to know. All of my friends in Beijing tell me Mao is basically an irrelevant embarrassment, someything they pay as much attention to as the idiotic propaganda on CCTV. Am I just making the wrong type of friends, people who don’t really represent today’s China? Is Mao really venerated by today’s younger generations? Or is the answer some complex equation that we hapless Westerners can never hope to understand?

P.S. I know, this is ten days old already, but I’m just catching up after my Internetless two weeks in China…

[Edited, 18:35.]

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Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 33 Comments

I asked my wife, she’s Chinese, to look at it. Her first reaction was a laugh and a smile, but when I asked her if she thought it was funny she said no. She said she only laughed and smiled because she knew why I wanted her to look at it, but that if it wasn’t me who had asked her to have a look she would have been angry with it. She’s a mainland Chinese.

May 29, 2006 @ 3:16 am | Comment

Interesting. I’d have no problem seeing universities overseas spoofing Bush like this. I wonder why the Chinese react like this to spoofs of mao. Maybe they see this as mockery of China in general, and thus of themselves.

May 29, 2006 @ 3:22 am | Comment

As someone who has been living in Kunming for the last six months and is engaged to a Chinese fiance, I am disgusted that any Chinese “student” would be insulted by anything lampooning the world’s most infamous butcher. The legacy of Mao continues to have the disastrous impacts on everyday Chinese life even decades after his death. The impact of the “cultural revolution” alone is felt on a grand scale in China’s inability to create, innovate or even compete in any endeavour other than brute industrial output. China is a country of the 1.3 billion+ political prisoners who have been deluded into thinking that getting rich is the salvation for the country. The only people who are benefitting from this are the lazy, imcompetent members of the communist party.

May 29, 2006 @ 4:38 am | Comment

Just some background about the comments on the racial abuse. Massey University is in a small rural service city called Palmerston North. The university is one of the largest in NZ but has a large agriculture base. It is quite a student town with other institutes and a sizable Japanese college that has been established for about 20years. Although this is quite a student town, there is not much else going for the place; it has quite possibly the worst weather in NZ and can be a miserable place. The other side of life in this place is quite backward and plenty of raw degenerates. Also, it is the base of back country beer guzzling jocks doing some higher education before returning to the sheep farm. Though it seems there is still some good humor on campus with serious cutting wit.

May 29, 2006 @ 4:54 am | Comment

Regarding the Great Helmsman, here in Shanghai I see both attitudes, but the negative seems more common. I had a student last week wearing a Mao shirt, I asked him about it, he glowingly praised China’s great hero. Yet other students choose Mao as their topic when I ask them to describe someone they dislike. Like I said, I hear negative things more often.

As to the racist taunts while driving, I have to wonder if those shouts aren’t possibly a response to driving tactics, rather than racism. If the Chinese students are driving in NZ the same way they do in China, I would not be surprised if they are shouted at. Maybe they don’t realize that tail-gating, incessant horn-honking, charging pedestrians, running red lights, etc is not very well accepted on the roads of western nations. The students themselves, considering this kind of driving to be “normal” (as it is back in the PRC), may be mistakenly attributing the cause of the shouts to racism.

I couple this with the observation that many Chinese are under the impression that there is a huge amount of anti-Chinese racism throughout the west – I see a tendency to blame things on racism when it’s not involved. A good example is when an overseas Chinese student fails a class, then claims it was because the professor “hates Chinese”. It is much more likely the student failed because of academic performance (save face, blame racism).

I know there are plenty of racist yahoos everywhere, but I was under the impression that NZ was a pretty laid-back nation. Maybe those kids should look at their driving style before they automatically blame racism?

May 29, 2006 @ 5:08 am | Comment

This is similar to the aggresive response by some Chinese graduate students at MIT to an academic presentation of Japanese propaganda posters from the 1930s. The students demanded that the images be taken down from the university website because they were insulting to China. But the whole point of the exercise was to show examples of propaganda and encourage students to study and discuss why they were used. As some more intelligent mainland commenters have noted, the kneejerk nationalism reflects badly on the academic maturity of the Chinese students:

This type of emotional fragility is harmful, especially in the face of historical truths. We are used to appeasing our fragile nerves so that we will not confront the historical truth. We regard all those who expose the historical truth as evil-doers. Young people who are educated and reared in this cultural atmosphere become narrow-minded. There is no other way to explain how the best Chinese students who were accepted into a first-rate university such as MIT could lose the basic ability to judge.

[From ESWN May 29, 2006 @ 5:12 am | Comment

This is similar to the aggresive response by some Chinese graduate students at MIT to an academic presentation of Japanese propaganda posters from the 1930s. The students demanded that the images be taken down from the university website because they were insulting to China. But the whole point of the exercise was to show examples of propaganda and encourage students to study and discuss why they were used. As some more intelligent mainland commenters have noted, the kneejerk nationalism reflects badly on the academic maturity of the Chinese students:

This type of emotional fragility is harmful, especially in the face of historical truths. We are used to appeasing our fragile nerves so that we will not confront the historical truth. We regard all those who expose the historical truth as evil-doers. Young people who are educated and reared in this cultural atmosphere become narrow-minded. There is no other way to explain how the best Chinese students who were accepted into a first-rate university such as MIT could lose the basic ability to judge.

[From ESWN May 29, 2006 @ 5:22 am | Comment

This is similar to the aggresive response by some Chinese graduate students at MIT to an academic presentation of Japanese propaganda posters from the 1930s. The students demanded that the images be taken down from the university website because they were insulting to China. But the whole point of the exercise was to show examples of propaganda and encourage students to study and discuss why they were used. As some more intelligent mainland commenters have noted, the kneejerk nationalism reflects badly on the academic maturity of the Chinese students:

This type of emotional fragility is harmful, especially in the face of historical truths. We are used to appeasing our fragile nerves so that we will not confront the historical truth. We regard all those who expose the historical truth as evil-doers. Young people who are educated and reared in this cultural atmosphere become narrow-minded. There is no other way to explain how the best Chinese students who were accepted into a first-rate university such as MIT could lose the basic ability to judge.

[From ESWN May 29, 2006 @ 5:49 am | Comment

Yeah. I gotta say, racist attitudes towards Chinese are not common here in Lower California – save for prejudices about driving styles.

For the most part, I’d have to say the “prejudices” are positive – Chinese are smart, academically driven, etc.

Maybe that’s hard to live up to, but I think that whatever prejudices exist towards Chinese people in my corner of the US are pretty positive – driving ability excepted.

Hey Shanghai, a hearty Ni Hao atcha!

May 29, 2006 @ 5:50 am | Comment

I think the driving style racist slur thing is a little hackneyed. It is common to hear slurs against outsiders of any place about driving style. This does not make it right, but everybody has their outsiders to pick on. In Florida, the ones everyone leers at are the “Stupid Quebequois” who come down to spend the winter. In reality, Quebequois probably make up only a drop in the bucket of all of the outsiders in Florida. But somehow, they have gotten branded with that bad driving curse. Does this mean that Americans hate people from Quebec? Not at all. It is just an unfortunate label that has stuck for some dumb reason.

The Great Butch……er…I mean Helmsman as Jesus in China? I have heard just as many mainlanders tell me that he was a loony as that tell me he was a savior. But I see no parallel to the Mohammed cartoons. It happens to be blasphemous (literally) to make an image of the prophet. Yet whose portrait is still hanging over Tiananmen Square?

May 29, 2006 @ 9:07 am | Comment

The fact that there are still a large portion of the Chinese population who still worship Mao is sad, very sad indeed. It shows that the communists are still screwing the Chinese population, particularly the young population by feeding them half truth and lies. This couldn’t happen in Germany where only a few lunatic fringe revere Hitler. After WWII, both Germany and China were devastated but Germany has recovered and now is one of the richest nations in the world while China is still quite poor even after twenty eight years of economic reform. Gee, I wonder why.

Recently, I was asked by an old and relatively well educated Chinese gentleman the question of whether most Americans secretly wish China to be poor and backward. I was absolutely floored by this question. Americans are Chinese’ best friend. Period. Going back 100 years, after the Boxer Rebellion was crushed, all the other foreign powers demanded huge reparation from China, but only the US used all the reparation to provide scholarships to hundred of Chinese students to study in elite American colleges. Not only that, the US built Tsinghua University in Beijing, which is the premier university in China today along with Peking University. After Japan invaded China in the 30s, it was the great American soldier Claire Chennault who led a group of volunteers (All right, some may call them mercenaries) to fight the Japanese. With a supply of only about 77 planes, they shot down almost three hundred Japanese planes and lost about thirty of their own in a seven month fighting period. Don’t forget without the US defeating Japan, China would still be a Japanese colony today and Chinese would be speaking Japanese and have Japanese names. They would be required to bow before any Japanese on the street! Fast forward to about twenty five years ago, American universities continue to provide scholarships to tens of thousands of Chinese students to study in the US. Most of the stuff that the Chinese love and are proud of, skyscrapers, computers, internet, TVs, soap operas, automobiles, highways, rock and roll, toothpaste, modern toilets, shopping malls, Disney, McDonald, KFC, StarBucks, Coca-Cola, Walmarts, are all invented or perfected by Americans. It is obvious to me that the reason he asked this question is that he mindlessly bought into the lies fed by the communist government. So I told him that to the contrary, Americans wish Chinese live well under a free and democratic government. That they are rich so that they can afford more American products without resorting to interllectural thefts and knockoffs. But we don’t wish them a strong military so that they can invade a democratic and prosperous country like Taiwan.

May 29, 2006 @ 9:08 am | Comment

One point that has not been mentioned is that there may have been CCP influence on the Chinese student’s reaction to the lampoon of Moo, oops, Mao.
As I have learned there is always a person from the Chinese government or Party in-country watching and interacting with mainland students in foreign countries. I would not be at all surprised that the protest was a put-up job.

While I don’t think I have heard or at least don’t remember them, jokes about Mao from mainland Chinese over the years I have been here in China, I have heard jokes about Deng XP and Jiang ZM told to me by Chinese people. Some were of the very crude and/or sexual variety.

“Face” is so ingrained and important to the Chinese, it is hard to get a true picture of what goes on in the minds of the Chinese on controversial issues. I think they would rather lie than let foreigners for the most part think there is something wrong with China.

A note on comparing Moo to Jesus. That is hogwash and I bet the student who said it knows it.

May 29, 2006 @ 10:22 am | Comment

Angry, naive, gullible, arrogant and ignorant are these juvenile pseudo-communists.

They know little about anything else but the fallacies taught at schools, which they don’t really understand either.

We call them “Fen Qing”, meaning “feces youths” that has the same pronunciation with “angry youths” in Chinese.

May 29, 2006 @ 10:23 am | Comment

“Recently, I was asked by an old and relatively well educated Chinese gentleman the question of whether most Americans secretly wish China to be poor and backward. I was absolutely floored by this question. Americans are Chinese’ best friend. Period.”

I think the fact that he even asked this question proves how funny and simple many educated Chinese are: why should americans care about if Chinese are poor or not?

Many Chinese, due to the stupid eduction, believe they are always the focus of the world, no matter it is a bad or good one.

May 29, 2006 @ 10:47 am | Comment

It’s difficult to say whether a majority of Chinese like/dislike Mao. But certainly there are many like these students. And even if they don’t like him especially they can be very defensive if he’s criticised or mocked. The following isn’t a direct example, but related.

I remember when I gave a copy of Wild Swans to a friend who said she wanted to read it. After reading some of it she complained it was too negative and she started laughing (somewhat half-heartedly I recall). I then asked her if she thought it was funny that the grandparents of a mutual friend of ours had been locked up for 15 years during the Cultural Revolution, simply because some officials that were on the “right side” disliked them. She then threw the book down and stomped off.

Of course later on she admitted she had over-reacted and promised to finish the book. She had no special love for Mao or the CCP, but something inside her disliked the “amount of criticisim” as it were. And considering that she’s an extremely open-minded young woman I can only imagine that blinkered Chinese are much worse. I think that “button” is to be found in very many Chinese. It’s ok for them to criticise, but when it’s a foreigner too often some see it as an “unfair attack”.

May 29, 2006 @ 12:36 pm | Comment

Ah, I see, the browser I used didn’t show the picture on the Pond – so what’s the fuss?!! I think its quite sexy!!

May 29, 2006 @ 1:15 pm | Comment

Well, to be fair, I don’t think the tendency for a person to sometimes take offense at “outsiders” criticising their country, even when they themselves share many of the same criticisms, is confined to Chinese people. I think that’s very common. I’ve felt the same thing myself, when I feel like America is being attacked by outsiders who may not really understand the country, even though the criticisms are perfectly fair and I’ve made far harsher judgments. It’s one of those weird, irrational human tendencies, I think. “I can say that about my family, but you can’t.”

May 29, 2006 @ 3:21 pm | Comment

Lisa. Well I don’t know how Americans react, but we’re a lot more open to external criticism than the Chinese are.

May 29, 2006 @ 5:16 pm | Comment

I second Lisa’s comment. For example, I blanche when Chinese people (or other foreigners) criticize President Bush and the current US government even though I voted against Bush twice and strongly dislike his administration.

I think the same dynamic is partially responsible for the strong reaction to the Mao magazine.

Then again, I would say that Mao veneration still exists in China- I remember judging a speech competition when the contestants had to analyze a photograph in English. One of the photographs, naturally, was of Mao. The caption read, “What is the name of that great man?”

Perhaps indicating a shift in attitude, the Chinese moderator of the competition read the caption without using the term “great”.

May 29, 2006 @ 7:57 pm | Comment

I have to disagree on this one, Lisa and No Borders. I blanche when people attack America hysterically and unjustly, and have been very hard on commenters who display America Derangement Syndrome. . I do not blanche, however, when they attack or ridicule our president, who worked hard and long to win his status as international clown. I don’t equate it with anti-Americanism, only with common sense. Just as attacking Mao is not an act of criticism against China, but rather one of support for the Chinese people, to whom Mao was the worst enemy ever.

May 29, 2006 @ 8:10 pm | Comment

I agree with O’Lisa (Hey you!) that anyone can have this reaction, but I think it is stronger for Chinese because for them, culture, nationality, society, and personal identity are so much more tightly interwoven than for most westerners (who are often from much more multi-cultural societies).

For this reason, I think that to Chinese ears, a criticism of China is much more of a *personal* criticism than it is for most westerners, which leads to stronger reactions.

May 29, 2006 @ 10:13 pm | Comment

Well, as we all know, Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China, but this worship BS certainly does not extend there.
I remember last year, on the day after the third of june, I was in Victoria Park. They showed a little 5-minute review of PRC history from ’49 till 40 years later, set to music, at the beginning. When it arrived at ’76, with Mao’s death, the crowd broke into cheers. That was quite an interesting moment for me, after all these years in the Mainland.

May 29, 2006 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

I think the Chinese students in NZ probably had been feeling put-upon and discriminated for some time before this – it happens easily enough when you’re living in a backwater area and are an obvious foreigner; I speak from experience here – and just sort of decided that this was the final straw.

For what it’s worth, I think the cover is just not that funny. Old jokes, bad Photoshopping.

May 29, 2006 @ 11:24 pm | Comment

Dennis wrote:

“Recently, I was asked by an old and relatively well educated Chinese gentleman the question of whether most Americans secretly wish China to be poor and backward. I was absolutely floored by this question.

Great post, Dennis. I have also heard this allegation, sometimes from Chinese I thought relatively well-informed.

I think it’s true that many Americans simply don’t know or care much about China either way. Yet there are also many westerners who care enough about Chinese people that they are willing to protest and take other forms of poltical action over injustices perpetrated by the PRC gov’t against its own people.

Ironically, I think some Chinese ascribe such actions to some sort of contrived anti-Chinese malevolence, a desire to see China “lose face”, buttressing the notion that foreigners dislike Chinese and want to keep them weak.

Probably more often, they simply don’t hear of such actions on the part of westerners.

The whole notion makes no logical sense at all. Why, American corporations cannot crawl over each other fast enough, hoping to cash in on the growing affluence of Chinese.

But when most of your information is distorted through CCP filters, the notion of foreigners hoping for a poor China might make sense. Also, to some degree it is human nature to take comfortable refuge in believing one’s own shortcomings are actually the product of someone else’s evil intentions.

I think there are other factors involved, but this post is already too long!

May 29, 2006 @ 11:26 pm | Comment

Oh, well, I NEVER blanche when non-Americans criticize Bush! I clap ‘em on the back and second the motion.

May 30, 2006 @ 1:34 am | Comment

Let me second Slim, above, in praising Dennis’ excellent post – nice to meet you, Dennis.

Brendan, I might agree that it’s no thigh-slapper. But it’s not that offensive, either, considering how virtually every world leader is made fun of, especially the bad apples like Mao and the Big Chimp. I believe you (of course) when you say you’ve experienced the frustration of being a foreigner in a backwater. But don’t you think these college age people in New Zealand should have somewhat better control over their emotions, as you did when you were in a similar siytuation?

May 30, 2006 @ 2:06 am | Comment

The Chinese are Americans’ best friend. Full stop! Come to think of it, had it not been for the alluring prospects of trading with Cathay, there probably would have been little incentive to explore the Americas. Certainly, the Europeans conquered and wiped out the Amerindians with the aid of the compass (a Chinese invention) and firearms (gunpower, another Chinese invention). Fastforward a few hundred years, Qing China was one of the first countries in the world to formally recognize the establishment of a new United States. During the age of industrial expansion, Chinese laborers built the Great Pacific railroads, despite intimidation and rampant racism. At about the same time, the Qing Court authorized and funded study abroad campaigns for groups of pre-teen and teenage boys to Hartford, CT. The first of its kind! Later, during WWI, China sides with the US. In the Second World War, China was again America’s ally. Even today, Sino-US ties are incredibly significant. A majority of the most presitigious institutions and research groups in the US has Chinese scientists, technicians, and scholars. Many things that Americans use everyday–computer components, TVs, stuff you find in shopping malls, Disney Store, McDonald’s, KFC, StarBucks, Coca-Cola, Walmarts– are made in China. Of course China wants a prosperous and stable America, or its massive reserve of USD would become worthless. Anyone who thinks otherwise has been brainwashed by the “clash of civilization” hawks. However, China does not wish a strong US military, as it will interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.

May 30, 2006 @ 4:20 am | Comment

I think random is an appropriate name.

May 30, 2006 @ 4:37 am | Comment

While I do agree that the students’ reactions were quite ridiculous, I believe that perceptions of racism underlie much of the outrage. I’d also argue that the statistical paucity of outright racist incidents (hard to calculate to begin with and probably doesn’t indicate more prevalent feelings of superiority) is irrelevant to the palpable psychological effects. Even isolated incidents can affect individuals deeply, and arouse a whole host of ethnic animosities. China has many historical greivances, but the main thorn is the fact that world affairs are still dominated by White Westerners. Given this power structure, the feelings of being slighted are probably categorically different from the isolation and marginalization that Westerners feel in China. After all, these fee-paying college kids have to take shit from sheep herders from NZ (with feelings of inadaquecy) countryside while many commenters here can at least convert their Chinese wives if they feel alone. (Another difference, one is a Chinese speaker learning English, and the other is an English speaker teaching the Chinese.) So what I’m saying is that people shouldn’t just smugly dismiss these accusations of prejudice and attribute them to Chinese people’s overreactive senses. And I believe China is becoming more confident and there are voices of dissent, like Prof. Li Dong of Massey, that are not presented in the article. Most importantly, disaffected “fenqings” aren’t blowing themselves up to protest, so there’s still hope.

Anyway, my previous “random” post was to parody a portion of Dennis’ post which I found almost amusing. I’m sure he meant well, but it just came across as patriarchal, and somewhat colonial in tone:

“See, America is China’s best friend because when other powers were raping you alive, we actually used the money that you gave us to benefit you! How generous of us! And we saved your ass in WWII. Out of concern for you of course. Oh, and everything you like, we invented it. So there you go, We’re your best friend, and want you to be rich so you can buy more things from us. Just don’t get a strong military and leave the policing of the world to us. Ok buddy?”

I have a feeling that this sort of thing might just push those overreactive fenqing buttons.

May 30, 2006 @ 8:09 am | Comment

I second Pete’s suspicion that the demonstrations may have been either orchestrated by political plants or at least done to give the appearance of patriotism.

May 30, 2006 @ 11:12 am | Comment

“one is a Chinese speaker learning English, and the other is an English speaker teaching the Chinese.”
pardon-moi, monsieur assumption, you are makin an ass out of u and me. is there any reason why everyone has to assume that any Westerner living in China teaches English? i mean, sure probably 90% of them are, but doesn’t it go a little overboard sometimes? i’ve known people who i’ve told 5 or 10 times that i don’t teach english (and never have), but they still think i teach english. when i meet chinese people abroad, i don’t say “so, what’s your restaurant’s name?” i also have people ask me what i am gonna eat every day “mcdonalds? kfc?” i eat that stuff about once a month, i don’t know where the idea that i eat it every day came from. i don’t ask chinese people “what are you gonna eat? rice and fortune cookies?” however if i was an asshole and did say something like that, they’d probably organize and say i’m prejudiced against them (and it would be true). which i guess brings me back to the topic of this thread.
anyway, i’ve said many times before that self-reflection is sadly lacking in china. you can have a great leap forward, a cultural revolution, and a bloody june, and blame it all on natural disasters, four people, or outside enemy forces. such an environment might discourage any self-reflection… which may cause completely irrational and childish behavior such as this case or the shoutdown of defector chen last summer. the lack of self-reflection is also intimately intertwined with the concept of face in the international arena, as is true in this case. the lack of self-reflection may also discourage one from looking at oneself and saying “is it wrong that i assume that all westerners are english teachers who eat KFC every day?”

May 30, 2006 @ 8:14 pm | Comment

Chinese student in NZ? haha.. i can’t help to laughing.
As my observation, usually, the chinese students will:
1> if he/she is very smart and get a high GPA, his first choice will be an Ivy-League university in US or a famous univ in UK or other countries with a handsome scholarship; no one will consider going to NZ because there is no famous univs there.
2> If he/she is not very smart, but his family is enough rich to afford his tuition, then he will choose Australia/NZ, sometimes UK as a destination. for an USA univs, without enough GPA, it’s hard to get the offer.
There are so many chinese officials who send his children going to UK/NZ/AUSTRALIA for studying. why? because “Studying” is a mask. They can use this channel for money-washing.
I dont think that common chinese student can afford such heavy tuition without scholarship, nevertheless a CAR.

May 31, 2006 @ 3:21 am | Comment

Jeffery, I’ve personally met and gotten to know dozens of students headed to NZ for study. Many fall into the categories you mention, but there are also a lot of smart, good kids going there.

Since NZ is much cheaper (and closer) than the US, it’s a valid option for students/families that can’t afford the very pricey USA, especially if you are studying something like Accounting, where an Ivy League school might be overkill.

Some of those Chinese students going to the USA are studying at fourth-rate, no-name private colleges in cow-towns – and paying top dollar for it. Compared to that, NZ might be a reasonable option.

May 31, 2006 @ 10:48 am | Comment

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