Judging by the bemused articles friends and family have sent me over the past year or two, we Americans are delighted by Chinese versions of Western shit. And why not? Who among us wouldn’t want to read about Beijing’s first fixed-gear bike gang or the antibacterial underwear sold at Guangzhou Walmarts? And don’t even get me started on the gloriously shameless rip-offs of famous brand names.
But now that China is slated to overtake the U.S. as the world’s number-one economic power, are the tables going to turn? The short answer is “no.” The Chinese may be a manufacturing juggernaut, but we are waaayyyyy ahead of them in terms of entertainment, fashion and, of course, junk food. I mean honestly – can you imagine high-fat, Americanized versions of dried squid or chicken feet? Hollywood remakes of movies about Mao’s Long March? There’s a reason there’s a booming market for pirated American movies.
However – I have read a few interesting instances recently of clumsy American attempts to, well, sell Chinese culture back to the Chinese. Take for example Panda Express’ tentative plan to expand into China.
Surprisingly, Panda Express’founder, Andrew Cherng, is actually a native Chinese, from Jiangsu. That makes his proposition slightly less offensive.
A more recent example is the release of Kung Fu Panda 2, a 3D animated comedy, which, according to an article in the Global Times, is being protested by a local artist through ads and a public letter on his blog:
“This is a battle against the invasion of American culture,” Zhao Bandi, a Beijing-based performance artist known for staging scenarios starring himself and a toy panda, told the Global Times on Monday.
Meanwhile, a Beida professor argues that the Panda isn’t “Chinese” enough:
Renowned Peking University professor Kong Qingdong pointed out that Po comes across as typically American – talkative and charming – although the film is set in China.
Haha – I love how this quote basically implies that typical Chinese are not “talkative and charming.”
I also came across an article on ChinaSmack about a music video made by some study abroad students called “Feichang Fresh.” Sadly, it’s not nearly as absurd as I wanted it to be (the song is actually pretty good), but it’s clearly pandering to Chinese people: in near flawless Chinese, the four white guys run around Beijing, praising everything from the women to the food to the accent.
Most commenters are supportive of slick-yet-awkward attempt to endear themselves to Chinese, but others deride the video as offensive – not only in its lighthearted treatment of Chinese identity, but in what it represents about the incursion of foreigners into Beijing:
Don’t raise the Chinese flag as you please! There’s a difference from your nation/country! We normally only raise it when resisting forced demolitions! Raising this flag doesn’t mean you guys are very Chinese!
With food, drink, and girls but without having to worry about housing prices, stock prices, or food prices, of course they’d be feel things are great.
The latter is an awkward topic for foreigners living in China, who make anywhere from three to six times what a college-educated young Chinese would make. But that’s a whole other post. The moral for today? Chinese people are not unequivocally psyched about us appropriating their culture! But if only they would just try the General Tso’s chicken…