It seems that Huanqiu Shibao’s headlines are increasingly drawing upon the angst and ardor of the “netizens,” or wang min / 网民 of China.
Such as the top headline for the day, 环球网友正签名谴责美国对台军售, or “Huanqiu Netizens Sign a Petition Telling America to Cease Military Aid to Taiwan,” which drags one to a big new page indicating that Google was just kid stuff. Now we seem to be stepping on the PLA’s turf.
The above header reads “American Government Officially Declares Military Aid to Taiwan Totaling Nearly 6.4 billion US dollars, including Blackhawk Helicopters, In Spite of Our Side’s Strong Objections.” (France24 provides analysis, with video, in English.) To engage in a totally unwarranted and counterfactual application of geopolitical relativism which is inherently unfair, imagine if China had sent a fleet of destroyers to Haiti after the earthquake and then made a military pact with, say, the Dominican Republic, where the remnants of the Richmond Confederacy had been somehow holding out for the last century-plus. But then again, Taiwan is a unique case in all regards — just ask Kobayashi Yoshinori. And the Huanqiu’s protests could all be “empty cannon shots of propaganda,” as Mao said. Maybe it will indeed take ten thousand years to recover Taiwan, as the Chairman said it might; or perhaps global warming and earthquakes will make all of that quite irrelevant. But in the meantime there a few hundred million Chinese readers who are getting the message that the U.S. is meddling again with the balance of power in the Taiwan Strait.
Does Barack Obama wake up every morning and, as he straightens his pajamas and plods into the bathroom and wearily brushes his teeth, think to himself: “Thank you, Harry Truman”?
Then we have another headline for the day, 全球网民激辩中印发展前景 吁两国结成贸易同盟, or “Netizens of the Whole World Aroused in Debate Before the Prospect of Sino-Indian Development; Implore the Two Countries to Unite/Establish a Trade Alliance.” This is one of the great unexplored themes in U.S. media analysis of China: the rise of Chinese nationalist consciousness in the new media era with reference to India. Perhaps everyone in the U.S. (that is, everyone in the chattering class with the exception of Mr. Big Print, Fareed Zakaria) still in the swoon of anti-Americanism of the Bush years. Multilateralism is a catchword today, but unilateral modes of thinking get crammed into brain canals.
Somehow the mainstream U.S. media, so enamored of the Google-freedom narrative (on the verge of triumph, as if it were the equivalent of ripping the figurative burqa and dragging Afghanistan’s women into the light of civilized day), missed the whole Google-Hillary/Gates-India-cybersecurity connection whose simultaneity manged to easily Chinese fear of India with the Chinese apprehension of U.S. “interference” in China’s administration of the internet. Good heavens, could Hillary and Bob Gates have made it any easier for Xinhua to just tar American efforts with the brush of “external interference,” “harmful to China’s security,” or the dreaded compound “America-India opposition to China”?
Just as Chinese netizens have chosen to “study the other,” venturing into the Japanese internet to uncover how “Japanese netizens assess China’s requirement for middle and elementary schools to screen patriotic films / 日本网民评价中国规定中小学校必须看爱国电影.” This is BBS culture at its best — bring forth something that passes the censor because it expects elicits some predictable knee-jerk reactions, but in the process bring forth an implicit question/auto-critique: Should we be watching nationalistic films all the time in elementary school? Maybe Chinese and Western high school students all need to link up to fight censorship by their leaders, question the need for strictly national historical narratives (but what about the transnational history of trash?), and pull together some counternarratives. An education that doesn’t spur some form of counternarrative, or at least nurtures the capacity for counternarrative, sort of borders on indoctrination.
But maybe today the real story involves the first day of travel snarls for several hundred million people who are going to be moving through China’s immense-bellied transportation system, heading home for Spring Festival. Behind steel grills and glass gills, tickets flick like syllables off the tongue of some prodigious poet, innumerable, necessary, tokens of the future.