135. Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy For The Devil: I spoke with my sister recently and she recounted going shopping for baby clothes. She’s a new mother. Our father was with her and at one point, he pulled something out of the shopping cart, wrinkled his forehead in mock worry and read the “Made In China” tag aloud. He suggested putting it back on the shelf, avoiding an inevitable recall. My sister joked that they should check every tag in the store and avoid everything with the label. They started checking tags. Strollers. Tiny pants. Shoes. Sippy cups. Car seats. The shopping cart itself. Everything in the store was made in China.

Although Amy has had similar conversations with her family, I cannot imagine that the Chinese product recall story has been bigger news back home than it has been in China. Beyond the internet, a great deal of which is censored by the Chinese government, our only access to English news programming has been through state run television. Only one station, called CCTV 9, broadcasts 24-hour news in English to expats, tourists and budding language students. It’s mostly unwatchable fluff, bland and looped endlessly, save for every piece that’s narrated by a Chinese newscaster whose voice is an impeccably bizarre imitation of Robin Leach. That guy entertains.

As rarely as we watch CCTV 9, we cannot help but notice that more than 50% of the news and round table-style programming is devoted to the issue of the Chinese product recalls in the US. “The Ministry of Trade and Commerce regrets the US Governments recent comments.” “The lead Minister has certified that these products are safe for consumption” and inevitably, thousands are now unemployed as a result of the toy recalls. Phrases like, “the Western media’s vilification of our country” are used in matters of factual reporting. When the CEO of Mattel recently conceded publicly that the blame for the toy recalls fell equally on the shoulders of the designers (US) and the producers (China), this ran in the front page news headlines every day, for a full week. Sound bytes from the Mattel press conference was repeated nightly, followed by a parade of stories in which Chinese heads of state will announce that yet another imported US pharmaceutical or food product has been deemed unsafe for consumption by the Chinese public. This is real. It smells like propaganda, but the lines are indistinct when you’re in this vacuum.

Taken alone, the product recall stories are benign enough, perhaps bordering on helpful if we’re to believe that the product safety arms of both governments are looking more carefully at what’s crossing the borders. But in the context of the ongoing Us against Them quibbling between our governments, it’s symptomatic of the stubborn, isolationist leanings of current foreign policy. It’s enough to warrant questioning of the official line on both sides of the fence. We’re not taking the side of the Chinese on this one, but simply being here, on the street everyday with real people who are affected by the actions of our own government, gives us a fresh look at how it’s all spun. By the capitalist, democratic, liberal standards of the West, the Chinese government is certainly oppressive. There is no freedom in the media, in the temple or in Tibet. But that same government is also at the helm of one of the world’s three fastest growing economies and with no end in sight, it’s still enjoying the popular support of a billion Chinese nationals. Don’t be afraid, don’t be very afraid, but be aware. And maybe pick up a Chinese phrasebook the next time you’re at Borders.

 

  1. ron says:

    weird. i was just “debating” this with a friend.

    as we suspected, we are at war with China and the product recall in my opinion is our weapon of choice.

    what better way way to instill fear in the citizenry.

  2. Joey&Erin says:

    My favorite part of CCTV9 was the commercials. There is nothing like the combination of tea and pillow – except maybe some censorship mixed with a little bit of propaganda.

    We are enjoying reading about all of your adventures, and they remind us of being there. Stay safe and keep up the good “work”.

  3. Joey&Erin says:

    My favorite part of CCTV9 was the commercials. There is nothing like the combination of tea and pillow – except maybe some censorship mixed with a little bit of propaganda.

    We are enjoying reading about all of your adventures, and they remind us of being there. Stay safe and keep up the good “work”.

  4. Joey&Erin says:

    My favorite part of CCTV9 was the commercials. There is nothing like the combination of tea and pillow – except maybe some censorship mixed with a little bit of propaganda.

    We are enjoying reading about all of your adventures, and they remind us of being there. Stay safe and keep up the good “work”.

  5. Joey&Erin says:

    My favorite part of CCTV9 was the commercials. There is nothing like the combination of tea and pillow – except maybe some censorship mixed with a little bit of propaganda.

    We are enjoying reading about all of your adventures, and they remind us of being there. Stay safe and keep up the good “work”.

  6. Joey&Erin says:

    My favorite part of CCTV9 was the commercials. There is nothing like the combination of tea and pillow – except maybe some censorship mixed with a little bit of propaganda.

    We are enjoying reading about all of your adventures, and they remind us of being there. Stay safe and keep up the good “work”.