Politics & Society

Politicians Play The China Card

Political ad: 'Chinese Professor'

An ad produced by the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) shows a Beijing educator in the year 2030 explaining how American deficit spending led to China’s conquest of the West. Citizens Against Government Waste hide caption

itoggle caption Citizens Against Government Waste

Given the hyperpolarized nature of the current electoral environment, it’s amazing to think candidates of opposing parties can still find anything to agree on other than blanket truisms like “the system is broken” and “water is wet.” (And heck, even the latter might provoke angry 140-character rebuttals on Twitter these days.)

But if you’ve been watching campaign ads — with more than $3 billion dumped into political advertising this season, how could you avoid them? — you’ll notice that a remarkable bipartisan coalition has coalesced around one of the most critical geopolitical issues of the day: our relationship with China. And the common ground they’ve arrived at appears to be that China is evil, scary, and poised to eat our lunch.

On October 9, David Chen of The New York Times noted that more than 29 candidates, Democrats and Republicans, have unveiled commercials attacking their opponents for aiding and abetting China’s imminent economic takeover of America.

In one ad, Democrat Joe Sestak, waging a hard-pitched Senate battle against Republican Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, accused the latter of “fighting for jobs…in China.” (Sound of gong striking!):


In a race for West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, Republican Spike Maynard raised the ominous specter of Mao Zedong while accusing opponent Nick Rahall of voting for a bill that ended up funding Chinese wind turbine manufacturers:


And perhaps most egregiously, Ohio Democratic U.S. Rep. Zack Space ran ads condemning Republican rival Robert Gibbs for supporting free trade agreements that benefit China, “like NAFTA.” (Look how insidious China is: They already weaseled their way into becoming part of North America!)

The Space ad was made even more distressing by its unfortunate imagery. While many of the cycle’s anti-China ads share similar iconography (lots of Communist red, triumphalism, PRC flags, Beijing opera sound effects)  Space’s hired guns decided to climax the commercial on a stock photo of a Lunar New Year dragon dance performance — which careful observers will recognize as taking place in San Francisco. The English-language signs in the background are a dead giveaway.

That’s what makes the widespread demonization of China and “the Chinese” so frightening to Asian Americans: The line between Asians on that side of the ocean and those on this side has always been blurry to those with a surplus of rage and a deficit of judgment.

To see where all this is leading, you need go no further than Citizens Against Government Waste’s scurrilous “Chinese Professor” ad, which shows a Beijing educator in the year 2030 explaining how American deficit spending led to China’s conquest of the West (cue creepy, villainous laughter):


Except that the ad was shot in Washington, D.C., and the audience apparently celebrating the fall of the U.S. is actually made up of local Asian American college students — who’d been lured to the shoot with the bait of being extras for the next Transformers sequel, and never informed of the nature of the shoot in which they were participating.

But hey, an evil Asian is an evil Asian, right?

Postscript: A group of Asian American bloggers is fighting back on the Citizens Against Government Waste ad with a resubtitling contest hoping to make “Chinese Professor” the next “Hitler Is Angry.” Check it out!

Writer Jeff Yang is the "Asian Pop" columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and lives in New York.

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