By the late 1990s, Japan was an economic smoking crater. Today, to watch Sean Connery in Rising Sun is to have a good laugh. Our new Asian nemesis is China and starting with the Cox Report of 1999 (which accused China of using thousands of legitimate business in the U.S. as fronts for spying) and continuing through to Wen Ho Lee (the handling of which saw The New York Times finally, barely apologize), to the 2008 Olympics and beyond, America has turned to its old standby characterizations of Asians (this time the Chinese) as a faceless horde devoid of individualism, preparing to swarm. This is tragic.
The media’s anti-Asian bent is subtle and generally manifests itself in anti-China rhetoric. Last holiday season’s Zhu Zhu pets were reported to be toxic. Except on further testing, they weren’t. Yet the 120 seconds of national evening TV news the story got (about the same as the climate change conference) did not pass up the opportunity to say “made in China” over and over again. The New York Times printed a article describing certain bowls as having “Chinaman lids.” (The Times’ correction then recognized that Chinaman is “a term the paper considers disparaging” but that didn’t seem to stop it from getting printed to begin with.) When Obama met the Korean delegation to the UN, Jay Leno ran a “they all look the same bit.” Everyone laughed. â€¨Despite enjoying running Asians down, America does understand new economic realities; the other 1984 remake this year, Karate Kid, moves the location to China but keeps the Japanese martial art’s name. (Because if if they’re not the same thing, they all totally get along, right?) These small, day-by-day subtle racist slights are somewhat understandable coming from a culture that has nearly zero understanding its East Asian peers. For the 2008 Olympics, that subtly dispersed.
The Olympics saw Sinophobia explode and perfectly capture what War Without Mercy calls the stereotypical masculine “alien swarm” fear of Asians (as opposed to the feminine “exotic individual” one). In a Telegraph piece headlined “Beijing Olympics off to scary start,” Iain Martin wrote this of the Beijing opening ceremonies: “Thousands of people banging drums, dancing in a threatening and synchronised fashion, all the time shouting something that didn’t sound very friendly.” WaPo sports columnist Thomas Boswell made the long-awaited crossover into political op-ed in his review of the ceremonies, noting, “Watching the Bird’s Nest start to erupt was almost scary. The entire floor of National Stadium was filled with 2,008 drummers, all in silver robes trimmed in crimson. What did they portend?” Or as gasbag Bob Costas noted of the opening ceremony (between running down China for its connection to Sudan0, “It’s awe-inspiring. It’s also a little intimidating.”
Then there were the numerous inevitable, insufferable hacks who wrote about how the Beijing opening ceremonies were clearly comparable to those of 1936 Nazi Germany’s. This goes triply for Newsweek‘s Olympic ceremonies liveblogger, who noted “The Chinese have resented any comparisons critics have made to the ’36 Berlin Games. Still, watching soldiers goosestep [sic] the Chinese flag feels a little eerie.”
The Olympics are over. So now the “Asian” carp are here, “invading” our Great Lakes in “swarms,” the only sized group in which Asians ever travel. The Washington Post from November, 2009: “‘Asian carp are like cancer cells,’ said Cameron Davis, senior adviser with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ‘They can grow and spread very, very quickly and overtake other healthy living organisms.'”
Not to leave out the states without lakes, the “Asian lady beetle” is “infesting” America: “…since 2003, the exotic Asian beetle has been on the attack” even though it is “smaller than a grain of rice.”
Of course, those really dead-set and determined to see China as a global threat to America should maybe not look to the gun or the gulag. The truest threat China poses to the United States is ideological. China’s success on its own terms could make hollow America’s promise of being the world’s best model for happiness. Nobody has summed that up better than China scholar, author and Asia Society expert Orville Schell. Schell, noting that China indeed has its problems and that it’s sure to have many more, nonetheless told NPR:
“…it raises a question that is sort of frightening to contemplate for an American, and that’s this: Does the Chinese system, this sort of autocratic form of capitalism, deliver better than democracy? And as an ardent democrat, I contemplate the answer to that question with some trepidation, because I think, you know, we feel in America, and in fact I think it’s more than a feeling, that in many ways our government is paralyzed, paralyzed by a lack of money, paralyzed in Congress, paralyzed by sort of vicious partisan politics, whereas China is able not only to gather information well but to form policy quickly and then, most importantly, to effect it. And you feel that everywhere you look in this country now, that they are on top of things, they’re able to do things swiftly to meet the very high-speed demands of the situation, whereas I think we are kind of languishing in many respects.”
Now, if red-white-and-blue-bleeding apple-pie-eaters really want to worry about China infiltrating the U.S., they should concentrate less on ammunition and more on erudition.
Next: Visiting an American High School’s Chinese Class.