Envy and Spectacle: America’s Presidential Race Finds an Adoring Audience in China - Helen Gao - the Atlantic
After the Democratic and Republican National Conventions closed, as candidates charged back to the campaign trail and as the American media moved on, the campaign speeches made their way across the Pacific Ocean to China, where they are still echoing. While the conventions might be derided within the U.S. as political theater, they have sparked nuanced, even fond discussions among tens of thousands of Chinese, about the differences between the American and Chinese political styles.
First lady Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention earlier this month was such a hit on the Chinese web that one user started a translation contest on Weibo, China’s twitter-style service, for a line that had rapidly become the most popular: “We were so young, so in love, and so in debt.” Thousands pitched in their ideas, giving creative spins to the unembellished sentence. It was reinvented in the edgy vocabulary of Chinese hipsters, in various provincial dialects, and, in some hilarious attempts, in classical Chinese. Some of the last, if translated back into English, might read roughly as: “Once upon a time, our love saw no boundaries and debt had no limit” or “In those years of green plums and bamboo horses [Chinese idiom referring to youth], our love was ocean-deep, and debt mountain-high.”
The translation contest, embraced by Chinese web users with giddy interest, is just one indication of a growing Chinese fascination with American politics and political figures, kindled by the colorful events and bustling campaigns of the U.S. presidential election season. In the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of Chinese tuned to the convention speeches as they took place. Volunteer translators rushed to attach Chinese subtitles to online videos and photos of these speeches just hours after their delivery. Mesmerized by what they saw, web users poured their feelings into discussion threads on Weibo that ran thousands of posts long. Despite popular sentiment here that can be at times hostile to the U.S., Chinese web users have this month expressed wonder and praise for American politicians’ public demeanors, oratory, and the personal characters that they perceived shining through.