An Open Letter to People’s Daily RE: “Dishonest Americans”
Hey there, People’s Republic of China. You probably don’t remember me, but I used to live in your borderline dystopian nation. I wrote about it back in the day – it’s been a while, don’t blame you if you haven’t noticed. Really, I should be writing about my book, but yesterday I saw something that piqued my interest. It seems that your propaganda organ has been working on a series of articles about how people from my country won’t stop stealing from people from your country.
Just so everyone’s familiar, here’s the description that precedes every article:
Most Chinese people think that Americans are honest, reliable, and righteous. But once you live in the country for a while, you may discover the descriptions above are a bit misleading. Today’s topic, “The Dishonest Americans Series”, does not refer to all Americans. We want to unveil some incidents and Americans we have encountered, so to provide a more objective picture of what the US and Americans are really like.
First of all, I do appreciate your inclusion of a professional-grade English translation of the articles in this series. It’s almost as if you wanted these articles to circulate broadly among Western audiences. Well, I guess your little scheme worked, because here we are, discussing it.
Now, I don’t want to detract from the actual contents of these articles. Assuming that everything is accurate, you have found legitimate examples of deception and, in one case, outright larceny. If this were meant as a gentle warning to travelers and businesspeople – the kind of thing you see very often over here – I probably wouldn’t give it a second thought. But then I read that leading paragraph again, and I suspect that your intentions are less noble.
Put it this way – remember that wave of xenophobia that hit China a year ago? That must have been great. Why, for a few weeks, everyone was pissed off at all those dirty foreigners and no one was talking about your systemic corruption. I bet the ongoing anti-Japanese sentiment has had a similar effect. You’ve rediscovered something that despotic governments have known for thousands of years – the best way to distract the people from your own faults is to direct their anger at outsiders.
But this one isn’t really working out so well, is it? You started on those articles months ago, and now that they’re actually catching fire, the response is broadly negative. Maybe it’s because the earlier anti-Western xenophobia had a more organic element to it, whereas this is you blatantly trying to engineer anger. Maybe it’s because the previous outrage was over foreigners in China, while this one is targeted at people here – making everyone wonder why you keep sending your children to study in a place that’s so “Immoral and Dishonest.” Maybe it’s that some of scandals have become so horrifying that it’s going to take more than a crooked locksmith to distract from them. Most likely, it’s a combination of all of these.
But really, the part of this that jumps out of me is the implication that the United States is uniquely hostile towards foreigners. This is the part where, if I were so inclined, I could present a couple dozen counterpoints. One point for every time someone from your country conned me or attempted to con me or conned someone I knew. Really though, anyone who’s every stayed in a Chinese hotel and seen the multilingual list of common grifts they leave in ever room could do the same. Instead, I’ll go with one statement that I feel summarizes everything that needs to be said:
I lived in a town in your country that was the target of a massive government investigation. Half the schools in the area – including my employer were investigated for abusing their workers, including illegally taking passports to keep people from leaving. To get my own passport back, I had to lie to no fewer than three public officials, telling them that I hadn’t seen anything underhanded.