Chinese Netizens on U.S. Government Shutdown: We Want One of Our Own

This is a guest post from Liz Carter, a senior contributor to FP's Tea Leaf Nation. 

As the U.S. federal government hurtles into shutdown mode, many in the United States have responded with anger or shame; here at FP, for instance, Gordon Adams compares the congressional bickering that gave rise to the shutdown to Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors.

Americans would be forgiven for assuming that observers in China, whose government is not averse to showcasing U.S. government failures to burnish the ruling Communist Party's image, are watching all this and indulging in schadenfreude. Instead, both China's state-run and private-but-state-supervised mainstream media outlets have thus far reacted with restraint. Meanwhile, users of the country's bustling, often candid, often profane social web have found a silver lining in the political paralysis that would surprise many Americans.

Mainstream coverage of the shutdown has been widespread, but its tone has been explanatory, not celebratory. State-run China Central Television covered the developments in a several-minute-long segment entitled, "Republicans' and Democrats' Contest Without Result: U.S. Federal Government Non-essential Departments Forced to Close." Sina, one of China's major news portals, prepared a dedicated page covering the shutdown (see above), complete with infographics and listicles explaining its causes and consequences. The page's most febrile headline accompanied a relatively workmanlike article: "Exclusive Analysis: Two-party Government Stalemate Holds America Hostage." Even an article on the reliably pro-Party Global Times posited that while failure to resolve the standoff before Oct. 15 could have negative consequences for global financial markets, the possibility that this would happen was less than 10 percent.

In Chinese social media, meanwhile, the government shutdown became an opportunity to criticize the Chinese government. Chatter ran deep: the Chinese equivalent of "#USGovernmentShutdown" rose to the second-most discussed topic on all of Sina Weibo, a popular social media platform, as of this writing. Weibo users have commented on the topic more than 135,000 times.

Perhaps predictably, some web users cracked jokes about how trash would pile up in Washington, D.C. and public bathroom closures would present problems for citizens with indigestion. But many took the opportunity to discuss how the U.S. government shutdown reflected on China itself.

Some veiled their critiques. Xu Jilin, a professor of history at East China Normal University in Shanghai, wrote, "The government has shut down, but the country is not in disorder -- now that's what you call a good country where people can live without worry."

The gridlock itself, decried by most commentators in the U.S., struck many Chinese as a sign of lawfulness. As one user remarked, "A government that can shut down, no matter how big the impact on everyone's lives, is a good thing. It shows that power can be checked, and the government can't spend money however it wants."

Most users, while critical of the U.S. tendency to borrow from China, did not see the shutdown as a sign that democracy was inherently flawed. One user, @HeYanbin, described the issue as one of tradeoffs:

It is clear that there is an economic cost for the fairness and equality of a rule-of-law system and constitutionalism. Only then is it a true democracy; the shutdown is just the result of a two-party standoff. Only in this kind of society do you have rule and order, not tyranny. China isn't like that. The government runs extremely smoothly -- no need at all to worry that it might shut down. In this regard, I envy the U.S.

Others took more direct aim at their own government. As one user noted, "Comrades, no need to worry that the same thing will happen in our country!  In any event, delegates in our National People's Congress [China's rubber-stamp legislature] cannot cast dissenting votes, haha." Another wrote, "I wish China's government would shut down and let corrupt officials have a taste of it."

The growing connections between China and the United States mean that no issue is strictly domestic for either country. Many Weibo users speculated about the effects the U.S. government shutdown would have on them personally. Some wondered whether Washington's museum and zoo closures would affect Chinese traveling to the United States during China's National Day holiday (Oct. 1 marks the anniversary -- this year, the 64th -- of the founding of the People's Republic of China, and is one of the most popular times for Chinese to travel abroad). Others questioned how the shutdown would affect their visa applications, or the value of the U.S. dollar. On Netease, a popular news site with active comment forums, the top comment related to the shutdown put it in perspective: "No one is laughing at the United States; they just find it very interesting." That's not precisely true, but Americans may be heartened to know that it's close enough.



So, Apple, You're Now the World's Top Brand: Here's the Fate That Awaits You

On Monday, Apple (and, in second place, Google) surpassed Coca-Cola as the most valuable brand in the world according to an annual report by the consultancy Interbrand -- a title the beverage behemoth has claimed since the start of the report's run 13 years ago. It's the end of an era in which Coca-Cola's international ubiquity and global recognition seemed untouchable. By dint of its links to American culture, the soda has occupied an often bizarre place in political movements around the world, frequently serving as an expression of solidarity with -- or distaste for -- the West and the capitalist culture it exports. A verb was even coined to reflect the beverage's association with cultural imperialism: to "coca-colonize" means to "bring (a foreign country) under the influence of U.S. trade, popular culture, and attitudes." Here's a look back at some of Coke's most memorable cameos in international relations.

Post-War Reconstruction in France: Poujadism, the movement that gave rise to the term coca-colonization, emerged out of resistance to the rapid urbanization and industrialization that post-World War II reconstruction brought to France in the 1950s, and took aim at both crippling inflation and an influx of foreign -- especially American -- goods that squeezed local industries. Poujadism's anti-Americanism climaxed, absurdly, with rumors that Coca-Cola had bought Notre-Dame cathedral, intending to cover its western façade with a billboard.

One of the first known uses of the term coca-colonization dates back to 1949, when the French Communist party introduced a bill banning the importation and sale of Coca-Cola in France, warning of "an immediate menace to our production of wines, of aperitifs with a wine base," and other drinks. "This grave danger resides in the methodical, powerful organization of a massive Coca-Cola invasion of France," an explanation attached to the bill read.

The Cold War: In January 1985, the Soviet government struck a deal with the president of Coca-Cola at the time, Donald R. Keough, that gave the company permission to officially sell its products in the Soviet Union, ending Pepsi's monopoly in the country. But Coke had made inroads in the country well before then. Marshal Georgi Zhukov, a Soviet war hero, used to order specially made Coca-Cola so that he wouldn't be seen drinking an "American imperialist symbol." Dwight Eisenhower had introduced Zhukov to the beverage and Zhukov, in an effort to avoid Joseph Stalin's disapproval, had a chemist at Coca-Cola remove the caramel color from the drink and put it in a clear bottle with a red star. Zhukov received 50 cases of White Coke in his first shipment.

In November 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, Coca-Cola understood the symbolic implications of the moment, taking the opportunity to hand out free Coke to East Germans walking into West Berlin.

The Iraq War: The soda's symbolism remained potent into the 21st century, as Coca-Cola-themed demonstrations cropped up against the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. University organization in Nicaragua arranged "One Day Without Coca Cola" as part of a spate of protests and boycotts of other American products, and a banned rebel group in India targeted stores that sold Coca-Cola (as well as Pepsi) in raids that ended with a bombing of one of the stores. In Thailand, protesters dumped Coca-Cola into the streets, and sales of the beverage were temporarily suspended over the invasion.

The United States, of course, is intimately familiar with beverage politics: one of the most iconic demonstrations in American history, the Boston Tea Party, was a rejection of the British injustices that tea and the East India Company had come to symbolize for American colonists. In much the same way, Coca-Cola has become synonymous with American imperialism, making its consumption the subject of attacks by anti-American leaders from Hugo Chávez to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. California-based Apple may not fully step into the symbolic role that Coca-Cola has long played -- $500 smartphones aren't as likely to be smashed in the street, after all -- but the world's newest most valuable brand is surely subject to some of the same unsavory associations with the United States that made Coca-Cola a simultaneously loved and despised brand worldwide.

iPhone-colonization, anyone?