Chris and Kathleen Matthews in Hangzhou, China
Chris and Kathleen Matthews in Hangzhou, China

American Chris Matthews, star of MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, recently visited China — and it “shook” him. In a piece for his show’s blog entitled, “The 10 Days in China that Shook Me“, Matthews redefines parachute journalism and brings new depth to negative stereotypes surrounding Americans travelling abroad.

I try not to be “that” China expat. The guy that sits around picking apart the minutia of things that American media (personalities) gets wrong about China. I try, but I’m about to fail. Maybe it’s because my nerves are twitching from my 5th cup of coffee, maybe it’s just the breadth of patronizing ignorance, or maybe it’s just because it’s Tuesday. Whatever it is, I couldn’t let this article slide without a bit of a rant.


Here in New York, what we proudly call the “Big Apple,” there are eight million people. In China there are eight cities as big as New York: Guangzhou, a city I had never heard of, has 13 million; Beijing, the capital: 18 million; Shanghai: 23 million.

Yeah, Guangzhou, don’t feel bad, it’s hardly known. Someone should really start a We The People petition to get that changed back to Canton. It’d be immediately more recognizable as the place Cantonese language and Cantonese food, and probably Szechwan food, comes from.

The country has 20 cities as big as Los Angeles, nearly 50 as large as my hometown of Philadelphia! Kathleen and I spent time in the resort town of Hangzhou, China’s version of Lake George up in New York. Even it had six and a half million people.

These cities are not what you’d think. Yes, there’s lots of drab buildings and entangled, congested freeways. But even Beijing has its old lakeside neighborhoods. Shanghai is like a grander Chicago, an architect’s delight. (I say that as one who loves Chicago.) It’s got a skyline that’s gone up in four years, and five miles of the old French part of town, block after block, where you think you’re somewhere in France itself.

I’m going to let Hangzhou being called a “resort town” slide. I’m more curious what it is Chris imagined we’d think about Chinese cities without his insight and explanation. He seems to believe that once the communists took power they outlawed building apartment complexes next to bodies of water (bourgeois if I’ve ever…). I’ll give him that Shanghai has some fantastic architecture, I’ve never heard of Chicago but I’m sure it’s nice as well. It’s been a few years since I’ve been down to the Bund, but I’m pretty certain that if he arrived anytime after late last century, there was an instantly identifiable skyline just across the Huangpu.

And guess what? The Chinese love it. In all the big cities, you see giant billboards for designer products from Europe, their look as elegantly continental as the showpiece ads here in mid-town New York.

One wonders what ads in Europe might look like. Do they even have ads? People probably just spread product knowledge via cafes. More likely, designer in-the-know is just in-the-blood. Good thing Europeans allow Americans and Asians to put up elegantly continental ads.

I get the idea that the Chinese consumer likes getting their hamburgers from McDonald’s, their chicken and French fries from KFC, their java from Starbucks. But their notions of style are European and continental, just like us.

Their rising obesity epidemic is likewise similar. In all seriousness, can you even get fries at a KFC in China? Maybe it’s just us schmucks in third-tier cities (the size of Philadelphia) that aren’t being granted access to the New China conveniences of fries with fried chicken.

There’s a lot of confidence in their booming country. I can see why. The construction doesn’t stop on weekends. If you figure we humans reach full-size at age 18, I’d say China is about five and growing fast. It’s nowhere near where it’s going to be–and not that many years off.

Credit for the day’s best backhanded compliment.

A couple things surprised me. It’s called a Communist country, but there is nothing like the universal safety net we have for seniors here in America. No Social Security, no Medicare, just whatever a person’s home village provides. It’s very catch as catch can.

Don’t tell my retired mother-in-law, she’s been cashing her pension cheques and getting 80% medical coverage from the government for a while now and would be crushed to learn that it’s all been a figment of her imagination. Oh, but she is one of the millions and millions of people you mentioned earlier who lives in a massive city and not a village. Perhaps it’s different in the villages.

But it’s not a free country obviously. There are no civil rights. The government does what it wishes. People put up with it. But one thing we have to know is that the government and the people agree on one issue: China itself. They want China to have all of China, all of what they see as historically China’s.

Obviously. Wait, what? I’m not going to jump into this too far and provide even more troll bait, but with about 150-200,000 mass incidents a year, I’d hardly call that “putting up with it.”

The one reaction I experienced in my 10 days in today’s China: respect. Profound respect for what this country has done with itself in such an incredibly short time–and it’s only just begun.

Well, as much respect as you can give a group of people who you’ve just explained are helpless Europe-obsessed, burger-loving 5-year-olds who are quite happy to work endless hours and put up with abuse and a lack of civil rights so long as they have access to lake views and 5 miles of left-over French colonialism to look at. Whether you date it at ~5,000 years, ~60 years, ~30 years or ~10 years … it’s hardly just begun because you finally bought a business class ticket and did a follow-the-flag tour, you clueless twit.


Thanks for indulging me.


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  2. Yeah, more or less the reaction I had to reading that semi-literate piece of trash. Shouldn’t someone in Matthews’ position have at least a little knowledge of China?

  3. Don’t worry about it so much, hardly anyone pays attention to Chris Matthews anymore.

    Besides writing the cliched decade-old late ‘wow China is so capitalist and developing now’ column, I’m really surprised that he hasn’t heard of Guangzhou. I get that not everyone has heard of Hainan or even Shenzhen, but shouldn’t a journalist who follows world affairs at least be able to look up that Guangzhou is Canton and know the city?? Come on get it together Matthews.

  4. Holy fuck:

    “In China there are eight cities as big as New York: Guangzhou, a city I had never heard of…”

    A major newspaper needs to make this guy their China correspondent, pronto. Drop him anywhere in China, give him a weekly column. I’d read it religiously.

    • send him horse-back to the tea plantations of anhua, hunan… hoping he’ll stop by the shipyard at majitang and report back on the costumes of the tree loggers 😉

      putting someone like this in ‘the catabombs’ of changping would rock, too…

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  6. “I couldn’t let this article slide” so …
    “I’ve never heard of Chicago” LOL
    “One wonders what ads in Europe might look like. Do they even have ads?” LOL
    “can you even get fries at a KFC in China?” LOL

    Matthews’ piece and yours both displayed cluelessness.

  7. China most certainly does not have 20 cities as big as Los Angeles. The common exaggerations of the size of Chinese cities which you hear are due to the way that Chinese statistics for the population of cities will include huge areas around the cities which are in the same administrative unit.

    China might have two or three cities comparable to Los Angeles in size, if that.

    • Granted, it’s Wikipedia, but the Wikipedia page on Chinese city populations separates “Urban Area” from “Administrative Area” (much like City of Los Angeles, 3.9m, can be separated from the Los Angeles Metropolitan area, 12.8m). Using those numbers, which I’m guessing Matthews did, there are bang-on 20 above LA’s population. Definitely open to considering better numbers, but as tight a race as it is, “opinion on Internet” comes in just slightly below “Chinese ‘official’ figures” and “Wikipedia ‘facts'” for validity.

      • Ok, but hang on now, isn’t the Los Angeles Metropolitan area basically the urban area made up of Los Angeles and its suburbs?

        This is quite different than the administrative area of Chinese cities, which often includes open countryside and other towns and villages.

        I seriously doubt that the urban area of Los Angeles only has 4 million people, I think 12 million sounds much more reasonable, and I think we should compare its metropolitan area against the “urban areas” of Chinese cities. Only a handful of Chinese cities can beat it on this count.

        • I think what you’re trying to say is that we should look at what the core “city” is and not the larger “administrative area”, and with LA, that would be the City of Los Angeles. The City of Los Angeles has a population of 3.8m people, the County of Los Angles has about 10m people, but includes 88 incorporated cities all together (both the “Los Angeles metropolitan area”, 12.8m, and the “Greater Los Angles Area”, ~18m, are larger and more city-inclusive still).

          If we compare this to Dalian, #20 on that list, we have an “urban area” population of ~4m, and an administrative region population of ~6.6m. However, looking a bit closer, to get that 4m, I suspect that number is taking the whole population of the Dalian administrative area (~6.7m) and adjusting for the roughly 60% of it that is “non-farming”. However, if we just take the population of the central Dalian city’s 4 districts, we get a population closer to 2m (this excludes Lvshun and Jinzhou districts, as well as the Kaifaqu SEZ, which I think is technically “in” Jinzhou).

          So yep, if we do the math like that, we’re looking at City (center) of LA with 3.8m and Dalian city (proper) with around 2m, LA is bigger than #20 on the list. This puts Dalian more on par with Houston, the 4th most populated city in the US, and edging on Chicago’s #3 position. All of that is to say, I think of all the points Matthews makes in this piece that I have a problem with, this is the one I find least objectionable.

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