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.