The now-infamous Super Bowl ad by Michigan senate candidate Pete Hoekstra has attracted as much curiosity as outright criticism here in China, the intended “subject” of the ad.
However, a second feeling accompanied the anger: deja vu.
Chinese in general have become largely used to China-bashing during U.S. election campaign season. The last congressional cycle, in 2010, saw a torrent of ads accusing China of stealing American jobs and forcing U.S. factories to close.
The popular Web site Shanghaiist called the ad “creepy” and “racist.”
Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, played it straight with a news report about the controversy. But the first sentence of the story referred to the commercial as “a racially charged political advertisement run by former U.S. Congressman Pete Hoekstra during the Super Bowl.”
Well-known blogger and Internet freedom campaigner Michael Anti weighed in on his Twitter account @mranti, saying, “I think the problem with the ad is that it’s racist, not anti-Chinese. As a Chinese I should be amused by this ad, because it seems more like Southeast Asia. But Chinese in America are easily enraged by that sort of prejudicial defamation of the image of a Chinese woman. Also, her English is not the Chinglish of a Mainland Chinese.”
On Sina Weibo, the most popular of China’s microblogging sites, one poster said, “The video makes me so angry.”
But as Anti noted, much of the curiosity was over the scene — a supposedly Chinese woman peddling a bicycle with what looks like a Vietnamese cone-shaped hat, in a lush green rice field that more resembled Vietnam’s Mekong Delta paddies than anything in modern China.
And, Hoekstra’s ad-makers apparently even got some of the Chinese characters wrong. On the Web site for the ad, the Chinese characters for “Great Wall of Debt” are wrong, according to Washington Post researcher Liu Liu in Beijing. Also, the ad oddly uses traditional Chinese characters more typical in Taiwan, instead of the simplified characters in use in mainland China.
Hoekstra received plenty of backlash after the ad aired in some markets during the Super Bowl, but that likely won’t quiet the anti-Chinese chorus. In the Republican primary debates, candidates have taken turns bashing China for manipulating its currency and engaging in unfair trade practices, and promising to get tough, with Mitt Romney being the toughest. (The exception was Jon Hunstman, a former ambassador to China who dropped out and endorsed Romney).
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