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Obama / China

June 18, 2012

Most people we’ve met in China don’t follow American politics all that closely, but just about everyone is aware that right now there’s a presidential campaign going on in the United States.  However, no one has much interest in Mitt Romney, despite his great wealth, his Mormonism, and the general attention he’s been getting as the presumptive Republican candidate.  

Obama artwork in Hangzhou

Instead, what everyone we meet in China wants to know is what we think of Obama and whether we’re going to vote for him the next time around.  Over here, he’s seen as a transformative figure, perhaps even more so than by Americans, if that is possible.  Along with Hillary Clinton, who is quite popular here among Chinese women, especially, it is Obama whose face most often appears on T-shirts and posters and who has become perhaps the most iconic political figure here since the heavy propaganda era of 1949-1976 produced the Chairman Mao cult.  Students in China study Obama’s speeches, and school debate teams analyze, admire, and imitate his rhetorical stylings.

By contrast, the current generation of Chinese bureaucrats and high government officials currently lack, and for the most part seem to avoid, publicity (exception: see the flamboyant lately discredited and probably imprisoned Bo Xilai, former leader of Chongqing province). These days, high officials seem to eschew the iconic stature of the former party Leader, evidently preferring instead to secure their own power and privilege more discreetly.  And of course, retail politics (and its associated campaigning) is more or less unheard of in these parts, as power is usually transferred in non-transparent ways, well beyond the view of ordinary Chinese people.

As our Chinese counterparts have observed to us, Obama has made an enormous difference on the world stage.  They are only surprised that many Americans have not taken the time more fully to notice the ways that folks beyond our borders now see the United States in a new light because of his election.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mark Twombly permalink
    June 18, 2012 9:10 pm

    The irony is that many Americans view Obama’s international popularity as a negative. Just one more reason to criticize and distrust him. Go figure.

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