“Most people think that Americans are honest, reliable and righteous. But once you live in the country for a while, you may discover the descriptions above are a bit misleading,” the People’s Daily warned its readers earlier this year.
Catchily headlined “Immoral and Dishonest Americans” a new column on the newspaper’s website has also been seeking to prove this rather contentious observation, featuring articles about frustrating encounters with Americans or with American firms.
The newspaper has also been urging readers to share their own experiences of dishonest Americans “to provide a more objective picture of what the US and Americans are really like”.
The series started with “Pricey Locksmith,” published on March 16 and telling the engrossing tale of a New York locksmith who demands $800 to come to his customers’ rescue.
The moral of the story? A craftsman’s honesty “directly reflects the level of integrity in a society,” the newspaper thundered.
Next up was some piffle about a payroll company that stole its client’s money and then the focus turned to the United Airlines staffer who prevented a passenger from boarding an overbooked plane.
“Their [UA] manner is worst when dealing with Chinese passengers, who are usually timid and reticent outside of China,” the newspaper fumed, citing “research” from its intrepid reporters.
Quite how the People’s Daily would react if the Washington Post sought to run a similar series on Chinese foibles doesn’t require much imagination.
But if the plan was to provoke anti-American fury among its readers, the effort appears to have backfired.
Instead, the stories were laughed off with netizens querying whether editors at the newspaper are suffering from “severe brain damage”.
In fact, the column has become a source of ridicule. “Our mouthpiece has become the watchdog of the US government. But maybe they should spend more time overseeing our own government,” scoffed one Sina Weibo user.
“If Americans are so immoral and untrustworthy why do so many government officials still send their wives and kids to the States?” questioned another.
On May 25, the People’s Daily also seems to have had a slight change of heart, modifying the title of the column to the less inflammatory “Americans That You Don’t Understand”, Hong Kong’s Apple Daily reports.
The online backlash provides an interesting backdrop to the meeting between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and President Obama this week. Diplomats say the meeting will set the tone for Sino-US relations for the foreseeable future, although the setting – a private estate in southern California – is a curious one. Analysts say the intention is to create a more intimate setting, giving the two men a chance to build their personal rapport. The fact Xi agreed to the informal setting is also being presented as a positive sign. Previous Chinese leaders have preferred more formal visits, gaining face from being entertained at the White House.
Of course, China’s own media says Xi’s gesture is a sign of his own “confidence”. Wen Wei Po reckons it also proves that the Chinese president is “full of new ideas, new concepts, and new vision,” adding that “the Xi-era is going to herald a new style of Chinese diplomacy”.
What will come out of the weekend’s meeting remains to be seen, but the Financial Times thinks the trip will be historic in signalling the shifting balance of global influence. “For the first time in a century, one could debate whether the US or the Chinese president is the more important of the two,” it observes. “Obama has less than four years left to serve while Xi is at the start of an expected 10-year term. By the time he steps down, China may be the world’s biggest economy.”
Other analysts say the key message that Xi wants the California summit to convey is less about himself and more about China being treated as America’s equal.
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