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Yellow Peril Or Power? China Reconsidered (Again)

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In my less-than-humble estimation, American media coverage of China tends to slant one of two ways: toward fat, happy and unquestioning globalization, or small-minded, unblinking provincialism. Both are born of dangerously naïve First World Entitlement -- it's not so much "we're better than you" as it is "we are the world -- and what the world wants is for you to stop poisoning its babies, polluting its earth and turning Asia into one giant autonomous region plastered with a FRAGILE HANDLE WITH CARE sign."

But I guess we are talking about America, where entitlement is a surefire indicator of moral fortitude. Not to mention, the source of some truly sparkling dinner party repartee. "Judy, your Singapore Slings are to die for. Won't you regale me with more yarns of your time in the Orient? The natives sound positively delightful."

All of the above make it sound like I'm proposing a dialing down of China coverage. When, actually, the opposite is true. What the world really needs now is more China coverage. Talking heads to drown out the talking heads. Better to oversaturate than to underrepresent -- isn't that the American way?

Seriously though, why hitch our wagons to falling stars? In gleefully playing the role of Global Proprietor/Provocateur, Old Media invariably elides the very pulse of China's achy, breaky cosmopolitan heart -- the sputtering, blustery, insecure, irrepressible, burgeoning middle and upper-middle class.

These are the dispossessed -- perhaps not politically or socially, and certainly not economically, but often culturally and ideologically -- whose frayed edges and inconvenient truths aren't always sexy, but capture the New China more accurately than a thousand headlines of spoiled milk ever could.

They're also my colleagues, my frenemies and my friends, whose notions of what it means to be authentically, irrevocably Chinese often bristle against my dyed-in-the-wool first-generation Chinese-American sensibilities. Whose ups, downs and sometimes diagonal ways of thinking I hope to convey in this space -- along with, say, why karaoke is simultaneously the most revealing and -- gasp -- democratized of all quintessentially Chinese pastimes. Or how the road to socialism with Chinese characteristics no longer goes through Mao, but Yao (yes, the basketball player). Also on the menu is a steady diet of indignities I've had to suffer as a Chinese foodie. Suffice it to say, I've got an appetite for destruction, but have only begun to scrape the plate.

Not that I'm some bastion of immovable journalistic credibility, mind you. I do, after all, host a science and tech show for an English-language channel in Shanghai (basically Chinese television's equivalent of Bill Nye the Science Guy, minus the knowledge), rocking on-air glasses that don't even have lenses in them. Why? Because I care about the truth -- and I don't need no stinkin' lenses to cloud my vision. That, and, well, my superiors seem to think it makes me appear more camera-genic (such is the hard-knock life of a sublebrity in China).

Still, my truth is not yours, nor that of my parents' generation, and certainly not the vast majority of China's citizens. So I won't pretend to be the ultimate authority on all things China; that's the job of some blowhard who gets the superficial, super-official title of "China correspondent." I will, however, attempt to set the record straight whenever the Grumpy Old Media has it back-asswards. Mostly, though, it'll be me being recklessly bloggy, hoping to loosen the stranglehold on China coverage with my own screwball, lived-in logic. Consider yourselves warned.

Like most things in China, Chi's blog is currently under construction (but coming soon!). In the meantime, he can be reached at ctung82@gmail.com.