Wendi Deng and a Western Fear of China

07/21/2011 05:53 pm ET | Updated Sep 20, 2011
  • Youyoung Lee Senior Editor of Development and Strategy, The Huffington Post

When Wendi Deng shock-slapped husband Rupert Murdoch's pie-throwing assailant with superlative speed on Tuesday, the media reaction was almost as swift and fierce as the woman herself. "Who is this mystery woman?" the internet seemed to cry out. Deng became an instant Twitter sensation, and the subject of subsequent profiles published in England's most prominent papers, from The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail. Some even attributed the 5 percent spike in News of the World shares to Mrs. Murdoch's unintentional comedy.

All in good fun, right?

But while the media delights in the slapstick entertainment of it all -- from #piegate hash tags and Tiger Mother memes to animated gifs and slo-mo reels -- a darker shade colors much of the commentary. In a day and age where Twitter commentators are as influential to public opinion as major news outlets, the sentiment runs the gamut from shock and awe to thinly-veiled racism and xenophobia not seen in New York media since Amy Chua published her "Tiger Mother" excerpt in the Wall Street Journal.

Moments after the incident, the Wikipedia entry on Wendi Deng was updated to:

"Wendi used her ninja background to ward off an attacker during her husband's questioning... The move is now being referred to as the Crouching Wendi, Hidden Dragon."

News anchor Katie Couric tweeted:

"Wow wendy murdoch giving whole new meaning to the term tiger mother...insanity!."

Later the same day, internet rag The Awl published the article "Wendi Deng's Five Best Enraged Expressions." Those livid expressions? Screengrabs of Wendi sitting at the Parliamentary hearing simply being... herself.

And today, The Daily Mail ran an article with the headline: "How Rupert's tiger wife clawed her way up... and caught her billionaire."

Some of it is admittedly pretty funny. But I can't imagine any other ethnicity getting the same treatment in the media as Asians have. Let's put it this way: if Murdoch's -- yes, third, and controversially younger -- wife were Nigerian, would the headlines read "Nubian Lioness Wife Roars To Protect Husband"?

Mockery aside, Wendi's "ruthless opportunist" way and "naked ambition," as The Daily Mail characterizes her, also reflect a looming Western paranoia of China and of a new world order. Examples of this fear of the reawakening superpower abound in today's media. For instance, when the results of the international standardized test PISA were published recently, experts were stunned by the Shanghai students' debut. "I've seen how relentless the Chinese are at accomplishing goals, and if they can do this in Shanghai in 2009, they can do it in 10 cities in 2019, and 50 cities by 2029," a former Department of Education official told The New York Times. For this, the Yale-educated and rags-to-riches Mrs. Murdoch could be the poster child.

In a CNN article titled "Twitter on fire with Murdoch wife Wendi" published yesterday, reader "BPcaresnot" nails this point home when writing that Wendi:

"carries the worst aspects of a lot of modern Chinese women.. aggressive, uncaring. greedy, selfish and cruel.. knowing she can get away with it because western men are like putty in the hands of an Asian hottie."

Ironically, perhaps the biggest prejudice brews in Wendi's native country -- China. Her righteous right-handed smackdown now considered a source of national pride, Wendi is a viral subject on the internets there. On the website Weibo, user "Jihua" opines that Wendi's act of defense adds "value to the image of Chinese wives."

"They have previously proved their ability to cook and run a business. Now they can add bodyguard."

To Jihua, I say: When did loyal and loving, as is all that Wendi's act was, not become enough?