“China” as the Demonized Other

China is everywhere in today’s headlines, whether it is the trade war, the Chinese government’s assimilation camps for Uyghurs, Xi Jinping’s “dictatorship,” or the conspiracy theories following the mysterious disappearance of Fan Bingbing. No matter the topic, all these articles associate China with the same thing: Communism.

The trope of China as a superpower is far from a new one. After all, China was arguably the most advanced civilization for a thousand years. China as a threat, however, can be traced back to the Chinese Communist Revolution in the 1940’s. Despite economic transformation and the emergence of China as a regional superpower, China is arguably portrayed as even more threatening in contemporary society. Perhaps this proves that America will never be fully willing to allow another country to become the global hegemon; China will always be something Other.

I am not defending China’s actions. Rather, I find it ironic that America claims to be the beacon of democracy and liberty.

Let’s start with the disappearance of Fan Bingbing. Fan Bingbing is China’s most famous, highest paid actress and the fifth highest paid actress in the world. Around June, investigations began after reports said that she was committing tax fraud through yin-yang contracts. These contracts lists a lower salary on the contract than the salary that is actually paid to Fan Bingbing, which means she has been receiving tens–if not hundreds–of millions of dollars extra due to evasion of taxes. She has not been seen in the public eye for three months. Recent reports confirm that Fan Bingbing has been arrested, and perhaps even banned from acting again.

Critics claim that the Chinese government has brainwashed its citizens so that no one blinks at the disappearance of Fan Bingbing. While it is true that the government does restrict media, the magnitude of this restriction is far exaggerated. It’s as if people do not know that:

  • VPNs exist and are used widely in China.
  • Weibo is a massive hub of information, functioning like China’s twitter and is difficult to control by the Chinese government
  • China holds 1.3 billion people…it’s way too difficult to control everyone

In reality, a typical day living in China does not feel substantially different in terms of freedom than in the U.S. Hardly anyone is hyper aware of the government spying over them.

When people make a generalization that living in China is a life without any liberty, a life of control and propaganda, it parallels how many local Chinese people believe that gun violence is a daily threat for a typical person in the U.S. While it is true that gun violence is an issue of importance, it would be false to say that the common person living in the U.S. witnesses, experiences, or knows people who experience gun violence every day. Similarly, it is ostentatious to claim that in an everyday life living in China, one would experience the government knocking on the door to enforce rules and arrest someone for using the internet.

I would argue that living in China is not any worse than living in the United States. Yes, Uyghur assimilation camps do exist, but so do immigration detention camps that serve a similar purpose. Yes, the Chinese government does block Google, but the U.S. has hyper-polarization in the media. Yes, the Chinese government’s actions toward Fan Bingbing are obviously not the best, but the criminal justice system in America is far worse and expansive. Yes, China may do XYZ undesirably, but the U.S. is probably not much better, or is worse in another area.

Ultimately, it is okay to criticize, but often, criticism comes with hypocrisy. Unless America can confront its hypocrisy and double standards, there will be no progress on human rights and civil liberties.

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