• dmjohnston3

A Crisis of Harmony: King Know-it-All


This is a post that began with an SCMP article on Chinese-made Donald Trump kitsch that they are still selling in China. This creates a conundrum for me. Much like the documentary itself, I really want to make this post series politically neutral, even as I knew that this was going to be impossible. Let's be real, here - we all know where this started.


So let's drop the pretext for a moment and talk Trump. God willing, this will be the only time I have to do this.


The SCMP article suggests that Chinese people have a complex relationship with Trump, but that's not quite true - they see him as despicable but also ridiculous, which is not at all an unusual perspective in the United States either. The main difference is how we express these feelings. Americans are fond of that signature word salad that, courtesy of Trump's Twitter ban, is now but a memory. The Chinese prefer caricature, such as the above - drawn by one of my interview subjects (Lü Xue, the one featured in the most recent extended interview) in 2019.


I could do a whole series and perhaps even another documentary about Trump and China, and maybe one day - when the wounds are finally healed and I have the clout and gear to do it properly - I'll take a stab at it. For now, here's the short course:


Chinese people ask Americans about Trump - if you've been here at all in the last four years, you know this. When my parents visited in January 2020, everyone from my friends to random taxi drivers asked then questions about him. Usually it's not hostile - while the Chinese universally loathe the man (save one person who told me he hoped that Trump would win re-election because he figured Trump's incompetence was good for China's growth), such questions are usually asked with a laugh. People here never took him seriously.


Saying this, I do have to amend something from A Crisis of Harmony. I said that the Chinese don't hold state actions against individual Americans, but the truth is a little more nuanced. In any democratic society, people are going to associate the government and the people a little more closely, even one with elections as messy as ours. I have a hard enough time explaining American federalism and the Electoral College to Britons - the Chinese are totally lost on this point. Throw in the general slyness of registered Republicans in China (who won't outright lie, but are happy to let Chinese people think that Trump was a Democrat), and you have a situation that's confusing all around.


All in all, the Chinese view of Trump has always been the same as the American view circa 2015 - as someone clearly awful and potentially dangerous, but mostly a source of camp humor. I haven't gone digging into Amazon to see if "King Know-it-All" or any of the other kitsch objects described in the SCMP article are for sale there, but even if they are I doubt that they're selling well. Given what we know about what the man tried to do, he just ain't funny at the moment. Maybe in the coming years, when the threat of the fringe right is behind us, we can find things like this funny again. But the Chinese - boy, they never quit laughing.

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