Tuesday, April 11, 2017

That United Airlines Video is Bad for the Airline. It's Worse, Much Worse for America.

The video of hired muscle dragging a terrified Chinese American guy off a United Airlines jetliner in Chicago has raised quite a stir but America being America it'll be down the Memory Hole in a day or two - at least in the United States. Foreign Policy's James Palmer writes that for the Boys from Beijing, the video and the racist overtones it carries are manna from Heaven.

For the last decade, the Chinese internet has been wracked by civil war over America, with one side increasingly aided by the heavy artillery of censorship. To listen to one side, the United States is the home of all things good: freedom, clean air, a welfare state (Europeans may boggle a little bit at this thought, but in comparison with China, the United States is a paragon of Scandinavian generosity to its needy), and pornography on tap.

To listen to the other, the United States is hypocritical, torn by racial and political strife, crime-ridden, and, on top of all that, far too expensive. In both cases, the real subject under discussion is often the Chinese government and how inferior or superior it is to the U.S. system. After reading a few thousand of these comments, I am always inclined to proclaim the virtues of, say, Belgium.

It’s against this backdrop that the video took on its ideological power. The arbitrary use of force is common in China, particularly in the countryside and among the poor. The police themselves are rarely the main instigators; instead, the brunt of everyday thuggery is done by the chengguan — urban militia tasked with cleaning up the streets, whose job regularly brings them into conflict with small traders and stall owners. In this recent video, for instance, a chengguan is casually smashing up people’s property.

Apart from the chengguan, private security forces, or bao’an, do their share of thuggery. Videos showing uniformed brutes kicking some poor peddler’s teeth in regularly flare online — inevitably accompanied by comments that this wouldn’t happen in the United States.

For the anti-Americans, therefore, the United video was a gift. See, they proclaimed gleefully, America isn’t the great home of democracy and human rights! Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Washington fans! Imagine the delight of Democrats when a Republican politician is caught soliciting sex acts in a public bathroom; the smug delight in the other side’s hypocrisy exposed.

This might all seem inconsequential squabbling, but it’s taken very seriously by the Chinese Communist Party. Belief in the American way — however na├»ve — is one of the only remaining forces that can unite large swaths of Chinese across the nation against the party line. The authorities can crush churches, block environmental groups, and imprison lawyers, but they can’t end the cultural hold of America over the mind of a huge number of Chinese.

Thus, the two narratives around the United video come together neatly to serve the authorities’ ends. Not only is America hypocritical and violent, but it will never treat Chinese with the respect they deserve. Hence the video will, inevitably, be backed up by newspaper editorials proclaiming this line until the whole affair is forgotten by the weekend after next — but leaving, thankfully for the government, another trace of animus in the recesses of the public mind.

The United video with its racist overtones also plays directly into China's powerful and lasting "Century of Humiliation" meme. Relatively obscure to most Westerners, the Century of Humiliation is deeply embedded in China's rulers, particularly its military caste. Or, if pdf reports aren't your thing, you can watch a short, two-part documentary on the subject here and here.

In America, the United Airlines incident may just be another bit of sensational controversy with the lifespan of a fruit fly. In China it may leave scars.


Toby said...

It's not just the Chinese. Tourism to America has been going down since Trump's travel ban. Those who are already hesitating may decide to go to Portugal.

The Mound of Sound said...

It certainly does nothing to quell the "ugly American" sentiment that has crept in since the US became a permanent warfare state. Americans decry fundamentalism - religious, social, even political - in the Muslim world even as a degree of a similar fundamentalism has become established in the States, particularly since the 9/11 tragedies. The rise of authoritarianism in government and the decline of liberal democracy; the rise of the surveillance state and decline in the rights and freedoms of the individual; the militarization of police agencies; the spread of social Darwinism accompanied by increasing inequality - of income, wealth and inequality; the waning of press freedom and the rise of fake news and other forms of disinformation - these all evidence a darkness in our southern neighbour that we may not often dwell on but nonetheless carry in us some awareness. Trump's election showed that the American people are not particularly troubled by these trends and certainly not insistent that they be reversed. Perhaps they're nearing some sort of societal "rock bottom." Perhaps this will change and there will be an American restoration, possibly founded on progressivism. For now, however, that seems a remote prospect.

Toby said...

This could be fun:

"News of the assault spread worldwide, reaching 160 million readers on China’s Weibo, a kind of Twitter. The man was initially identified as Chinese, and China is highly sensitive to perceived American racism. United sees itself as the top U.S. carrier to China, the Financial Times reports. There is now a Chinese online petition to boycott United." Heather Mallick


The Mound of Sound said...

That figure of 160 million was a morning number, Toby. By the afternoon it stood at over 330 million. Who knows what it hit today.

the salamander said...

.. the United Airlines assault on a seated customer.. plus subsequent smearing seems an apt metaphor for the overall status quo in the good old Land of the Free - Home of the Brave.. We should thank President Donahawk Drumph for bringing the ignorant out of their hiding places and revealing just how many Americans are actually just like him - ie ignorant scumbags.. though with less money to accomplish his level of scumbaggery. This all points to a failing, flailing nation in complete decline.. in fact, rotten to the core, faux christian, thriving only by watching tv, seemingly unable to read or process reality.. likely hooked on opiates or synthetic medicines. But they have aircraft carriers, nuclear subs, plenty of ammo and there's no tonic like a good old fashioned war, to prop up an overfed gaggle of bullshit artists aka the GOP

The recent hasty departure of a fool of an Alabama Governer, enchanted by his congressional aide mistress is another metaphor representing the idiocy of American voters.. They keep voting for fools and liars, frauds & charlatans, but then again it seems they register what Party they will vote for down there, at birth, or perhaps before they're born, which coincidentally is when they begin purchasing weaponry and ammo. It seems important to them to bear arms, to beat off stray bears or immigrants, who strangely may resemble their parents or grandparents who immigrated back in prehistoric times about a generation or two ago.

How to explain a nation that ends up electing a twisted greedy compulsive lying oaf & serial bankrupt fraud named Trump who's grandfather was named Drumph ? It does defy belief ! The Chinese must be hurting themselves laughing.. as are the Soviets. Our Canadian government should be saying 'no comment' and along with stifling their laughter, buying a corporate membership at Mar A Lago in order to communicate with the fool from Brooklyn

The Mound of Sound said...

Hi, Sal. I expect in most societies there is a significant strata of the populace given to ignorance, bigotry, intolerance, illogic, greed, violence and disregard of decency and principle. That certainly would describe a segment of our own citizenry. Yet stable societies governed by liberal democracy usually have this social detritus in a safe minority, kept well distant of the levers of power. In post 9/11 America, these castoffs, let's call them White Trash, have broken through those traditional barriers. They were courted at first by establishment Republicans as easy votes but the mainstream then lost control and was consumed by its own foolishness. Extreme became the norm and once centre-right Republican legislators discovered survival meant migrating to the radical right.

All of which is why I must regularly force myself to remember that there remains a sizeable core of good, honest, informed Americans, people of conscience, who now find themselves captives in this mutated state. A few have pulled up stakes and relocated to other nations. Most have either chosen to stay and fight back or simply have not the opportunity to look elsewhere. That said, I have been surprised, disappointedly surprised by a few I've known for many years who I never knew to be racist or bigoted or xenophobic who have now slipped away to the dark side.

There was a time when I believed in the lasting power of certain basic decencies. My faith in that has been deeply shaken. What lies ahead? I don't know.

Dana said...

Speaking of Alabama, their state Senate appears to be on the verge of granting a christian dominionist/reconstructionist megachurch in Birmingham the right to form their own police force.

Once formed and in operation the former governors pickle pickle will never be allowed to happen again. nudge nudge wink wink

Anonymous said...

When I saw the bleeding passenger re-appear on the aircraft, I wondered if he was disoriented due to a concussion. Turns out my suspicions were right. According to his lawyer:

Dao, who was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday night, suffered a significant concussion, a broken nose and lost two front teeth in the incident, and he will need to undergo reconstructive surgery.

David Dao, a 69-year-old Vietnamese-American doctor, described being dragged off the flight as "more terrifying than his experience fleeing Vietnam in 1975."