China blogs are all reporting Chinese reactions to the US election (and appropriately so). In combing through Weibo, news sites, and English translations, I have not seen many noteworthy reactions. Sure, there are those who will say “If only China could have an election,” but such statements in China are essentially trite; the equivalent of saying, in developed countries, “If only gas prices would go down.” One could interpret this in such a way as to warrant the headline “Chinese Citizens Watch US Election with Admiration and Envy,” but that is perhaps a little too self-congratulatory, even misleading.
A friend on Weibo forwarded the Chinese Wall Street Journal article “US Election: The Pornography of China’s Netizens?” Despite the enticing title, it said nothing provocative but did remark on one Atlantic article that claimed the US election was a national embarrassment. One Chinese person commented, “I’ve waited 63 years and still don’t know how to vote. Who should feel embarrassed?” (Also noteworthy: the friend who posted this article only wished to say, “This title is so gei-li [cool].”)
The US election was an event that took place overseas, one that happens to coincide with China’s transition of power this week. The two events’ juxtaposition serve as a gentle yet sour reminder of the two countries’ differences. But believe me, the likelihood of the US election enlightening and inspiring Chinese citizens into actively seeking change is extremely low. In Beijing, police cars are patrolling with lights flashing on every street; Gmail and other foreign-based sites have slowed to a near stand-still; not long ago, a working family man was sentenced to eight years in jail for establishing a political chat forum online.
Indeed, Chinese people admire the fact that Americans can choose their own president, but years of disempowerment have left most unwilling and uninterested in fighting. When this majority sees news of the US election, the most they will dare to think is, “If only China could have that.” Very few know Romney’s name, and even fewer can tell you what either candidate stands for — save for maybe currency manipulation policy.
In a taxi the other day, the ever-wise cab driver chuckled as he said, “Tomorrow is America’s election. China does not have an election.” That pretty much sums it up.