Seeing the funny side of high drama
While not many in China have seen Donald Trump’s reality TV shows, the US president-elect has always been viewed more or less as an entertainment figure in the Middle Kingdom.
It may not be an overstatement to say a significant portion of the Chinese population — among those who care, that is — treat American election politics as a variant of entertainment.
Most portrayals of Donald Trump on China’s social media, which tend to be much more opinionated than traditional media, were harshly negative. This could be an echo effect from America’s mainstream press.
The so-called“elitists” have a lot of shared values while populism differs from place to place as each country deals with a different set of issues. Commentator Lian Yue’s contrarian prediction of Trump’s win a few days ago was mostly based on his observation that the US press does not like the real estate tycoon.
As the prospect of a Trump victory became more likely, Chinese social media went through a not-so-subtle change as more diverse voices were posted. Liberals who swore Trump would never win were turned into laughing stocks. Internet jokes were flying across cyberspace, targeting former objects of veneration.
“If we had American-style election,” goes one, “we’d have elected Kris Wu, Li Yifeng and TF Boys,” teenage heartthrobs with a juvenile yet devoted fan base who would go out of their way to support their idols.
Even Trump’s name has evolved into a gag. Among an online list of corollary triumphs is the Chinese province of Sichuan because a grassroots translation of his name happens to be a homonym for Sichuan accented Mandarin. Official translation removes any connotation.
Many Chinese get their knowledge about American politics from Hollywood entertainment products, yet they are likely to be drawn to those aspects with local parallels. House of Cards was a big hit in China partly because the story is analogous to the palace intrigue popular in Chinese drama sensations like Zhenhuan or Empresses in the Palace. Both plumb the depths of humanity as convulsed by power in a soap operatic manner. As a matter of fact, when the Kevin Spacey star vehicle first arrived in Chinese cyberspace, it was dubbed “the White House version of Zhenhuan”.
If we had American-style election, we’d have elected Kris Wu, Li Yifeng and TF Boys.”
However, the 2016 US presidential election has knocked Hollywood to the wayside. The campaigns were so full of dramatic flourishes that even fictional characters pale next to them.