Bad China Articles: Hall of Infamy
The Anthill occasionally loans its soul to the devil and does listicles – so far China books and China blogs. Now we turn our eye to bad articles about China, in the form of a top ten hall of infamy. These are mostly terrible articles of the harmless variety – i.e. fresh off the boat and clueless, or falling prey to stereotypes, rather than nasty propaganda or misleadingly ignorant journalism. No personal offence meant to any of the writers, it's only intended as gentle mockery, nothing serious. Ready yourself, here we go ...
The original sin that inspired this list. MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews comes to China for the first time, with wife. Is amazed that the cities are really big and have McDonald's. Calls Hangzhou a "resort town". Feels need to share his insights with the world.
Sampler: "The Chinese love it ... Their notions of style are European and continental, just like us."
This guy made it a whole 10 months in China, and delivers a classic variation on the Why I'm Leaving China theme. Begins with warning about generalisations, proceeds with litany of generalisations, ends with "old proverb" that applies to "everyone in China".
Sampler: "The Chinese have their own system of hygiene, and they consider many of the things we Westerners do to be disgusting."
Nikki Aaron calls herself "beautiful, smart, successful and hilarious" by the second sentence, then wonders why she hasn't found Mr Right. Congratulates herself on daring approach of dating Chinese men in China, then calls them effeminate and mollycoddled.
Sampler: "I also understand what really makes Chinese people tick."
He's "a shy little man", "spoilt", "traditional", "stingy", "racially insecure" (illustrated for some reason by an Asian man spinning around a tree) – oh wait, and he's also "a kungfu master". Thank God he can't understand English either, or he might read his wife's post.
Sampler: "So, you see, he actually is the perfect Chinese stereotypical man."
A gem in second place. White journalist in Shanghai decides to live like a Chinese. Eschews bakery for "unidentifiable things on sticks", takes the bus (because no Chinese ever use taxis), fails, has weird internal monologue throughout. Goes to Hong Kong.
Sampler: "Yes that's right, I'm a foreigner," I think proudly. "And I'm taking the bus."
Wonderfully overwritten 'exposé' of Beijing's debauched nightlife, replete with random italics. Manages to cram four clichés and a bad pun into the last paragraph. Seems to think prostitution is legal in China. (Hat tip: Will Philipps)
Sampler: "For those who want the authentic sinful Chinese experience, the ultimate late night debauchery Chinese style has to be the KTV bar."
"Professional educator" Michael serves the people by going to English corner on Sundays. His story "has been documented in more than 40 television broadcasts". It's such crap there's even the disclaimer, "Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily."
Sampler: "I came here to serve people with the talents, experience and knowledge that I've gained in over 5 decades of living."
We're getting to the really good stuff now. Business Insider reporter in town on a visit goes out "to see the "real" China". Has lunch, pays a lot for it, writes blog post. Contains the poetic photo caption "Beijing from the window of my cab", which pretty much sums it up.
Sampler: "I didn't know there was such a thing as Chinese sake. But there is, and it's strong."
2. Silver: A Poet's Guide to Beijing
Painful, endless recollections of a year in Beijing by an aspiring poet who has trouble with basic grammar. Mistakes include 'Wudaokoa', an invented subway stop called Sanxi, portable hutongs (huh?) and ... oh, so many. Read it and weep. (Hat tip: James Palmer)
Sampler: "The Mandarin slang for foreigner is lawoi – ghost."
Maybe it's the Dan Brown prose. Maybe it's the presentation of Shanxi as the heart of darkness ("literally 200 miles south of the Mongolian border"). But we love to hate this whiny douchebag who accidentally booked a flight to Taiyuan instead of Taiwan. (Hat tip: Dorian Cavé)
Sampler: "Nelson said he faced danger and indignity ... enduring the spit that some Chinese hurled his way."
There you have it. It was hard whittling this down to just ten. There are so many to choose from in the "I Love China" genre of wide-eyed blog posts alone, Why I'm Leaving China is the gift that keeps giving, and then of course there's Thomas Friedman. If you have any more gems to recommend, please do put the link in the comments below.
Update 5.16 - As with the list of China books, we've updated it since and will take off items at request. For the record, besides the fact that this is a deeply unserious list, there is a justification for doing it. We're all here to engage with and understand China, and none of us know it all, but when we write about China for people back home (including casual blog posts), we're giving an impression of the place to those who have little or no idea what it's like here. That's why it's important to write good articles, and why we think we have the right to name and shame the bad ones
Other "listicles" on the Anthill: