How China's Human Rights Record is Like Michael Jackson

Last week at a lecture that was part of the Seminar for Information Officers from English Speaking African Countries in Beijing, a research fellow from the China Human Rights Society used an inventive analogy to illustrate how the west distorts China’s human rights record. From the Post Zambia:

Dr Yao Junei said China’s human rights image had been distorted in ways similar to what happened to the late King of Pop, Michael Jackson.
In her lecture entitled ‘China’s human rights in my eyes’, Dr Yao said most people in the world had heard that China had human rights issues.

“There is an artiste; a world famous artiste who has donated the most to philantrophy causes, who is also the most misunderstood and suffered the most pain in the world,” she said. “You may guess many names but actually, this one is Michael Jackson, the superstar of the United States.”

Dr Yao said Jackson’s unjust perceived addiction to plastic surgery, skin bleaching and paedophilia in the media almost ruined his precious life.

“I think that just like the case of Michael Jackson the image of China is also distorted by the coined phrases of Western countries, like one party rule, censorship of press and internet censorship,” Dr Yao said.

An article in The Atlantic explains how this metaphor may be more appropriate than Dr. Yao had intended:

Yao’s metaphor may be more apt than she knows, as both China and Michael Jackson are perceived in the West as having used their power to do some pretty terrible things. But she wasn’t speaking to the West — she was speaking to official representatives from Sub-Saharan Africa, where China is expanding its industrial interests. And Michael Jackson is still the King of Pop in that part of the world. Yao’s metaphor, as silly and unintentionally revealing as it might sound to Westerners, probably resonated a bit more with African listeners.

The speech is a small (and, probably, uncoordinated) part of China’s much larger effort to deploy soft power in Sub-Saharan Africa, where Chinese workers and firms are increasingly prevalent. China hasbrought their human rights and labor practices with them to Africa, which are not always very well received. In Zambia, for example, labor abuses at Chinese firms helped make Chinese influence a big issue in the country’s recent presidential election, which the incumbent lost.

[...]So maybe Yao has a point. Maybe there are some parallels between China’s image in Africa and Michael Jackson’s image in the West. When he was alive, we all bought MJ’s albums even as we shook our heads at his personal behavior — the music was good enough to justify funding his crazy lifestyle. African governments still welcome Chinese investment even as African civil society groups protest Chinese labor abuses: Africa’s need for Chinese money and development and jobs currently outweighs its dislike of Chinese practices. But, just as you wouldn’t have let Michael Jackson near your kids, will African governments become wary of putting valuable natural resources — hydroelectric power sources, for example — in Chinese hands?

Speaking of Michael Jackson and China, here is the video that went viral in China last year of the PLA performing “Beat It”, via CDT. Also see CDT coverage of Chinese reactions to Michael Jackson’s death in 2009.

November 30, 2011 9:30 PM
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