“Dishonest Americans” Series Stirs Contention

A cross-Pacific controversy recently erupted surrounding a recurring column published on the English- and Chinese-language websites of CCP mouthpiece People’s Daily. Originally titled “Dishonest Americans” (无德无信美国人), the series has so-far carried three articles detailing the writers’ frustrating experiences with American companies (and the American citizens employed by these companies): “Pricy Locksmith” (“漫天要价开锁人“) was published on March 16, “ADP’s Service Devastated Our Business” (“ADP的服务真是一场灾难“) on March 20, and “United Airlines Refuses to Apologize After Insulting Passengers” (“侮辱中国乘客,美联航拒不抱歉“) on May 22. Beijing Cream’s coverage of the divisive People’s Daily series has a screenshot of the editor’s note that began prefacing the column after the controversy began (the note has since been removed from the archived People’s Daily articles):

Peoples Daily Ed Note

[Source]

The “Dishonest Amercans” series is not an isolated case of state media attacking foreign companies—as Wenxiong Zhang recently outlined in an article for CDT, foreign firms often face scrutiny in the Chinese media. In April, Apple CEO Tim Cook issued an apology after CCTV lashed out at the company. But, netizens quickly rallied to criticize CCTV when the attempted orchestration of a weibo coup against Apple was revealed. Global Voices points out that in this case too, China’s online community was quick to criticize People’s Daily for their actions:

Lei Yi, a prominent Chinese historian weighed in, writing [zh] on the popular microbloging service Sina Weibo sarcastically:

三十年前,我们被教育说美国人民生活在水深火热之中,但美国人民是好的,等待我们去解放。三十年后,我们教育说,美国人“无德无信”

Thirty years ago, we were educated that Americans all lived in extreme misery, but American people were good, they were waiting to be liberated by us. Thirty years later, we are educated that Americans are dishonest and not reliable.

[...]Changchun Qiche lamented [zh]:

美国人无德无信是个例,所以需要挖掘。中国人特别是官员,无德无信是常例,有德有信才稀奇,才需要报道。

Americans’ dishonesty and unreliability are isolated cases, so it’s worth digging into. Chinese, especially official, dishonesty and unreliability are the norm, their honesty and reliability are rare, hence they are worth to be reported. [Source]

After netizens began commenting on People’s Daily’s most recent addition to the series, the Chinese news media took note. A post from chinaSMACK translates coverage from the Chinese media, including a piece from Sina noting that the name of the column was changed after the controversy emerged:

From Sina (May 28):

People’s Daily Online Criticizes the United States: “Dishonest Americans” Name Changed

On May 22, People’s Daily Online’s column “Dishonest Americans” telling stories of the experiences and Americans that Chinese people have encountered in the United States aroused attention on the internet. Owing to the column’s title being the subject of controversy, People’s Daily Online has already altered the column title to “The Americans You Don’t Know”. [Source]

At her New York Times blog, Didi Kirsten Tatlow points out that, if the series’ title was changed to lighten contention, the move may not have been effective—web-users continue to scold People’s Daily:

The change hasn’t done much good among Chinese netizens who took the opportunity, in a slew of online comments, to berate their own people, particularly their leaders, for pointing the finger at Americans when they are flawed themselves.

“I suggest they run a series called Dishonest Party Members and Dishonest Officials, they’d have a lot more to choose from,” posted a person called Xiao Rui.

Wrote Author Yuenan, “Bring your wives and mistresses and all your illegally-born children back to China and you won’t need to waste energy calling people names anymore.” [Source]

While Global Times’ coverage of the “Americans You Don’t Know” née “Dishonest Americans” series also notes public disapproval, it mentions that some web-users “applauded the column.” The Global Times goes on to present the story as a lesson well suited to both China and the U.S.:

Many believed that the negative accounts of Americans could hardly serve as an “objective picture”, but were instead an over-generalization and a prejudiced portrait of the US.

At the same time, the People’s Daily’s work has also won some support. On Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, some netizens applauded the column, saying it is time to end the “courting manners” that many Chinese have toward foreigners.

Closer examination shows that two extreme views dominate Chinese public opinion about the US. It is clearly split into either a total repudiation or wholehearted agreement. Therefore, any comment that tilts to one side will be heavily attacked by the other.

However, this is also applicable to US observations of China. It has become an old trick for the US media or observers to deliberately select part of China’s image, usually unfavorable, to magnify and hype up its negative influence. Thus, a generally fair observation with checks and balance against extreme views is what both countries lack. [Source]