Breakfast in Beijing

On the New Yorker’s website, Evan Osnos covers an American election-watching party in Beijing:

“Obama gives greater confidence to people of the Third World,” Yang said, after the photo. “We, the black, yellow, and other races, can be the same as the whites! We struggled for independence and, finally, won that. Now we have won in another field—political affairs—and in a superpower no less.”

In China, Obama’s success has attracted particular curiosity because his emergence is such a thoroughly un-Chinese phenomenon. Political prodigies are rare in a nation that grooms top leaders through decades of Communist Party road-testing and pageantry. And because Chairman Mao’s cult of personality led the country into extremism, the Party spent the next three decades engineering its politicians to be as indistinguishable as possible.

A few feet from the polls a cardboard Obama stood next to a cardboard McCain. Elegantly suited men and women took turns slinging their arms over the candidates’ shoulders and mugging for cameras. Beside the cardboard cutouts, a cluster of televisions, labeled like museum pieces, explained the role of the media. “Grass-roots: Independent/Special Interest Campaign Commercials,” read a tag above which Paris Hilton was lounging poolside in a YouTube clip, explaining her position on Obama’s energy policy. (Yang Xiaoxuan, a twenty-year-old graduate student, frowned and asked “Is Hilton grassroots?”)

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