Will President Obama be Greeted as a Rock Star in China?

While there is certainly an abundance of press coverage of President Obama’s first visit to China before he even lands in the country, the verdict seems to be out about whether he is going to be greeted “as a rock star” or with a “blasé attitude” by average Chinese. In the Atlantic, Adam Minter presents the rock star perspective:

On Sunday, President Obama arrives in Shanghai for a four-day visit that is among the most anticipated by a foreign leader to China in more than a decade. No doubt, such major diplomatic concerns as rising trade tensions and the upcoming Copenhagen climate-change summit are factors in the frenzied attention being lavished on Obama’s impending arrival. But equally important is the intense, rock star-like popularity that Obama enjoys among average Chinese. In my Shanghai neighborhood, and in large cities up and down China’s East Coast, Oba-Mao T-shirts are readily available (the Beijing authorities rounded up supplies of the T-shirt in that city, early this week), and copies of his books can be found in pirate DVD shops, subway stations, and on street corners. Meanwhile, Chinese newspapers, magazines, and television stations are devoting intense, often fawning coverage to his life story—even as these same newspapers and magazines simultaneously give voice to a strident economic nationalism totally at odds with the policies being espoused by Obama’s Administration.

In China, that’s a stark turnabout from the Bush years, when the president was so unpopular that many American expats learned to avoid even mentioning him – despite the fact that his trade policies and general attitude toward China were largely welcomed by officials in Beijing.

While Ian Johnson of the Wall Street Journal goes with “blasé”:

In the latest issue of Oriental Outlook, an article called “Chinese people’s view on Obama” (in Chinese) indicates that there is plummeting support. The publication conducted informal polls and interviews, resulting in a sober prognosis. After slapping tariffs on Chinese products, the magazine found that, “In many Chinese people’s eyes, he hasn’t been able to maintain a positive image.”

A survey posted on the Web site of the Global Times, a newspaper that tends toward nationalistic content, purports to show that around 86% of Internet users say they “don’t care” about or “don’t look forward” to Obama’s visit, while 46% of the voters say they “don’t like Obama.”

There’s a mega caveat to all this, namely that sophisticated public polling exists in China but is almost never made public, which makes accurate information on public opinion elusive. Most surveys are Internet polls, which are unscientific at best.

Still, the Internet polls provide anecdotal evidence that China is just not as enamored with the U.S. now as in years past, when the U.S. was seen as something of a model. An economic crisis and several trade spats later, few in China admire the U.S. system, and that seems to be behind the blasé attitude around Obama’s visit.

Beijing artist Liu Bolin has created a bronze statue of Obama that he lights on fire, apparently as a tribute to his popularity. From AP:

Sunday’s arrival of a U.S. president admired for his charisma is already a source of profit and brief fame for some Chinese.

Strangest is the burning Obama, tucked away in a Beijing warehouse. Artist Liu Bolin hopes Obama can take time from his visit to drop by.

“He’s so hot right now, so I wanted to translate that through my work,” said Liu, who was inspired by the idea of the first black U.S. president.


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