While Beijing remains silent on the U.S. election as the world continues to wait for clear results, “America-watching” has gained a new level of popularity among Chinese web users. As an official censorship directive on the election demands that online platforms “guard against any anti-U.S., boycott the U.S., or other inflammatory and actionable messages,” Weibo posts under the hashtag “U.S. presidential election” gathered over seven billion views by November 5. Some Chinese observers expressed schadenfreude, others, like Yaqiu Wang of Human Rights Watch, countered that “many in China are mocking the US election right now, but I believe if you ask whether they’d want to choose their own mayor, governor and president, most would say yes.”
In a recent WeChat essay, @与归随笔 wrote about the peculiar feeling of alienation engendered by following the U.S. election through social media:
“Biden’s led the entire time, Ol’ Trump is in trouble!”
“Trump’s nabbed the key state of Florida, it’s in the bag!”
“Even though I don’t like Biden, I still hope the Democratic Party wins.”
“I predict Trump will win, his electoral count should be about 290.”
These must be the year’s most fantastical WeChat Moments. We’ve never been like we are today, united as one in focusing on events as they occur in someone else’s home.
With the exception of Beijing taxi drivers, our countrymen have never been much for talking politics. This (lack of) consciousness has been cultivated over many, many years.
Yet—even though this election does not concern us, even though we cannot influence anything, even though added all together we cannot cast a single vote—today is the first time I’ve seen Chinese people passionate about politics on such a scale.
After all, people do prefer grand topics to specific events. For example, today I saw a piece of news of greater practical significance to us: needle marks found on children’s bodies, three teachers have been arrested in relation to the case.
There’s another piece of interesting news: one man stole over 2000 jin of konjac in order to tip a female live-streamer. Even news as fantastical as that can’t check the beguiling pull of a single Ol’ Trump tweet.
Even in international news, I still think this piece has greater aspirational significance to us: from this month onwards Geneva Switzerland’s new minimum salary has taken effect, 23 Swiss francs an hour, and 4000 Swiss francs a month (about 30,000 Renminbi).
People have always loved the illusory and mystical in life, thereby missing the humanity surrounding them.
I must admit that while swept up in this atmosphere, I sometimes unconsciously click on pictures or news about the election and play the passionate onlooker. I also have no choice but to admit that this once-every-four-years spectacle remains fresh: especially that feeling of suspense. It’s bewitching.
I saw one report that said this election will have the highest number of voters in American history. I suppose this must also be the highest number of people who’ve paid attention to the American election in our history.
It’s as if we’re watching a stressful American TV show that is wearing us out.
This makes me recall Game of Thrones, not because of the show’s name or content. What I recall is, back when new episodes were coming out, we’d search, episode by episode, through Weibo and WeChat for download links and passwords, and then we’d forward them to more groups, share them with more people.
After watching an episode, we’d send out a few lines of impressions and predictions on WeChat Moments. Afterwards those who hadn’t yet seen it would come out to yell at us to stop sharing spoilers.
Today’s faraway election, this scene and mood, makes me think back to those binge-watching days. The plot didn’t have anything to do with us, even the creators were born in a foreign land, yet it still held a mysterious enchantment for us.
This enchantment has even surpassed the biggest black swan of these past few years. The news of Ant Group’s IPO suspension trended for only about half of one night. Toutiao is still firmly in the grasp of Trump and Biden’s hands.
In a flash, I saw a short line: yesterday we worried for the country’s richest man, today we are again worried for the world’s most powerful person.
The lives my countrymen have always worried about, an Indian train, the African poor, the American pandemic…
We can’t understand, they’ve had over 200,000 people die, why do they still not wear a mask when they go out together? Just as they can’t understand why, when there are only a few virus cases, we lock down an entire city.
It is as if we’re on two banks of a river. Watching the fires blaze on the other side brings a peculiar excitement and loneliness. [Chinese]