People’s Daily Begins a ‘Dishonest Americans Series’

Chinese propaganda meets The Onion
May 24, 2013 Updated: December 15, 2013

The official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, People’s Daily, has a new series: “The Dishonest Americans.” There’s the “pricy locksmith,” for example, who tries to gouge his timid Chinese client hundreds of dollars for changing a few locks. Then there’s Tanya Cidade, the peremptory United Airlines manager who lied to Mr. Liu about his flight being overbooked. 

Only a few columns in the series have been published so far; they aim to “unveil some incidents and Americans we have encountered, so to provide a more objective picture of what the US and Americans are really like.” 

This is because “Most Chinese people think that Americans are honest, reliable, and righteous. But once you live in the country for a while, you may discover the descriptions above are a bit misleading,” according to an editor’s note that accompanies each piece. The column is published in English and Chinese; in English it’s called “The Dishonest Americans Series,” and in Chinese “Immoral and Dishonest Americans.”

The three columns that have been written so far present an unflattering portrayal of a payroll company’s customer service representatives, a locksmith, and airline staff in the United States. 

The locksmith, for example, tried to charge nearly $800 for changing two locks. The Chinese client thought it “literally a rip off,” and called his friend for advice. “But by the time I hung up, that stout locksmith had already gouged out one of the locks.”

Although at the beginning of each of the articles there was a disclaimer, in the editor’s note, that “‘The Dishonest Americans Series,’ does not refer to all Americans,” the lesson to be taken from the stout, fast-working locksmith was crystal clear: “Craftsmen are part of an ancient profession, relying on their workmanship to earn a living… Whether a craftsman is honest directly reflects the level of honesty of a country and society.”

In the case of the United Airlines customer, the column said that “their manner is worst when dealing with Chinese passengers, who are usually timid and reticent when outside of China.” (The country-specific qualification was probably necessary, given recent incidents of rage at airports reported in the Chinese press — including a Communist Party official who had an outburst at a Beijing airline terminal, smashing airline computers against a glass door.) An email to United Airline’s media representatives about the claims was not answered.

If Chinese Internet users were supposed to be convinced by the articles that America is a dangerous and unwelcome place for them to live and travel, a sample of responses on Sina Weibo, a popular microblogging platform, indicated that the attempt had not been successful. 

“So why do Communist Party officials send their wives and children to the ‘immoral and dishonest’ America?” Dattelchen in Beijing asked.

“There’s been nothing funnier published this year,” another said. 

Gaoyuan Gusong, a netizen in Guangdong, wrote: “Hey, this article is really accurate. The Chinese officials in China, and their families, really are immoral and dishonest!”

He Qinglian, a scholar of Chinese media control and official propaganda, wrote on Twitter in response to a query that one of the reasons for the propaganda may be because popular trust in China is severely lacking. Reports of poison food scandals, official malfeasance, and a general lack of social trust abound. By portraying the United States as similar, there is an attempt to normalize the current state of Chinese society, she indicated, in response to a tweet that proposed this thesis.

“A deeper reason is to fight against American democratic values,” she said. “Since America is so bad, the values they pursue must also be bad.”

Along with the attempt to drub Americans for poor customer service, People’s Daily wanted to encourage Chinese to assert themselves. “When encountered [sic] any unjustifiable or unreasonable matters, Chinese people must voice out and stand firm,” the article about United Airlines said. “Do not be daunted when UA staffs [sic] like Ms. Cidade threaten to call the cops.”

“Of course, Chinese passengers may choose not to consider UA. This probably is the best solution.”