Tea Leaf Nation

Chinese Media: Beware American 'Cultural Products'

'Dark Knight' and 'Cloud Atlas' are part of an 'ideological struggle.' Who knew?

Look out, mainland China: Batman, cloaked in the cause of Hong Kong independence, is coming to get you, along with the cast of 2012's special-effects filled, genre-busting summer extravaganza Cloud Atlas.  

A June 25 opinion piece in pro-Communist Party newspaper Global Times titled "Who Is Truly the Black Hand Behind Hong Kong Independence?" insists that U.S. skullduggery lies behind a non-binding Hong Kong referendum on universal suffrage. The vote, which allows participation at on-the-ground stations or online, is organized by Occupy Central with Love and Peace, an advocacy group started in early 2013. Organizers say over 700,000 have participated since ballots opened June 20, with voting slated to continue until June 29. The results have angered Beijing, which did not approve the vote and has asserted suzerainty over the officially independent former British colony in increasingly strident terms. Global Times earlier called the referendum "illegal" and insisted in a June 23 editorial that if 1.3 billion Chinese could weigh in, the result would be different. But Chinese people can't vote, and the article was widely panned online. The latest piece takes a different tack, calling the referendum an effort to "create trouble for China" in order to render the country "unable to engage in the great power game" with its cross-Pacific rival.

The article flails at a wide array of U.S. targets -- including the CIA, the non-profit National Endowment for Democracy, and the think tank American Enterprise Institute -- before setting its crosshair on Hollywood's Cloud Atlas and Batman: The Dark Knight Rises, the latest installment in the U.S. superhero franchise. The Global Times writes that the two films demonstrate how "Westerners not only engage in ideological struggle" with China, but "package their ideology into cultural products" that Chinese then "unconsciously consume." To wit: Cloud Atlas' army of victimized slave clones "looks Asian," and producers "particularly sought Chinese actors" to play them. (The film features Chinese actresses Zhou Xun and Zhu Zhu as mistreated clones.) And the latest Batman's villains "are made up to invoke Middle Eastern terrorists," while their mostly indecipherable patois "has a bit of the 'proletariat' flavor to it." The article is silent on how that relates to China.  

It's obviously a tortured reading of the two films. Dark Knight never appeared on mainland screens, likely because the film depicts the protagonist's unauthorized incursion into Chinese territory. Meanwhile, Cloud Atlas did show there, after heavy cuts by censors -- and it was a hit. In the search for evidence of ideological struggle, Chinese state media may wish to get just a bit less creative.  

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian contributed research.

Image: Fair Use

Tea Leaf Nation

Hey Beijing, Is that a Map in Your Pocket?

Chinese web users debate what their new map might resemble. Cough.

On June 23, Chinese authorities unveiled a new vertical map that includes most of the South China Sea, claims which at least four Southeast Asian nations hotly dispute. It's a strong move, yet it has Chinese web users stifling a laugh.

China's penetration of the South China Sea has only deepened in recent months; the stationing of a Chinese oil rig near the Spratly Islands in May spurred bloody nationalist riots in Vietnam, which also claims the islands. Since early 2014, China has also begun constructing islands on several small reefs in parts of the South China Sea; the Philippines, which also claims the reefs, has twice filed formal complaints with China.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying stated in a June 25 press conference that there is "no need for excessive interpretation," since the map does not indicate "any change whatsoever" in China's stance towards the South China Sea. In other words, it's not a big deal.

It may not be very big, but it's the shape, not the size, that has captured the attention of Chinese netizens. One author and social commentator posted on Weibo, a Chinese microblogging site, that the new map of China no longer resembles a rooster -- the standard description taught to Chinese children in school -- and queried, with seeming innocence, what the map looks like now. With language careful not to attract the attention of porn-wary censors, Weibo users speculated on whether it looked like an eagle, a map of Africa, or a certain male organ that had one exclaim, "It's a boy!"

Here's the old map:


And here's the new one:


Now here it is after Chinese netizens got their hands on it: 


Here's a compelling argument it actually resembles an elephant:

It's admittedly a bit of a stretch. But with tensions in the seas around China continuing to roil, a bit of humor can't possibly hurt.