Chinese Sentiment Towards Blacks: Are Black Athletes the New Role Model for Chinese Youth?

Posted April 12, 2010 by asiainview
Categories: Uncategorized

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China Basketball Kobe Bryant

Like many children in America, some of my greatest heroes were athletes.  Basketball players such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Magic Johnson were the epitome of discipline and athletic excellence.  The images of these athletes were the most common and positively promulgated images of Black people I saw as a child—in my neighborhood there was not a lot of visible Black role models to look up to.  So you can understand that  when I first moved to China in 2002 I was ecstatic to see many Chinese obsessed with the NBA and my Black heroes.  During the NBA playoffs, the university cafeteria, were I often ate lunch, were filled with ebullient Chinese students engrossed in the games.  Since then, I have seen the NBA become a conduit of cultural and monetary exchange between China and the United States.  However, more importantly, from a racial stand point, the Chinese media portrayal of Black basketball players, such as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, as not only superior athletes, but as exemplars of mettle, compassion, and goodwill has positively influenced images and perceptions of Blacks in China.

Michael Jordan was one of the earliest and most popular Black athletes accepted by Chinese society. According to the Financial Review, in a 1992 survey taken by students in China, Michael Jordan was considered the most influential person of the twentieth century, followed by Zhou Enlai—one of China’s notable political figures.  After retiring, Jordan remained a very popular figure in China.  During his 2004 promotional tour in China, Chinese basketball fans flocked to see Michael Jordan in person.  The reaction to Jordan was so immense that Chinese police had to cancel his appearance at a Nike basketball court in Beijing for fear that it would cause social disorder.  China Daily, a Chinese state-run newspapers, reported, “flower beds were destroyed and a car was damaged when enthusiastic fans stood atop it.  Several billboards that blocked the fans’ view were ripped down as the time of Jordan’s expected appearance came closer”.

In addition to Jordan, Kobe Bryant is another prominent Black athlete widely received by the Chinese.  During the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Kobe’s presence overtook that of any other athlete.  In addition to overwhelming chants of “Ko-be, Ko-be” during the U.S. basketball games, Kobe was also the main attraction during non-basketball events such as the soccer semifinals between Argentina and Brazil—which starred two famous soccer players Messi and Ronadinho.  However, the Chinese spectators “went crazy when they spotted Bryant in the crowd”.

Outside of his popularity as an athlete, the NBA and the Chinese media has marketed Kobe Bryant as a friend and a humanitarian to the Chinese.  Bryant has made several high profile visits to China to conduct basketball clinics.  He also starred in a documentary titled Kobe Mentu “Kobe’s Disciples” in which hundreds of Chinese youth competed for a chance to go to America to practice basketball and receive tips from Kobe.  Moreover, in March of 2008, the Chinese media hailed him as a hero in for his charity towards a Sichuan earthquake victim.

In the China Daily, one of China’s most read newspapers, Bryant was saintly depicted for the “generosity” he bestowed upon a 17-year-old Chinese boy who lost his legs protecting another student during the aftershocks of the Sichuan earthquake.  According to the report, Li Anqiang wrote “Uncle Kobe” expressing his admiration and asking for an autographed basketball.  Bryant, moved by the story, reportedly “hail[ed] Li as a strong boy whose attitude towards fate was amazing”.  The article went on to say that, “he [Bryant] knew about the earthquake and hoped that all the people in the quake zone could be as strong as Li”.  Of course, Bryant’s encouragement was just what was needed to inspire Li to overcome his challenges and become a studious young man.  The article reported that after receiving Bryant’s letter and autographed basketball, Li was in “high spirits” and “after a hectic schedule in school, Li, who has never met a foreigner, also studies English before going to bed”.

Although, it is more than likely that this story and other others like it are being manufactured by the publicity machine that is “Kobe Inc.” and the Chinese Communist Party Propaganda Department in order to better promote the Kobe brand and the NBA in China, this does not negate the effect that the larger than life media images of “Uncle Kobe”, a Black athlete who is hard working and cares about the Chinese people, has had on Chinese perceptions of Black Americans in general.


Chinese Sentiment Towards Black Americans: The Obama Phenomenon in China

Posted August 19, 2009 by asiainview
Categories: Race in Asia

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Audacity of Hope

The election of Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election was a watershed in race relations in America.  For many of us, it displayed that race issues, although still in existence, are not as rampant in the United States now as they were in the past.     However, I believe that this election revealed something more than the state of race relations in America.  In China, it served as a proverbial litmus test of Chinese perceptions of Black Americans.   Barack Obama’s political campaign reinforced images of Black Americans as powerful political figures.  Moreover, the Chinese positive reception to these images is a new phenomenon that is important to understanding contemporary Chinese sentiment towards Blacks.

During the presidential election, Chinese overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama. An online poll conducted by the US embassy on the China Daily’s website revealed that 75 percent of the Chinese supported Obama as a candidate for president.  In a survey by the Horizon research group, of 2,791 Chinese between the ages of 18 and 60, Obama received 17.8 percent more votes than McCain.   But, how could this be?  Why would Chinese choose Obama over John McCain?  If we look at the situation from a foreign policy perspective, McCain’s position on trade was more favorable towards China than Obama’s position.  According to the China Daily, “McCain supports increasing global integration”.  He also urges Americans to reject the “siren song of protectionism’ and embrace a future of free trade”.  In contrast, the article pointed out that Obama “adopted an increasingly critical tone on global trade and support legislation that would allow US companies to seek anti-dumping duties on Chinese imports, based on the received undervaluation of the Chinese currency” and that “he would amend the North American Free Trade Agreement.   In addition to having an unfavorable position on trade, Obama’s opponent was white.  Under the assumption by scholars who argue that Chinese are generally racist towards Blacks and more accepting of Whites, it is reasonable to assume that McCain should have won the polls.

However, this was not the case.  To many Chinese, Obama has become a symbol of hope and achievement.  Some Chinese analysts believe that Obama being Black, rather than being a disadvantage, actually added to his popularity in China.  Song Zhiyuan, an analyst of the surveys, opined: “Perhaps his age, energy, and even complexion, which signify the US dream, are more appealing to the Chinese”. To many Chinese, Obama’s victory would be a symbol of America’s break from a culture of white superiority.  “I want to see if a Black American could become the president…by electing Obama the Americans could prove the US is not only a white people’s country” stated a Chinese real estate agent interviewed by Xie.  This type of statement was echoed by Zhang Meng, a Chinese student who stated, “it was good a Black man could be elected president for the first time in a predominantly white country”.   Even in a survey I conducted on Chinese opinions of Obama and the 2008 Presidential election respondents shared similar opinions, “In the US presidential election, his breaking the barriers of race, and shows his ability to the whole world, and tries to transfer a different value”, and “he is one of the great Black people.  His success represents the fact that everyone could realize his dream whatever the color he is”.