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How the Arizona Tragedy Plays in China

2:45 PM, Jan 14, 2011 • By KELLEY CURRIE
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How the Arizona Tragedy Plays in China

Americans don't really need another reason not to link the senseless actions of a deranged individual in Tucson to the tenor of American political discourse, but it is worth considering how accusations that the lunatic shooter in Tucson was influenced by our political rhetoric feed directly into the narrative about democracy—American and otherwise—promoted by authoritarian countries such as China, whose president Hu Jintao is visiting Washington next week.

The Wall Street Journal's China Real Time blog provided an interesting snapshot of both how this event is being covered in China and how Chinese citizens, or some netizens anyway, are reacting to it. As the Journal article notes, the Chinese media has given this tragedy wall-to-wall coverage, with Chinese state television even sending a correspondent to Tucson. It is a long-running tactic of the Chinese propaganda machine to highlight negative events in democratic countries as part of an overall effort to show the Chinese public how much better off they are under the Chinese Communist Party's dictatorship. (Evan Osnos, the New Yorker correspondent in Beijing, claims that, thanks to the Tea Party and the political battles over Obamacare, China's propaganda machine have lately had their pick of examples of the ills of democracy in the U.S., although one would be hard pressed to think of a time when their job was particularly difficult given the bumptious nature of our wide-open political system.) Chinese officials like to characterize "western style" democracy as chaotic and claim that the results of greater democracy (i.e., the end of one-party rule) for China would be anarchy. The Chinese media often cites incidents such as the recent tragedy in Tucson to bolster their case. That this particular tragedy involved a handgun (they are extremely rare in China due to tight government controls) and has been linked to America's unruly political system by some Americans is all the better for their purposes.   

While some Chinese commentators did follow the narrative and blame the U.S. system for the shootings, there were others that illustrated how misguided, and ultimately counterproductive, Beijing's propaganda efforts are destined to be as long as the U.S. system does a better job of giving people a real voice in their government. One Chinese commentator slammed the state media's portrayal of this tragedy, saying: "We have the gall to mock others? One of [our] own citizens was run over by a bulldozer, with the law enforcement standing by, watching and smiling … should we not feel ashamed?" The commentator was referring to the suspicious death of Qian Yunhui, a villager from Zhejiang province whose gruesome post-mortem pictures flashed across the Chinese Internet (and were then quickly scrubbed from it) at the end of December. Qian had drawn the ire of local officials for his efforts to assist petitioners whose land had been illegally seized by a well-connected developer—a common story in China today. Another Chinese commentator linked the Tucson shooting to popular outrage over the infamous case of the son of a local official who ran over a college co-ed while driving drunk, then taunted citizens who surrounded his car to hold him for the police, shouting, "Sue me if you dare—my dad is Li Gang!" Others marveled that Congresswoman Giffords was meeting with her constituents in the parking lot of a supermarket, and without the phalanx of security that a Chinese official would have insisted on.

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