First of all, apologies to any dedicated readers that I was absent this past month. I passed my thesis defense and am now considering how to send the project to Bei Dao. I also found a job and will be moving to Beijing this July.
As my days in Nanjing are now numbered, I’ve been testing myself for signs of nostalgia. Two days ago I took a friend to all the big sites in Nanjing: Fuzi Miao, Sun Yat Sen’s Mausoleum, Xuanwu Lake, and Zhonghuamen City Wall. It was nice, but I feel the same as I always have felt about Nanjing; that it is a bit subdued, even a bit 平淡 (dull, flat).
I saw this tourism video made by the Nanjing government that sparked about a hundred debates in my head. It’s called “Dating with you in Nanjing,” though the Chinese title literally reads “My Date with Nanjing”:《我与南京有个约会》. It’s short, so take a look:
Youku (in Mainland China): http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XNDAyMjE2NDE2.html
Youtube (Free World): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2nKH4yLaSE
The first thing I notice — and let’s not get into a discussion about why — is that a white Frenchman chases a pretty Chinese girl. The second thing I notice is that the Frenchman does not speak Chinese, but the Chinese girl does speak English — and seemingly pretty well, as the Frenchman is speaking with native ease.
Given that we are in the midst of a campaign against foreigners (particularly white foreign men) in China, my next question was about the production date. It was put online ten days ago, so Saturday, May 26, pretty much in the heat of the anti-foreign hubbub (the British man assaulted a Chinese girl in Beijing on May 8, sparking the campaign). It is pleasantly ironic, therefore, that the Nanjing government went ahead with airing this commercial despite the nation-wide (albeit Beijing-centered) battle on illegal foreign residents (which has more or less taken the form of police randomly asking to see a foreigner’s residence permit and then charging him/her if it is not on hand).
Of course the Frenchman does not “get” the Chinese girl, but she does appear quite charmed. She turns him down because he does not seem “serious” about her. Thankfully he makes a video and posts it on Weibo (China’s massive blogging database and seemingly the most reliable form of communication in China). She somehow finds his video (this does not need an explanation — for many Chinese youth, spending time on Weibo is basically plugging into one’s culture), and is duly charmed.
China’s anti-foreignism is not as strong as it may seem during this campaign, in large part because Chinese people in general don’t actually hate non-Chinese. This is made clear by the fact that the government used a foreign, white, English-speaking man as the main character in a sort of propaganda video — and he is not villianized. He is rather cute and charming. On the pessimistic side, he is basically a caricature of foreign men in China: tall, [semi-dark], and handsome, with money and time to travel, and a thirst for Chinese women. Not to mention his nationality — my French friend says every time he tells a Chinese person he is French, they insist he must be a romantic.
The advertisement leaves the impression that foreigners are liked for their ability to afford vacation — i.e. they are acceptable because they are wealthy. And foreign men are OK as long as they do not actually “attain” the Chinese women. I’m trying to imagine if they used an African man instead of the white Frenchman, or a white, foreign woman chasing a Chinese man, or — get this — a man chasing another man! — and the possibility of this is almost laughable (a sad laugh, that is).
Now I’m picturing what the production crew looked like, and it’s something like this: