The story “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia” basically provides nothing new in terms of opinions and viewpoints. Since the first day of the founding of the P. R. China, there has never been a lack of criticism, analysis, and prediction to this newly founded government. Unfortunately, some authors don’t know much about China before they write. Walter Russell Mead and the WSJ editors who published this article with this exact title fall into this category.
In this 800+ word article, the author talks about the COVID-19 epidemic, Beijing’s cover-up, China’s financial risks, the early warning of these potential threats to the United States, the geopolitical and the economic consequence, the involvement of almost all global financial institutions and the prediction of the black swan recurrence in China.
Besides the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is new, many other criticisms and judgments follow. No matter the WSJ Op-ed editor or the readers who browse NYT, WSJ, and other similar media occasionally, they can tell this is a reduplication with a decreasing western stereotype towards China. Even from the stance of criticizing China and the Chinese government, it is difficult to find an original or more insightful opinion.
If the author summarizes common previous views toward China and gives speeches to freshmen and sophomores, he may gain young fans. However, in WSJ, which has higher requirements for originality and quality, it is difficult to find that Mead can bring anything new to his readers and peers, except that Mead himself has been endorsed by WSJ and its editors.
Besides the general views above, I think the title is bad, and does not match the content. Many scattered viewpoints appeared in a confusing way in this short article. I would even like to suggest that the author changes the order of several paragraphs to increase it logically. However, based on the existing content, no matter how you adjust, it is hard to see where the theme of the article is focused. It might be better if the title was changed to “Some Thoughts on ‘China’s COVID-19 Epidemic Situation”.
Based on well-meaning speculation, the author and editor might be ignorant of Chinese culture. Otherwise, they can be called arrogant racists even with no malice. Compared with the explanation of “The Sick Man of Asia” in Wikipedia and Baidu, there are obvious cultural differences between each other. The common Chinese people’s understanding of this word can be equated with calling a black person the n-word, or telling the Jews that Hitler is a great leader.
Mead and the WSJ editor may think that using “The Sick Man of Asia” is just criticizing the Chinese government, but with no intended offenses to the Chinese people. In China, however, when “The Sick Man of Asia” being translated into Chinese, its generally accepted meaning is all Chinese. If anyone writes an article on a China theme and wants to convey ideas effectively and reduce misunderstanding, there needs to be more work done. Obviously, Mead and the WSJ editors failed to do so. Besides getting numbers and information often misinterpreted in one-way channels, Mead and his alike know little about China and its people, but they dare to boldly publish their opinions.
The word “Sick Man of East Asia” first appeared as “Sick Man of the East”. It came from an article in an English newspaper called North China Daily News (字林西报in Chinese, the newspaper was run by the British in Shanghai at the time of 1800 second half). The author was British, and this exact expression was published on October 17, 1896. The whole 1800s and the first half of the 1900s recorded the humiliating history of China and its people for over 100 years. Even to this day, the damage caused by this deeply malicious word cannot be relieved by the people here.
About a century ago, Chinese writers used the word “The Sick Man of East Asia” as well to describe China, but most were motivated by good intentions, such as warning, or urging the nation to improve, or at least, understand the cultural connotation behind this expression. Using this expression in different contexts, many Chinese can tell good from evil. While the whole China and the world is busy fighting against and preventing the COVID-19
, it is easy to understand the general anger of almost every Chinese all over the world when seeing such an article titled “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia”.
On February 6, 2020, G.Y. created a petition link on the White House website with the title of Racially Discriminatory Article Title on Wall Street Journal, which gathered the support of 100,000 people within a week. That number of 100,000 marks that the White House will need to respond officially to petitioners.
No matter how the White House would respond, the conduct of Mead and WSJ’s editors’ publication of the title “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia” cannot be accepted by the Chinese and a lot of ethnic Chinese. Their so-called sick man of Asia is now fighting against the pandemic, treating patients, preventing and controlling epidemics, correcting mistakes, developing the economy, and improving the lives of millions of ordinary people like me.
I don’t think that scholars like Mead, or mentalities and articles like China is the Real Sick Man of Asia, will disappear in the short run, but it is a certain thing that their presence has never stopped China’s progress. As the son of an ex-peasant, I was born in a remote rural village and had never entered the city until 6 years old. I want to end the article with a sentence that farmers from Northern China often say: hearing the chirp of the mole crickets, do we have to stop farming? (听拉拉蛄叫，还不种地了？)
Kino Gao, MA Mass Communications
The China Box PR Founding Partner