Monday, January 12, 2009

The Big Party

By now, you are probably floating blissfully on or drowning in (depending on your political persuasion) a sea of inauguration coverage, now that Barack Obama is only a week away from being sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.

What about us here in China, you might ask? Is it all inauguration, all the time? What is the level of media interest in our adopted homeland about an event that will bring millions of people to our adopted hometown? (By the way, does anybody out there want to rent our house for the week?)

To get a basic sense of media saturation, or lack thereof, I went to the New York Times and the People's Daily, the "papers of record" in China and the United States. Specifically, I searched on both papers' websites for the terms "Obama" and "inauguration."

For the New York Times, I limited the results to today's listings. Failing to restrict the search in this way produced in excess of ten thousand results. Even looking just at today, there were more than two hundred matches, covering everything from the pace of fundraising for the inauguration to the Smithsonian's plans to open early for out-of-town visitors to a recently announced ban on strollers during the festivities.

As for China Daily, there was no need to restrict the search by date, as overall there were only thirty three matches. The earliest of these stories goes back to September 3, 2007, and obviously has nothing to do with the big event. As far as stories that are current and deal with the inauguration itself, these tend to cover things from international angles, such as a girl from Chengdu who has been invited to attend the ceremony.

My guess is that if you asked the average Chinese person who the American president is, many of them would respond "Barack Obama." In other words, there is not much of a sense on the streets of the impending swearing in. But this is just a working hypothesis, perhaps to be tested another day. And, I suspect, there will be some coverage and pictures on the day after the reins of power have been handed over.

But even this attention, I suggest, is likely to be very limited and fleeting. You see, right now China is in a fury, building up to this country's main event...the Lunar New Year, which will be rung in on January 26th. A search in China Daily on the term "new year" produced more than 7,000 hits. Current topics include the crush of travelers who are beginning to descend upon the nation's transportation system, a crackdown on counterfeit money (which is a big problem this time of year), and an increased emphasis on food safety during the upcoming festival.

Imagine what it is like in the United States in the days leading up to Christmas. People rushing around shopping. Students trying to get home from college. (The three attached pictures capture the scene this morning at a plane and train ticket office.) Families enjoying quiet time together. That's pretty much what is going on in China right now. Events that are taking place far away, no matter how momentous they are abroad, are simply washed away in a sea of homemade jiaozi and CCTV variety shows.



At 6:31 PM, Blogger Macefamily said...

It's funny you should mention renting your house for the week. Steve and I were joking about emailing you to see if you were renting it out. We thought about going but the thought of standing in the cold fighting the crowds just didn't appeal to me. I think I will watch from my nice warm comfy couch, with my hot coffee and in front of the fireplace. The veiw will more than likely be better. Donna

At 9:22 PM, Blogger The Balla Family said...

So I asked our Chinese teacher this morning who the president of the United States is at this moment. (By the way, our teacher is a grad student in the teaching of Chinese. So he is not a politics and government type, but is a Beida educated person nonetheless.) His answer? Obama. He was surprised to hear that Bush is still president. And he added that he believes most Chinese people think the same way as him. That is, the US had an election, Obama won, so Obama is president. It is weird, he said, in the Chinese practice and way of thinking, for months to have gone by without the formal change in power occurring (the transition is immediate, or nearly so, in the Chinese system).



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