'Foolish and Backward Nation': A Self-Effacing Chinese Satire of America

By David Wertime

"The U.S. is actually a giant, undeveloped farming village," begins an anonymous web post that's actually a subtle critique of China itself.

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U.S. and Chinese flags hang over a diplomatic meeting in Beijing. (Reuters)

Sarcasm in China: Check.

On the eve of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's diplomatic visit to the Middle Kingdom, a tongue-in-cheek critique of Americans has gone viral on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter, with over 44,000 retweets and 5,400 comments. This piece, of uncertain author and origin, laughingly criticizes Americans as foolish, primitive, and naive. Lest American readers be offended, it soon becomes apparent that the essay is in fact a sharp, backhanded critique of China.

Tea Leaf Nation has translated the juiciest parts (which happen to constitute most of the essay). Please enjoy.

Don't Go to the U.S., A Foolish and Backward Nation

I've already been in the U.S. for a long time. I regret that choice. We've been [fooled] by Western media the whole time, making us think that the U.S. is a modernized country. Harboring hopes of studying American modern science in order to serve my motherland, I moved heaven and earth in order to make it over to this "superpower." But the result has been very disappointing!

(1) The U.S. is actually a giant, undeveloped farming village. In middle school, teachers teach students that the more developed industry gets, the greater harm the natural environment suffers. For example, in an industrial city you should find chimneys everywhere, large factories everywhere, dust everywhere. That's the symbol of industrialization! But the U.S.? You hardly ever see chimneys, occasionally you'll see a few small ones but they're just decorations for houses. Instead there are clear rivers and lakes everywhere, and there aren't even paper factories or steel smelters by the riverbanks. The clean and fresh air is a symbol of primitive society. There's not even a trace of industrialization!

(2) Americans don't understand economics. Highways extend in all directions, seemingly reaching every village, but there are hardly any toll stations! What a tremendous waste of a gigantic business opportunity! I can barely keep myself from grabbing some cement and building a few toll stations; within one month I'll definitely make enough money to buy a house with a view of the Atlantic Ocean. Also, by the side of the highway you can see quiet and undeveloped lakes. The government allows waterbirds to freely settle and poop wherever they want, neglecting even to open a scenic garden with a lake view in order to make some serious money. It's clear Americans have no head for economics.

(3) American construction is too primitive. Besides [what you find in] a small number of large cities, there are no big cement and concrete skyscrapers. ... I can scarcely believe that the U.S. seemingly has no concrete buildings. They're all mostly made of wood and some other strange materials. Using primitive wood to build houses-it's like these foreigners' architecture hasn't moved beyond pre-Qing Dynasty times. That's feudal times!

(4) Americans' thinking is naive and backwards. As soon as I got to the U.S., I found [renting] a luggage cart cost three U.S. dollars. I didn't have change, an American saw that I had a lot of luggage, so they paid the three bucks for me and brought me a cart. [Americans] also always open doors for me and ask me if I need help. In my country, we already had the Lei Feng period in the '50s and '60s, now we think that stuff is so backwards! [Lei Feng was a young man that the Mao-era Communist government widely touted as an example of selfless virtue.] Back then, people were very hypocritical, but now we're not that way. We do things nakedly; now that's modernization! So Americans' thinking is behind ours by several decades, and there are no signs they will be able to catch up.

(5) Americans don't understand [how to eat] game. One night, I was driving with my classmates to another city and several Sika deers suddenly bounded out. My classmate immediately braked and swerved in order to avoid an accident. Apparently this sort of thing happens often, as a collision with one deer is enough to total a car. The U.S. government doesn't know how to manage this. ... Americans really don't understand how to eat game, they don't even have game restaurants, much less a taste for delicious wild animals-killing a deer and selling the antlers can make a lot of money! Americans live with those wild animals every day, even taking measures to protect wild animals. That's a really primitive society.

(6) Americans don't understand self respect. Professors at American universities have no presence (架子); they don't have the air of distinguished scholars at all. It's said that Professor D___ is a famous professor of psychology, but during class breaks he eats cookies in his office with his students, talks about the movie "21″ and [Chinese actress] Ziyi Zhang. He doesn't have any of the majesty of scholarship, I was really disappointed. Also, post doctoral students never put "Ph.D" on their name cards. They don't even understand how to show off their status. People taught by professors like this won't even understand how to posture if they become government officials. ... It seems Chinese public servants really know how to get peoples' respect; even the boss in a minor office in my motherland is more imposing than the American President. No wonder they say a first-class citizen in China becomes a third-class citizen in the U.S.

(7) American elementary school students don't have lofty ideals. From the start, elementary school students don't have any intention of becoming officials. ... There are none of the class presidents, class secretaries, or the committees I had when I was young. After class, it's as if they have no homework. There's no way you can even mention it in the same breath with Chinese primary school students's homework. Schools place too much emphasis on a moral upbringing, making little kids focus on becoming qualified citizens first, getting to the long-term ideals later. Becoming a qualified citizen? What a corny concept.

(8) Americans cause a big ruckus every time they see a little illness. First, they make an appointment with the doctor, and afterwards the doctor gives a prescription. Some people have to consult a qualified pharmacist. When they buy medicine, they have to go to the supermarket to get it themselves. It's not as fast as it is with us ... I don't understand why Americans separate seeing the doctor and buying medicine ... instead separating benefit from responsibility. It's clear American hospitals have no concept of how to make money! Why tell the patients the name of the medicine? ... They could monopolize the sales of medicine and raise prices 8 or 10 times. There are so many good business [opportunities] they're not [pursuing], obviously the capitalist market economy is dead.

(9) American public opinion is nuts. Sometimes I completely lose patience with their ignorance and foolishness. For example, when they learned that China has television stations and newspapers, they actually ignorantly ask me, "China has a newspaper?!" That's really outrageous; we not only have Chinese-language newspapers, they are meticulously produced by our Ministry of Propaganda; looking at our newspapers is like listening to a hymn, it's nothing like American newspapers with their messy public opinions, even daring to insult the U.S. President by name...[in China] we don't publicize the leaders' scandals; after that, who would want to be a leader? ...

(10) Americans are spiritually empty. What I can't stand is: The majority of Americans say grace before each meal, and naively say "God bless America." Ridiculous; if God blessed America, how did America get this backwards, this primitive, how did Americans get so simple and primitive? What's the use of praising God? It would be more practical to spend that time praising your boss! That's the modern way! ...

(11) Americans do not have a concept of time. No matter what, they always wait in line. ... We Chinese are smarter, you see. No matter how crowded it gets, we still have the skill to stuff ourselves in somewhere, this saves a lot of time and you can avoid getting tired from standing! If someone you know opens a backdoor, that saves even more time. The old Americans just don't get this.

(12) American stores make no sense: You can return something weeks after buying it without even giving a reason. How is it that you let me return the goods without even arguing with me for a little while? ...

(13) The U.S. isn't safe. 95% of homes have forgotten to install anti-theft nets/doors/windows; another strange thing is, where'd all the pickpockets go?

(14) Americans are wimps. 95% of drivers don't even dare to run red lights...although 99% of American adults have a car, their driving method is very strange: There are many cars on the road, but you can't hear any horns, the streets are so quiet it's as if they're not streets, there's none of the energy of a major province-level [Chinese] city.

(15) Americans lack emotion. 95% of employees don't think their superiors' weddings have anything to do with them, so they never find an excuse to care about their leaders; in China, do the masses ever miss a chance to care about their leaders? Put another way, who in China doesn't dare to? Look how much feeling we've got.

(16) Americans aren't sensible. 99% of Americans go through school, get jobs, get promoted, and get an operation without understanding the need to give "hong bao" [red envelopes full of cash] to open a back door. ...

(17) Looking at the above photo, it's enough reason for us to look down on the Americans! While hunting Bin Laden, Obama and his subordinates were staring at an on-screen live satellite feed in the White House's Situation Room. My feelings are:

1. American subordinates don't respect their leaders enough, and even made the dignified President squeeze into a corner to sit. Poor Obama, not even the prestige of a village head in the Celestial Dynasty ["天朝," slang for China].

2. The imposing White House Situation Room is really blah. It's small, with no fancy decorations, it's really not fit for the style of a great nation. A township-level department room in the Celestial Dynasty is probably bigger than that, and much more luxurious.

3. There are no fruit plates or beverages, no ... expensive cigarettes ... and this is the world's number one economy, ha!

This article originally appeared at Tea Leaf Nation, an Atlantic partner site.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/09/foolish-and-backward-nation-a-self-effacing-chinese-satire-of-america/261946/