'The UC Davis Policeman's Actions Are a Huge Gift to the Chinese Government'

Just now from an American living in China:
I've been following the coverage of the UC Davis Pepper Spray incident and I just wanted to bring up another angle. 

I first learned about the incident while sitting on the Hong Kong MTR [mass transit system, which of course is superb] en route to Shenzhen (I was flying back to Chengdu where I currently live.) The Hong Kong metro has tv screens, which happened to be showing the news, and my first thought when I saw the video of the policeman pepper-spraying the students was that I must be mis-reading the Chinese subtitles at the bottom of the screen, because there is no way this could be taking place in America.

But my second and longer-lasting impression, was an amazement of how quickly this video had spread had spread throughout the world and how detrimental it was for the US's image. The UC Davis' policeman's actions are a huge gift to the Chinese government, because this gives the Chinese government added ammunition to build a moral equivalency argument between itself and the US (not to the world but to it's own people.) I only speak from experience in China, but I'm sure in many countries, the reaction will be the same. Just another aspect in which this horrible event is a tragedy.
Of course I recognize the hypocrisy of Chinese officials harping on police brutality, when they spend half their time trying to suppress online videos of their police, Chengguan, and riot squads doing the same thing, and much worse, around the country. But as the reader says, that's the point: since when do we benchmark our standards of civil liberties, tolerance for protest, and police-public interactions on those of a one-party Communist state?

More on this in a few hours. For the moment, a reminder that the connectedness of the world and the instantaneous global spread of images have consequences that are unfolding more quickly than anyone can anticipate or make sense of.
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


A Stop-Motion Tour of New York City

A filmmaker animated hundreds of still photographs to create this Big Apple flip book


The Absurd Psychology of Restaurant Menus

Would people eat healthier if celery was called "cool celery?"


This Japanese Inn Has Been Open for 1,300 Years

It's one of the oldest family businesses in the world.


What Happens Inside a Dying Mind?

Science cannot fully explain near-death experiences.

More in National

From This Author

Just In