Ambassadors Caught on Tape, China Edition

By Jeremiah Jenne

BEIJING, China -- While there weren't all that many actual protesters at last Sunday's "Jasmine Revolution" in Beijing, one attendee who did not escape the notice of sharp-eyed Chinese netizens was US Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman.

The website M4 (四明网) posted footage of the ambassador being harangued by bystanders and cited his presence as proof the planned demonstration in central Beijing was part of a global US conspiracy. 

[Ed. note: When Jeremiah Jenne posted this item, it included an embedded video from M4, of the Huntsman family at the demonstration, complete with hostile notation from Chinese netizens about Huntsman's "agitator" role. The video he linked to has been off-and-on unavailable on Chinese sites. If it doesn't load, here instead is a photo that conveys the general idea. If the video is available below, click on it to see the whole show.]


On their website (English, 中文), an accompanying essay warned:

"China is too strong for any country in the world to think of messing around with its internal affairs. The Chinese people know what they need. They know their direction, and they know where they are heading to. What they do not need is for any nation, not even the U.S. to give them lessons on how to run their affairs. The failed "Jasmine" protests in China should be a lesson to the U.S. and its allies in the west - that if they are thinking of more attempts to destabilize China then they should think again."

This kind of rhetoric may seem a bit extreme, it's important to keep in mind that while Chinese nationalism, especially on the Internet, is a growing force, the "Angry Youth" (fenqing) are well known in China for being just that -- young and angry. They represent a kind of lunatic fringe.  And by "lunatic," I mean seriously...take a look at the site. These guys make Glenn Beck sound like the very model of reason and moderation.

In fairness though, the question remains: Just what the hell was the ambassador doing standing in front of that particular McDonald's on that particular afternoon?

A US Embassy spokesperson told AFP that it was "purely coincidental."

Uh huh.

Obviously the crazies at M4 have their own theories, but you have to think it's a little disingenuous to try and sell the notion that the Chinese-speaking US Ambassador to China was standing in the midst of a would-be protest with no earthly idea about what was going on. Even if it was "coincidence," the time and date for the planned demonstration had been posted and re-posted on various overseas Chinese websites throughout the week. Having the ambassador and his family blithely wandering through the area unawares would at the very least seem like bad staff work.

Now as most know, Ambassador Huntsman last month made official what had been the third worst kept secret in Beijing (behind Hu Jintao's hair regimen and the fact the government routinely replaces Mao's body in the mausoleum with a wax "stunt Mao"), tendering his resignation in preparation for a possible White House bid in 2012.

So...let me pitch you a 30-second ad spot:

Scene opens, martial music, our hero stands tall, face stoic behind cool shades, wearing a leather jacket with an American flag prominently emblazoned on the sleeve as he prepares to stare down the police in a stand-off between the forces of freedom and the Chinese state...we can cut the footage of him being hustled away at the end there, right?*

Dear lord, I've been in Beijing for so long, I'm starting to spin my own conspiracies.

*Despite M4's captioning, I'm pretty sure the two young men helping him through the crowd are actually his sons.

Quick update: The Shanghaiist blog is reporting that Sina Weibo, China's most heavily used microblogging site, is now restricting searches for Jon Huntsman's Chinese name.  Searches for 洪博培 (Hong Bopei) yield the error message, "According to relevant laws and regulations, the search results may not be shown."

Jeremiah Jenne is a PhD candidate in Chinese history, living and working in Beijing. He is the author of the blog Jottings from the Granite Studio.

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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.

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