“These old men look so terrible”—China watches the US Republican primary

““Just looking at these faces, I feel Hillary being the next president is already certain.”
““Just looking at these faces, I feel Hillary being the next president is already certain.”
Image: Reuters/Brian Snyder
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The US is gearing up for another Republican presidential debate tonight to help American voters choose between the union-busting tactics of Scott Walker, the anti-universal-health-care platform of Ted Cruz, and the anti-climate-change stance of Ben Carson.

But outside of the US, and particularly in China, the Republican party’s tangle of candidates can loosely be classified in three groups: Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and everyone else. The last Republican debates were translated and broadcast in China, and Chinese netizens mostly found the candidates wanting. (They also overwhelmingly don’t like Hillary Clinton.)

“Just looking at these faces, I feel Hillary being the next president is already certain. These old men look so terrible. Why can’t the Republicans find someone young and handsome?” one Chinese blogger wrote below a photo (link in Chinese) of the last debate, which featured Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, and John Kasich. (Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina has been added this time around.)

Donald Trump

Just as in the US, Trump is commanding the lion’s share of attention among Republican candidates in China. As a “new master of politics of rage,” Trump has ”unscrupulously” revealed the problems of American democracy, argues The Global Times, the state-run nationalist tabloid. A Sept. 8 op-ed in the newspaper asked, “How far can ‘Trump for president’ mania go?”

Trump is not a politician, much less a statesman. None of his popularity is derived from policy proposals. It’s just that compared with other candidates, his show is so entertaining. Although he has received scant endorsement from the Republicans, and his political experience is thin, he dares to speak what other politicians can’t and won’t.

The article argues that Americans see Trump as harsh critic of “the malfunctioning two-party system,” which has caused anti-war protests and racial conflicts. But it also notes that “a political amateur fond of playing dramas is not a savior” and that Trump winning the presidency would be “jaw-dropping.”

Trump’s policies on China are a source of confusion for many Chinese—especially if they only thing they’ve seen is a supercut video of Trump saying “China” over and over. A re-post of the video on Chinese microblogging platform Sina Weibo has garnered over 19,000 retweets so far.

“Comrade Trump, your application for the Communist Party membership has been approved!” One Chinese blogger wrote. It is difficult to tell if the comment is sarcasm or praise.

“Trump’s supporting rate from Chinese nationals should be 100%,” another blogger commented.

“Don’t get it wrong—this guy doesn’t love China. When he’s making money he’s pro-China, but when he begins to lose money he’s extremely anti-China,” another blogger wrote.  Trump, he said, is just a 逗逼—a phrase that literally translated means “funny [female genitalia],” but in meaning is probably closer to “douchebag.”

And to at least some Chinese, Trump’s controversial remarks on gender and immigrants make a lot of sense. In response to the question “Why is Donald Trump getting such high ratings?” on Zhihu, the Quora-like Chinese Q&A site, one blogger wrote:

He is not discriminating against anyone—including the Mexicans and the females. To evict illegal migrants is nothing but normal. To scold them harshly is also reasonable. Just like we don’t want black people in Guangzhou to become the 57th Chinese ethnic group.

Ben Carson and Scott Walker

“This doctor is really saving electricity,” another blogger wrote after watching Ben Carson in an televised interview (link in Chinese). “Is there anyone who can focus on his speech? I feel he will put an oxygen bottle on the ground at anytime when he speaks.”

Scott Walker’s plan to build a wall between the US and Canada also didn’t impress the few people in China who took note of it. “If you have that time and effort, first please treat your baldness. To be a president of such a big country, how can you be bald?” another Weibo user wrote.

Jeb Bush

“We will watch a big drama where a son and younger brother of ex-presidents and a wife of another ex-president [are] fighting for the presidency,” a Chinese blogger joked on Zhihu. “Even [Netflix’s TV series] House of Cards doesn’t dare to write that script.”

Since Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton declared their candidacies, Chinese online criticism of US democracy has never ceased, as one widely quoted Sina Weibo blogger wrote earlier:

I heard little sister Hillary announces running for the US president in 2016 and her opponent is little brother [Jeb] Bush. I want to know why a democratic election always selects from two families. Are all the other Americans idiots?

But Bush really hasn’t drawn as much attention from China as Clinton or Trump. He has name recognition because he is the third presidential candidate from the Bush family, but otherwise netizens seem not to care much about him. That’s even true when he talked about ”anchor babies” and specifically referred to Asian people. Chinese state media reported what he said, but the remarks drew little notice. What’s more popular is some goofy wordplay on his name on Weibo:

Jeb Bush, Bush Junior’s younger brother, officially announced running for the US president in 2016. After James Bond, Jason Bourne, Joe Biden, Jack Bauer, James Blunt, Jack Black, Jessica Biel, Jonas Brothers, and Justin Bieber, he is another important figure who has an awesome acronym. #JB2016!#

What does it really mean? The initials JB are also the acronym for Ji Ba, a slang word for “penis” in Chinese pinyin.