China’s internet was more focused on Chris Wallace than Trump or Clinton during the third presidential debate

Hello to my fans in China.
Hello to my fans in China.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

If the first US presidential debate was a battle between a “granny” and a “bastard,” the second a romantic karaoke session between Clinton and Trump, then the third was all about Chris Wallace, the moderator—at least according to China’s internet users.

Wallace, a Fox News anchor and registered Democrat, is the son of the late broadcaster Mike Wallace, who was widely recognized over his four-decade career as a tough “interrogator” on CBS’s 60 Minutes. He conducted one-on-one interviews with heads of state like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In a 2000 episode, he sat down with then Chinese president Jiang Zemin and grilled him over the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and the Chinese Communist Party’s crackdown on the Falun Gong—a group that practices meditation and breathing exercises—which the party classifies as a cult.

Jiang during the 2000 interview with Mike Wallace.
Jiang during the 2000 interview with Mike Wallace.
Image: AP Photo/Xinhua, Liu Jianguo

In China, Jiang has become an unlikely idol on the internet in recent years. Many express admiration for his relatively unscripted persona, especially compared to current president Xi Jinping. Mike Wallace’s interview with Jiang is one of the most shared and watched videos among the former leader’s fans, in which Jiang broke into a Chinese folk song and recited part of the Gettysburg Address in English. When angered by a Hong Kong journalist in 2000, Jiang belittled the Hong Kong press and said, ”America’s Wallace is way above you all,” adding that “he and I talked and laughed comfortably.” Both lines are popular memes on China’s internet.

In the third and final presidential debate, Chris Wallace was referred to as the son of “America’s Wallace” on the Chinese internet. Chinese news publications also specifically pointed out that the debate was moderated by Chris Wallace, even though many didn’t mention the moderators’ names in previous debates. “Wallace” was also a selling point for coverage of the debate in China—for example a live blog (link in Chinese) on news portal NetEase was titled, “The final presidential debate, moderated by Wallace’s son.”

“Is this the Wallace [Jiang] talked and laughed comfortably with?” one user wrote on China’s Twitter-esque Weibo site (link in Chinese, registration), in a tone that made it hard to tell whether he was confused or joking. Another blogger wrote, mimicking Jiang’s line: “The son of America’s Wallace is way above you all.”

In terms of Chris Wallace’s actual performance, Chinese singer Liang Huan commented on Weibo that he was ”the most competent moderator” across the three debates. One political commentator known as “Li Woteng” said on Weibo that Wallace “had good control” of the third debate, which was ”more focused on real issues” than previous ones.

There was no word on what Jiang made of Chris Wallace’s performance.