For whatever reason, sexual themes seem to be dominating Xi Jinping’s tour of the Americas. Earlier today, a picture of Xi with his wife in Mexico—which Durex’s corporate Sina Weibo account doctored to show a condom in Xi’s pocket—was “harmonized” in China (meaning, deleted by the censors).
Another picture of Xi looking tenderly at Mexican president Enrique Peña Nieto reminded Sina Weibo users of “Brokeback Mountain,” the 2005 film about two cowboys who fall in love (in addition to being a movie, it is also used as general slang for gay male romance).
Even heavyweight wonks are projecting sex onto the Xi tour. The new Asia-Pacific cover for The Economist this week features Xi and American president Barack Obama as the two leading characters in Brokeback Mountain. If you need this spelled out: it suggests Xi and Obama are having a secret gay love affair. (Xi’s head appears on the body of Jack Twist, the character played by Jake Gyllenhaal, while Obama is Ennis Del Mar, Heath Ledger’s character.)
A survey of Chinese Weibo users found that, while some felt the cover ”lacked integrity,” most found it pretty amusing. “When the latest issue came, it elicited a burst of enthusiastic uproar—everyone was about to crack up. Laughing so much my manager was gasping for breath, he asked me, ‘Do you think this issue will be banned in China?'” wrote a Hong Kong-based user. “The cover is too hilarious! The ambiguity of Sino-US relations…,” wrote one user. Another said, “I’m going to download this issue of The Economist straight away!” (all links in Chinese).
With a few exceptions, members of the China-based Twittersphere were less amused. One user declared it to be “awful“ and another wrote, “I would be embarrassed to work there this week.” Beijing-based China writer Bill Bishop found it “a bit 2 cute,” while blogger Beijing Cream called it “tasteless” and surmised that it would “surely be interpreted as homophobic.”
The censors weren’t fond of the issue either. The Economist’s Beijing bureau chief James Miles reported via Twitter that Weibo-based searches for “Economist cover” in Chinese had already been blocked earlier this morning (results for “economist” and “brokeback mountain” in Chinese hadn’t at the time of publishing). One Weibo user reported that his post linking to the cover was deleted, while another said the link wouldn’t let her download the issue (links in Chinese).