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Barack Obama, Audacity of Hope in China, Shanghai Bookstore Front

Barack Obama, Audacity of Hope in China, Shanghai Bookstore Front

Welcome to the knowchinabusiness.com blog. As Barack Obama’s inauguration draws near, for the first post, I think it is of interest to revisit the view of his victory from China.

First of all, it is important to note that there was a lot of skepticism in China prior to Obama’s win. Having heard numerous stories of racial division in the United States, friends and colleagues that I talked to felt that it was nigh impossible that the U.S. would elect its first black president. This was in spite of the fact that all major polls were showing Barack Obama ahead. I myself had quite a few doubts and concerns that the American people would make the right choice given my deep disappointment in elections both 4 and 8 years prior. I even had a heated discussion with a taxi driver about whether Obama had a chance to win; he “bet me” that Obama would lose.

Emma Graham-Harrison of Reuters reported:

The dramatic victory, in which Obama carried some states that had not voted for his Democratic party in decades, was a major boost to America’s reputation.

“I am very happy U.S. history was made. I think in a lot of Chinese people’s eyes America was a racist country, even today the television said that white people wouldn’t vote for Obama,” said Li Nan, a student at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

“I think that a lot of Chinese will change their mind now.”

This quote really reflects the view of many Chinese people prior to the election, as well as that of prominent Chinese media. Now that the presidential contest has been decided, interest from Chinese friends and colleagues in Barack Obama’s win has indeed become even more keen and the reaction quite overwhelmingly positive. Many who knew prior that I was an Obama supporter (basically everyone) asking curiously “how do you feel?” or “how will you celebrate?” now that he had in fact won the presidency. The next question one colleague asked me at lunch was “so when will there be an Asian American president?” to which I had no answer. But I felt encouraged that Barack Obama had at least opened this door in my colleague’s imagination to dare to dream.

People smiled and asked me to openly express my joy at Obama’s victory, which was interesting. It was sincere curiosity at my feelings and probably had something to do with the perception that Westerners wear emotions on their sleeve. I felt jubilant on the inside but, as the only non-Chinese person in the office, decided an open celebration would be a little strange. I still greatly appreciated the smiles and encouragement however. I think for colleagues it was a bit like watching an enthusiastic sports fan of a team you know to be good, but don’t necessarily support yourself.

Following lunch with colleagues on the day of Obama’s victory we went to an English bookstore and overheard the phone conversation between the boss of the book store and his employee, who was instructed to move all of the Obama-related books to the front of the store. Interest has been high in Barack Obama’s books including The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream and Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. At another book store across the street from Cloud Nine Shopping Center in Shanghai and close to my home, an Audacity of Hope poster is prominently displayed in the window.

In summary, although the financial crisis still remains the primary issue on people’s minds in China, initial doubt and skepticism have given way to optimism for an Obama presidency:

Antoaneta Bezlova of IPS reported:

The results of the online poll conducted on the China Daily website by the U.S. embassy here showed Obama enjoying a much greater lead over his Republican rival, John McCain, with the support of 75 percent of Chinese polled.

Rebecca Zhu, a 29-year-old bank employee, agreed. “No Chinese leader is that young,” she said. “Obama is attractive because he is hip and unconventional. He has even used e-mails to advance his campaign.”

“Perhaps his age, energy and even complexion, which signify the U.S. dream, are more appealing to the Chinese,” Song Zhiyuan, who analysed the survey, told the ‘China Daily’.

I would point out in a final note however that many Chinese people and the Chinese media take a more pragmatic view of the Obama presidency, focusing primarily on whether it will mean any changes in the U.S. policy towards China; most have concluded that previous policies towards China will be carried over, which is also the view from where I sit.

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