Xi Jinping: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

15 minute read

I worked this out on my own, so it may contain mistakes. Here is the original video on YouTube.


China, the country responsible for huge technological advances, and yet, it still can’t seem to get pandas to fuck.

China is a gigantic and consequential country where roughly one out of every five people on earth live. It is also the place that Trump has been ranting about for years.

China is killing us.

What China’s doing to us is horrible.

China cheats, they devalue their currency.

We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country and that’s what they’re doing.

OK so Even in the context of a metaphor, the word rape is pretty jarring. As verbs go, it’s not exactly bandied about. It’s like if Trump said, “Congress is really toe fucking me on this border wall”, the underlying point is clear: what he chose to express it that way is not. And yet, for all that Trump talks about China, it seems that he’s very much in the process of learning about it. Just watch what happened when microphones picked up this exchange with China’s president during a state visit back in November.

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Well, if you’re worrying if Trump actually learned something there, rest assured, the only thing you took away from that conversation was that Egypt is older and therefore less fuckable than China. OK, great. Note to self: Don’t fuck Egypt. Too old. But the truth there is a lot of us are probably underinformed about China and that’s something that its leaders have historically been absolutely fine with. Deng Xiaoping famously had a “lay low” international strategy summed up by the same hide your strength and bide your time. But in recent years, there has been a significant shift regarding that because when China’s current leader Xi Jingping assumed the highest office in the land, he said this.

China needs to learn more about the world. The world also needs to learn more about China.

You know what he’s right. We probably should talk more about China. We should probably have talked more about it on this show, especially considering we’ve done roughly 4,000 different stories on New Zealand and multiple pieces on testicle receptacle from the 2005 Russell Crowe film Cinderella Man. So, so tonight, tonight, let’s talk about China, and let’s put America aside for most of this piece and talk instead about China on its own terms because it’s been going through seismic, social, economic and political changes which have happened head-spinningly quickly, and many of them center on its leader Xi Jinping who just recently tightened his grip on power.

The most dramatic political change in China in decades, a vote to scrap term limits for China’s president, the move clears the way for Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely and possibly for life.

Of nearly three thousand ballots, only two voted against the unprecedented move.

Three thousand to two, which means after that vote there were two members of Chinese Parliament thinking “Whoopsy! I really thought that would go the other way!” Maybe an edible arrangement will smooth things over with the man who’s now emperor for life. And that followed on the heels of what was arguably an even bigger change. The fact that last October Xi’s political doctrine known as Xi Jinping Thought was enshrined in the Party’s constitution and that may not sound like much to you, but it’s roughly the equivalent of Donald Trump making himself a founding father and including “Donald Trump thought” into the constitution which would mean that historians in the future would have to parse the meaning of

While Bette Midler is an extremely unattractive woman, I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.

And Xi’s consolidation of power has been aided by the fact that unlike many of his predecessors who tended to be dull bureaucrats, he’s gone out of his way to form a cult of personality about himself for a time state media called him Xi Dada or Uncle Xi, Both of which are objectively weird names for an adult to call another another adult, but fantastic names for a pair of hairless cats, “Xi Dada”, “Uncle Xi”, “Dinner’s ready!” You’re creepy weirdos! And Xi carefully presents a man-of-the-people image, his origin story is famous in China. Born into an elite family, his father fell from grace and like many during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, Xi was sent to work in a rural village, a place which has now become a tourist attract.

The smartly dressed tour guide shows us where Xi slept, an old picture on the wall. We see a well he helped dig, and a sewing shop he set up. Old farmers who knew Xi back then still roam about these pseudo mascots of this bizarre theme park.

Yeah, that is a bizarre theme park and I’ll say that knowing full well that this country’s most beloved theme park features vomit-inducing teacups and a massive pants-less sailor duck with no genitals. And Xi’s branding isn’t confined to tourist attractions. State media has also featured folksy moments like this video of him ordering pork buns at a Beijing restaurant. Now, that visit was huge news in China and that could be hard to believe because our politicians eat junk food in front of us all the time. You can find photos of 12 of the last 12 presidents shoving ice cream into their faces. It’s actually legitimately challenging to find a single photo of Obama where he is not about to inhale half a pint of vanilla. I didn’t even remember that he’d been demolishing a waffle cone during the Bin Laden raise, but clearly I’d remembered it wrong. I was wrong! But the reasons for Xi’s popularity go beyond marketing himself as a cuddly Xi Dada that you can grab a pork bun with is ‘cuz for starters he is riding an economic wave that long precedes him. Over the last 30 years, China’s GDP growth has averaged nearly 10 percent a year, making it the fastest sustained expansion by a major economy in history which has enabled more than 800 million people to lift themselves out of poverty, and many in China’s growing middle class are pretty content with how things have been going.

The tremendous public optimism is striking. Everyone is doing better than their parents did in their day.

I think we’ll be able to move to a bigger house within the next 5 years, and I expect my life to improve a lot. Whatever happens, I’m very optimistic about the future.

Wow, a sense of optimism about the future. I’ve got a say as a British person “I just find that utterly incomprehensible.” If you look up optimism in the OED and this is true the definition simply reads “No.” So for many in China, things are going undeniably well. But Xi has even greater ambitions and I’d like to focus on two massive signature projects, one global and one domestic. First there’s his so-called Belt and Road initiative, a plan which is absolutely gigantic in scope, basically involves China spending a trillion dollars on infrastructure projects in more than 60 countries. Things like ports, bridges and roads, with the idea that it could eventually span international land and sea routes and reshape global trade with China at its center To hear China tell it, “It is the most ambitious infrastructure project in modern history”, they’ve even produced an English-language propaganda video to tell the whole world about it.

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OK, if I could just, If I could just interrupt this irritating Old Navy commercial hawking a trillion dollar infrastructure plan, I know, I know that you’re probably thinking right now: “If I have to listen to one more second of that, it’s going to be stuck in my head all week.” Well, just be thankful that you haven’t heard the rap break. Until now…

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OK, stop, stop stop stop stop, stop I can’t take it anymore, either. They basically made Kommunist Kars 4 Kids1 That is UN-FOR-GIV-ABLE!

Now, it is too early to say whether the Belt and Road is going to be a success, but Xi’s second bold project has already seen results because he’s undertaken a massive crackdown on political corruption, a long-standing grievance among Chinese citizens. It’s led to the investigation and punishment of hundreds of thousands of government officials, some at the very top of the Party. And this has been widely celebrated, with the state media even producing a crackdown themed computer game.

The People’s Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece released a computer game where users can give electric shocks to corrupt officials.

Well that’s fun. What, what could possibly be sinister about being invited to electrocute prisoners in a government-issued game. That is the most entertaining way to package something disturbing since FDR smash-hit board game Candyland Just Kidding It’s a Japanese-American internment camp And this, this is where we reach the point of the story that your kind of new was coming because so far everything that I’ve shown you is what Xi Dada wants you to know about China. But there is a lot of troubling stuff under the surface, for instance conveniently for Xi some of those swept up in the corruption purge were his political rivals, and those accused were often funneled into a system that’s been described as a secretive extralegal process where interrogators seek to extract confessions, sometimes through torture. And it’s worth knowing that those term limits that he successfully eliminated were put in place for a pretty good reason specifically to avoid another Mao under whose regime some horrific things happened in China, from a collectivized farming attempt that was responsible for at least 45 million deaths, a Cultural Revolution that was estimated to have killed at least another million, to his belief that this swimsuit was flattering which I realize now that I say out loud really doesn’t belong with the other two in that list. The point, The point here is Xi is actively removing the post-Mao guardrails that were put in place and while China has never exactly been known as a haven for free expression, he has clamped down noticeably on any form of dissent whatsoever.

There is dissent online and China’s censors are working hard to quash it. They temporarily ban the use of phrases such as personality cult and my emperor, and also references to Winnie the Pooh, a character long used to mock Xi Jinping based on an apparent resemblance.

It’s true. It’s true. Apparently Xi Jinping is very sensitive about his perceived resemblance to Winnie the Pooh, and I’m not even sure it’s that strong a resemblance, to be honest. But the fact he’s annoyed about it means people will never stop bringing it up. Trust me, Xi. If your face even remotely resembles that of a beloved cartoon character, the smart move here is to lean in. And cramping down on Winnie the Pooh comparisons doesn’t exactly project strength. It suggests a weird insecurity in him and experts say that Xi is deeply concerned the public opinion will turn on him. China’s economy is already slowing and Xi’s reportedly haunted by the specters of the Arab Spring and the Soviet Union’s collapse. And that paranoia may be why he’s so anxious to micromanage Chinese daily life. The government has a list of untrustworthy people which can restrict citizens’ ability to travel, buy a house or take out loans. And over the next few years, there are plans to take things much farther.

Every Chinese citizen is being assigned a social credit score, a fluctuating rating based on a range of behaviors. It’s believed that community service in buying Chinese made products can raise your score. Fraud, tax evasion and smoking in non-smoking areas can drop it. If a score gets too low, a person can be banned from buying plane and train tickets, real estate, cars and even high-speed Internet.

Yeah, you could be cut off from a high-speed Internet, although that could actually be a huge opportunity for the finest purveyors of shitty low-speed Internet. I’m talking of course about AT&T, one of America’s least popular corporations, and also, as of this week, our parent company. So goodbye everyone it’s been fun, I know it gets much much darker here. In fact Xi’s crackdown on human rights is apparently the most intense since Tiananmen Square and that is not good because Tiananmen Square is on the short list of places so infamous you don’t even need to describe what happened, like Chernobyl or Jonestown or that one Cheesecake Factory we can’t go to anymore. And Xi has intensified government suppression of certain religions in one province. Christians have been told to take down the image of Jesus and hang portraits of Xi instead, something I’ve also done by the way. So yeah, I think it really ties the room together, it’s a nice accent piece. And a Muslim population known as Uyghurs have been singled out for dystopian levels of surveillance and persecution. Here is one man talking about a form that the government had him fill out.

This piece of paper was sent to everyone. People had to fill it out. They asked things like if you are a Uyghur, if you have a job, if you have a passport, if you pray. All these answers were turned into a scoring system they would categorize people into safe, regular and unsafe people.

That’s pretty chilling ‘cuz generally speaking, whenever people are placed on lists it’s not really turned out well for anyone involved Many of history’s greatest monsters put people on lists. Nixon, the Nazis, Santa all of these animals did that. I looked sure enough, if you are deemed unsafe for whatever reason, you’re in big trouble, because China has incarcerated Muslims in reeducation camps with as many as 800,000 individuals in facilities which reportedly to rewire the political thinking of detainees, erase their Islamic beliefs and reshape their very identities, making Uncle Xi less like your fun uncle and more like your creepy uncle who imprisons 800,000 people in his basements. And if you want to see what it looks like when Xi Jinping Thought gets put into Xi Jingping Practice, just take the story of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. He was imprisoned in 2009 for writing a pro-democracy manifesto and last summer he died in state custody, and even China seemed concerned about how that might look.

Fearing domestic backlash, government censors went to work. Social media post mentioning Liu’s name were deleted, online searches with his name were blocked. Even simple candle emojis were deemed illegal on some sites. CNN signal in China has been cut by government censors every time we mention his name.

Exactly the Chinese media wouldn’t allow mentions of a Nobel Peace Prize winner’s name, which is a pretty intense level of censorship, but it’s also my personal policy towards Guatemalan activist, Rigoberta menchú. Do not bring her up around me. She knows what she did. You know what you did Rigoberta you know what you did. I don’t want to hear her name on your lips. That’s not what this meeting’s about, but the point is what happened to Liu Xiaobo and his wife who is still under house arrest is absolutely tragic, although to his credit, he didn’t go down without taking a final swing.

One of the last known photos of Liu was with his wife Lu Xia, at first glance unremarkable, but notice the mugs they’re holding. Yep, that’s Winnie the Pooh on there, perhaps a final subtle act of defiance.

Yeah, good for them. Good for them I think. I think deep down we all know when you need to really tell someone to go fuck themselves, why not do it with a mark, right? The whole point here is under Xi Jingping, China is becoming more authoritarian, just as it has major plans for expansion onto the world stage. So the era of Hide and Bide is over, and the era of Do As We Say may be dawning, because China has significant economic leverage and it has been using that to silence criticism even when criticism is very much warranted.

The European Union hardly squeaks about human rights anymore or certainly the British don’t. You don’t get much on Tibet either because whenever anyone raises any of these issues, China turns around and says, “Do you want to do business or not?”

Of course because China knows no matter how badly they behave, the world will still want to do business with them. They’re like Facebook, “Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t like us mining your data and undercutting your democracy.” What exactly are you fuckers gonna do about it? Mail people printed out photos of your meals you at, call your friends and tell them “happy birthday” and out loud words, I don’t think so go fuck yourself. And here is where having set America aside at the start, we should bring it back in because it is arguably more important than ever, that America be strategic and tactical about how to deal with China. Sadly those qualities are not hallmarks of this guy who couldn’t play chess for longer than 29 seconds without screaming “my horse eats your big lady” and pouring nacho cheese all over the board. Trump is blowing up the traditional alliances that have helped influence Chinese behavior on important issues, and that has been great news for Xi Jinping as has the fact that human rights don’t really seem to be a big Trump priority. In fact just hours after the death of Liu Xiaobo, even has it as his administration issued condolences, Trump himself said this:

President Xi is a terrific guy. I like being with him a lot and he’s a very special person.

Wow! That was not the best time to give Xi Jinping a pat on the back. It’s the equivalent of saying “How much you love Kevin Spacey in American Beauty” right now. First you shouldn’t, it was objectively terrible and second you’re picking the worst possible time to bring that up. The point is Trump is leaving a vacuum on the world stage and China is more than happy to fill it by telling the world its story and leaving out some very important details. So for everyone’s benefit if they’re going to send out cuddly propaganda videos about Xi Jinping’s achievements, someone might want to make a companion piece, the kind of rounds out the picture.

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