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Talking Points, December 18 - 31, 2011

This edition of the USC U.S.-China Institute newsletter focuses on U.S.-China soft power and China in the U.S. presidential election. As usual, it includes upcoming China-focused events and exhibitions across North America.
December 19, 2011

Talking Points

December 18 - 31, 2011

soft power | China in the US presidential election
calendar of events and exhibitions | read at the USCI website

Soft Power, the attractiveness of a country’s culture or social, political, or economic institutions, is an idea first articulated by Harvard’s Joseph Nye. The concept is one that people readily grasp. One measure of it is the eagerness of people to travel to or migrate to a country. It’s no surprise that America’s pull in this regard remains strong among Chinese. The U.S. Embassy in Beijing announced this week that it and U.S. consulates in China have issued more than a million visas this year, a record.

By this indicator, China’s soft power is certainly on the rise. It’s become the number three travel destination (after France and the U.S.). Megaevents such as the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2010 Shanghai Expo helped promote China as a destination, but it’s broader interest in the country’s history, culture, and economic development that attracts tourists. Some two million Americans visited China in 2010.

On Friday, though, guards keeping blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng 陈光诚 and his family isolated, hammered China’s efforts to

Chen Guangcheng, courtesy CHRD.

utilize film to enhance its pull. Christian Bale, recipient of a 2011 Academy Award, went to visit Chen. He invited CNN to join him. He got to the village where guards have been roughing up anyone who tries to visit Chen. The guards treated Bale as they have other visitors, punching him and dragging him away.

But Bale isn’t just any visitor. He’s the star of The Flowers of War (金陵十三钗), which opened Friday across China. At $90 million, Flowers is China’s biggest budget film ever. It was directed by Zhang Yimou, the country’s most famous director. Moreover, Bale’s character is an accidental humanitarian, an American who ends up trying to protect Chinese during the 1937 Japanese invasion of China.

Last week, Bale was in Beijing promoting the film. He told reporters, “[The Flowers of War is] a movie about human beings and the nature of human beings' responses to crisis and how that can reduce people to the most animalistic behavior and also raise them up to the most honorable behavior.” Returning to Beijing after getting punched and pushed around, Bale told CNN, "I'm not brave doing this… The local people who are standing up to the authorities, who are visiting Chen and his family and getting beaten or detained, I want to support them."

Chen became known for putting forward lawsuits on behalf of rural women who had undergone forced abortions and sterilizations. Beaten and subjected to house arrest, he was then sentenced to four years in prison for blocking traffic. He (and until recently his family) has been under an unannounced (and extralegal) house arrest since his release in September 2010.

Chinese authorities have put Flowers forward as their nominee for the best foreign language film. Academy voters are more likely to remember the pummeling Bale just took than the film in which he stars. The bruises to China’s reputation will likely outlast any the actor sustained.



At the same time, one remarkable Chinese cultural tradition has been brought to America, modified a bit, and is attracting thousands

Gaylord Resorts "ICE"

of visitors. They are going to Gaylord Resorts in Maryland, Florida, Texas, and elsewhere to enjoy ICE, an exhibit featuring ice carvings. For several years, Gaylord has brought in artisans from China. This past summer, acrobats and other performers won over audiences at many county and state fairs.

Dancing to Michael Jackson in Duping, 2011

We end this short discussion of soft power with two examples of the popularity of American culture in China. Michael Jackson’s been dead for more than two years. Earlier this year, however, Bai Shuying 白淑英, a 65 year old grandmother, channeled Michael Jackson when dancing in a television talent completion. And in Duping 笃平, a Southwestern Chinese rural community, an entire school’s student body mimic the master’s moves in the video “Dangerous.” We have excerpts below. The full clips are available at YouTube (Bai, Duping) and Youku (Bai, Duping).

David Shambaugh is among those who have discussed Chinese efforts to expand its soft power. Click here to see his January 2011 presentation at the USC U.S.-China Institute (or YouTube). . Establishing Confucius Institutes to promote the study of Chinese language and culture is part of that effort. Click here to see a U.S.-China Today map of the institutes in the U.S. and click here to see an article about a sister program, Confucius Classrooms. Last year, The Daily Show mocked some Southern California critics of this effort.
Three weeks from now, a portion of the Iowa electorate will have made their presidential preferences known. A week later, on January 10, voters in New Hampshire will cast ballots in the primary election there. The primary battles and the 2012 general election will turn on voters’ perceptions of America’s economic health and its near term prospects. Still, President Obama and those vying to be his Republican challenger, have been called to discuss US-China ties, particularly economic ones.

This fall, President Obama and his cabinet officials moved to more sharply assert American interests in East Asia. This included announcing plans to base Marines in Australia. The administration issued a report complaining of Chinese cyberespionage, including the theft of companies’ intellectual property and strategic plans (click here to read it). Bloomberg Businessweek reported this week that some 760 firms were targeted by Chinese hackers over the past decade. The Wall Street Journal reported that intelligence agencies believe most of these hackers are sponsored by China’s military.

In speeches aimed primarily at Americans, Obama’s mainly employed China as a mobilization tool. He did this in his January 2010 State of the Union speech (“There’s no reason … China should have the fastest trains, or new factories that manufacture clean energy products.”)  A year ago, he said, "It makes no sense for China to have better rail systems than us, and Singapore having better airports than us. And we just learned that China now has the fastest supercomputer on Earth --- that used to be us."

In recent months top administration officials have taken a harder rhetorical line. In September, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner criticized Chinese policies requiring foreign firms seeking to do business to share their technology. He said, “They [the Chinese] have made possible systematic stealing of intellectual property of American companies….” Two weeks ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was clearly referring to China in warning developing nations to “Be wary of donors who are more interested in extracting your resources than in building your capacity.”

Comments such as these have reinforced widely held American perceptions that China’s government “unfairly” promotes exports and limits foreign access to domestic markets. In January 2011, 40% of those Americans queried by the Pew Center said they wanted the U.S. government to “get tougher” on China in terms of economic and trade policies. At the same time, 53% said they wanted the American government to forge better ties with China. So both the Obama administration and its critics have been asserting a willingness to work with China’s government while at the same time condemning particular Chinese practices and policies.


Republicans, though, and especially those Republicans who identify themselves as Tea Party sympathizers, have been even more certain they want a tougher line on China. 51% of Republicans told Pew they wanted stronger American action on Chinese economic and trade measures. But some 66% of Republican Tea Party sympathizers say this is necessary. And only 30% of these Americans think it’s important to forge better ties with China.

Labor and business groups are busy pushing their concerns, producing studies that show staggering numbers of jobs lost to China or rising exports to China. They sometimes produce maps to pound home their points. Below are two examples from the Economic Policy Institute, a union-affiliated organization, and a map based on U.S.-China Business Council data.

Both the administration and most Republican candidates recognize that the American and Chinese economies are intertwined. They’re aware that a large part of China’s trade surplus with the U.S. consists of products wearing American brand names. Nonetheless, some of the Republican candidates have called for dramatic action or raised fears about American dependence on Chinese credit.

Mitt Romney: China sells much more to us, October 2011

In debates and public presentations since October, Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, has promised that if he’s elected, he’ll take action on “day one” to label China a currency manipulator and to address systematic “Chinese theft” of American intellectual property. He says that those who say such unilateral action could spark a trade war are missing the point. According to Romney the trade war has already started. “China is playing by different rules,” he said on Nov. 9. “One, they are stealing intellectual property. Number two, they're hacking into our computer systems, both government and corporate.” He argues that since America buys so much more from China, it has less to fear from a trade conflict.

Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s poll numbers have shrunk dramatically, but she’s consistently focused on the $1.2 trillion of American governmental debt held by Chinese institutions. In the Nov. 9 debate, she said, “We've sent so much interest money over to the Chinese to pay our debts off that we effectively built their aircraft carrier. And by 2015, we will be sending so much interest money over, we will be paying for the entire People's Liberation Army of China, the number- one employer of the -- of the world.” She continued on this theme in the Nov. 22 debate, arguing, “[W]e need to recognize is that when we are sending interest money over to China, with whom we are highly in hock, we're not just sending our money. We're sending our power.”

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich has received the endorsement of New Hampshire’s largest newspaper and now leads in most

Newt Gingrich: Need good feelings between American and Chinese peoples, December 2011

polls. He has not been as assertive as Romney about dealing with China. In fact, at one point he deferred in part to Jon Huntsman on such matters since “he speaks fluent Chinese, he has worked in China, and he’s been the ambassador.” Instead, Gingrich has focused as Obama generally does, on what domestic policies are needed to improve American human capital and to stimulate investment and innovation. Like others, Gingrich wants to change Chinese behavior but doesn’t really know how that can be done. “I think we're going to have to find ways to dramatically raise the pain level for the Chinese cheating…,” he said on Nov. 9. “I don't think anybody today has a particularly good strategy for doing that.”

The most extended discussion of U.S.-China affairs thus far came in the December 12 discussion between former Utah governor Huntsman and Gingrich. Huntsman said that in 2012 the Chinese leadership will undergo “the most sweeping changes since 1949.” It won’t necessarily be easy dealing with these new leaders, he suggests, since they are part of “a hubristic, nationalistic generation” that has been informed “by 30 years of 8%, 9%, 10% economic growth… [They think] their time has arrived. They can do no wrong.”

Gingrich modified Huntsman’s assertion that the most important relationship going forward was between the U.S. and China. He said, “The most important relationship of the next fifty years is the American people and the Chinese people which is not always the same as the two governments. There are times where we’re going to have tension with an authoritarian regime for reasons that go to our core values, but we have to be very careful not to get involved in a long term split in which the Chinese people conclude that we’re their enemy. I mean, if the American and Chinese people are relatively positive toward each other the planet will be vastly better than if we end up decide inevitably in some kind of bipolar conflict.”



Only one in five Americans consider China an adversary, but a majority consider China at least “a serious problem.” The focus of most Americans is on the country’s economic problems. When China comes up in debates and speeches, it’s likely to be in relation to economic worries. This was the case in the 2008 election (click here to see our documentary on that race) and in the 2010 races (click here and here for examples and discussion of this). USCI will be focusing on China in the U.S. elections, on the implications of Taiwan’s January legislative and presidential elections for U.S.-Taiwan-China ties, and on what China’s leadership changes may mean for relations with the U.S. Our first event in our “2012 and Beyond” initiative is January 21 when we’ll look at the Taiwan election and its political, economic, and security dimensions. We hope you’ll join us.

Of course, U.S.-China ties began to change in dramatic ways with the February 1972 trip that President Richard Nixon made to China. We are marking that journey with the newest segment in our Assignment:China documentary series. The film features interviews with journalists who covered the event (including many of the biggest names in American broadcast journalists) as well as interviews with Nixon and Chinese aides who sought to shape the coverage. The film will be screened in several U.S. and Chinese venues and will be available on our website. In the meantime, please go to to see our “Opening Up” segment on the experience of the first American journalists allowed to be based in China after the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1979.


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USC | California | North America | Exhibitions

USC - Upcoming

01/21/2012: U.S.–Taiwan–China Relations: Politics, Economics, Security
Davidson Conference Center, Embassy Room
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California 90089
Cost: Free
This day-long conference will assess the results of the January 14 Taiwan elections and their potential impact on the triangular relationship. Panels will also focus on cross-strait economic relations and security issues.

02/02/2012: Premiere Screening of Assignment: China – The Nixon Trip
University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089
Cost: Free, please RSVP.
Time: 4:00PM - 6:00PM
The USC U.S.-China Institute will screen the new segment of Assignment: China focusing on the historic visit to China by Richard Nixon. 


12/21/2011: Music in the Chinese Garden - Langchou Chu on guzheng
The Huntington Library
1151 Oxford Road, San Marino, CA 91108
Time: 1:00PM - 3:00PM
A different solo musician will perform each week inside the Love for the Lotus Pavilion, playing unamplified melodies on classical instruments including the dizi, sheng, pipa, erhu, and zheng.

12/27/2011: Film: Touring China
Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706
Cost: Free to members; Free with paid admission; $8 general
Time: 1:30PM
The Bowers Museum presents a film on China.

12/ 22 and 31/2011: Film: The First Emperor of China
Bowers Museum
2002 North Main Street, Santa Ana, CA 92706
Cost: Free to members; Free with paid admission; $8 general
Time: 1:30PM
The Bowers Museum presents a film on China's history.



ends 12/18/2011: Dreams Deferred: Artists Respond to Immigration Reform
Chinese American Museum
425 N. Los Angeles Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012
The Chinese American Museum (CAM) and El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument present Dreams Deferred: Artists Respond to Immigration Reform.

ends 12/31/2011: Tibetan Arms and Armor
Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10028
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York presents an exhibition of Tibetan arms and armor from the permanent collection.

ends 12/31/2011: Chapel of Fierce Protectors
Newark Museum
49 Washington Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102
Cost: Free for members, Adults: $10 Children, Seniors & Students with Valid I.D.: $6
The Newark Museum presents an exhibition of ferocious and fantastic deities in Tibetan Buddhism.

ends 12/31/2011: From the Sacred Realm: Paradises and Pure-lands
Newark Museum
49 Washington Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102
Cost: Free for members, Adults: $10 Children, Seniors & Students with Valid I.D.: $6
The Newark Museum presents an exhibition that introduces the Five Buddha Families under whom the vast Tibetan Buddhist pantheon is organized.

ends 12/31/2011: ABCs of Iconography: The Body, Speech and Mind of Buddhist Art
Newark Museum
49 Washington Street, Newark, New Jersey 07102
Cost: Free for members, Adults: $10 Children, Seniors & Students with Valid I.D.: $6
The Newark Museum presents an exhibition of sculptures that project an explicit body language of postures and gestures specific to peaceful and wrathful deities.

ends 12/31/2011: Perfect Imbalance, Exploring Chinese Aesthetics
Peabody Essex Museum
E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation Gallery, East India Square, 161 Essex Street, Salem, MA 01970-3783
Cost: Free for membres, Adults $15, Seniors $13, Students $11 Youth (16 and under) and Salem, Mass. residents admitted free
The Peabody Essex Museum presents an exhibition that features 30 objects that date from the Neolithic era to 2004 in a range of media including paintings, jade, textiles, porcelain and prints.

ends 12/31/2011: Xiaoze Xie: Amplified Moments, 1993-2008
University of Oregon
Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, 1430 Johnson Lane Eugene, Eugene, Oregon 97403
The Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art at the University of Oregon presents an exhibition featuring work by China's contemporary artist, Xiaoze Xie.

Our web calendar features many more current and upcoming events and exhibitions. It's always available at:


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