This week, LearnChineseBusiness.com published an article titled “Exclusive Interview With Gov. Huntsman’s Chinese Intern.” While it attracted a modest readership, it was nowhere near as popular as a negative story might have been. The Chinese intern interviewee, who wished to remain anonymous, had only good things to say about the presidential candidate, and was obviously impressed with his ability to speak Mandarin Chinese.
Learning Mandarin Chinese is no easy feat. In fact, it’s ranked as one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn. There are more than 50,000 characters, and a contextual and tonal complexity that takes years to master. Anyone who has successfully proven a proficiency in the language, especially these days, when China is approaching her zenith, should be hailed as a rare asset. Add to that feat, a long line of political accomplishments, which include serving as governor of Utah and the U.S. ambassador to China, and you stand before a human marvel. But Americans aren’t seeing Huntsman in the white armor he’s earned; to many, he’s wearing China red, and conspiring with the dragons. Despite his outstanding international experience, Huntsman has effectively been demonized because of his China connection, and is being referred to maliciously as “China Jon” and a “Manchurian Candidate.”
Just last week, as Huntsman made his way toward South Carolina, where, a New Yorker article reports, “The South Carolina Department of Commerce says Chinese companies have invested $307.8 million in the state.” But, even with U.S. states like South Carolina benefiting from trade ties with China, anti-China sentiment threatens to undermine candidates like Huntsman who openly embrace China as an ally.
China is an easy target for many Americans who over the last decade have read about the mass loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs to cheap labor countries like China, and even more recently about severe hacking and intellectual property attacks against critical U.S. interests originating from the mainland. And many feel the U.S’. hegemony is in danger of being replaced in the next ten to fifteen years by China’s vast economic engine. Plus, as the U.S. begins to withdraw military forces from the Middle East, it announces intentions to reinforce its presence in the East. So, it’s easy to see how the average American, whose standard of living and future outlook has gone from 100 mph to a roadside stall, can feel anything but animosity for China and anyone who steps up to the podium as a would-be president mocking a failing America in Mandarin quips against fellow American presidential contenders.
Before the American public, Mr. Huntsman embodies the China that has allegedly crippled the American dream, and no matter how clever his linguistic offensives, using such tactics will inevitably associate him with the opposition rather than the solution to America’s economic ills.
Could Truman have defeated his adversaries at the beginning of the Cold War through strategically timed strokes of linguistic genius? In Russian? Even when most of America openly prides itself on having a global outlook on trade, and deep appreciation for diversity, every syllable Mr. Huntsman utters in Mandarin reminds voters that it’s almost impossible for them to buy anything that’s made in the USA anymore, and even worse, that unless something changes, the whole country may be speaking Mandarin in the next fifty years.