“Welcome” to America, President Hu Jintao: Some Seeing Red, Some Rolling out the Red Carpet

China's president Hu Jintao arrives in our fine (and freezing) city of Chicago today, for a myriad of activities, from visiting a Chinese auto manufacturing plant and being the guest of the Confucius Club at a local high school to dining with Mayor Daley and Governor Quinn this evening. (Hopefully the translation is better than it was yesterday in Washington, DC.). The jokes abound (our own was actually our best-read post this week thus far), but what does the visit highlight and symbolize?

A few things, in fact:

  • A huge China-mandated publicity push here in the US. Over on Shainghaiist, you can see pictures of Times Square decked out in red and blaring the video "Experience China" (that will play 15 times per hour until Feb 14, yeesh). Forbes makes a great point: "This is a bold move for a government better known for selling its propaganda at home, where the consumers are at least accustomed to it, than abroad. From a public relations standpoint, an old-fashioned television ad campaign would seem to have a risk of backfiring: American viewers will bring their own fixed notions about China to these ads, and may prove a tough audience. Then again, the ads may just fall flat or seem altogether harmless -- which in this day and age could be construed as a PR victory."
  • A vast mixture of support and protest, especially among Chinese-Americans. The Tribune reports, "The mixed reception expected during Hu's two-day visit reveals the complex stew of emotions among Chinese-Americans and other Asian-Americans in the region to what many see as the beginning of a powerful relationship between China and Chicago, bringing jobs to the Midwest and raising the city's global profile as a center for commerce and tourism." Some are pleased to see Jintao representing a move that will bolster jobs after the "dark memories of the Communist China their families left behind." Still more are still outraged by the human rights violations and sanctions against any political action in China, and will protest as Jintao arrives at The Hilton.
  • Chicago is headquarters to Boeing, who China just signed a $19 billion deal with for new aircraft. (Too bad Boeing is now laying off 1,100 workers).

Frankly I'm curious to see what comes of the visit -- and look for some more coverage on Spend Matters tomorrow. "The Chinese system has gradually understood that it is not just the coasts but that people in the middle of the country are important as well," said Dali Yang, political science professor at University of Chicago and head of its Confucius Institute." Oh good. At least Chicago doesn't have a Times Square to blast videos from. But it does have a Chinatown with a host of dissident newspapers that you can be sure President Hu will not be picking up on his visit.

- Sheena Moore

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