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US ’08: The view from Beijing

From a Canadian instructor in a Capilano University overseas program:

“Ohh. American election. No.” A tilt of the head, an apologetic half-smile. No opinion.

This election is the non-event of the century in Beijing.

Of course Yan Jiao isn’t Beijing, or BJ, as they call it here. Yan Jiao is a city of several hundred thousand about 30 km east of Beijing. It’s a suburban factory and commuter town, a special economic zone. It’s modelled on Shenzhen in China’s south, the city of factories where that fleece you’re wearing, or the screwdriver you bought last night at Home Depot, might have been made.

Besides factories, hairdressers (about every fifth shop -- hair is big) and shoestores, Yan Jiao also has a university, where I teach communications.

So far I can’t identify a single Chinese person with any interest in the American election, Barack Obama or John McCain. That includes my students, faculty colleagues, and the few BJ residents I’ve met who work in newspaper editing, film production and teaching.

One of my students could name Obama but had trouble remembering the other guy. A Chinese film producer friend said, no, no opinion, and went on to other things.

Just today, several students admitted to a faint awareness of the global economic and financial meltdown. If they are interested, it’s because a cousin, uncle or father working in a factory may suffer job loss if the world stops buying China’s exports. They are mainly 18- and 19-year-olds.

So far as I can tell, the American election to the Chinese is one of those many distant, inconsequential and slightly puzzling events that happen over there, in the West.

As for me, I’m discovering that life without Anderson Cooper is, well, at least livable.

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