Showing and telling

The current ambassador to China, Gary Locke, is teaching the Chinese some useful stuff without a word of preaching or assertion, mainly by carrying his own bags and flying economy, and being seen to do so.  The German for ambassador is botschafter, which means message carrier, and Locke’s story nicely enlarges our idea of how a message can most effectively be embodied.

I really like this story, including the inept, hamhanded response of the Chinese élites. Locke is giving the usual speeches as well, of course; I especially like this bit:

“I’ve sometimes asked myself: ‘How did the Locke family go in just two generations from living in a small rural village in China to the governor’s mansion?’ ” Locke said in a Sept. 9 speech to students at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “The answer is American openness — building and sustaining an open economy and an open society.”

“Our family’s story is the story of America,” Locke said. And, in a subtle challenge to China to become more open, he added, “we believe these values are independent of any particular political system. They are universal, and universally beneficial to societal advance.”

What the story doesn’t say is that Locke’s attribution of his status to a whole system and not to his own personal merit is also a subtle challenge to our own 1%, who seem to think everything they own was value they created alone, and are busily sawing the rungs out of the ladder.


  1. MikeM says

    Your last paragraph reminds me of Ann Richards’ comment about George H. W. Bush: “He was born on third base and thought he hit a triple.” [Of course, his son was also born on third base, but was picked off trying to steal second.]

  2. Maynard Handley says

    ” is teaching the Chinese some useful stuff ”

    He IS teaching the Chinese, or he (and the US) WANT TO BELIEVE he is teaching the Chinese?
    Just how stupid do we imagine the Chinese are? You think they don’t know about OWS? About the way the great bailout of 2008 stopped as soon as the money made it into the banks? About how every damn political argument in America is about the rich saying they deserve more money and lower taxes? About how LOW social mobility in the US is?

    This strikes me as exactly the same as the US imagining it could woo the third world in the 50s. Go abroad, tell them how wonderful the US is, and imagine they don’t know about Jim Crow, legal segregation, and the way the US REALLY feels about their kind of humans.

    When someone comes telling me a story that is a lie, that I know is a lie, that he knows is a lie, and that he (if he has a brain in his head) knows I know is a lie, I have to wonder about what is going on — what compels a country to lie in such a stupid and obvious way?
    The whole thing strikes me as very reminiscent of the last chapter of Henry Kissinger’s recent book On China. After spending the entire book talking about realpolitik and suchlike, he suddenly tells us that the US and China should form all sorts of alliances and treaties and deals to work together. I’ve no idea what he though the message was, but the message I took from it was “sure, sure, the US has insisted on doing things its own way for 60+ years, but now we’re running scared, and we want political deals sewn up with China NOW, while we’re still in the driving seat and with some chance of being able to force things to go our way”.

  3. Dan Staley says

    I was recently talking to a friend about their 18 year old boy. She’s about ready to pull her hair out at his behavior. I visualize the US-China relation like an 18 year old to his grandparents. We’re a precocious adolescent who thinks we knows it all.

    • Ed Whitney says

      “We’re a precocious adolescent who thinks we knows it all.”
      Is this “we” as in Barack Obama and his administration, or is it “we” as in Michelle Bachmann who thinks China is part of a new axis of evil, and Rick Perry who thinks our relationship to China is like the one we had with the USSR in 1980 during a worsening of the Cold War and a widespread conviction that we were in a struggle for survival with that country?

    • Dave Schutz says

      “It is too early to say”
      Zhou Enlai, asked for his assessment of the 1789 French Revolution