“I hear Trump was recruited by ISIS and sent on a suicide mission to the USA, he said he wouldn’t go, but when ISIS told him the heaven that awaits him is full of virgins he started his mission straight away” joked my friend over a beer.
Indeed, for Chinese people, President Trump is now the daily comedy show.
China is often seen in the West through the prism of democratisation. The idea over the last few decades has been that as China opens up to the world the rising middle classes will slowly exert more control over the political system, the influence of Hong Kong will gain traction, and China will eventually end one-party rule and spread freedoms around its land.
To say this idea is a bit utopian would be a bit of an understatement, and its detractors would say it is at best orientalist and at worst downright racist and lacking in any kind of understanding at all of what China is.
In this context, the COVID-19 pandemic in China has transformed from a national calamity to firm evidence of why China should definitely not transform itself in the Western image.
While, Chinese people had already had some idea of Trump before 2020, it is this year where people have let rip, encouraged by the narrative that China has got the pandemic under control and put its people first in the fight against disease, contrasted with the West, which ignored warning signs, was totally unprepared and has favoured economics over protecting its people’s lives.
And President Trump has become the beacon shining the light on why China should not democratise.
Chinese people are in general incredulous that such a man could be president. Deep down, Chinese people have a great respect for the USA, for the political and economic system, and for former presidents such as Bill Clinton and even George Bush Jr as statesmen.
They now watch for news about Donald Trump with glee, whether it’s his latest crackpot cure for COVID-19 or just playing a round of golf while his country burns, boasting about how something he has done or said is better than someone else, building walls and cutting off the USA from the rest of the world.
Indeed, it is not incredulity but comedy which Chinese people experience when talking about Donald Trump.
“At last Trump has got his wall on the border with Mexico. But he had to wait for Mexico to put it up because they don’t want Americans crossing in!”
“Kim Jong Un told Trump that he had big nuclear weapons. Trump just replied, well mine are even bigger!”
“Sun Tse created the art of war, Mao Zedong carried out protracted war, Donald Trump is the master of War by Twitter.”
“Obama told us all to hope, Trump tells us all nope.”
To the Chinese people, Trump is a joke, a buffoon who’s every sentence could contain something new to make fun of.
But he is more than that, with his walls and his protectionism, Chinese people are lapping up the national narrative that the US is isolating itself from the world once again, and that it will have to be China to step up as the bell ringer of globalisation, new methods international cooperation, and world peace.
How that unfolds, we shall have to wait and see.