Warning: Beware of Dogs
“We’re a global economy and it’s not going away…We are all connected.”
–Jack Uhalde, Producer, Marketing and TV Programming, NBC Bay Area
“How many evil things has China Central Television done in the past? Replacing truth with lies, manipulating public opinion, desecrating culture, abusing facts, concealing wrongdoing, covering up problems, and creating fake images of harmony.”
–Han Han, Chinese author
"A worker fell to his death at Foxconn Technology Group's manufacturing plant in southern China, local media reported on Wednesday, the latest in a series of apparent suicides by young migrant workers at its factory complexes in the past two years."
--Another Foxconn Worker 'Falls to Death' at South China Plant, Reuters, July 20, 2011
I posted Say It Ain’t So: Is PRC Advertising on NBC? around one o’clock in the morning. The moon cast white light onto the willow tree and ivy hedge outside our house. Don had gone to bed a couple of hours earlier. It was just me and the laptop, its internal parts gently humming. I hit the “publish” button and felt, in that moment, both vulnerable and silly. I wasn’t some hot-shot investigative reporter with a J-school pedigree. I was a suburban blogger in a Made in China bathrobe, puzzling out concepts that heretofore had been someone else’s problem--my Dad’s problem, or the problem of some workers who suddenly found their jobs outsourced to faraway countries, or the problem of small company owners who simply can’t compete with lower-priced imports. What was I doing?
A few hours later, I called my friend Anna. “If I disappear, tell Don the PRC must've come to get me.” Bees hummed in the potted privets just outside my open kitchen window. I'd had a bowl of oatmeal topped with fresh local blueberries. Watched the Today show. Read the paper. It was all normal, American. To mention the People's Republic of China in the midst of small talk with a friend sounded ridiculous. Made me laugh; Anna, too. "Just let the China thing go," she said in a concerned mother-hen way. "There are some things we just can't change." As she spoke, I pictured headlines: Suburban Blogger Disappears.
But of course I couldn’t let "the China thing" go. I spent the day reading about China and admitting to myself I knew / know zip. I watched each of the International Innovators segments posted on NBC’s Bay Area website. And I chatted with the creator of the “International Innovators” marketing campaign.
“Have you been to China?” Jack Uhalde asked midway into our phone conversation. I'd called NBC Bay Area's advertising department to inquire whether anyone there could answer a few questions about the "International Innovators" ad campaign. "Matter of fact," said the voice on the line, "the originator of that feature, Jack Uhalde, happens to be standing right here."
Uhalde sounded so pleased to discuss China and business opportunities that I hated to burst his adman bubble. I really should see the country, he explained, to fully appreciate it. It's beautiful, friendly, well-organized, accommodating. He didn’t say the streets were paved with gold but he came darn close. If the People’s Republic of China needs a spokesperson, Uhalde's their man. At some point I cleared my throat and spoke up. “It’s a communist country. Your visit was orchestrated. Nothing’s left to chance. You have to know that.” Uhalde disagreed. He assured me that he'd had the freedom to come and go as he pleased. He never felt restricted in any way. He all but said Your views are so yesterday.
Perhaps I should've suggested Uhalde read a recent piece in The New Yorker (The Han Dynasty, by Evan Osnos, July 4, 2011) that profiles China's 28-year-old best selling novelist and extraordinarily popular blogger Han Han. Apparently Han's literary magazine--called Party--was killed off when the publisher received an anonymous order from "relevant departments." One million issues were destroyed / "pulped."
From one of Han's blog posts:
Maybe my writings help people vent some anger or resentment. But beyond that what use are they? This 'influence' is an illusion. In China, influence belongs only to those with power, those who can make rain from clouds, who can decide if you live or die, those who can keep you somewhere between life and death. They are the people with real influence…they can always bring down the curtain, turn off the lights, close the door, and turn the dogs loose.
Meanwhile--despite dismal unemployment statistics and GDP numbers, with a little help from the folks in the advertising department at NBC Bay Area--our country forges full steam ahead into ever more business with China. Those "International Innovators" segments you can see online (please do) are so glowing in their estimation of Shenzhen, China, as a terrific place to do business that, in my opinion, they qualify as PRC-approved propaganda. In one segment, smiling, uniformed military officers briefly march across the screen. And who is one of the sponsors? The North American Representative Office of Shenzhen, People's Republic of China.
Although the four segments are paid ads, this fact isn't immediately clear. All are moderated by legitimate news reporter Nick O'Kelly. All are posted on NBCBayArea.com. It took me a few minutes to sort it all out. Each segment is actually an ad within an ad. Each ad leads off with an ad for HSBC Premier (Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp.). The not-too-subtle HSBC tagline, by the way, is "Live a life without boundaries." The companies profiled in three of the segments are: Huawei Technologies (network solutions), VanceInfo Technologies (outsourcing services: "a bridge between U.S. companies and offshored engineers"), and Launch Tech USA (automotive customization; "a global company with local approach"). The fourth segment is purely icing on the ad cake, urging viewers to consider living and working in Shenzhen, China. And although each company profiled purports to be adding jobs here in the U.S.A. (Huawei says it created 700 jobs throughout North America), only Shenzhen is featured, promoted as "China's Silicon Valley" and "the best city in China."
There's no mention, of course, that in the last two years over a dozen factory workers have committed suicide in "the best city in China" (the latest suicide occurred just hours ago). O'Kelly tells viewers to "come with a dream" to Shenzhen, where "10 million small businesses" have already set up shop. "There's a fantastic, can-do attitude here," says one company owner.
Can-do attitude. I remember when people used to say that about the United States of America. What the heck happened?
At the end of our conversation, Uhalde said: “We’re a global economy and it’s not going away. We are all connected." I reminded him that we are bleeding jobs in this country. "This is a marketing-sales thing," he countered. "We have to be open-minded.”
We have over 14 million Americans out of work. How's that open-mindedness working for us?
I awoke the next morning to discover my computer had come down with a virus. Red warnings flashed all over the screen. The situation was so nasty that my computer-whiz son conducted an emergency on-site purge. "No more Chinese websites, Mom. Unfortunately it's too hard to tell whether they're legitimate or not." When I asked him whether the Chinese government may have had a hand in infecting my computer he chuckled and shook his head. "Nope. Just a bunch of hackers who sit around and do this kind of garbage all day long."
Must admit it would've been more satisfying to report I'd been hacked by the PRC. In a way our entire country has been hacked by China, don't you think? But is it China's fault? China hasn't held a gun to our country's head. If Jack Uhalde / NBC Bay Area is any indication, we have gone to China willingly, dollar signs in our heads. And we have brought our American dreams with us, gleefully handing them over. Those streets in China paved with gold were paid for with our ideas. Who can we blame but ourselves?
Han's words flash like the red blinking warnings on my once-infected computer: They can always bring down the curtain, turn off the lights, close the door, and turn the dogs loose.
I'm just sayin'.