Last week, news broke that Liu Xiaoming, the Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom, had liked a tweet that showed a lady using her feet to make a gentleman very happy.
Now, I am a very open-minded person and would be the last to judge Comrade Liu, although I must admit that I don’t really understand the whole foot thing: different strokes for different folks, as they say!
While remaining non-judgmental, I would however strongly advise Liu to find an alternative source for adult video viewing that does not involve his official verified Twitter account with eighty-seven thousand followers. Opening a separate account like @footslaveambassador could be a real win-win situation. After all, as we all know, one all too sudden shudder can lead to an accidental click that in turn leads to awkward headlines around the world: when that happens, you are not putting your best foot forward.
Liu’s click is not however the end of the story: an old guy watching porn and being clumsy on social media after all would not all merit an entire column, even if I gratuitously dipped my toes into one humorous foot reference after another. Rather, the reason this event merits a column is because the PRC Embassy in London decided to issue an official statement explaining the click as the work of “anti-China forces.”
The Embassy statement certainly did not tiptoe around the matter, asserting that “some anti-China elements viciously attacked Ambassador Liu Xiaoming’s Twitter account and employed despicable methods to deceive the public. The Chinese Embassy strongly condemns such abominable behavior… The Embassy reserves the right to take further actions and hope that the public will not believe or spread such rumor.”
So, if we are to believe this statement, anti-China forces somehow managed to hack into Ambassador Liu’s Twitter account. After getting their feet in the door by accessing the account of a well-connected ambassador, these anti-China forces supposedly refrained from tweeting anything subversive or leaking any of Liu’s direct messages. Instead, they chose to quietly like a single foot fetish porn video.
That sounds like a highly likely scenario, right? The Embassy statement is the diplomatic equivalent of saying that the only reason you have been going through a lot of Kleenex lately is because you have a runny nose.
The anti-China forces narrative may be laughable in this case, but this trope is not always a laughing matter: there is a much larger game afoot here. The anti-China forces trope was used by the Embassy precisely because it has become a catch-all explanation for any news that the Chinese Communist Party dislikes and for which it is unwilling to accept responsibility.
Newspapers are reporting the incarceration of millions of Uyghurs in a network of concentration camps? It’s a trick by the anti-China forces. People are protesting in Hong Kong? This is definitely the work of the anti-China forces. People are self-immolating in Tibet? Again, the work of anti-China forces. Rinse, repeat, and avoid any reflection on reality.
The anti-China forces and their nefarious tricks are however only half of the narrative: they are the inverted mirror image of the Chinese Communist Party and its supposedly eternally benevolent care of the people. The two come together in Party narratives to provide an ideologically satisfying explanation for every development in the world.
To provide a concrete example, consider developments in such colonized areas as Xinjiang or Tibet. Anything with “positive energy” that occurs is attributed to the efforts of the Chinese Communist Party, which casts itself as a savior lifting millions out of poverty and civilizing the unruly savages.
Such claims create a false image of surging happiness amid the reality of growing colonial oppression. Yet even more importantly, they fundamentally strip local residents of agency, misrepresenting any and all progress as inevitably the work of the Party. The subtext of tone-deaf clips of the “dancing minorities” is not only that these people are happy and carefree, but that they are happy and carefree because of all that the CCP has given them.
The anti-China forces are the other side of this story, reinforcing the fundamental goodness of the Party in its many all too real exceptions. When there is dissatisfaction, anger, or protests in colonized areas that cannot be simply denied away, they are attributed to the work of criminal anti-China forces. The sources of tensions need to be found either in the figure of the anti-China forces abroad or in the minds of those who are controlled by these forces domestically, because tensions cannot be traced to the space in between: the actual political and social conditions in which people live.
Through this dual narrative, not only can everything be explained. More importantly, everything can be explained in such a way that the Chinese Communist Party comes to appear as infallible: political theodicy gives the Party credit for illusory happiness and provides perpetual excuses for its very real crimes.
The problem with having a seamless explanation for anything and everything is that you gradually begin to use it to explain everything, in a case of self-reinforcing exculpation eventually trickling down to foot fetish video likes.
Let’s imagine, for a moment, the meeting presumably held at the Chinese Embassy in London last week to discuss this situation before the statement was released. Imagine the tension in the room, the desperate attempts to hold back chuckles, as Comrade Liu went for it: the anti-China forces narrative was there for him, and regardless of whether it made any sense, that was always already how he was going to explain it.
Did anyone actually believe him? Most likely not. But being a senior leader in the CCP means never having to admit a mistake or say sorry: subordinates toe the line so that accountability is non-existent. A dangerous side effect of this non-accountability, however, is that there is no one around to tell you that what you are saying is preposterous, as seen in the Embassy statement.
That is why Liu’s click is, at the end of the day, worth a column of commentary even if I experienced cold feet a few times in the process of writing. Liu’s predictable alibi reveals the true nature of the lazy and empty anti-China forces trope, pulled out to excuse everything from concentration camps to consular kinks. When you really think about it, the Party has basically built its legitimacy on a lame narrative no more sophisticated than saying “the dog ate my homework,” except that some people fall for it.
So, the next time you put your foot in it and want to dodge responsibility, just say “this must be the work of the anti-China forces.” Forgot to pay your electricity bill? Didn’t sort your recycling correctly? Clicked like on awkward video on Twitter? It’s easy, just say the anti-China forces did it. If it’s a good enough to excuse for the Party’s red aristocrats with their crimes both large and small, it’s undoubtedly good enough for you and me: dip your toes in and give it a try!
(Kevin Carrico, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at Monash University)
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