A noticeably gaunt Barack Obama arrived in Beijing, and within hours of arrival, Chinese social media was hammering the American Chief Executive for what they deemed his insulting conduct to both his hosts and the Chinese people overall. As reported by USA Today on Nov. 10, 2014, Obama’s six year battle with his addiction to nicotine as well as Obama’s speaking ill of Chinese limousines prompted harsh words from both everyday Chinese as well as Beijing’s hoity-toity on the Chinese version of Twitter.
As the leaders of 21 member states arrived in the Chinese capital for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, USA Today noted only that Obama “eschewed” the limousines provided by the government to ferry him and the rest of the governmental honchos to The Water Cube, the site used in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, preferring instead to use the American presidential vehicle nicknamed The Beast. While the Sino-version of Twitter, Sina Weibo, lit up with citizens wondering over the ‘net what Obama has against Chinese limos, what happened next sent more than a few into etiquette orbit.
While the Chinese have become accustomed to seeing their leaders conduct themselves rather stiffly, as Obama was televised live on state-run China Central Television (CCTV) emerging from his vehicle, the silk-robed Obama was casually smacking gum. Possibly USA Today experienced a sudden surge of patriotism when they referenced that Obama is “a well-known user of Nicorette, the smoking-cessation gum.” However, the nation-wide newspaper failed to mention that Obama reportedly kicked the habit back in 2008.
While social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, are banned in The People’s Republic due to the totalitarians in charge wanting to control what the masses have access to, Sina Weibo went off the charts due to what they consider Obama’s lackadaisical attitude while arriving at the state function. Obama found himself categorized by the locals as an impolite “idler,” or careless “rapper.”
Less than impressed was Yin Hong, a professor of journalism at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. Possibly something could have been lost in translation, but as the prof opined on Sina Weibo, “We made this meeting so luxurious, with singing and dancing, but see Obama, stepping out of his car chewing gum like an idler.” According to ChineseTools.eu, the Chinese word for “idler” could be translated as either “xián rén” (unconcerned person) or as “èr liú zi” (loafer or bum).
The suddenly jingoistic USA Today plainly stated Obama was “the leader of the world’s most powerful nation.” The publication neglected to mention that the United States is in debt to the Chinese government for well over $1 trillion, or that while America’s military is shrinking, China is experiencing a military build-up that would make Ronald Reagan blush. Under the current circumstances, China will soon replace the United States as the pre-eminent military power in East Asia/Western Pacific.
Yet this isn’t the first time Obama has stepped into his own personal Gum-Gate. This past June 6th, “Obama was caught on camera chewing gum during the D-Day ceremonies in France as Queen Elizabeth II was welcomed, and Twitter feeds worldwide exploded with criticism. ‘Obama and his chewing-gum. Classy’ one French user tweeted sarcastically.”