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When Victorious Obama Spoke to “Distant Nations,” China’s Web Users Were Listening

BY David Wertime | Friday, November 9 2012

David Wertime is co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation, where this post originally appeared. It is republished with permission.

In his acceptance speech in the early morning of November 7, re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to be talking to the world when he said: “We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”

If the President was attempting to project his words to “distant nations,” he succeeded. People in China, at least, were listening. @风青杨V, a commentator and CEO of an Internet company from the Chinese city of Wuhan, posted an image linking to the quote in English and Chinese on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter:

According to Weiboscope, a tool by Hong Kong University that tracks popular images among influential Weibo users, this post was retweeted over 12,000 times and attracted over 3,000 comments before being deleted by censors.

That has not stopped chatter about Obama’s stirring words. On November 8, Internet portal Sina uploaded video of the President’s speech, complete with Chinese subtitles. The video has already been retweeted over 46,000 times since. Prominent commenter and venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee (@李开复), perhaps mindful of censors, helped popularize the video when he retweeted it, but simply appended, “Good material for English-language study.”

But it was surely more than that. Commenting on the video, a number of users simply echoed President Obama’s words about those in “distant nations…risking their lives…for a chance to argue.” Many others reacted positively as well. One commenter echoed Kai-Fu Lee’s cryptic endorsement, writing, “I don’t know why, but I really like Obama. Hehe, this really is good material for English-language study.”

Obama’s message may have prompted other kinds of study as well. One user opined, “The 18th National Party Congress [where China's new leadership is to be selected] should study this. From the bottom of my heart, I don’t want to hear their insufferable bureaucratic speak. I don’t want to hear about ‘XX thought’ or ‘XX theory.’ It will take a more relaxed atmosphere for us to feel democratic and free." Another wrote, “It was as if Obama knew what Brother Hu [referring to Chinese President Hu Jintao] was going to say [at the 18th Congress] and responded: Elections are important, the most important.”

But public opinion, as Obama surely knows, is cacophonous and messy. It’s small wonder that while some found Obama “charming” and “a genius at giving speeches,” others took a stance that may be familiar to some Americans. One user wrote, “If he hadn’t done what he did to the American economy in his first term, just listening to his speech, you would think he’d be a great president.” Given the degree to which President Obama’s speech seems to have penetrated China’s blogosphere, even criticism like this may sound rather sweet.

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