Another reason I don’t Miss China


A couple of things I’ve written here about China find an echo in a recent Guardian article about China’s successive hostings of the Miss World contest (it seems that, like the Eurovision Song Contest, no other country would touch it with a chopstick):

For a regime keen to publicise its economic success and internationalist credentials at home and abroad, the month-long beauty-fest is propaganda gold dust. Miss World may not yet have her own float in the National Day parade in Tiananmen Square; but in a country where media content still falls under governmental control, the heavy coverage that the contest receives sends a powerful signal that the senior cadres feel the contest serves their ends.

Domestic TV coverage has a clearly defined political function. In general, the Chinese media like to broadcast footage of resident westerners going about their daily lives. Inevitably the subject is shown praising China – and if, like last year’s Miss USA Nancy Randall, they do so in endearingly elementary Chinese, all the better. This kind of material has a significance over and above the feelgood factor; it underlines the success of recent liberalising policies.

Meanwhile on an international level the Miss World contest allows a carefully constructed Chinese message to be broadcast to an audience of two billion across the globe. Over the past 10 years the Chinese have worked hard to dispel once ubiquitous images of China, the bicycling factory state, and glamorous events like Miss World are a tonic. Not only that – the contest sends a strong message to the world about China’s changing values and internationalisation, that the days of the Red Guards are over. “This sort of programming helps build an international image that is unthreatening and somehow reassuring,” says Crane. “After all, beauty pageants were once considered as American as apple pie.”

Unfortunately, what these witless and seemingly profoundly vapid Communist Party dullards, whose apparent ambition is to transform China into somewhere as bland and unthreatening as a Disney theme park, are incapable of realising is that it also portrays China as a country which is utterly, utterly naff.

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