It seems that some of my readers (mom!!!) were confused by my last post and thought I was indicating that I HAD been chosen as one of China's favorite foreigners. I wasn't, which is why I was feeling snubbed. My reference to being a "foreign expert" was to point out that I am under the supervision of the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs. That is the government entity that sponsors my visa, so I guess you could say I'm a Chinese government employee.
Anyway, I put up that post in a hurry and since then have been thinking about who should really be considered China's favorite foreigners over the past 30 years. I mean favorite of the people, not government bureaucrats. Here's my stab at the list (not in any real 'top ten' order):
1. Charlie Chaplin. The first time I visited China was in 1979, the year China launched it's "opening and reform" policy. After being closed off from the outside world for 30 years, she was beginning to interact with the world, and even allow things from the outside like foreign tour groups (which I was a part of) and movies. That summer the government had allowed it's first foreign movie to be screened–a Charlie Chaplin film. People loved him.
2. John Denver. By the time I started working in China in the mid-1980's John Denver had wormed his way into the hearts (and ears) of the Chinese people with his much-loved song "Take Me Home, Country Roads." For some reason people here went absolutely bonkers for that song–the mere mention of it would make people swoon. And if a foreigner, when called upon to "give a performance" at a banquet stood up and sang that song, the fellow banqueters would go wild. We foreigners grew to loathe the song. Even today, everyone knows it!
3. Karen Carpenter. She became a favorite in the early 90's even though she had died years before. The Carpenter's "sweet" sound was just too irresistible for listeners here. I remember telling some students in the early 90's that she was dead and they nearly started to cry. "When did she die?" they asked me? "A DECADE AGO," I replied. They were devastated! And yes, her music is still popular today.
4. Kenny G. I think there is a government regulation requiring that all hotel/office building lobbies and elevators in the country play Kenny G. music. I guess you could call it a communist plot! Like a bad case if tinnitus, it cannot be escaped. I wrote about this a few years back in a post called The Curse of Kenny G.
5. Michael Jordan. During the 1990's when Michael Jordan was at the peak of his game, he could have traveled to China and been crowned emperor. Chinese were in the beginning stages of their love affair with basketball and no one helped that along more than Michael Jordan. Everyone had a Chicago Bulls shirt or hat or coat. The name of the team in Chinese was Gong Niu (公牛), which was often translated onto apparel as CHICAGO HEAD COW!! Many English students chose Jordan as their English name.
6. David Beckham. Yes, Chinese love basketball, but their first sports love remains football (soccer), and to them there is no greater player than Beckham. When he was at his prime, his name was a common sight on billboard advertising.
7. Bill Gates. What can I say? He's rich! And heads the company that invented the software that allows Chinese people to be participants in the global online community. Most computers in China run on Microsoft software, although most of that is pirated!
8. Jack and Kate. OK, these aren't real people, but China fell in love with them anyway in the late 90's. I'm speaking of course about the main characters from the movie "Titanic," which caused the entire population to come down with an acute case of love sickness. You couldn't walk two feet without seeing Jack and Kate on posters or hearing "My Heart Will Go On," (a song which in fact went on and on and on….much like a modern day praise chorus!). Celine Dion was the singer, but folks here didn't much care about that. It was Jack and Kate they loved.
9. Jimmy Carter. He's the US president who established diplomatic relations between the US and China and for that he will always have a special place in the hearts of the Chinese people (as does Richard Nixon, who paved the way).
10. Alan Greenspan. As China integrated it's economy with the global economy over the past decade, people here were on a steep learning curve regarding the ups and downs and ins and outs of capitalism. One thing they learned quickly was to pay attention to what Alan Greenspan was doing or saying because it usually had a direct effect on the Chinese economy.
It's an eclectic bunch, and I'm sure others would come up with other lists. But from my experience, these have been some of China's favorite foreigners over the past 30 years. I'll just have to be content with being the favorite foreigner in the lives of my apartment security guards, the fruit sellers, and the bike repairman.
Come to think of it, I may be the only foreigner they know.