On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The good, the bad and the ugly


This photo taken on February 20, 2020 shows doctors looking at a lung CT image at a hospital in Yunmeng county, Xiaogan city, in China’s central Hubei province. -AFP

It takes all kinds to dominate in a world obsessed with economic might and political power.

AS a young boy growing up in the 1960s, I watched many Western movies and TV shows about cowboys and Red Indians, and as expected of a na├»ve and ignorant kid, I cheered for the “good” guys – the cowboys.

And because they were portrayed as such, the Red Indians were the “bad” guys to me. They were the savage lot, while the Caucasian men were the civilised group trying to help them. And routinely, the Red Indians would be defeated.

As I reached my teenage years and read more about the West, I realised that my supposed heroes were the ones who robbed these natives of their land, violated treaties and consigned the Red Indians to living on reservations.

The most famous Red Indian, Geronimo, the head of the Chiricahua Apaches, and his men were arrested and despatched to Florida as prisoners of war. Some of them were even discarded at crocodile-infested swamps.

Fast forward to contemporary Hollywood movies – the modern-day bad guys are always the Russians, Albanians and Arabs.

They are usually portrayed as one of brutal spies, criminals, human traffickers, drug dealers and terrorists, and in more lurid plots, all the above.

In The Equalizer, Denzel Washington, who plays a former intelligence agency man latterly driving a cab, goes after sadistic Russian gangsters and predictably, decides to kill all of them – in equally brutal ways.

In the John Wick movie series, Keanu Reeves also goes ballistic going after some Russians.

For some reason, all these ex-operatives are reclusive, divorced or widowed, still connected to their agencies, and as always, their loved ones get harmed (mostly killed) by the Russians, which invariably leads them to needing to settle the score.

Albanians hit the big time after the 2008 movie, Taken, which starred Liam Neeson, who plays Bryan Mills, another retired CIA operative whose teenage daughter and friend get kidnapped by human traffickers (Albanians) while holidaying in France.

In Taken 2, the 2012 sequel, the film follows the family to Istanbul, only to be kidnapped yet again, along with his former wife, by the father of one of the men he killed while saving his daughter two years previously.

It wasn’t just the Albanians who suffered from bad press as until today, my wife still refuses to go to Istanbul – as a result of the movie.

Fortunately for me, I have been to Albania. It’s a beautiful country with good people, and nothing like what the movies depict.

In the case of Arabs, we are accustomed to seeing them portrayed in poor light. They were womanising oil sheikhs at one time and are now mostly barbaric terrorists. Scenes with them are stereotypically sound tracked to the call of the Azan.

Mexicans, typically, are drug dealers. Likewise, Colombians, Cubans and Venezuelans. Well, in the movies, at least.

The hip hop loving African Americans in the United States, with their bling and bad attitude, are a dangerous lot. And thanks to their racist slurs, smaller Asians like us avoid antagonising them.

The latest bad guys are the Chinese. However, Hollywood isn’t quite ready to cast them as the standard stereotype because they are explicitly aware of mainlanders having plenty of clout.

Experts predict that by 2020, China will be the world’s largest cinema market, with box office revenue expected to leap from US$9.9 billion (RM41bil) in 2018 to US$15.5 billion (RM65bil) by 2023, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). In the first quarter of 2018, China surpassed the US in box office revenue for the first time.

It has been reported that China is presently Hollywood’s biggest foreign market, and according to projections by PwC, this year, the Chinese box office will likely rake in US$11.05 billion (RM46bil) compared to ticket sales in the US, which is expected to amount to US$2.11 billion (RM8.8bil).

So, unlike with other nationalities, Hollywood won’t mess around with the Chinese anytime soon.

Failed Hollywood movies, like The Terminator: Dark Fate, which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, were rescued by the box offices in China.

Hollywood understands the power of money well. In fact, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight wasn’t even submitted for Chinese approval because of a dubious Chinese businessman character in the 2008 Batman movie. But in the Western media, whether in the US, Europe or Australia, China is being painted negatively, in a blatantly concerted way.

Everything from Huawei, to face recognition and to Xinjiang, and now Coronavirus, China has been the bogeyman.

The elephant-in-the-room theory is that the US wants a “freed Tibet” because it’s angling to build an air base that can send jets into China within minutes.

Adding to the spin doctoring, rioters and vandals in Hong Kong are relentlessly referred to as pro-democracy protestors to burn in the minds of the audience that they are the good guys.

HK policemen are painted as brutal when, ironically, tougher tactics are applied elsewhere, including by the American police.

The US is disturbed by the South China Sea, although it’s thousands of miles away and isn’t even a claimant. It’s strange when you think it has military bases in the Philippines and the vicinity.

The disdain for China even turned comical at some point. When a group of Vietnamese were found dead in a UK truck last year, newsfeeds initially revealed they were Chinese.

As the media scrambled for answers, one reporter, who was pressed for an answer, told his live audience that they could possibly be Chinese who fled to the UK because of their protests over the Xinjiang issue.

The underlining reason is simple – the Western media no longer wants to report about China in a balanced way, resenting its growth to become an economic power in just 30 years as it sits behind the US as the second largest economy in the world.

The narrative is the same: China should be feared and doubted, while Chinese scholars in the US ought to be treated as spies. And advanced technology better than that in American products be branded spying devices.

Hostility towards China has intensified and with the outbreak of Covid-19, there is no silver lining, what with spins of resenting Chinese president Xi Jinping, concealing figures of casualties, cover up, poor food preparation and filthy eating habits. And there’s also the racist perception that Chinese people are to be avoided and cooked up stories of uprising against Xi Jinping.

Of course, there’s also the twisted religious angle – that the Chinese are being punished, either for their eating habits, or again, the treatment of Muslims in Xinjiang.

The war against China is being waged in various fronts because it is deemed to have threatened the international order dominated by the US and its allies.

It doesn’t matter if the US is led by Donald Trump or a Democrat president, which could be worse, because the end game against China will simply be the same.

The Coronavirus epidemic has damaged the image of the Chinese. Their invincibility and ascent have taken a knock, so Xi Jinping must prove that China can beat this killer virus soon.

It’s a bad time for China nationals still travelling, but then again, even ethnic Chinese elsewhere are affected.

The average American believes everything they watch on CNN or Fox TV. No one should be surprised since only 45% of Americans – or 41.8 million – have been overseas. That’s an improvement, being 9% more than in 2018.

There is a far bigger picture here, one rooted in the concept of master and servant.

Not too long ago, China was a far-away mysterious country where cheap toys, low grade garments and fireworks came from. In the last couple of decades, the most populous country learnt technology well from the west, like how Japan did in the 1980s.

Today, the republic is on the cusp of achieving world domination. And that’s not a point lost on any superior or inferior nation.