No Bacon on this Chinese New Year

Joseph Heschmeyer and Brandon Wentz

Happy Early Chinese New Year! Feb. 18 is the first day of the Year of the Pig. Only problem is, the Chinese government is refusing to show any advertisement that shows or even mentions pigs. Where are those “Reason for the Season” signs when you need them?

According to the Wall Street Journal from Jan. 25, China Central Television has banned “all images and spoken references to” pigs in commercials, targeting the multinational corporations who planned to drop big money during the holiday season promoting the same corporate holiday spirit they spread during Christmas here at home. Because such little notice was given regarding CCTV’s policy, corporations are scrambling to come up with alternate ads. Should they fail, one can only hope the Chinese can still have a good New Year without Coca-Cola’s heartfelt blessing. The reason for this bizarre and overbearing ban is that China is worried about the “sensibilities” of its Muslim population, a population it has worked hard in recent years to crush militarily.

On the surface, the Chinese pig debacle is a comedy of errors for multiculturalism. To begin, the banned commercials are foreign-made. Major European and U.S. corporations, including Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Nestlé and Walt Disney, headed by people who do not celebrate Chinese New Year, are wishing a happy Year of the Pig to appear more culturally sensitive to the Chinese. In response, the Chinese government, headed by many people who DO celebrate Chinese New Year, refuses to run the ads, to appear more culturally sensitive to their Muslim populations. Both actions are clumsy attempts at empathy, and scream “I know nothing about your culture that isn’t readily found in books!”

Beneath the surface, however, something ominous herein lies. The Chinese government has shown little compassion for its Muslim populace in the past, brutally surpressing separatists in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. This latest censorship move helps promote a façade of sensitivity, cloaking the iron fist in a velvet glove. In the process, China is degrading the freedoms of the vast majority of its populace during the country’s most popular holiday. Thousands of years of tradition are being toyed with. While the multinational corporate jingles may denigrate China’s cultural traditions, they at least affirm them in principle – CCTV’s latest move directly threatens at least certain aspects of the celebration.

At its root, however, the largest problem with CCTV’s attitude is it still reflects the arrogant view that a small group of bureaucrats should be able to determine what is and is not culturally offensive, and what forms of speech can be uttered. The very notion that a pig being referenced in a TV ad would somehow cross the line shows a certain intoxication with one’s own ability to censor. It is this totalitarian world view which is most threatening to China’s people, Muslim and otherwise. Those resisting the Chinese war machine in Xinjiang are familiar with the dangers of Chinese totalitarianism, and China rolling over the rights of others (New Year’s celebrants and foreign corporations, in this case) does nothing to stem this tide. Those who clamor for tighter censorship here in America, or who promote a multiculturalism nearing McCarthyism, would do well to view China as a case study in good intentions run amuck, and an example of the powerful tool of multiculturalism in the wrong hands.