HONG KONG — By now, you'd think that China's state-run media would realize that it's hard for propaganda to work when everyone's too busy laughing at it.
But so it went that earlier this year, the People's Daily—official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party—rolled out an apparently ongoing series of stories called "Dishonest Americans."
This is how the editor explained its purpose: "Most Chinese people think that Americans are honest, reliable, and righteous. However, once you live in that country for a while, you may discover the descriptions above are a bit misleading. Today’s topic on the 'Dishonest Americans' series does not refer to all Americans. We want to disclose some incidents and Americans we have encountered so as to provide a more objective picture of what the US and Americans are really like."
The series began in March and went viral this month on social media, according to the South China Morning Post.
Posted on May 22, the most recent item recounted an incident when a United Airlines employee allegedly told a Chinese traveler that his flight was overbooked (this was on December 23 of last year), and tore up his ticket when he began arguing with an employee. The article concluded by saying that United Airlines' staff is most rude "when dealing with Chinese passengers, who are usually timid and reticent when outside of China" and urged readers not to fly with the carrier.
Earlier installments included the story of a scam by New York locksmiths who advertised misleadingly low prices and then jacked up the costs at the door, and supposed financial trickery by American outsourcing giant ADP.
Of course, many Americans would agree that flying United can be a nightmare, and that there is no shortage of lying, cheating people in America.
But the odd, ham-handedly propagandistic tone of the People's Daily series seems to have led to a backlash, as the posts became a laughingstock on Chinese social media.
"I trust our government officials would never send their own sons and daughters to such a 'dishonest country'," wrote one. "When there are already so many cases of dishonest Chinese businessmen, why go and write about Americans?" wrote another.
Other responses were more poignant, lamenting the dishonesty in every country, and particularly the government of China:
"I've been living and studying in China and US for 24 years respectively, after I began to understand this world, dishonest and unreliable people exist in every nation, it's only a matter of degree," wrote a Chinese scientist living in the US.
"Objectively speaking, dishonest and unreliable people in China far exceed those in the States, especially officials and business people, they collude with each other and to a point where practically no officials are clean, high-ranking officials commit corruption big time, lower-ranking officials commit small corruption. Ten years ago, I had been intended to go back to China for two years, I could write an entry of 10,000 words about my experience of being tricked and fooled."