If you have been following the Olympics (which I mostly have not) you probably watched the closing ceremonies, and saw Japan’s Prime Minister Abe zip through a tube and appear dressed as Mario as Tokyo accepted the Olympic torch from Rio. There has been some commentary on this. It is somewhat odd to see Abe, who is a pretty right-wing figure, play along with this pop cultural representation of Japan. On the other hand, it is not that odd. Queen Elizabeth was escorted to the London games by James Bond, so the idea of emphasizing popular culture as part of your national identity is not new, especially for countries like Japan and Great Britain, who have long established great power status and also lots of places that would not care for it if they came out with a more militaristic view of the themselves.
The interesting question for me is what about China? The next winter games will be in Korea, but after that it is Beijing. What will Xi come out dressed as? If we assume China will want to emphasize it’s soft power side (not a very safe assumption) what can he do? I welcome suggestions, but I think it depends on the audience. Who are they really trying to reach? Here are some possibilities.
- They only really care about the China audience, and maybe Xi’s own attitude. Mao Zedong is the obvious choice here. Maybe Qin Shihuang. Pluses with Mao include the fact that if Xi does not want to show up himself they could always get Andy Serkis.
- Reaching out to the Overseas Chinese. The Stone Monkey? Not that the low energy Xi looks much like him. Jackie Chan? If so, why not use Jackie himself? This would seem to be the easiest audience to reach out to, but I can’t think of much.
- Reaching out to the world. No clue here. A panda….? For all China’s emphasis on soft power diplomacy, they do not seem to have created much of an identity. China’s gross national cool is pretty low. and I really can’t think of anything that would represent the nation. China needs to work on this. Or just chuck the whole non-threatening thing and go with a grumpy panda.