P. J. O'Rourke to China: Hey, No Hard Feelings?

The new issue of World Affairs ("A Journal of Ideas and Debate") features a short travelogue by P. J. O’Rourke

The new issue of World Affairs ("A Journal of Ideas and Debate") features a short travelogue by P. J. O’Rourke called The Cleveland of Asia: A Journey Through China’s Rust Belt. In 2006, Mr. O’Rourke, a Cato Institute fellow and Atlantic correspondent, spent a month in China, visiting factories, Xi’an’s famous Terra Cotta Warriors, the Three Gorges Dam and other charming locales to see how the place had changed since he was last there, in 1997, producing insights like the following: "The enormous dam was enormous. The scenic Three Gorges were scenic. And the mucky-looking reservoir that’s filling the gorges looked mucky."

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Mostly, it seems that Mr. O’Rourke was driven around in sleek black cars, invited to a lot of boozy meals by various factory owners and businesspeople (as well as someone who may have been Chinese secret police) and had a good time coming up with observational humor bits about Chinese people and Westerners that run along the lines of, "A white person eats like this. … But a Chinese person eats like this!"

Here’s a typical passage which finds Mr. O’Rourke winding down after interviewing "a senior Party official":

Then we all went to the banquet hall and got drunk. There were more courses than you could shake a stick at, which, given China’s eating utensils, is an apt cliché. The Party officials laughed at my ineptitude. Then abalone was served with proper flatware, and I laughed at their knifing and forking. … You don’t sip your drink in China. And after six or eight rounds of ganbei (‘bottoms up’), language barriers disappear. Mr. Feng, sitting next to me, spoke better English than I do anyway.

Mr. O’Rourke’s take on Chinese people’s manners and mores has mellowed considerably since he wrote his infamous May 1976 National Lampoon piece, "Foreigners Around the World," in which he described Chinese people thusly:

Hordes of incomprehensible rat-eaters with a peculiar political philosophy and a dangerous penchant for narcotic drugs. No one can possibly know what dark and grotesque things pass through the minds of this hydra-headed racial anomaly which is, after all, more like a monstrous colony of flesh-crazed carpenter ants than a nation of rational men. Only a fool would deal with two-legged insects such as these.

In his defense, Mr. O’Rourke has grown up a lot since then. Thankfully, China doesn’t hold a grudge.


P. J. O'Rourke to China: Hey, No Hard Feelings?