An American performer, unknown in theU.S., has bagged surprising popularity in China overnight afterposting a 9-minute comic video displaying his command of regionalChinese and foreign accents, as well as English with a strongChinese accent. The video's unexpected popularity demonstrates the viral power ofChina's Internet and may mark a change in the way Chinese viewforeigners. Mike Sui's solo hit, in which he portrayed 12 different Chinese andforeign characters, went viral soon after he uploaded it on April27. Within less than three days, the video had over 3 million viewson Youku, a major Chinese video-sharing website. It now has more than 6 million views across various websites. |
Sui'sfollowers on Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like microblogging site,have also increased by more than a hundred-fold since the video wasreleased. "A foreigner who speaks such good Chinese is pretty awesome," saidZhao Zhiwen, a drama student in Beijing. He added that the videowas very nicely made and dealt with many trendy topics, as well aspoked fun at common stereotypes. Sui was surprised by his overnight success. "My expectations for the video weren't very high.
I did it for fun,wanting to express my feelings in a satirical way, which I thoughtChinese comedy lacked," Sui told Xinhua. The 26-year-old actor was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan to a Chinesefather and an American mother and lived in Beijing for years as achild. He moved to Beijing in 2005 to pursue an acting career afterfinishing high school in Wisconsin. In addition to adding lots of Weibo fans, Sui began receiving aflood of offers for various kinds of work soon after his video hita million views.
"I've gotten offers for TV talk shows, event hosting and actingparts in plays and TV series," Sui said. NOT UNPRECEDENTED Many Weibo users have compared Sui to "Dashan," the Chinese namefor Mark Rowswell, a Canadian who shot to Chinese stardom in 1988after appearing in China Central Television's hugely popular NewYear's gala. Rowswell's native-sounding Chinese stunned millions of Chinese TVviewers, many of whom, due to years of isolation from theinternational community, had never seen a foreigner before, letalone one who spoke Chinese as well as they did. Rowswell's rise to fame dovetailed with the early years of China'sreform and opening to the outside, which began in 1978.
"Chinese people, with wide-open eyes, longed to see what washappening outside China, and were eager to come into contact withforeigners. Rowswell appeared on TV at a good time, and hisperformance was amusing as well," said Xia Xueluan, a professor ofsocial psychology at Peking University, who was a visiting scholarat the University of Maryland when Rowswell gained fame. "Since the country had just opened up, foreigners were a rarity, anovelty, a curious attraction," said Steve Kulich, director of theIntercultural Research Center at Shanghai International StudiesUniversity. Kulich first visited China in 1981. "The best way to gather a crowd anywhere was for two foreignersjust to stand still - they would soon be circled by a large groupof curious onlookers," he said.
NO LONGER ALIEN-LIKE But according to Kulich, Chinese reaction to foreigners is muchdifferent than 25 years ago. Chinese no longer look at foreignersas if they are "aliens from another planet." Instead, their attitude is: "Look, there is someone who is not fromhere," Kulich said. Sui, the new Internet celebrity, said Chinese certainly have littlereason to find foreigners speaking Chinese surprising in light oftoday's extensive people-to-people exchanges. According to Education Online, the largest education website inChina, the number of Chinese students studying abroad reached morethan 300,000 last year.
Meanwhile, a report from the National Bureau of Tourism showed thatoutgoing Chinese tourists reached a whopping 70.25 million in 2011. "The uniqueness of laowai [foreigners] has worn off, and many'foreign guests' are increasingly being viewed as coworkers orinternational competitors on a playing field that is increasinglytipping in China's direction," Kulich said. LOOKING TO FIT IN Despite an increased naturalness in relations between Chinese andforeigners, Sui said he still feels like an outsider sometimes,even though he feels more at home in China, where he has lived fora total of 17 years. He said his Western face still prevents himfrom fully integrating into Chinese society. "I don't want to be seen just as the foreigner who can speak goodChinese," he said.
Kulich cited historical and economic development factors as reasonsfor a feeling of "otherness" among overseas visitors, as China waslargely isolated and somewhat xenophobic before the reforms of thelate 1970s. "China is now a great country, and foreigners are flocking to thecountry. If China wants to become international, it'll have toembrace these newcomers just like the United States did in theearly 1900s," Sui said. But one thing Sui knows for sure is that Chinese viewers' standardsfor entertainment are much higher these days than 30 years ago,when Rowswell rose to fame.
"It's closer to the U.S. standard nowadays, meaning that I have towork harder," Sui said, adding that he is happy with the situation.
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