Who Knew the Correspondent’s Dinner was Valuable?

Every spring, Washington DC is flooded by a mass of celebrities, business leaders, and other VIPs.  They come to the U.S. capital city in order to attend the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner, an event that generally features a celebrity presenter who gently roasts [there have been presenters who have not been gentle, such as Stephen Colbert in 2006] DC culture.  The President of the United States also traditionally gives a speech in which he pokes fun at himself and DC insider culture. 

The event is a lavish affair with Congressmen, media luminaries, and film and television stars intermixing.  As such, it is regularly cited as an example of the divide that exists between the nation’s capital and the rest of the United States.  Many commentators and analysts regular wonder about the purpose of the event, other than to bring together a collection of VIPs for a party.

Its value to the internal politics of the United States can be debated, but it seems that the annual White House Correspondent’s Dinner is a big hit among the netizens of China.  Whereas many Americans view the dinner as an event reserved for the crème del a crème of American society, the general reaction in China has been that the dinner is a visible example of the United States’ democratic and open culture.  For many Chinese citizens, the prospect of their national leaders giving a humorous speech that is publicly available and also ridicules the very foundations of the country’s political system is too remote to even fathom. 

Thus, it seems that President Obama’s speech at the Correspondent’s Dinner is another Ambassador Locke moment in China [Ambassador Locke became a viral hit on the internet when photos revealed him as carrying his own bag when travelling to take his post in China].  I tend to think that this is merely a case of distinctions in political culture – the United States has a tradition of satire and ridicule in its public life, while China simply does not.  However, it is fascinating to see how China’s legions of netizens use this quintessentially Washington event and give it a Chinese relevance.  What are your thoughts?   

Please note that the views expressed in this piece do not represent the official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.

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