Letter from China: In-flight Rhetoric

Fenster writes:

Sponsored rhetoric will always reflect the interests, and interest, of the sponsor. We get that automatically in the Era of Spin, that you can’t much trust any statement on its face, and that your brain has to automatically and unconsciously cogitate to discern interest in any piece of communication.

When I  am stuck on an airplane without much to read I will often go for the in-flight magazine just to see the words and pictures.  And I really don’t think much of it that such things are written in a kind of corporate-speak.  That only makes sense given the magazine’s sponsorship: the airline itself (directly) and the Chambers of Commerce and Tourism Commissions of the airline’s destination (indirectly).  Twenty-eight pages on the glories of Greenville-Spartanburg, South Carolina when US Air expanded service!  And here is a recent spread on Charlotte leading with the fact that Charlotte is “where business soars”.

No surprise, perhaps, that in-flight magazines in China would read a little differently?  It is, after all, the People’s Republic of China, so rather than glorify corporations, you’d expect it to perhaps glorify labor.

And sure enough we find in the May 2013 edition of Air China’s in-flight magazine a special section on workers.

The May 1 Memorial Song, which was first sung in the 1921 May 1 International Labor Day, has inspired Chinese workers with its lyrics about freedom for decades.

Now, May Day has become a public holiday.  While we celebrate the workers’ day, let’s take a look at Europe, the genesis of the Industrial Revolution, and see the living conditions of the workers there.

Irony alert!  You might be able to guess where this piece is headed.  Let’s now take a look at what Air China–and/or its sponsors–have to say about workers in Europe.

The Air China piece is highly critical of workers in the West for not pulling their weight and for falling down on the job.  It had some kind words for German workers’ commitment to quality.  And it liked the fact that English workers are flexible in the face of the demands of the global market.

England has fewer demonstrations than other European countries.  For the workers . . . excessive welfare and demonstrations may further make the economy stall and backfire, so why bother?

But the special section had little to no patience at all with French and Swedish workers.  In Sweden “labor is very expensive.  At all the gas stations, you don’t see any staff and customers have to fill the tanks by themselves.”

The Sweden article profiles a Chinese national who had settled in Stockholm.  She hired plumbers for a leaky bathroom, thinking it a “small project that wouldn’t take long”.  It took a month, with the workers showing up at 9 AM, breaking for a long lunch at 11, and returning for a little work after lunch before heading off for a tea break in the afternoon.  They eventually ended their day early.

So why would someone from China even want to travel to Sweden?  Doesn’t sound that good.  Of course, if you choose to Air China will at least be willing to take you there.


As for the French, the article begins by profiling a worker who spends a lazy morning over breakfast and the news, then dropping kids at school and wife at work, arriving at his own workplace at 10.  After a review of the laws that effectively mandate the easy life for French workers, the article goes on to say “That’s the French way.  The system supports the lazy.”

After a discussion about the negative aspects of the welfare system and the propensity to strike, the article concludes:

Typically, a massive nationwide strike starts from the transport sector, which brings French domestic travel almost to a standstill.  Trains stop, Flights are cancelled.  Tourists from around the world get stranded in Paris, helplessly watching the French have a good time.

It is obvious that the not-so-subtle views of the State are embedded in something as innocuous as in-flight magazine articles.  That is the Chinese way–the Party plays a leadership role in all things.  And, as this Time article makes clear, the big airlines like Air China are heavily intertwined with the Party in a mutual backscratching way.  So it is not that weird that in-flight magazines would be as pushy as they are, going so far as to use the phrase “the system supports the lazy”.  You’ll find no overt editorializing like this at US Air.

But it is also more than a little ironic that the party line being pushed here is essentially a corporate, or corporatist, one.  The English worker is good for being accommodating in terms of global economic trends.  The French?  C’est pour rire.  The China in-flight article is a much more brutal apologist for the market than anything I’ve seen on US Air.

Poor China has to make do with cheap labor.  Here are some shots of a grocery store near my university in China.  Not just two girls to every boy: more like 5 employees standing around in uniform to every paying customer.

IMG_1498-001 IMG_1499-001

Take that, Swedish gas stations!

About Fenster

Gainfully employed for thirty years, including as one of those high paid college administrators faculty complain about. Earned Ph.D. late in life and converted to the faculty side. Those damn administrators are ruining everything.
This entry was posted in Politics and Economics, Travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Letter from China: In-flight Rhetoric

  1. Hilarious — the mind spins. Gotta say, as portrayed by the Chinese magazine, the French and Swedish lifetyles sound pretty good to me. Do the Chinese worship work-for-the-sake-of-work more than any other people?


  2. fenster says:

    The Chinese with capital probably worship labor for the sake of labor as much as anyone else with capital, and a bullhorn.


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