Earlier this week in a House Armed Services Committee hearing on U.S. efforts in Afghanistan, Congressman Walter “Freedom Fries” Jones (Republican – North Carolina) referred to China as “Uncle Chang”:
In a question to the Commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John Allen, Jones said, “What is the event that the administration and General Allen, you sir, are going to be candid with the United States Congress and more important than the Congress, the American people as we spend $10 billion a month that we can’t pay for, the Chinese, Uncle Chang, is lending us the money we are spending in Afghanistan.
Now, I’ve often heard the United States referred to as “Uncle Sam,” but China as Uncle Chang? Now I though Jones was nuts when he, along with another Congressman, introduced a bill in the House to make all references to french fries served in The Capitol be mandated to be renamed as “freedom fries” in objection to France’s call against invading Iraq in 2003.
Technically, the United States is not directly borrowing money from China to pay for the war in Afghanistan. China is the biggest foreign owner and purchaser of U.S. treasuries, owning approximately 8% of the overall U.S. debt. The U.S. sells treasures to make up for our overall budget deficit and such funds help run the United States, including the war in Afghanistan.
Is referring to China as “Uncle Chang” racist or just silly? I’m leaning more towards silly. I think a more racist remark would be if he was to refer to China as “Uncle Ching Chong” and certainly if he had used “Uncle Chink.” And in the United States’s Uncle Sam, Sam is a first / given name, while as far as I understand, Chang in Chinese is primarily a Chinese family/last name. A quick search reveals, at least according to Wikipedia, the most common Chinese first /given name to be Wěi (“伟”), meaning ” Big, Great.” The most common Chinese family/last name is Lee (Chang is #3). But I don’t think most Americans, including myself, would necessarily get the reference to an “Uncle Wei” when trying to personify China into America’s boogeyman and largest debt holder.
I’m not sure China has an equivalent “Uncle Sam,” but I think probably the most familiar historical Chinese figure to Americans would be Chairman Mao. I think “Uncle Mao” would have made much more sense for Jones to use than Chang. Former presidential candidate and current Congresswoman Michele Bachmann made a clever reference in February 2011 to current Chinese President Hu Jintao and the money the U.S. owed to China, stating that “Hu’s Your Daddy.”
In any case, trying to demonize China in Jones’ question about how long is the United States going to stay in Afghanistan and how much it is costing the United States doesn’t make a lot of direct sense. For one thing, President George W. Bush’s tax cuts in the 2000’s is the largest contributor to the U.S. debt. Is China responsible for the United States spending more than it is taking in? No. As for when the United States should get out of Afghanistan, I have no idea … but it has nothing to do with China or Uncle Chang.