House of Cards embodies the corruption in American politics, says Chinese ambassador

According to Cui Tiankai, the drama showcases certain issues prevalent in Washington

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 March, 2014, 8:28pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 March, 2014, 5:48pm

China’s ambassador to the United States has chimed in on popular political drama House of Cards, arguing that the show exposes the disadvantages of American bipartisan politics.

“I have seen both seasons of House of Cards, which I think embodies some of the characteristics and corruption that is present in American politics,” said Cui Tiankai, speaking as a participant on a televised People’s Daily panel coinciding with the Chinese People’s Political Consultive Conference.

The Chinese diplomat, who previously studied in Washington, DC – the setting of House of Card’s intricate political machinations – added that the show’s story of bipartisan competition and corruption largely mirrored recent affairs.

“Currently, Americans are arguing and debating on how their two political parties have become so extreme,” Cui said. “Many things can never be accomplished because the interests of each party are of the greatest importance.”

But according to Liu Yu, a liberal columnist for Southern People Weekly, the show's depiction of corruption in the White House is exaggerated, and Washington politics are not nearly so simplistic. 

“In a sense, House of Cards is a work full of conspiracy theories,” Liu wrote. “Every word and every look from the male and female leads harbours a new conspiracy, and the biggest conspiracy of all is [the show's depiction of] democracy itself, where greedy and crafty statesmen try to outwit each other and deceive the populace for their own personal interests – all under the cover of ‘democracy.’”

Liu also quoted US president Barack Obama, a fan of House of Cards. Obama previously called the political dealings on the show “ruthlessly efficient” but a far cry from real life.

“Obama’s comments largely tell the truth about Washington politics – a variety of separation of powers, checks and balances,” Liu wrote. “It is an inefficient system… American democracy has evolved into a ‘vetocracy’ – where there are too many checks and balances and the opportunity to veto often renders reform intentions meaningless.”

This is not the first time that House of Cards has provided food for thought in China. The award-winning show, which portrays the ruthless manipulations of Democratic party whip Frank Underwood, has many fans in China and is one of the most popular programmes on Sohu.com, an internet streaming service. Wang Qishan, top-ranking head of the Communist Party's anti-corruption body, is reportedly an avid fan of the series.

A March 9 Financial Times editorial by Kurt Campbell, former US assistant secretary of state, asserts that many mainlanders are enamored of House of Cards because it portrays American politicians who may “echo something familiar in the modern Chinese experience [such as] the recent saga of Bo Xilai,” a famous politician now jailed for graft.

“In my experience, even the most cosmopolitan Chinese interlocutor harbours a deep ambivalence and uncertainty about Washington’s strategic intentions,” Campbell wrote. “It is widely believed that, beneath the surface, America’s vaunted democracy is rife with injustice and corruption.”

Members of China’s online microblogging community offered an alternate voice, and several criticised Cui for his comments.

“Americans are such that they do not hide their drawbacks, and through debate, constantly compromise to improve their government,” one Sina Weibo commentator wrote. “They see the problems of their [government], and also recognise their own shortcomings.”

“Of course there are issues with a two party system,” mused another blogger. “But a one party dictatorship can really harm people.”