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One struggles to overstate how much depends on Chinese-American foreign relations. Trade, military dominion, the never-ending tensions between economic and governing philosophies—it’s all pressing, and it’s all happening right now. Unfortunately, few Americans really understand the crucial posturing between the East and the West.
We all know China is important—perhaps something to be feared—but can you really formulate an opinion on the manmade islands in the South China Sea? Or the accusations that the Chinese Communist Party is devaluing the Yuan? The vast cultural and language differences have left most of the high-level Sino-American discourse up to a cadre of China hawks who’ve done their homework, but do they tell the full story?
That’s where the YouTube channel China Uncensored enters the fray.
Every week host Chris Chappell gets in front of a camera and boils down Chinese news with an approachable, Jon Stewart-esque candor. It’s a must-watch as tensions continue to boil under the Trump administration. We caught up with Chappell and talked about his interest in China, the Trump effect on his channel, and why Americans aren’t as interested in China as they should be.
Daily Dot: When did you first develop an interest in China?
Chris Chappell: I got really sick when I was 19 and went to the hospital. The doctors said I might have some rare heart virus, and I had a friend who was practicing some Chinese Qigong exercises. He showed me those exercises, and I immediately got better the next day. The doctors had no idea what was going on, I had no idea what was going on, and they discharged me from the hospital.
It was around that time where I realized, “Wow, I don’t know anything about China.” I started reading up on Chinese history, I read some of the classics, and I started training with a kung-fu master. I learned all these inspiring things about the history and culture… and then you start learning about modern China and how the Communist Party has destroyed so much of that culture and have put up all these walls. It makes you think of all the great interactions that could be happening between China and the West, and that got me interested.
How did you start China Uncensored?
I was a China news reporter, and eventually, I grew tired of the unbiased attitude you had to have as an unbiased reporter. I thought, “Why not follow in the footsteps of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report?” So much of the news that comes out of China is inherently funny, so I thought I’d build something where I could say whatever I want to say.
You’re absolutely right that many Americans don’t have an intimate knowledge of Sino-American relations, despite how important they are. Why do you think that is?
That’s a big question, but I’ll do my best to answer it. One reason is that China was closed off from the West for so long. But another part is that the Chinese Communist Party is actively trying to influence the way Americans think about China. Here’s a perfect example: The leader of China, Xi Jinping, is effectively the chairman of the Communist party. But you’ll always see him referred to as the president of China. So, people are like, “Oh the president of China, China is a democracy!” It erases the horrible, brutal reality. It also doesn’t help that, if you’re a reporter in China, you can’t report on certain things.
President Donald Trump has already done some relatively unprecedented things with regards to China, like taking a call from the Taiwanese president. After the 2016 American election, did you notice a boom on your channel?
I have to say, Donald Trump has certainly made China Uncensored great again. Not that it was ever not great, of course.
It was great seeing everyone talking about the One China Policy; that’s a hugely important thing that most people didn’t have a great idea about. Since the election, we’ve had a 10-percent subscriber growth, but that also has to do with a month-long Asia tour where we traveled to the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Funny story: We actually flew out the night of the election, so everyone in the plane was kinda like, “what’s happened?!”
Are you worried about the future of Sino-American relations under Trump?
It’s great that a lot of these issues have been pushed to the forefront of public attention, but there’s also so much happening behind the scenes inside of China that it’s hard to know what’s happening. I talk a lot on the show about the power struggle within China, and there have been analysts who’ve leaked that presidents have been aiding the current Chinese leader in his political purgings. That’s all speculation, but we don’t really know the details of how the U.S. has been interacting with very complex factional in-fighting in China.
Sino-American relations hinge on, of course, who’s in charge of China. If Xi Jinping is really purging the old guard of the party and creating a new system of government, that would be a complete game-changer.
From watching your videos, you seem like a pretty pro-democracy guy, you’re not afraid to criticize the Chinese Communist Party. Do you ever see your videos as advocacy or activism?
Well, you look at Taiwan. Taiwan is like a parallel dimension of China with liberty and democracy. And it’s doing pretty well even though it’s not even really a country. We definitely want a better world, and like I said earlier, I do believe there’s a lot to learn from the 5,000 years of Chinese history.
Entertainment and sports reporter Luke Winkie has written everywhere from A.V Club to Vice, including Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Kotaku, Playboy, Mel, and Polygon.