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Communist China Saves Christmas

Written by Brian Hicks
Posted December 13, 2005

Bill O'Reilly can't take it anymore. His nose is Rudolph-red over the "Happy Holidays" signs and "holiday trees" popping up around the country.

The Fox News crew is poised to defend the holiday, for holy and less-than-holy reasons: "Every company in America should be on their knees thanking Jesus for being born. Without Christmas, most American companies would be far less profitable."

Now let's play a game called Mad Libs. It's a pastime for road trips and classroom fun where kids can substitute wacky words into otherwise dull stories, using their wildest imagination. We can start with O'Reilly's last line.

"Without ______, most American companies would be far less profitable."

Hmm, what has been the source of surging profit margins for American companies for years, bringing down baseline prices in big-box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target to rock-bottom?

Ooh! I've got a wacky fill-in!

"Without CHINA, most American companies would be far less profitable."

Where Have All the Elves Gone?

Be you Christian or Pagan, this holiday season you may notice the country of origin on your favorite brand of tinsel to be China. The cool new remote control race car Timmy wants? Hubby's nose hair trimmer? Your fiber-optic Christmas tree? All from China.

So when O'Reilly pledges not to shop anywhere that doesn't greet him with a "Merry Christmas" as he walks in the door, does he leave his righteous indignation right there?

He talks about the Chinese Wal-Marts specifically, kindly allowing them carte blanche to greet customers in the local way:

"They don't have to say 'Merry Christmas' in China, Okay? They can say 'Happy Winter,' all right? 'We like pandas.' Say whatever you want."

Well, the "we like pandas" comment could hold true in DC, where I waiting for pandas to mate is as entertaining as watching a Capitals hockey game, and free.

But what is the Christmas season like in China? Luckily I have a man on the inside.

In the coastal city of Fuzhou, where my friend Ben lives, there is a 50-foot tall Christmas tree in the middle of the city, surrounded by the whitest of fake snow. Little children gleefully adorn the tree with notes and wishes for an auspicious Winter Holiday.

Department store employees wear red caps with fuzzy white tufts on top, and Christmas muzak rings in the holiday season in every department where, unlike here in the States, the products were made domestically.

The True Meaning of Consumerism

Bill O'Reilly made a real point in his defense of Christmas. The implications of the holiday to American values in the 21st century will be indicative of the momentum of the entire culture.

Once Thanksgiving dinner passes, having gotten the perfunctory turkey-carving over with, millions of Americans shun their families and head to bed so that they can wake at 3 a.m. (or never actually go to sleep) in order to catch an Xbox 360 or a laptop computer for 200 bucks. Some of those are presents, but many purchases will remain with the purchaser.

The very fact that Fox News anchors and other Christmas warriors use Wal-Mart, Sears, Target, and other such mega-merchants as examples highlights exactly where their priorities are. They don't care how many mom-and-pop shops still give out candy canes and hire Santa (of course the real one) to spread cheer.

What they want is a market campaign that targets the big boys - the ones who claim to represent all that America is and ever will be. "That's the litmus test," as O'Reilly said.

Wal-Mart and thousands of companies after them made decisions about how your Christmas money is spent long ago. They slashed costs by establishing themselves in China and other overseas markets where they took advantage of cheap labor and undervalued currency, simultaneously feeding China's rise and ensuring that China would be pigeonholed in a manufacturing-based market role for decades.

The Chinese public has its own spin on things. The Chinese enjoy Christmas because they enjoy decorations and celebrations. They play Christmas carols because they sound like Simon and Garfunkel, whom they adore.

While I was in China this July, I walked down a street in Xining and heard "Frosty the Snowman." My bewilderment turned into laughter as I realized that the tune was emanating not from Santa's yuletide chariot, but rather from a trash truck making its rounds.

So I say, where now, Blitzen? Who steers this sleigh? Are we pulling or pushing? That's the real question American consumers need to ask, not whether or not they are being greeted sufficiently for their tradition.

The bed is made - the comforter was laid for profit's sake and, by corollary, for cheaper prices that entice middle and working-class consumers to incur more credit card debt ($800 billion worth today).

Tradition is a way of life, and Chinese consumers are mimicking our way of life with their buying habits and, strangely enough, by celebrating Jesus' birthday. They're also trying to move beyond factories, into a consumption-driven economy that can create household names like Japan has Sony and Korea has Samsung and the U.S. has Maytag.

The Waking Dragon isn't just about commenting on the human condition. It's about looking forward to see where China is heading, and where the world is heading, and thinking long and hard about where it - and our money - should go.

- Sam Hopkins
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