By on January 31, 2012

David Mulroney, Canada’s ambassador to China, was mocked on a Chinese social networking site for committing a major social faux pas – according to commenters on Weibo, a Chinese social networking site, Mulroney’s Toyota Camry, his official car, lacked sufficient prestige for a man of his station.

While the Audi A6L is the standard vehicle of choice for anyone who is somebody in China, Canadian cabinet ministers are capped at a car allowance of $32,500. Most Canadian politicians opt for Canadian built cars, which leaves them with a pretty good selection of rides; the Ford Edge, Chrysler 300/Dodge Charger and Chevrolet Impala can be seen in motorcades and government building parking lots. Prime Minister Stephen Harper usually rolls around in a black Suburban, and our Governor-General (the British Monarchy’s representative in Canada, and our official head of state) gets a Canadian made Lincoln Town Car.

The Globe and Mail article goes on to explain the semiotics of Chinese and Canadian car choices. Two obvious differences; any Canadian government official that bought an expensive luxury car with taxpayer funds would be publicly crucified – in fact, it’s happening right now. Second, driving a Buick minivan in North America is anything but a status symbol, no matter how cool it is in China.

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45 Comments on “Chinese Citizens Mock Canadian Ambassador’s Car Choice...”


  • avatar
    thirty-three

    People in a communist country are mocking a person for making a choice that is not self-serving, a choice that benefits the entire country by not wasting the public’s money? Who’s the socialist now?

    • 0 avatar
      Hank

      Ha! +1

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Economically, there was never true Communism in places like the PRC, the Soviet Union, etc. – the top political apparatchiks and those connected always lived better (look at NK).

      The closest to true communism was the kibbutz system in the early days of the Zionist movement.

      And while politically, the PRC is still a totalitarian oligarchy, economically it’s largely a capitalistic society (in some ways more than ours due to lack of regulation or lack of enforcement – so anything goes), even if sectors of the state and military run some of the largest businesses.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      China really isn’t a Communist country, hasn’t been for decades. It has a very authoritarian government structure but it is far closer to a socialist form of government.

      They are rapidly transforming, especially in the urban centers as a consumer oriented economy where status, prestige, and the next great gismo is the thing to have.

      Four-million people a month in China move from poor to middle-class. That is equivalent to a city the size of Houston gaining middle-class buying power…every month.

      Snobbery and prestige to station is a big part of Chinese culture; has been for millennium. It isn’t as bad as the caste system in India; but don’t think for one second the Chinese don’t care about status/stature.

      Even under Communist leadership, Mao, and the little red book, little Johnnie was looked up to if the party saw favor upon them.

    • 0 avatar
      Buddy-Boy

      Why, us Canadians, of course !

  • avatar
    CrapBox

    It’s reverse snobbery.

    Canadian politicians and government officials drive drab cars to signal that they’re in touch with the hoi poloi. Meanwhile, behind closed doors, they party down like soviet-era apparatchiks.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    It’s not just cars… it’s everything. Mainland Chinese style is can be quite garish when it comes to things like interior design as well. I suppose its a process of market maturation, but sleek Scandinavian simplicity? Forget about it.

    Subtlety of wealth and power is a relatively modern idea, and obviously not the default of human nature. Fun reading:

    http://www.amazon.com/Dictator-Style-Lifestyles-Colorful-Despots/dp/0811853144

  • avatar
    Turkina

    Were there any Weibo posters that mentioned that driving around in a A6L or some Chinese ‘official/boss’ type car might be a bad image? I figure a good deal of Chinese have a negative impression of a particular class of corrupt government officials and bosses.

    Driving around in a Camry Hybrid might not be so bad then… The ambassador steps out of the Camry, and portrays Canada as a nice, clean, polite place that does not associate with dirty politics.

    • 0 avatar
      stuntmonkey

      That’s not quite the Chinese way…. Like people everywhere, they’re fed up with corruption and mass commercialization, but that doesn’t quite translate as a personal choice.

      In a way, those of us who grew outside of China have more traditional upbringings because of the immigration experience…. Confucianism, hard work, austerity and all that. China is undergoing a sea change, and it’s a little bit alien to us as well.

  • avatar
    dejal1

    For the time being China is winning. Good for them, until someone else can (and will) undercut them.

    Personally, I’m rooting for the Indians. Those people have a soul, something the Chinese seem to lack and don’t look like they have any interest in finding. If India can manage their population and resources there will be no stopping them.

    Remember the douche Porsche owner in China a month or so ago throwing a fit because he had a SUV with issues? Me, me, me, look what I have and you don’t. I’m important and you’re not, and I’m going to tell you how much.

    The need to constantly one-up the other guy is annoying and boring.

    It’s very refreshing that a public servant plays by the rules.

    • 0 avatar
      arun

      As an Indian, I can say that you are partially correct. Indians do have a soul that is displayed more often than not. You would never see something like a sober driver running over a 2yr old toddler and not stopping. But the one thing that westerners do not realize is that unlike most other countries, Indians would do anything to ape the west.

      They think that USA can never ever go wrong and whatever they do is the gold standard. If they continue thinking that, then I think they will never overtake China anytime in the near future. Like some one once said – “We all know what the American dream is – to have a house and a car and send our kids to good schools. You know what the Indian dream is ? To go to America and live the American dream!”

      The other aspect is other unlike any other country in the world, India is a country with multiple ethnicities, multiple traditions, multiple religions – all mixed pot pourri style (think of Norway, Sudan, Malaysia and Mexico all being part of one big country). People say this is true democracy at work but the reality is that these ethnic divisions have reared its ugly head in the past and will continue to do so. As long as Indians are only concerned with the development of only their own state (where state = ethinicity), India as a country will never move forward.

      The final aspect is simply this: India and Indians, barring the odd exception, do not believe in looking out for one another. You know the stereotype image in the west of a youg boy helping a blind grandma cross the street ? Does not exist in India. Everyone is out for themselves – pretty much like China. Just that the Indian sub culture of respecting elders has kept in under leash to some extent – and I believe that as long Indians do not learn how to ‘do a good deed’, they will not go anywhere as a country. They will simply use up their resources and then move to another country and do the exact same thing – like a virus. Hate to be so negative about my own country but it is the truth.

    • 0 avatar
      wsn

      Just one request for your friends with souls: improve your spoken English.

      It’s not that the Chinese speak better English. But at least they don’t pretend to be a English-speaking nation and get hired by North American call centers.

      • 0 avatar
        dts187

        Indians in call centers speak better English than most of us Americans. They tend to enunciate better and do not use slang or vernacular. This makes their English more global and better equipped to deal with other Engligh-speaking countries.

        Source: Years of working in IT.

      • 0 avatar
        arun

        Again, you speak from a narrow perspective. While some of them ‘pretend’, most of them are trained to speak that accent you hear. So don’t blame the Indians for that.

        We speak English in large numbers (bear in mind that English is not the native language of any Indian to begin with – it is their second language at best) and aforementioned large numbers and the dollar:rupee exchange rate makes us dirt cheap. But the final decision to increase profit margins by outsourcing call center work to India was that of the CEOs and top level management in USA, not of any India based company. They decided that the accents were an acceptable tradeoff for the increased profits. So don’t blame the Indians for that!

  • avatar
    heartofkafka

    The comments from Weibo are more of “appreciation” than “mocking”.

    There must be something lost in translation.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    As a Canadian taxpayer, it actually makes me feel quite happy to know that our money isn’t being wasted.
    It really says something about contemporary popular Chinese thinking that *not* spunking huge amounts of money on a bling-mobile is considered seriously uncool. Oh well, I guess I should be glad that the Chinese middle classes are on a consumer binge, otherwise I’d be out of a job.

  • avatar
    atlas_snored

    Weibo comments are akin to Youtube comments. In other words, it attracts the retards and their non-thoughts. TTAC has some serious journalism mixed in with outrageous, attention-grabbing articles. This article belongs to the latter.

    Don’t conflate a Camry with prudence and honesty. The stereotypical foreign oligarchs/oilmen/bankers drive ostentatious cars. The smooth operators drive dorky cars. In the long run, the subtle types survive.

    As someone who has had to deal with tax accounting and its shelters, I can assert that the Canadian gov’t is beholden to its monopoly corporations, oil companies, and the FIRE industry.

    • 0 avatar
      heartofkafka

      Don’t conflate a Camry with prudence and honesty? I think that’s exactly what Canadian tax payer expect their government official to behave…for the stereotypical foreign oligarchs/oilmen/bankers can drive whatever the fck they want, they ain’t public servant of Canada.

      Go read the Directive on Fleet Management: Executive Vehicles…

      http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/pol/doc-eng.aspx?id=12064&section=text

      5.3.3 Executive vehicles must be:

      a) hybrid-electric, if available from the manufacturers;
      b) factory-equipped for natural gas, propane, or E-85 ethanol fuel, if available from the manufacturers, where fuelling infrastructure exists or is planned; or
      c) factory-equipped with a 4-cylinder conventional fuel engine (gasoline or diesel) that emits below 4300 kg of C02 emissions per year as outlined in the Fuel Consumption Guide published by Natural Resources Canada.

      Vehicle classes must be consistent with those contained in the Government Motor Vehicle Ordering Guide published by Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC).

      • 0 avatar
        28-cars-later

        I hate to say it I’m with the Chinese on this one… while a Bentley might be too excessive, a Camry is not the automobile of a serious statesmen, a Panther is an acceptable middle of the road compromise in my mind. The Canadian gov’t should probably exempt the higher level officials from those rules and let them drive real cars… the day I see another county’s ambassador pull up in a 4-cly Corolla (or even Camry in this case) is the day their gov’t loses all credibility in my eyes.

  • avatar
    atlas_snored

    Should I say something to Dejal1? Does it even matter?

    Personally I don’t root for anyone. Individuals are more important than whatever ethnicity or nationality. I really, really get a kick out of seeing India as being free of the worst personality traits. Didn’t the Tata oligarch build himself the world’s most expensive house, all while running a tax cheating corporation and hob-nobbing with sociopaths like Larry Summers?

    It’s just too easy to read the Economist and watch CNN or whatever and take their editorials as gospel. Seeing the overt corruption in China is just a diversion tactic from very similar (but hidden) issues here. Why won’t the media talk about a generation of declining living standards?

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Why won’t the media talk about a generation of declining living standards?

      I think that’s been one of the leading stories of the last 4 years. Longer, if you live in the rust belt.

      What media are you using that you don’t think it’s talked about?

      Also, what would you like them to say about it?

      I’ll sum the coverage up for you: “The previous generation benefited tremendously from an accident of history that allowed them to widely enjoy lifestyles and affluence that are not sustainable long-term. Younger Americans shouldn’t use the Boomers as a benchmark under any circumstances, if you do so you will be disappointed. A minority of you will do very well, the rest of you will struggle your whole lives and likely die mired in debt with very little to show for it.”

      I figured this out when I was about 12 years old. I don’t know why so many people are still confused about it.

      • 0 avatar
        atlas_snored

        I doubt the average person is as sagacious as you are. Throughout university and grad school, I was subjected to talk about the need to achieve equilibrium and the glorification of various graphs. We were taught that there was no free lunch. Thus people who flipped land bought off municipal politicians, or borrowed money to raid and then strip corporations were deserving of their windfall profits (which were lightly taxed or forever tax deferred.)

        In a theoretically democratic system, people have been convinced to vote against their own interests. It’s not an accidental campaign, and various scapegoats are cited; foreigners, minorities, union workers, etc. Anything to reinforce a regressive economic system.

        Even now, there’s no serious mention of changing the tax codes or spending on those who need it. Thus we hear all sorts of things about the debauchery in selected foreign places, yet we continue to wave the flag and see ourselves as exceptional. Just have a gander at many of the sanctimonious articles and comments about messed up foreign places.

  • avatar
    bikegoesbaa

    So what would you get with your $32,000 car allowance if you were the ambassador to China?

    I’d go for either a 60′s Continental 4-door hardtop, a 70′s Silver Shadow, or an 80′s Ferrari 308.

  • avatar
    replica

    Why do they get $32,500? That’s a crap ton of money for a basic car.

    • 0 avatar
      jmo

      $32,500 is a “crap ton” of money to you? Keeping in mind the average new car in the US is $28k

      • 0 avatar
        replica

        Absolutely, for a public servant buying something on the public dime.

        I’ve bought 3 new cars in my incredibly long life (30) and none of them went past $22k.

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        a basic Civic sedan should be plenty considering

        The ambassador’s role includes promoting a countries exports – so, from a marketing perspective, it would make sense for them to drive the premier car produced in that country.

      • 0 avatar
        wsn

        replica, did you buy them in Canada? If not, there is no comparison in price.

      • 0 avatar
        replica

        No. US prices. I forget the Canadians get the maple leaf shaft on car prices. New prices for me, 2005 Civic Si $18,500, 2007 Civic Si Sedan $21.800, Mazda2 $16,100. I don’t expect diplomats to be able to take care of business in the 05 Si or the Mazda2, but a basic Civic sedan should be plenty considering it’s a free car on the state’s dime. Why aren’t they using personal vehicles?

        How about a basic Ford Fusion, base Camry, Accord and so on? All high teens, low 20′s in the US.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I figured he would have gone for the traditional dogsled, snowmobile, or Tim Horton’s delivery van.

  • avatar
    stuntmonkey

    Here’s a link to the Globe and Mail article:

    http://m.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/worldview/in-de-coding-class-in-china-cars-are-your-best-clue/article2319674/?service=mobile

  • avatar
    another_pleb

    It always makes me stop and think whenever I visit a capital city and see an enormous Mercedes or BMW with diplomatic plates emerge from the gates of an embassy of an african banana republic that receives millions in aid.

  • avatar
    banjopanther

    And it’s not even stretched or gold plated! Boo haoww!

  • avatar
    speedyexpress48

    Well, the Camry is a premium vehicle in China, tho lower than GM or the Germans. Still, status is important in China, and if you are an official driving anything lower than an A6 they will laugh at you.


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