Ananth Krishnan

SHANGHAI: In China, where the youth are unused to young and charismatic political figures, Barack Obama is proving to be a huge hit.

News of Mr. Obama’s electoral triumph has generated much enthusiasm in the country, with his story of hope and his victory against the odds particularly capturing the imagination of Chinese youth.

An online poll conducted by State newspaper China Daily on Tuesday found a massive 75 per cent in favour of Mr. Obama’s election. A survey released on Wednesday by Horizon Research also found an unprecedented level of interest in the United States elections. Around 36 per cent of those surveyed said they “paid close attention” to the presidential race. Among those, Mr. Obama’s supporters exceeded John McCain’s by 18 per cent.

Gu Xiaoming, a historian and sociologist at Shanghai’s Fudan University who has been closely following the presidential race’s reception in China, said Chinese youth find refreshing the idea of “someone from the common people rising to the top,” given the image of exclusivity the Communist Party still conjures for many.

“McCain is viewed as someone from the establishment, from the aristocracy, from the elite,” said Mr. Gu. “But here was someone from the common people. Also, many Chinese still view America as an opportunity, and Obama’s was a story of hope that reflected the American dream.”

For a young population completely unfamiliar with democratic elections, Mr. Obama’s story has raised significant attention.

The presidential race also billed front-page coverage in local newspapers every day this past week. In Shanghai, around 300 people attended a broadcast of the election organised by the U.S. Consulate, most wearing Obama badges.

On the Internet

But nowhere has the craze for Mr. Obama been more evident than on the Internet. On China’s hugely popular online Bulletin Board System or BBS discussion forums — 60 per cent of all Chinese college students use BBS — several thousand congratulatory messages were posted within hours of Mr. Obama’s victory.

Earlier this year, Mr. Obama was even named ‘Person of the Month’ on Baidu.com, China’s biggest search engine, for being one of the most searched personalities, reflecting the level of curiosity he has generated.

Ironically, Mr. Obama’s rhetoric towards China has been far less warm than Mr. McCain’s on the campaign trail. In a letter to the National Council on Textile Organizations, a U.S. trade group, that was released last Wednesday, Mr. Obama criticised China’s “manipulation of its currency’s value,” warning he would “use all diplomatic means at my disposal to induce China to make these changes.” Mr. Obama, unlike Mr. McCain, has also promised to protect domestic industries, such as textiles, by monitoring imports from China.

But the appeal of Mr. Obama’s unlikely success story clearly trumped any reservations about his economic policies. “Congratulations Obama, we wish you open a brand new era for the United States of America,” wrote one user from the Yunnan province on the popular website Sina.com.

“The Americans could pick an African-American to be the president,” wrote another from the Gansu province. “That is truly great. And that is true democracy.”

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