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July 27, 2009 in The China Beat


Copyright July 27, 2009 Haiyan Lee. Used by permission.


America’s finest news source The Onion has a new owner! Since last week, readers have been bombarded with the good tiding, from the modified masthead, logo, and tagline, to news headlines, editorials, audio and video clips, and ads, lots of ads. The new owner goes by the appetizing name of Yu Wan Mei 鱼完美 Amalgamated Salvage Fisheries and Polymer Injection Group, supposedly a Chinese conglomerate from the inland province of Sichuan. The corporation specializes in fish by-products salvaged from the “ocean’s bounty.” Some of its finer samples are “Broiled Shark Gums,” “Multi-Flavor Variety Pack Of Pickled Fish Cloaca,” “Lightning Power Monkfish Cerebral Fluid Energy Drink,” “Mr. Steve’s Safe And Natural Rhinoceros-Cure For The Inferior Male,” and “Yu Wan Mei Miscellaneous Flavor Paste.”

But, as the YWM homepage proclaims in bold letters, the corporation is “diversifying into myriad subsidiaries” such as “Szu-Maul Lethal Injection Truck And Van Manufacturing,” “Speedee Slab Quick-Setting Concrete Consolidated,” “Jhonson & Jhonson Baby’s Shampow,” “Yu Wanmei EZ Home Foreclosure Program,” and “Amalgamated Chinatowns of America, Inc.” The new owner is pushy, to say the least. Every news and non-news item in the paper comes with at least one YWM product placement reference. Ads containing shibboleths in simulated non-grammatical English (“Glorious Fish By-Product Make for Long Life, Good Fortune”) rudely bisect or multiply interrupt any and all reports. At a more subliminal level, the end of every text is marked with the Chinese character for fish. The video clips go overboard with animated YWM icons and messages flashing across the screen and with the anchors blending YWM commercials effortlessly into their tabloid-style interviews. The Onion has positively turned fishy.No savvyOnion reader should be fooled by this non-too-subtle effort at mocking the sorry state of the publishing industry and the corporate takeover of the media in contemporary America. No one, really, should even be surprised that a fictive Chinese corporation is the villain of this imaginary apocalypse. After all, wasn’t GM’s Hummer just sold to an obscure Chinese company called Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company Ltd.? Bizarre as it may have sounded, that piece of news shouldn’t have surprised too many either. For better or for worse, China has been on Americans’ mind for quite some time—at least those Americans who have been paying attention to the intricate linkage between the Chinese compulsion to save and the subprime mortgage crisis that has brought the American economy to its knees, to the chattering class ratcheting up the specter of “China rising,” to the media coverage of the Beijing Olympics and the ethnic riots, to news stories about poisonous toothpaste, carcinogenic toys, and tainted milk powder.