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Cagle tells of cartooning culture divide in China

Daryl Cagle is in China as part of a US State Department cultural exchange program. Yesterday he met with university students and Chinese cartoonists. He’s posted a revealing exchange on his blog about the student’s views on censorship and the roll of cartooning.

Q: Do your cartoons hurt your personal relationships with the politicians you draw?

A: No, I don’t have personal relationships with the people I draw.

Q: Do you worry that your drawings will hurt the reputation of someone you have drawn?

A: No, if one of my cartoons hurts the reputation of a politician that I am criticizing, then I am pleased. (Sometimes the crowd murmurs when I say this. It doesn’t seem to be what they expect me to say.)

Q: Do you ever apologize for your cartoons?

A: Sometimes, but only if I make an error or if the cartoon is misunderstood. Usually the people who are angry about a cartoon are the people I intend to make angry, and I am happy to make them angry. (The crowd murmurs at this answer, too.)

Q: Do you ever draw cartoons that are supportive of China?

A: No, I don’t draw cartoons that support anything. I just criticize. Supportive cartoons are lousy cartoons.

Q: Now that you have visited China, and have learned more about China, will you be drawing cartoons that support China?

A: Probably not.

Q: What do you think about the terrible things that Jack Cafferty from CNN said about China? What can be done to make CNN apologize for these remarks?

A: (I try to be polite here.) Most Americans don’t know Jack Cafferty and haven’t read about his remarks, but most Americans have a negative view of China and would probably agree with Jack Cafferty’s remarks. I wouldn’t expect CNN to apologize. (The students murmur.) It is interesting that Jack Cafferty is a big issue here; the students all seem to know about the guy and seem personally insulted by him.

Q: At every event there is a student with a big smile who asks: Do you see many editorial cartoons in the USA about the Olympics? What are the cartoons like?

A: (I try again to be polite.) Yes there are lots of cartoons about the Olympics, and the cartoons from around the world are almost all negative about China.

Ed. Note: the “Q:” and “A:” were added above for clarity to the reader.

Community Comments

#1 J.G. Moore
@ 2:57 pm

Damn! He was very rude to the Chinese.

#2 J.G. Moore
@ 3:05 pm

OMG, I just had to post more. Out of ALLLLLLL the editorial cartoonist they choose
Cagle?!?!?! WTF. They should have sent a better rep. Cagle is O.K. but he is not the guy who should have gone to rep the American Editorial cartooning to China. Poor choice.

#3 Malc McGookin
@ 6:13 pm

Diplomacy has been described as the continuation of war by other means.
Thank goodness skilled diplomats are quite good at disguising the “war” aspect of it.

Daryl is obviously not skilled, and seems to be quite openly hostile and arrogant, no wonder the image of Americans abroad has taken a battering if his is the standard of entente cordiale exported by the U.S.

The Chinese will brick him up in the Great Wall.

#4 Rick Stromoski
@ 10:30 am

I totally disagree….. I think Daryl was being forthright in answering the questions put to him. The Chinese audience has in all likelyhood never been exposed to such candor.Daryl was being frank in answering their questions.That isn’t rude. What was he supposed to say when asked how the China is being portrayed in the U.S. media? Lie? Sorry but the truth hurts. Especially to regimes that just spoon feed propaganda and don’t allow their populace the luxury of thought or dissent.

Perhaps someone can point out where he was either rude or arrogant? I only see honesty and frankness in answering questions put to him.

#5 Malc McGookin
@ 12:08 pm

Rick, when I came to Australia as an animation director, I attended a number of lectures, an education in fact, in how to deal with Asians in general and the Chinese in particular. I already knew of the saving face aspect in Asian culture and the importance of politeness, and that helped me understand Asian behaviour and expectations.

Americans are regarded as THE worst culprits as far as crimes against good taste and appropriate behaviour is concerned. The stories of large boneheaded Americans wearing U.S. Bomber Command jackets in Japanese marketplaces (and being beaten up by gangs of irate old Japanese ladies) are legion.

The Chinese are vicious businessmen – real piranhas. If you deal with them you have to know how they think. Everything is about putting one over the other guy, about shafting and being shafted, about winning and losing.

Cagle lost.

#6 Malc McGookin
@ 12:10 pm

Oh, and so did the U.S.A.

#7 Dawn Douglass
@ 12:24 pm

I’d hate to think what he’d say if he wasn’t “trying to be polite.”

His responses were crass, at best. Considering this was part of a cultural exchange program by the U.S. government, you’d think he would have been better prepared and not made Americans look so bad.

#8 Phil Wohlrab
@ 12:55 pm

I worked for a T shirt company. I will not say anything about the managment except that they were not from America originally and they could not hold onto a single designer for very long because the company owner destested the life style of American designers, and the designers were treated like dogs. No sick days and paid very little. The sales staff was well paid, however. My boss said American designers were lazy and that he hated gays. He said this to my face. I would not go to another county and tell them that I thought their people were lazy, all while growing and prospering my buisness in THEIR Country. I quit after 6 months even though he offered to match my new salary.
It felt so good to stick it to em. And I did it without ever losing my cool. But I still get infuriated thinking about it.

#9 Phil Wohlrab
@ 12:58 pm

here’s a hint
They came from the country south of the 38th….

#10 Alan Gardner
@ 1:07 pm

I just want to caution commentors to pick their words wisely. I’d hate for this conversation to degrade into bigotry or become a racial flame war.

#11 Phil Wohlrab
@ 1:19 pm

I will add that the owners son was a great guy. i’d work their if he were my boss. In the beginning I excused my bosses behavior because cultural differences. but he was just a jerk. I had a problem with no one else in the company. My contempt was for an individual not a race.

#12 Mike Lester
@ 2:15 pm

In a nutshell:
-He’s pleased when he hurts rep of politicians
-he’s happy to make targets of his cartoons angry
-doesn’t draw to support, just criticize.
-doesn’t plan to draw supportive China cartoons
-presupposes that Americans have negative view of China
-doesn’t think journalists should apologize
-worldwide there exist negative China Olympic cartoons

Daryl’s not the first guy you think of when you think incendiary cartoons (that would be Ted and me) and if you know him, he’s one of the most unfailingly polite people you’ll meet but where was he rude, hostile or arrogant? He’s not applying for a job in the best friends club. He’s relaying the freedom he enjoys as an American first and cartoonist second.

American self-flagellation is so unnecessary.

#13 Dawn Douglass
@ 5:38 pm

Oh come on. For him to say “most Americans have a negative view of China” is rude, hostile (esp. when you understand their culture) and arrogant. (Has he polled most Americans…who is Daryl Cagle to speak for all of us?)

And that exchange about will he draw supportive cartoons now that he’s been there makes me wince. I’m certain that really hurt their feelings. Despite what he meant, all they heard was, “No, now that I’ve seen your country firsthand, I still don’t like it and I think Jack Cafferty is right.”

If he were there as any ignorant, culturally insensitive Ugly American tourist, that’d be one thing. But his mission was to be an ambassador of the United States. He blew it bigtime.

#14 Rich Diesslin
@ 6:20 pm

I just read Daryl’s travel log on his site and it is very interesting. Perhaps he should have been more diplomatic, but I can’t fault him for being direct. Cultural differences go both ways, so they should also give him some slack. Afterall, his president is a cowboy so what did they expect. Can you imagine the fear and trepidation of the state department upon hearing of the request for a political cartoonist to go to China.

Just curious, is it the general feeling among political cartoonists that anything supportive is a bad cartoon?

#15 Wiley Miller
@ 8:10 pm

â??most Americans have a negative view of Chinaâ?

Most Americans couldn’t find China on a map.

#16 Rich Diesslin
@ 2:01 am

Especially if you believe “Jay Walking” or Miss N.C.! ;)

#17 Anne Hambrock
@ 7:30 am

I have always been under the impression that the whole point of an editorial cartoon is to point out hypocrisy, incompetence, bad policy, etc. and get the reader to think. Better yet, get the reader to take action to stop said hypocrisy etc. I have never seen a good editorial cartoon that was “supportive” of anything or anyone – it defeats the purpose.

It seems that Daryl’s chinese audience is probably unclear on the difference between an editorial cartoonist and Walt Disney. Not all cartoonists have the same kind of job. I didn’t see Cagle’s responses to be rude as much as incomplete. He did not offer an explanation of the context of his job and how it affects his answers. This is no great surprise – Daryl is a cartoonist, not a professor of editorial cartooning and it’s cultural significance.

#18 Rich Diesslin
@ 12:22 pm

Very excellent point about incompleteness of the answers. He may have elaborated since this was an excerpt, but they did seem to be honest but painfully blunt and without context for the intended audience.

I still believe that one can think critically (as in analytically) in support of something as well as in opposition, but the easiest way out is often to criticize opposing views rather than make a positive case for one’s own.

#19 Rick Stromoski
@ 4:43 pm

>>>Oh come on. For him to say â??most Americans have a negative view of Chinaâ? is rude, hostile (esp. when you understand their culture) and arrogant. (Has he polled most Americansâ?¦who is Daryl Cagle to speak for all of us?)

Most Americans do have a negative view of China due to the simple fact of decades of propaganda villifying the “Red Communist menace” as we so frequently called them. Or have you been asleep for the past 50 years?

>>> Despite what he meant, all they heard was, â??No, now that Iâ??ve seen your country firsthand, I still donâ??t like it and I think Jack Cafferty is right.â?

How do you know what they were thinking? You take Cagle to task for extrapolating Yet in the very next sentence do the exact same thing.

I still fail to see anything in Daryl’s answers as being rude.

#20 Dawn Douglass
@ 7:54 pm

I know, Rick, because I worked with foreign exchange students for years, both here and abroad. They are all very sensitive to what others think of their country and Asians especially so.

So if you were in somebody’s home, you don’t think it would be rude to tell the hosts that most people you know have a negative view of them and that you won’t do anything to change that view? Most people would find that appalling.

#21 Rick Stromoski
@ 6:20 am

So I guess Daryl should have just said “Yes we love your lead imbedded toys and highly flammable garments made in exploitative sweat shops, your human rights violations perpetrated on your own people, and we find your particular version of communism a delight.”


#22 Dawn Douglass
@ 11:25 am

No, Rick, I’d give Daryl more credit than that.

#23 Larry Feign
@ 6:49 pm

Daryl was honest, candid…and very poorly briefed as to how to speak to Chinese people. He made assumptions about how Chinese people might perceive his remarks which were naive at best. I’m certain he thought it would open the minds of his audience to hear what he had to say. Well…he could have opened their minds in a diplomatic way and perhaps succeeded. As it stands, his remarks were so incredibly rude to a Chinese audience that he accomplished the opposite of his intention.

As an American cartoonist and animator who has been working in Hong Kong/China for over 20 years, and taken my fair share of hits for my politics, I can say this: Americans are no better than anyone else at taking criticism from outsiders. If a Chinese cartoonist came to the USA and made undiplomatic statements to the effect that every word out in every Chinese editorial cartoon is negative about the USA, the initial (at least internal) response of most Americans would be, “Um, harumph, how could that be? America is the greatest country on earth and every single person in China would immigrate here if they could.”

I think that Daryl was being unintentionally rude and culturally arrogant, and his remarks would not have opened people’s minds as he probably intended, but just convinced his Chinese audience that the cultural difference between Americans and Chinese are more insurmountable than they’d thought.

Daryl is one of the finest cartoonists in America. But he needs a hell of a lot of work as a diplomat.

#24 Dawn Douglass
@ 7:44 pm

Good post, Larry.

It was ultimately the State Department that failed here.

Nice website! I look forward to reading more of it when I have more time.

#25 Wiley Miller
@ 6:17 am

If it was up to me to select the top 3 candidates to represent American editorial cartooning in China, or anywhere else in the world, they would be:

1. Ann Telnaes

2. moot point

3. who cares

#26 Clay
@ 9:06 am

Daryl did a fine job. I suppose honesty is not very diplomatic. Telling Daryl how to answer is very…well, Chinese like.
I think a lot of us can learn from Daryl’s experience, mostly about how great this divide is.

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