Soft Power: Go and Buy a Hat

After so much advice has been given to China’s dictators so far this year, as to how they could boost their (or their country’s, which is basically the same thing in their view) soft power1), JR does not intend to keep his expertise to himself either.

If soft power matters to them, China’s leaders should wear bigger hats. Or, rather, they should start wearing hats at all.

Now, I know that this is problematic, given that people who were “beaten down” (i. e. humiliated, pushed around, killed, etc.) during the Mao era had to wear big paper hats. Bamboo hats may not be deemed desirable for other reasons. But how about Bao Zheng‘s hat, for starters?

The idea came to my mind as a preliminary remedy to China’s (alleged, anyway) soft-power woes when drawing knowledge from the wisdom of my commenter threads.

In September last year, King Tubby had this to say about the Pope and his speech to German parliament:

[I]f Ratzinger wants to make pronouncements to parliaments, he should turn up in a business suit like any other advocate. Put someone in a few colourful vestments and they acquire some sort of undeserved mystique and their words take on a false gravitas plus a whiff of insence.

Iconography designed for the credulous.

The hat the Pope wore in the Bundestag – that and the papal white robe was King Tubby’s point of criticism here – was actually small, but even then, Angela Merkel visibly envied him. Imagine her facial expression if the Pontiff had chosen a miter or a spiked helmet instead.

Some time after 1976, the Chinese ruling class has chosen to wear suits and ties on formal occasions – you know, the ones the English imposed on us, as Marcel Pagnol wrote much earlier2).

Talking about les Anglais, the Queen wears hats, too. Even when of comparatively moderate size, and even among lots of other people with hats, a hat of your own adds to your conspicuity.

a small hat makes a big difference

Even a small hat makes a helluva difference

Manmohan Singh wears something like a hat, too. If you are asked who of the G-20 guys is the one from India, you’ll probably guess him correctly, even if you never cared before.

You won’t see Hu Jintao smile happily too often, but he’s radiant in his Sun-Yat-Sen suit. Add a Bao Zheng hat (see above) or a spiked helmet (Germany invented the Sun-Yat-Sen suit), and Hu will smile Barack Obama (who doesn’t wear hats either) off the global stage anyday.

Hu & Cie would thus improve their standing, and even do away with the habit of slavishly aping the West at one go.

P.S.: It is quite true that hats of whatever size didn’t work terribly well in that case. But then, what can you expect when your country has mainly barter trade to offer, and little else? If you want to avoid a cold war, you have to be in a position to appeal to the greed of the free world, by bluff or substance.

For similar reasons, soft power is also unlikely to take off in that guy’s place.

Lastly, let me get back to King Tubby’s advice to the Pope (see above, para 5). King Tubby referred to the timeless papal style as iconography designed for the credulous.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?


1) Peking Duck, Rectified Name, The Atlantic, and many comments here.
2) “Le spectateur de théâtre porte un col et une cravate, et ce costume anonyme que les Anglais nous ont imposé.” (La Gloire de mon Pere, 1957)



» Gonna Buy a Hat, Chris Rea, 1987


5 Comments to “Soft Power: Go and Buy a Hat”

  1. Quite forget I wrote that JR. Must have been very vexed about the Vatican that week.

    Trivial O/T I know. You have to admire Mario …. that is Balotelli….despite all his rushes of blood to the head. He! He!

    On another topic, do folk on PD actually read anything other than what is posted on the big topics. I certainly read every book I mention plus footnotes.


  2. Löw didn’t wear a hat. Big mistake.

    I haven’t read a lot either, during the past decade. No big books, anyway. One during the summer holidays, and one during Christmas and before New Year’s Eve. And it usually isn’t the latest publications, but anything that catches my interest. The funny thing about all the fanfare for bestsellers in the making, the reviews, etc. focus the public (as far as they care) on just a handful of issues. In my view, it wouldn’t hurt if cuasual discussions between readers would be about very different books, and not necessarily about ones all of them have read. This would also help to tradin individual presentation skills, as you need to explain your favourite reads. But (successful) new publications have been “events” and “must-reads” ever since the 1920s, I suppose.

    I agree that discussion on PD is often superficial – but then, to suggest (in a book or a post) that the Chinese are never going to be innovative or inventive because of their political system is superficial, too, in my view. Just as well, one might have said in 2000 that “GWB is too stupid to get elected”.


  3. I’ve taken the liberty to optimize your comment, Tai De.
    — the editor.


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