It was 10 o’ clock in the morning in Beijing when the announcement that Jean Quan had won the Oakland mayoral race came out. About two hours later, readers of sina.com, sohu.com and 163.com—the three largest Chinese portals, where millions of Chinese consume their daily news—could learn about the new mayor of a city 10,000 miles away.
“Miracle: third-generation Chinese American is Oakland’s new mayor” was the headline on the website of Qiaobao, the largest Chinese-language newspaper in the U.S. Its front-page op-ed, using language even more emphatic than any from Quan’s campaign, read, “Jean Quan gloriously rewrites the political history of America.”
The editorial went on to declare, “Quan’s victory is the result of years’ hard work. She should be proud of herself as well as the power of urban grassroots.” (In Chinese, by the way, “grassroots” translates literally—the character for “grass” right beside the character for “roots.”)
Both Qiaobao articles were republished by sina.com. Soon similar articles were all over the Internet. “Quan is the first Chinese American mayor of any major U.S. city,” said one report on 163.com, stressing that Oakland has one of the three major ports on the West Coast—it’s a port that received many shipped goods from China—and is the 41st largest city in the U.S, the eighth biggest in California. “Quan has had a difficult childhood,” said the report. “Her father passed away when she was five and her mother was illiterate. Quan inherits her mother’s diligence. ”
Uniformly, and unlike most local English-language accounts of Quan’s campaign, other reports in the Chinese media also devoted space to details about the new mayor’s family. “Quan, 61, graduated from UC Berkeley, where she met her current husband, Dr. Huen,” said one report on sohu.com. “Dr. Huen gives his wife lots of support…their son and daughter graduated from Princeton University and Columbia University respectively.”
Some of the Chinese accounts focus on Quan’s political record, emphasizing her success as a member of the school board. China News, a Chinese-language news website aimed at overseas Chinese readers, has been paying attention to Quan since August 2009, when she formally registered as a mayoral candidate. “In 1990, Quan joined the movement to preserve art courses in public schools,” said a China News account from this October. “During her three terms as a school board member, Quan became a local, even national leader on promoting bilingual and emigration education.”
China News’ “Oakland may see its first Chinese American mayor” story also said that Quan proposed Measure Y in 2004 to collect additional taxes to fund the police department, although details of the measure and its effects were not explained. “Oakland is the fifth [most] dangerous city in the U.S,” China News told its readers. “The new mayor will create a safe environment for Oakland residents by stopping the layoff of police officers.”
While each Chinese description of Oakland’s new mayor was a little different, one quote from Quan was commonly used: “We’ve been waiting over 200 years to have an Asian American woman as mayor of a major American city. And, we’ve been waiting about four years to get ranked-choice voting.”
However, among all these reports citing Quan’s speech in front of city hall on Wednesday, only a few tried to explain what that second part meant–how Quan had worked the American ranked-choice voting system to seal her victory over the supposed frontrunner. Their understanding of the process seemed as keen as that of most Oakland voters, maybe more so. “Voters can choose their first, second and third preference of the candidates. Then, according to the order of preference, candidates with the least votes will be eliminated round by round,” said one post on the website of Xinhua, the state-owned news agency. “The process continues until one candidate receives a simple majority.”
Several reports even mentioned the mutual endorsement between Kaplan and Quan. “They became allies and adopted the strategy that many people called ‘anyone but Perata,’” read a story in Nanfang Daily, a major newspaper of southern China. “They encouraged their supporters to select each other as their second preference. Quan won the election by getting a lot of those second preference votes.”
Comments from readers under those posts are rare, but one on sina.com did somehow draw about 50. “I thought it was Auckland,” said one comment (The New Zealand city has the same Chinese translation). “This ‘Oakland’ has a high portion of African Americans, ” someone else explained. “Every month some Chinese Americans will be robbed or killed. UC Berkeley is near that city.”
“I think we should say she is just an American,” said another Internet user whose opinion was seconded by a dozen others. “The secretary of Department of Commerce is a Chinese American, they are still hammering out products.”
Qiaobao’s editorial was ultimately the most upbeat. “Oakland’s mayoral race has left its perfect mark in American electoral politics,” said its op-ed at the end, using the word “gloriously” again. “Jean Quan, an outstanding representative of elected Chinese American officials has gloriously made the history ” the editorial wrote.
Check out all of our Oakland elections coverage on our Campaign 2010 page.