House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signs legislation in July 2020. Image from Wikimedia Commons under CC license.

In remarks to a hearing at the Congressional Executive Commission on China (CECC) on June 4, 2019, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that it was “a beautiful sight to behold” to see people in Hong Kong speaking out through a candlelight vigil to commemorate the anniversary of the 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square. Her words were clearly not a reference to destructive behaviour by Hong Kong protesters, or to clashes between protestors and police.

Since that time, however, Chinese state media and foreign ministry officials have repeatedly and consistently returned to this talking point, using “a beautiful sight to behold” (美丽的风景线) to signal alleged American hypocrisy that condones violent political acts and cloaks them in the language of democracy and human rights.

In November 2019, as a video emerged in Hong Kong of a man doused with fuel and set alight by a protestor, an English-language headline at People’s Daily Online read: “Is setting a man on fire the so-called ‘beautiful sight to behold’ that Pelosi described?” And in May last year, as scenes of looting, vandalism and fires accompanied protests in some cities against the killing of George Floyd, the state news agency Xinhua referred to the attending violence as “Pelosi’s beautiful landscape,” and the provocative editor-in-chief of the Global Times, Hu Xijin, wrote: “US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi once called the violent protests in Hong Kong ‘a beautiful sight to behold.’ Now, the ‘beautiful sight’ is extending from Hong Kong to over a dozen US states. US politicians now can enjoy this sight from their own windows.”

It is hardly surprising, then, that the phrase has returned with a vengeance today, as Chinese media relish the chaotic scenes that unfolded last night on Capitol Hill, at the very heart of American democracy.

The Global Times, CCTV and other state media have widely made reference to Pelosi’s “beautiful sight,” which should now be regarded as a stock propaganda catchphrase, and internet users are also widely picking up and sharing references to “a beautiful sight” to mock the US and its criticisms of China’s handling of events in Hong Kong in 2019.

In a “Quick Take” promoted on its homepage today, was quick to declare an end to the myth of American democracy. The commentary, “A Mob Smashes Capitol Hill, And American-style Democracy is Smashed” (暴民打砸国会山,美式民主演砸了!), began:

An all-out assault (全武行) performed by Trump supporters (拥趸者) ripped away the last fig leaf of the American democracy about which US politicians have boasted. Beginning on the afternoon of [January] 6th, US time, mobs (暴民)stormed Capitol Hill and smashed numerous areas, including the office of [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi. Even the live broadcast locations of television networks broadcasting live from the square were not spared. This “beautiful sight” (美丽风景线)prompted an uproar in global public opinion!

The government-backed Guancha Syndicate website in Shanghai ran a headline today on events in the US capital called: “This Time is It a “Beautiful Sight to Behold”? Pelosi Calls [Actions By] American Protesters a ‘Shameful Attack on Our Democracy’” (这回不是“美丽风景线”了?佩洛西称美国示威者“可耻攻击民主”). The article included the now images of a Trump supporting sitting in Pelosi’s office, his booted feet resting on her desk.

The phrase “a beautiful sight to behold” (美丽的风景线) first appeared in the CCP’s official People’s Daily newspaper on August 27, 2019, in a piece called, “Double Standards with No Bottom Line” (毫无底线的“双重标准”), which said “certain US politicians have spared no ends in seeking to restrain China,” and specifically criticized the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was reintroduced in June 2019, less than two weeks after Pelosi’s “beautiful sight to behold” remarks at the CECC.

Since that first People’s Daily article, the phrase “beautiful sight to behold” has appeared in 9 other articles in the newspaper, all dealing with the issue of Hong Kong. One of the most prominent was a commentary on July 16, 2020 – shortly after the imposition of Hong Kong’s national security law and the passage by the US Congress of the “Hong Kong Autonomy Act” – by Zhong Sheng (钟声), a penname the paper has used since November 2008 for important pieces on international affairs on which the leadership wishes to register its view (the name “Zhong Sheng,” literally meaning “bell tone,” a shortened version of “bell tone to warn the world” (警世钟声).

The Zhong Sheng column read:

In the so-called “Hong Kong Autonomy Act,” the United States has made false claims about “rights” and “freedom,” exposing its outright hypocrisy. The radical violent crimes in Hong Kong have seriously endangered the lives and property of Hong Kong residents, far beyond the limits and scope of the legal exercise of personal freedom and rights. Some US politicians have called them ‘a beautiful sight’ and are openly anti-China chaos in Hong Kong.

Since its origin in 2019, Pelosi’s “beautiful sight” has become official shorthand in China for what is in fact a very old propaganda theme under the CCP, the falsehood and hypocrisy of American democracy.

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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