As Americans like to say, turnabout is fair play. On the February 27th showing of the late show “Conan” (here with Chinese subtitles), Conan O’Brien called out Chinese host Da Peng of “Da Peng’s Chatter” for “ripping off” his show’s opening sequence. “To make matters worse,” the host complained, “[Da Peng's show] is a really weird show.” Conan then ran selected footage from Da Peng’s show that made the claims of plagiarism and weirdness both hard to refute.
O’Brien then struck back. “For years now, China’s been ripping off America with cheap knockoffs. Let’s see how you like it!” The show then pasted colorful if completely nonsensical Chinese character graphics while Conan prodded, “Stings, doesn’t it?” He then led the uproarious crowd in a chant of “USA! USA! USA!”
Not surprisingly, Da Peng and his crew were watching. His latest show (available here with a Tea Leaf Nation original English translation) begins with only the words “opening sequence” set on a black screen. Looking subdued, Da Peng begins, “Welcome to viewers of our local rip-off talk show. I am Da Peng without an opening sequence. Sorry, I’ve embarrassed the Chinese people.” It quickly becomes clear, however, that Da Peng is not too broken up about it. “My first girlfriend just sent me a text message saying she regrets dumping me back in the day, because she saw me in an American TV program…Aiya, I’m ‘International’!”
To Da Peng, turnabout to turnabout is also fair play. He goes on the offensive, but not without the requisite niceties up front. First, he apologizes profusely, repeating his “deep apologies” and promising never to run the offending opening sequence again. He then invokes a classic saying that is both an olive branch, and a cudgel: “If you don’t come to blows, then you don’t truly know each other.”
Realizing that “here I’m in a dialogue with an international superstar,” Da Peng takes full advantage of his larger stage. “You say we are a ‘weird show.’ Pardon me for being presumptuous, but I cannot agree. … You describe us that way because you don’t understand Chinese.” Da Peng then gives an on-air tutorial on how to pronounce the full name of his show, Da Peng De Ba De (one which seems confusing even to many Chinese celebrities).
Da Peng argues that the United States has gotten exactly what it wanted. “For many years, you Americans have tried to push your culture and values onto the entire world. In one respect you’re probably very happy; ‘All of the hundreds of millions of netizens in China all watch our programs.’ .. In another respect you’re always saying, ‘Oh bulls**t,’ this is a knockoff.” Da Peng then goes for the kill: “You see in this respect, we are a bit kinder. China buys so much of your debt, [but] in this program we’ve never made fun of the fact that you owe money everywhere.”
The sequence ends in more lighthearted fashion. Characters pop up all over the screen as Da Peng boasts, “you see that?” He then calls all of his extras up onto the stage, and dares Conan to find enough people to imitate the scene. He finishes the seven and a half minute sequence by saying, “Brother Conan, it appears that you pay a lot of attention to China. Brother Conan, welcome to China!” He then leads the crowd in a chant of “China! China! China!”
Was Da Peng’s response just the right way to bridge the culture gap, or a bridge too far? So far, most netizens seem unimpressed by the response. Commenting via Sohu Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, @简见-卢瑟星人 complained that Da Peng’s apology was “obviously insincere,” to which @月冷星沉 added, “brazen.” @路人甲的甲人 asked, “You’re notorious, and you’re happy about it?” @辉姑娘S added, “I really don’t like this host’s character.” But Da Peng had his defenders; @下一站pipiending praised him for “admitting [he] made a mistake, [but] with an attitude that was neither haughty nor humble.”
Meanwhile, commenting on the same platform one day earlier, netizens either found Conan’s bit hilarious, or were ashamed at Da Peng’s plagiarism. @保佑KLKP wrote, “I laughed until my stomach hurt.” @突破 representing many commenters, wrote, “I’m so embarrassed that I’m dizzy.” Many commenters agreed that it was “awkward” or a “loss of face” that Da Peng had, ahem, borrowed so heavily from Conan’s oeuvre.
With preliminary reaction giving Conan the game and perhaps the match, will the exchange end there? Your move, Conan. I mean, 下一步由你，柯南。