Tensions between the east and west have continued to pull in the last week as President Donald Trump and his administration negotiate with China on trade agreements. But the public conversation temporarily turned away from the tense topic of trade wars when these photos of American politicians meeting with China went viral on social media. The pictures, which reportedly sparked a conversation in China, made plain the difference between the Chinese and U.S. leadership.
The photos showed China's representatives meeting with members the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee on Thursday, May 17 to discuss trade. New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell, a member of the House Means and Ways Committee, posted a photo to his Instagram account, showing the two countries' at the negotiating table. "Honored to meet with Vice Premier Liu He and Chinese delegation with my colleagues," wrote Pascrell in the caption. Pascrell, a Democrat, is 81 years old.
Without even getting into policy, and looking at representation alone, the photos made clear the differences in who each country had brought to the table. While China's delegation showed at least one woman and a cohort of younger-middle-age representatives, the U.S. did not appear to have a single woman or person of color present, and the majority appeared to be significantly older than its foreign counterparts.
To be clear: This has nothing to do with comparing the two nations' politics or political decisions in general. It's simply an observation about the leadership's demographics, and it speaks to a larger national issue of the needs and priorities of young people not being met in Congress.
Pascrell's photo went viral in short order, as user Victor Shih pointed out in a tweet. "This was the most circulated photo of the US-China trade talk in China today," wrote Shih.
According to Yahoo tech reporter Krystal Hu, the photo had drawn comparisons on the Chinese social media site Weibo to photos from 1901, when Chinese officials met with Americans to sign the Boxer Protocol. The peace agreement, which brought an end to the Boxer Rebellion, has been considered a national embarrassment for the Asian country.
In that 1901 image, the American signatories, seated on the left half of the photo, are clearly younger than their Chinese counterparts. Now, it appears, the table has turned (pun intended).
"I always wonder about historical episodes where countries lose their vigor and collapse into senescence, and now I'm living in one," tweeted Quartz's Tim Fernholz.
As The New York Times pointed out, the committee's chairman, Rep. Kevin Brady, at 63, is three years younger than the Chinese vice premier. In fact, by the numbers, the U.S. House Way and Means Committee isn't all that old... relative to the average age of a member of Congress. Including one vacancy, the average age among the 39-member committee is 59.6 years. The average ages of the current 115th Congress are 57.8 years for House members and 61.8 for Senators, making this one of the oldest Congresses in history, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service. This is a slight increase from the average ages of the 114th and 113th Congresses. (Quick reminder: You only have to be 25 years old to serve in the House and 30 to serve in the Senate.)
Looking beyond age, Congress currently doesn't boast impressive numbers as far as diversity is concerned. Among those 39 members of the Way and Means Committee, only 8 are women (20 percent). That's roughly in keeping with overall Congressional numbers, where women make up about one-fifth of the House and Senate. As for ethnicity, in the current Congress, only about 9 percent are African Americans, 8 percent are Latino, and 3 percent are Asian.
It's worth noting that the Chinese dignitaries present in the photo are not direct counterparts with the House committee members; so take any comparisons with a grain of salt.
That the country's government may be plagued by under-representation may not come as a surprise. After all, anyone who saw the last two White House intern class photos will recall they also got backlash for the same thing: essentially being a Where's Waldo for people of color.