Americans' View of China After 2008
|Feb 17, 2009|
Here is my abridged translation of the blog post:-
"Friends who are close to me would know this: I tend to run around nonstop like the globe. This is due to my childhood dream of visiting all corners of the world one day. If you ask me whether I now have a better grasp of the world after all this travail, my answer would be: ‘I’m nearly there.’ But if you ask me what place is left in this world that I still lack an in-depth understanding of, that I still want to know more about, I would say without any hesitation: ‘China’.
Having lived for so many years in China, how can I not understand her? The interesting thing is: every time my knowledge of China takes a leap is when I am away from the country. In fact, in recent years, whenever I feel that I am beginning to lose touch with her, I would make up an excuse to quietly go abroad and meditate for a while before returning.
When you go places, you are bound to meet foreigners. Normally, one would think that the right thing to do on these occasions is to find out more about the foreign countries. But that is not what I do. What I want to find out from them is how they see China and how much they know about China. What surprises me is that for every different pair of eyes, there is a different version of China.
I can’t help but ask myself: of the many China versions, which one is the true China? How am I to know if my own view of her is the true version?
During this month-long trip, I had the chance to meet many intellectuals of Chinese ethnicity and many more Americans, be they friends or strangers. Although the dialogues inevitably moved to the Obama election, I always managed to ask them these questions: ‘How much do you know about China? What are your views of her?’
The following are some of their viewpoints that have left an indelible mark on my mind:-
(1) A lot happened in China in 2008, the most prominent incident being the foreign media’s biased reporting and angry Chinese students wagging the 5-star flags in big cities like San Francisco, Paris, Sydney, etc. On this trip, I paid deliberate attention to how foreign media are handling news reports about China. It seems that the number of such reports is on the decline and the reporting is becoming more and more cautious. The fact that foreign media always choose to report on negative news is no surprise – this is their journalistic principle, which will not change for our sake. But their reporters seem to be exercising self-discipline, or maybe they don’t want to stir up trouble, hence negative news about China seems to be decreasing. The general feeling I get is that the international media has cut back on reporting on China (or the airtime). Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know. But if the reporting is reduced, foreigners would simply pay less attention. One positive side though is that our own domestic media, who have been acting as though the Western media were on the prowl for them, can now relax. As a matter of fact, anyone who reads some English would know that our domestic media were being over-sensitive. The international media’s China reporting is actually just about the same in quantity as their reporting on any other medium-sized country. But if you read a domestic Chinese newspaper, you would feel as though you are surrounded by Western enemies who are bent on destroying you.
(2) Many American officials and academics have changed their approach towards China - they tend to be more moderate and ambiguous. Even academic studies are on the decline. I think this is because they no longer have a clear view of China. Some Americans were really baffled when they saw Chinese students waving their 5-star flags on the streets. One lady said to me: 'Your place must be a lot freer and better than the United States!' Poor Americans! They always thought that the Chinese students came because they longed to have a taste of freedom here. What the lady meant was that China had grown too rapidly, and relatively America had fallen behind. That may well be true. In recent years, only students from China can afford to stealthily apply for green cards while at the same time protesting on the streets of San Francisco, Paris and Sydney. The Americans said that this was the first time they came to know about the real thoughts of the Chinese.
(3) Another thing that impressed me most is the fact that few Americans, if any, ever wanted to force China to accept their political systems. No one that I talked to had the wish to impose America’s universal values on China. This was shocking to me! Because in China, leftists or rightists, they all blame America and the West for selling their universal values and democracy to China. They even blame me for acting as spokesperson for America and the West. Sometimes the Chinese internet is like a battleground for the promoters of America and the West and the China-defenders. I found out to my utter surprise that Americans (people I met ranged from government officials, to soldiers, to reporters and academics) had long given up on force-feeding universal values to us, and they never wanted us to copy their systems. As for those who say Americans like to fuss over our human rights records, they just don’t understand that this is in their character – they act in the same way all over the world. One American friend said to me: 'Actually you don’t need to give a damn to what we say. Just feel free to do whatever you want to do. So long as it doesn’t hurt Americans’ own human rights, everything should be fine.'
This trip to the United States has given me the chance to see China through Americans’ eyes. My intuition tells me that after eventful 2008, Americans have taken on a different view of China."