Despite anti-Americanism, Chinese students still long for US student visas

Thomas Friedman explores why this is so important to so many students, and just how far they’re willing to go to make their dream come true.

If anti-Americanism is on the rise around the world, no one told the kids in the student visa line at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The quest among Chinese students for visas to study in America, say U.S. Embassy officials, has become so intense that it has spawned Internet chat rooms, where Chinese students swap stories about which arguments work best with which U.S. consular officials and even give them names like “Amazon Goddess,” “Too Tall Baldy” and “Handsome Guy.”

Just how closely Chinese students strategize over the Internet on how to get visas to America — at a time when fewer are being given for security reasons — was revealed to the embassy recently when on one day one consular officer had scores of students come through with the same line, which some chat room had suggested would work: “I want to go to America to become a famous professor.” After hearing this all day, he was surprised to get one student who came before him and pronounced, “My mom has an artificial limb and I want to build a better artificial leg for my mom and that is why I want to study in the U.S.” The consular officer was so relieved to hear a new line that he told the young man: “You know, this is the best story I’ve heard this morning. I really salute you. I’m going to give you a visa.”

You guessed it. The next day every other student who showed up at the embassy said he or she wanted to go to America to learn how to build “a better artificial limb for my mother.” Said one U.S. official: “We have to be so careful what we say, because it gets into the chat rooms right away.”

Friedman also explores an obvious dichotomy: Anti-Americanism is at an all time high thanks to our “president,” and yet more students than ever are passionate about wanting to come here. Of course, under Bush we have made it all but impossible for these students to get their wish, and Friedman says that under a smarter, more forward-thinking president this wretched situation would and should be corrected.

The Discussion: 6 Comments

This is one of those bizarre things I could never understand about China: I can’t think of any other country as obssessed with America as China. On the one hand everybody hates America, and yet vast numbers of them are desperate to go there. When the talk turns to ‘guowai’, America is suddenly the topic of conversation, even if it’s not stated explicitly. Why? It’s almost as if China wants to become America.

June 20, 2004 @ 10:19 pm | Comment

As PJ O’Roark once observed, the two most prominant features at any American embassy are the anti-American demonstration out front and the long line of visa applicants at the entrance.

Just another example of “Yankee go home . . . and take me with you.”

June 20, 2004 @ 10:49 pm | Comment

Well, not only China, even in India, there is a similar feeling. We in India do not like US support for Pakistan etc. But we love software contracts from there. Most of the students want to go to the US to study.

We love American popular culture, movies etc. but we do not like the policies of the US government or maybe Mr. Bush.

Isn’t it the same, a lot of us living in China love China – the people, the land etc. but we do not like the party and the kind of things it keeps doing like blocking the net and not talking about SARS until too late.

June 20, 2004 @ 11:43 pm | Comment

What Conrad said. I keep hearing this repetition “everybody hates America” while the lines at INS (or whatever alphabetic mix it is now) get longer and longer.

Not to nitpick, but it would be way more accurate to say “a lot of people are really mad at America”. And of course, if they could find somebody else to obsess about, they could be ecstatic or enraged about somebody else for a while.

June 21, 2004 @ 1:24 am | Comment

This explains the right-wing élite’s jihad against all those eeeevul librul universities — they’re training the rest of the world to hate America!

Anyway, those Chinese students are economic migrants, and thus not too concerned about ideology. Just like all those expat Westerners in Saudi Arabia, many of whom are Christian, or feminist, or otherwise appalled at the fundamentalist Saudi régime, they’re there for one reason and one reason only: to make tons of cash (or, in the case of Chinese students at big-name American universities, to earn a degree enabling them to do the same).

June 21, 2004 @ 2:28 am | Comment

“..Just like all those expat Westerners in Saudi Arabia, many of whom are Christian, or feminist, or otherwise appalled at the fundamentalist Saudi régime, they’re there for one reason and one reason only: to make tons of cash…”

The difference is that the US university system didn’t exist before Americans created it and it is an outgrowth and product of our culture and our way of life. The Saudis didn’t put the oil under their feet, they just happen to dwell over where natural processes placed it.

September 8, 2005 @ 1:15 am | Comment

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