From the inbox: Is it okay to love China?

I just got this email from a reader, and I wanted to share it, as well as my response.

Dear Richard,

This will seem like a strange email, but if you could answer my questions, then I would be extremely grateful.

How do you find a balance between liking China, for the good things you can find there, and hating China, for all the wrong things that are happening there?

I’m Chinese American. I was born in America, and grew up hearing toned-down, child-friendly, good, nice stories about China. So when I finally realized what was happening over there, I was shocked, and extremely conflicted between pride and disgust. On one hand, it’s where my family and culture came from. On the other hand, everything that happens over there conflicts with my values. I now read blogs about China, hoping to keep up to date about the country, to know everything about it, condemn it for what it does, hope for it’s future…but it seems there’s never anything good. China’s always getting worse, and by now, I’ve pretty much lost hope for the China.

It’s tempting to just hate the country and cut all my ties to it. Go to an extreme and wish for Tibet, Xinjiang, Taiwan, and maybe even Hong Kong and Macau to go independent when it can, and the blood of all its communist leaders. Call myself American and the only thing Chinese about me would be the cultural and traditional aspects of it. But I can’t do that, because that’s not really want I want or believe.

I’ve been reading your blog over two years now. You are disappointed at China, yet still happy whatever something positive happens. (Well, happy’s not the right word, but I can’t think of an appropriate word…) How do you do that? Keep hope that maybe one day, something would change, but for now, bear to watch the humiliation and horrible things China is going through and doing? (is it because you’re not Chinese, and if something happens, well, it’s not your country/group of people/identity that’s doing it? Forgive me if I’m wrong)

Thank you for your time. I eagerly await your reply.


Interesting email. It’s always a challenge, reconciling your feelings toward China, reconciling your knowledge of some of the darker things that go one there with your love of living there, reconciling your complaints with your admiration. Then again, how different is that from the US? Sometime I think it’s just a matter of degree (mainly because rule of law and freedom of speech make such a huge difference).

Anyway, here’s my sentimental response.

I love China. I am going there on a trip in two weeks and plan to move back to Beijing within the next two months. [Note: That is not written in stone.]

It’s the Chinese government and its culture of corruption and propaganda I can’t stand. But I first moved to China in 2002 and over the past 9 years I have seen the country make huge strides, socially and politically. It is a dynamic, vibrant, inspiring culture and there is nowhere else I’d rather live, except maybe NYC if I were a millionaire.

It’s normal to be conflicted about China because it is such a complex and often unusual country, a country in the midst of incredibly rapid change. No one can figure it out and there’s no way to define what China actually is, because it’s a work in progress and a phenomenon in motion. Lots of bad things happen there, but lots of good things, too. People’s lives are generally much better than 30 years ago. So don’t be afraid to love China, while accepting its faults and problems and strangeness. It’s still one of the greatest countries on the planet.

Thanks for writing and I hope that helps.


Sentimental, and I can catalog all the cliches. but it’s still from the heart. And for the record, I can’t stand America’s government either, especially now. (My faith in the US government has been in a free-fall since the day Gore lost the 2000 election; Obama has boosted my faith only nominally – at least he’s not a Republican.) Who can say they’re not conflicted about America, and about China?

I’ll arrive in Beijing on April 7 and will be visiting several cities. If anyone wants to get together let me know.


Richard Burger is the author of Behind the Red Door: Sex in China, an exploration of China's sexual revolution and its clash with traditional Chinese values.

The Discussion: 113 Comments

“Useful idiots” refers to foreigners supporting an enemy or malign cause, often unwittingly, and being used by said cause. My understanding (correct me if I’m wrong here) is that “fenqing” are homegrown Patriotic Education products. Some may be expats or overseas students, like the Hidden Harmony team, HongXing, Jason or pug_ster.

By the Wikipedia definition, people like Shaun Rein and those who claim to be of other nationalities like Charles Liu, Merp/Ferrin, Wei, Mongol Warrior and Yourfriend qualify as useful idiots (assuming they are actually useful to the CCP as apologists).

April 5, 2011 @ 9:28 am | Comment

The concept has become generic enough that it can also be applied independent of country or origin.

April 5, 2011 @ 5:40 pm | Comment

There seems to be a factor of perspective though, ecodelta. A laowai can be a useful idiot (for any country’s authorities). A dangwai can be a useful idiot for a ruling party. And maybe party membership candidates can be useful idiots, too, especially if they are really keen on joining.

Can a party member or a party elder be a useful idiot, too? I don’t know.

April 5, 2011 @ 8:58 pm | Comment

“Can a party member or a party elder be a useful idiot, too? I don’t know.”

Why not? Can be duped, like anyone else, by an opponent power family within the party with an agenda quite different to what he thinks.

The term could also be used to the red guards during the cultural revolution. A tool for Mao’s revenge to the party that wanted to reduce its power, and accordingly dumped when no longer necessary.

Power struggles, as older as humanity, can take many twists and turns.

April 5, 2011 @ 11:22 pm | Comment

Jim 1980, reference you #16, specifically: “Don’t forget not longer ago, Dr. Wen Ho Lee was convicted for his spy crime.”

Actually, Dr.Lee pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of improper storage of classified documents, or some such. Then he turned around and sued the government for releasing his name to the public, and collected over a million in his civil suit. So he was never convicted of spying, though a more competent prosecutor may have been able to get a conviction. The bottom line is that he was not convicted of spying, he admitted to having committed a lesser crime, and he obtained civil redress for having his name prematurely leaked to the public.

April 6, 2011 @ 1:24 am | Comment

It looks like they are picking on ai weiwei again. They just arrested him for god-knows-what, which could also be described as same old same old.

April 6, 2011 @ 6:55 am | Comment

Traces of evil.

April 6, 2011 @ 8:09 am | Comment

I wonder if they’ll find such traces in the Bird’s Nest. That would be a shame. Such a nice stadium…

April 6, 2011 @ 12:04 pm | Comment

I wonder what is the real dynamic behind the recent crcakdown.

Power shifts within CCP?

Perceived real risk of Jasmine tea intoxication?

Big bang on the table (look guys, the cage is now a little bigger but just not make to much noise. Ok?)

Incoming power transfer in the government?

April 6, 2011 @ 4:06 pm | Comment

Re #104, sounds convincing to me, ecodelta.
Re #109, it seems to me that many people are surprisingly sure that the CCP’s top priorities would have fundamentally changed since 1978. All issues from power shifts within the CCP to the power transfer in the pipeline may play a role right now, but it would seem to me that every step the CCP has taken towards more civil liberties in the past three decades have been modernization technicalities, rather than ends in themselves. Therefore, to revoke all or many of those steps would be equally justifiable from their point of view, provided that they help to maintain one-party rule.
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.

April 6, 2011 @ 9:46 pm | Comment


Priority one, hold incontestable power.

Civil liberties?
Simply a collateral effect of necessary reforms to improve (dire) economy/technology/industrial/living standards situation left after 30 years of (mis)rule.

Choose between reforms and endangering our power grasp? Even at the cost of jeopardizing progress and country status abroad?
The answer is clear. Power first.

April 6, 2011 @ 10:23 pm | Comment

I retired some time ago the benefit of doubt to the CCP.

There are no doubts now.

April 6, 2011 @ 10:26 pm | Comment

I’m closing this thread. Please use the one at the top of the page.

April 7, 2011 @ 12:57 am | Comment

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