Here’s looking at you…

From Martyn…
This article, from a staff writer at The Christian Science Monitor, does an excellent job, in my opinion, of describing the general feelings of the average Chinese citizen towards the US. Put simply, an extremely complex love-hate relationship with the US that is sometimes so full of glaring contradictions as to render it almost incomprehensible to many non-Mainlanders:

As President Hu Jintao represents a country whose popular understanding of America has become more diverse, yet whose negative impression of the US as a “bully” and “rival” continues to deepen, particularly among young people.

The US is seen by urban Chinese through a complex love-hate relationship, and through a lens shaped both by official propaganda and a greater number of personal impressions. In recent years, views on the US have intensified as many Chinese feel more pride about the rise of their nation, say experts and ordinary people.

Many Chinese still feel a century-old sense that America is young and flexible, a “sunshine society,” a place of wealth and generosity where laws are made to protect people, as one Beijing scholar here puts it. At the same time, more Chinese describe the US as trying to keep China poor, say it is trying to block China’s rise as a world power since the US is weakening, and argue that the US media is more critical of China and Chinese leaders than it is to its own society and leaders.

“Most Americans are very kind,” says Luo, a philosophy student whose comments were typical. “But now [after 9/11], the Americans don’t care about the rest of the world, what is happening in other places, except when it concerns their own lives.”

“What I hear is, ‘I want my kids to go to school in the US, I want to go there on vacation,’ ” says a Western diplomat. “But at the same time [Chinese say] America is acting like China’s enemy.”

For college student Li Zhao, America is the California coast that actor Dustin Hoffman drives in “The Graduate,” her favorite US film. For engineer Wang Yue, it is a grinning, gun-toting soldier wearing desert camouflage. For Yi, the US is a picket-fence neighborhood with lots of dogs, where “everyone says hello in the morning.”

Chinese attitudes towards America have definitely progressed over the last decade as China has developed economically and raised its status and importance in world affairs. In addition, the view of the US as a the “world bully” responsible for “trying to keep China down” has, arguably, received active government support:

Current popular anti-American sentiments are almost a complete reverse of feelings in the 1980s, scholars say, when US-China relations were warming. “We thought the US was our future,” says one.

This friendly sense peaked after the Tiananmen massacre of June 4, when, in the words of one European diplomat, “The general sense of the Chinese people was that the US government was more a friend to them than their own government was.” Chinese leaders were so concerned about this sentiment that an aggressive propaganda policy was pursued to reverse it.

Increasing hostility towards the US has been largely fuelled by recent events such as the bombing of China’s Belgrade Embassy bombing, the US spy plane incident; the Iraq War, the increasingly close relationship with Japan and the continued support of Taiwan and the Taiwan Relations Act.

“Anti-Americanism is building, and getting bigger,” says a graduate student who did not give his name. “This feeling used to be due to propaganda. But now so many Chinese feel it, that no propaganda is needed.”

Perhaps propaganda is not needed. But it is not as if Chinese have a choice. State-run media in China is an arm of the central propaganda department, and no paper dares to run material on US-China relations that is unapproved.

The Chinese “unofficial” position is constantly mixed with the view that America is constantly undermining China. An American college student in Beijing recently read a Chinese textbook stating that Martin Luther King Jr. never had the sympathy or help of white Americans, and that blacks in the south are hated by whites. “It wasn’t even entirely true in the 1950s civil rights movement period,” commented the student, who hails from Atlanta, Ga.

The Discussion: 10 Comments

Chinese citizens are not the only people who had a complex love-hate relationship with the US. Many Australians will probably share some of these sentiments. These sentiments are products of differences in cultural values, parochialism and limited access to information. They all mixed together in the caudron of national pride. For most people outside of the US, their only access to American news and culture is via TV – and that says a lot. The main difference in China, however, is that the perceived image of the US is further distorted by state-sanctioned views. And the state-sanctioned views are not subject to scrutiny like it would have been in other countries.

September 7, 2005 @ 10:38 pm | Comment

Daily linklets 8th September

Harry Hutton is teaching in Columbia, which might explain his recent roll. Check out his report on multiculturalisms’ latest success. Dave points out what should be an interesting talk on September 22nd: What the World’s newest Disneyland tell us abou…

September 7, 2005 @ 10:45 pm | Comment

Agree totally Fat Cat.

Your final point about the state-controlled media is a good one. You’re right to say that the US has love-hate relationships with many countries, however, in China the govt likes to take away much of the job of actually thinking and choosing one’s opinions for oneself. That might sound overly harsh or even dramatic but I can provide a dramatic example:

For 4 days following the “Spy Plane” incident a few years ago, the Chinese govt actively prevented the media from reporting ANY of the US apologies, messages of contrition etc.

During this time they whipped the population up into an anti-American frenzy and bussed “protesters” to the US EMbassy in Beijing.

At the end of 4 days, President Jiang Zemin appeared on the TV and demanded that the US apologise (pretty odd, seeing as the US had been apologising profusely for 4 whole days). Immediately afterwards, *bosch* the media showed the American president doing just that.

At that time, China was totally united in it’s blood-curdling anti-Americanism and the controlled media made it look as if the US were responding instantly and fearfully to Chinese demands.

September 8, 2005 @ 4:29 am | Comment

None of this is anything new, and it extends to the highest levels of China’s “America-watching” establishment within the CCP and government-linked think tanks. Read David Shambaugh’s Beautiful Imperialist. The title says it all…

September 8, 2005 @ 7:07 am | Comment

I have read bits and pieces of what the article says before but have never seen it all laid out so neatly before.

It is ironic that China can both loathe, envy, admire, etc etc America and want to send their kids their to study.


September 8, 2005 @ 9:13 am | Comment

The commentary on this article only illustrates the condescension foreigners have towards the Chinese people. Do you really think that the Chinese people can’t think for themselves? That they are all somehow manipulated by the CCP propaganda. Hell no. Most Chinese don’t believe the CCP. They can tell which is propaganda, and which isn’t. So when Chinese people love America, they really do. BUT when they hate America for what its policies are, they really do hate. They’re not stupid. IF America wants to build up China, Chinese people appreciate that. BUT if America is out there supporting Japan, despite Japanese provocations against China, or supporting secessionism in Taiwan or Tibet, Chinese people will know that too, and will make their views known.

Hey, I won’t appreciate it if some Russian tourists to America suddenly trots along and started supporting Osama Bin Laden, or Californian secessionism, and bash everything in America.

And likewise, I don’t expect Chinese people to appreciate it when Americans or Europeans start bashing China about everything from a taxi ride to Japan to Taiwan secessionism.

September 9, 2005 @ 5:24 pm | Comment

AC, you’re basically stating the other extreme to the point that you’re criticising. However, the answer most likely lies somewhere in the middle.

Do I think that that Chinese people can think for themselves and are not stupid? Yes, definitely.

Do I know that the flow of information in China is controlled by the govt as it always has been? Yes, true.

Also, you can’t compare Internet-savvy young professionals in Guangzhou to factory workers in Nanchang for example.

While I relaise that Chinese people, ultimately, see the CCP as the govt of their country and don’t appreicate hearing foreigners (even foreigners like me who have lived here for almost half their lives) criticise it. I’ve never heard any foreigner “hate” the people, although I’ve heard many foreigners have serious issues with the govt…as they also have serious issues with their own govts.

Finally, their are Americans who support Bin Laden – that’s not essentially against the law. There are also foreigners in America who criticise the govt. That’s fine, no problem. Yes, Chinese people are usually skittish about perceived criticism, more so than many westerners.

However, (and I’m not American) while you have Bush-haters and Bush-lovers in the US – in China you have 1.3 billion people who have the same dim view toards the examples you raise, i.e Taiwan, T1bet etc….and that’s a bit scary.

September 9, 2005 @ 11:48 pm | Comment

There is nothing “scary” (except to scaredy cats) & nothing incomprehensible, about Chinese unanimity of opinion, regarding many (though certainly not all) things; both domestic & foreign. CPC does not need to publicize (referred to as”CPC propaganda” by hostile foreign media: which is quite laughable, when the anti-Chinese propaganda from Western media is so much more skillful!). I think ALL Chinese (i.e. me, friends, AND enemies) do indeed share a common, initial (& sensible) distrust of foreigners, especially Japs: of course, upon closer dealings, they become distinguishable as individuals: some good, some bad. Chinese unanimity in this area, is hardly surprising, since we SHARE A HISTORY OF opium traders, gunboats, foreigners strutting on our soil & what not: that history was created by foreigners & not by CPC propaganda! What the CPC has done, & should rightfully publicize, is its success in putting China on its feet, which is, I imagine, a human right second to none. So any Chinese with an ounce of decency should remember to thank the CPC, notwithstanding personal loss/ sacrifice on the part of middle classes in the past; but now, they having been reinstated & it is time for the middle classes to be thankful, they too contributed something to the greater good of their people.

September 10, 2005 @ 1:05 pm | Comment


I think recent history has taught us westerners to be worrisome over such widespread unanimity of opinion especially when there is one-party, state-run media involved. Except this time, we aren’t working with a population of 50 million Germans or 100 million Russians, we are working with 1 billion+ Chinese.

I see so many parallels between pre-war Germany and contemporary China. Expansionistic, one-party government attributed with unprecedented economic prosperity, military with bold statements & aggressive modernization, state-run media, and a giant chip on her shoulder from previous oppression. The only thing China is missing is the central power figure that is bold enough to sack…Taiwan.

September 14, 2005 @ 9:05 am | Comment

Mark, stop what you’re doing and read this post. Great minds think alike.

September 14, 2005 @ 9:09 am | Comment

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