Asia Times: China and the Americans, a love-hate affair
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  September 22, 2001  

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China and the Americans, a love-hate affair
By Yu Shicun
Editor of Strategy and Management, Beijing

Why do the Chinese think that the United States hates China? Is it really appropriate for me, a Chinese, to answer this question? I doubt it, for I think that this is not a good question. Not all Chinese think that the US hates them. On the contrary, quite a number of Chinese take America as the model for the future of China; and quite a lot of Chinese deem that assistance from America, either military or economic, as well as the example of its cultural life, constitutional system based on freedom and democracy, are necessary.

Half a century ago, Mao Zedong once said to John S Service of the US State Department that a way "to exercise American influence is to talk about the American ideal over and over. Every American official who meets Chinese officials either in China or America may talk about democracy. Every American soldier stationed in China might well be a live advertisement for democracy and should talk about democracy to every Chinese he meets. In one word, we Chinese take you Americans as the apotheosis of democracy."

True to those words, an honest Chinese, if he makes a careful study of the modern history of China, may well discover that when humble China suffered the ravages of the Western powers during the past 200 years, the country received more benefits than pillages from America. Though the two countries experienced a war at the wrong time and wrong place - Korea - after World War II, America's considerable fairness in the treatment of China in international affairs could not be denied.

In Mao Zedong and other early Chinese communists an attitude of being respectful toward America had been consistent, while being hostile to each other in later times due to the needs and pressures of the Cold War. It has been disclosed that Mao Zedong and others had made thorough investigations into the modern achievements of the US in the 1950s. In the 1980s, when emphasizing the opening up to the outside world, Deng Xiaoping stated clearly, as far as our opening-up policy was concerned, that we did not mean to open up to Yugoslavia or Africa, but to America and to learn from America.

Professor Yu Yingshi, a philosopher, has come to the conclusion that Chinese minds are full of a mixture of jealousy and admiration towards America. This means that, on the one hand, the Chinese envy the power and prosperity of America, and on the other, are fully aware of such leading position. This is the morbid mind of a weak nation, a self-contemptuous attitude that reflects the desire to become world-beaters disregarding any ideals, values and principles. It has to be admitted that both before and after Mao's time, the Chinese have been obsessed with this attitude, which is quite typical in Oriental nations. Thus a trivial incident might trigger these nations' sensitive dignity and morbid mind. For example, in the 1940s, the rape of Sheng Chong - a student of Beijing University - by an American soldier, kindled nationwide demonstrations, just as the wrongdoings of American soldiers in Okinawa nowadays elicit once in a while protests of Japanese citizens. The institutions and individuals of these nations still dance to America's tune, for fear of being out of step. Japan often prostrates itself in front of the US. But even in China those students who staged protests in front of the US embassy might show up again a few days later applying for a visa to the US. These examples convincingly show that the US is and will be the most admired country by China and other Oriental nations for quite a long time.

Since reform and opening up, a considerable number of Chinese have been to America. Although some Chinese who bear jealousy and grudges against America, or, in thinking that they are objective, come back to tell their compatriots that America is not as beautiful as a paradise, the majority of Chinese still consider it paradise, and the patriots or nationalists changed since they returned home still fly back and forth between China and America. In the 1980s, news of how Chinese girls choose husbands was very popular: the first class girls are married to Yankees, the second to Japs, the third fly to Taiwan, the fourth stay for "foreign" Chinese (those who work in foreign-funded enterprises) ... it can be seen from this that Chinese think highly of Americans and the common people in China admire America so much as to worship it.

Since the 1990s, one of the main choices of the Chinese youths after graduation has been to go to America. This kind of persistence gives the impression that they would rather break pots and sell scrap - even lose everything - provided they can go to America. The New Oriental School in Beijing has become world famous for supplying training in English, and this spring the number of applications far exceeded recruiting quotas. The leaders of the party and government took it as a great privilege to make a trip to America. The present supreme leader of China, Jiang Zemin, was been very close to then president Bill Clinton. He, as well as a number of Chinese, must have taken as a great honor the "partnership" with "my friend Bill, the Overlord of the world".

This shows that America is still the example for China, still the most developed country in the world, and still the least bad one among all the social systems we know. How come some Chinese have the impression that America hates China, then? It is of no use to simply ignore these Chinese or deny this phenomenon. For instance, the aforementioned view that Chinese do so out of jealousy and grudges is too simple. Viewing the issue from the perspective of social psychology only completely ignores the national interests, national culture and international relationships. What is more, in 1996 China Can Say No was published, which made many foreigners think that Chinese are saying no while nodding their heads. What we can say is, no, you are wrong. Maybe those you know are saying no, but not all Chinese are like this. However, we will not deny their existence, or more correctly, these people and this phenomenon reflect the progress and development of China. All of these realities stem from the reform and opening up of China and the end of the Cold War.

The reform and opening up of China has brought dual effects. At the beginning, the prosperity of America "shocked: the Chinese. The live reality, which is so visual and needs no theory or words to boast it, produced profound cultural shocks and resulted in a kind of psychological subjugation of most Chinese. In the blink of an eye, Chinese woke up from the vacuous self-deceiving fancy that our country was equal to or even better than America. Taking America and other Western countries as teachers, China hoped to obtain in a short time everything that the teachers owned: fortune, civilization, high living standards and quality of life.

China's economic reform efforts and its opening up to the outside world activated the dormant creativity of the nation. The switch from the top-down system to bottom-up innovation benefited individuals, families, social groups and classes. With a large amount of foreign capital and technology introduced, the whole country is full of pep, the market is prosperous and China's economic growth rate has been the number one in the world for a number of years. The flourishing national economy and rapid social development brought confidence to China and the Chinese. For some time Chinese even thought that the democracy that had been beyond their imagination would be soon sauntering in with economic growth.

The Chinese also thought that America and other Western democratic countries were well meant to China. Even when confined in the mindset of the Cold War, Deng Xiaoping concluded that there would be no world war in the near future and the international environment was favorable to the construction of a more prosperous China. The Chinese thought that in a peaceful international environment, the amity between China and America would bring everything that America has to China. Again, the relationship between China and America was that between an admiring pupil and the teacher.

After a long time's company, however, the idealized and remote relationship has been substituted by a more realistic and utilitarian one, while development in trade has also brought trade friction. The teacher is not giving away the market, capital and technologies for nothing, but he too is trying to scramble for them. Thus, from a distant ideal, America has become a real world competitor. The national identity of the Chinese has now been strengthened. The reality is far from perfect, while America is very strong and everything it owns constitutes threatening challenges, while at the same time being so appealing. The Chinese want to have markets, capitals and technologies, but Americans are doing anything they like; American images permeate all fields of daily life in China, from Coca-Cola to Hollywood movies, from Disney World to Time, from the hard military, political and economic forces to the soft powers in the field of the media, entertainment and culture. Everything in China is following suit behind the Americans. Capital has actually been attracted to America, and technologies sold to America, and even the young elites as well as pretty girls have been enticed to America.

What is worse, the economy has not brought good days, especially has not brought democracy and freedom. Though the influence of Marxism has been sharply reduced, economic determinism still prevails and exercises influences on people's thoughts, and resultingly they will lay blame on the world once they are disappointed. Quite a number of Chinese intellectuals still cling to the idea that democracy grows out of money and that the economy determines the "superstructure". Once Chinese realize that the overriding task of economic growth has not brought them safety, comfort and freedom, they will begin to lay blame on America for breaking their social order. The old left-wingers lament that they "have lost their nice hell", the new left-wingers yearn for the independence and uniqueness of the system in Mao's time, and the nationalists naturally bear grudges against America.

Furthermore, economic development, indeed, has resulted in serious problems of inequity in Chinese society and the overflowing of corruption and abuse of power for personal gain. The defiance and opposition of individuals, groups and social strata were put down in 1989, which was the milestone of China's turn from a totalitarian state to a despotic one. From then on, the disregard for human lives covered by the relatively equal status of individuals in a totalitarian society was revealed. At the same time, the individual's properties and even life cannot be safeguarded under the rule of despotism, and consequently, it becomes one of the gravest issues that individuals are unable to be free of poverty and fear.

Coincidentally, the Cold War was over soon after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing. The ideological confrontation was overcome and conflict between the two camps was replaced by a peaceful coexistence of nations. During the Cold War, the Western democratic countries had seldom used human rights as a weapon to attack socialist countries; while after the Cold War human rights have become the most important standard of the Western democratic countries to evaluate a country's development.

America's concerns over human rights in China naturally have repercussions. The Chinese government accuses America of pursuing peaceful evolution, trying to destroy China and being absorbed in a Cold War mindset; some people and intellectuals also criticize America as the police over the Pacific, and whose beat is too broad. The US has indeed harmed the feelings of the Chinese people in many cases, for example, the Yinhe Incident (where in 1993 a Chinese ship was suspected of carrying arms to Iran); the US's permission for a visit by Taiwan's separatist activist Li Denghui; the US mistakenly bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999 and the spy plane air collision incident of April this year. The disputes between China and the US have gradually infiltrated into the attitudes of the Chinese towards America, which have gone very far from the mindset that Yu Yingshi once mentioned, as recalled earlier.

According to social psychology, of course, there is nothing wrong with the Chinese, who, being the weak side, think that the US looks down on them or even bears grudges against them. The long-lasting sense of superiority of the Chinese civilization has made it hard for them to treat other people on an equal footing. Such attitude can be summarized in the feeling that "not one from our group, his thought must be alien". For Chinese, others can only be either their masters, or their slaves. To figure out how others see them, it is no wonder that they conclude that America and other Western countries must be treating them unequally. Because China is a weak nation, then the Chinese think that America, the most powerful, will look down upon them; at the same time, China is a big developing country, feeling it is soon to become a powerful nation; thus, the Chinese feel that America has no reason not to hate their country. Added to the Chinese's own conception, a powerful person will not allow his neighbors to become rich, and will try every means to cripple them.

Adopting a realist approach, we know that the foreign policies of any country are rooted in its national interests. Though Chinese scholars take pleasure in talking about the difference between the strands of idealism and realism in American diplomatic philosophy and the various effects of expansionism and isolationism, all of a sudden they seem to be tumbling to the conclusion that America's treatment of China is not at all out of kindness, but hatred of the teacher against the pupil, fearing that the pupil might be overtaking him. What is more convincing is that the Americans themselves are also arguing about the strategies to "corral" China; in any case, it is clear enough for Chinese that the Americans are indeed not as noble as they claim.

From the perspective of geopolitics, Sino-US relations are also very intricate. The US is reluctant to see the dominance of China in Asia, and it would rather help Japan and India to balance their large neighbor. It is against their wishes that Japan and India see the growing power of China, and they chime in easily with the US. Thus, the US goal to debilitate China and dominate Asia could be achieved with the help of other countries.

Reports in the media and analyzes by some intellectuals who speculate on the nationalist sentiments in China cause many Chinese to feel that whatever China does will be offensive in America's eyes. Following the socialist path would encounter America's hatred, while following the capitalist path would cause sneer from America and result in an attempt to maliciously dismember the country (Russia is an example). To put it simply, in the mind of many Chinese, the reason for America's hate of China is that China is too big, its history too long, its civilization too glorious; China is the biggest developing country that defies the US, and China disavows the international order headed by the US. Isn't that clear enough?

Yet, the idea that the Chinese think that America hates China is nothing but a farce. As far as I am concerned, America will not condescend to notice China, let alone to take China as the main opponent on a par; being so poor and weak, still alienating itself from the globalizing international order of freedom and democracy, there is nothing to arouse America's hatred against China. At the same time, being so open-minded, the US cannot be pursuing the so-called long-range strategy and evil conspiracy to dismember China. The president is elected every four years, the new president may well discard the old guidelines and set up his own. Unless the fate of the country is involved in a life-or-death struggle, such as the Cold War, the George W Bush administration may well waste Clinton's efforts, and the superficially intimate Sino-US partnership established by Clinton and Jiang Zemin may well be dumped in the dustbin of history with just one speech by Bush.

Those who accuse the US of being obsessed with a Cold War mindset should stand in the other side's shoes and reflect, only to find that it might be they who are stubbornly clinging to a Cold War mindset. It is true that some Americans married some young and beautiful Chinese girls and they have also gone to Africa to interfere in other's affairs, but are Beijingese and Shanghainese good enough to marry girls from Guizhou? Have the Chinese put in a word for the discriminated overseas Chinese in Malaysia and Indonesia? Have they ever grunted at the lack of respect for their own life in their own country? In a disorderly international society, it is better to have America, and there is no one to blame for America's selfish motives. Indeed the US is thinking about its own national interests, but it means no harm to the feelings of the people in any nation and what it is doing may well improve the people's living standard in all countries.

The US official annual human rights report makes evaluations on all countries and areas in the world, which is enough to show that it is willing to do its bit for all human beings, and press all peoples and governments to be kind by adopting universal values. The Chinese government time and again claims that it preserves the bearing of a magnificent country, but the petty-picky Report on Human Rights in the US, released by Beijing's authorities, is a depressing document, though I am one of those who so fervently loves our country.

Nevertheless, the Chinese perception that America hates China is catalyzing the transformation of the farce into a tragedy, when combined with the changing policies of the US government. Since the new administration took power, the issues of Iraq, of the Republic of Macedonia, of the Sino-US aircraft collision, and National Missile Defense have made it clear enough to the world that the US is really not satisfied with China and views it as an opponent and the assumed enemy. It is said that the US cannot sleep well without an enemy, it likes to fight, to play with the enemy, and it feels no pleasure if the enemy is too weak. Thus, with the waning of Russia, China just fills the gap.

What on earth do Americans want to do? What on earth is Bush junior going to do? Are they attempting to press China for evolution, or cut off all ties with China and let China perish. What outsiders need to understand is that China is a country whose power is monopolized by one party; the Chinese government cannot represent the interests of the whole Chinese people; the actions of the Chinese government are uncertain and cannot be trusted. It is so difficult to talk with the Chinese government, let alone quarrel. Japan is quarrelsome on economic issues, but it is trustworthy politically. China is different, as it can turn hostile on political issues in the blink of an eye, though economically it has done so many favors to the US. From the viewpoint of the international society, China is a barbaric rogue state. Well, leave the Chinese alone under tyranny ... This is what I mean by tragedy.

The Chinese nation has not truly awakened after experiencing the humiliation brought upon it by Western powers in the past 200 years. This has led to an absolute open-mindedness among Chinese individuals. The individuals lack a national identity in a broad sense and are willing to accept everything from foreign countries. On the other hand, this does not mean that the Chinese have been wholly converted and will piously follow another civilization.

Then how does it come that the so-called nationalists have emerged in recent years in China? Strictly speaking, they are not nationalists but egotists who have no long-range notions, but only feel that the banner of nationalism is profitable for power and money. For example, the scholars with nationalist orientation have more chances to hog the limelight, and their books make money. China Can Say No, Wars beyond Limits and The World Map in the Shadow of Globalization for instance have become famous overnight, and some authors have become quite rich by selling books. Therefore, most nationalists are doing nothing but play-acting.

However, American actions are transforming the drama or farce into a tragedy, that is, more and more incidents prompt a perception that China has been isolated by the international society and is criticized at every move, which becomes an issue of national dignity, by dint of which the clamors from the few nationalists have aroused the public mind. In this tragic atmosphere, who is bold enough to appeal to reason and say loudly that we need America, we need America's help and its example? The tragedy arising from the vicious circle of mutual mistrust will be too grave to bear.

From the earliest generation who studied in America, to Mao Zedong, and to the contemporary Chinese youths, all of them have admitted that in reality America is China's teacher, to whom the students might be unsatisfactory, the teacher's great tolerance, however, aggravated the pupil's discontent and even pragmatic utilitarianism.

The Americans have to be clear that, no matter what they think, whether they have a strategy or not, what they do has intensified the Chinese idea that America hates China, which will ultimately lead to confrontation between the two states. Then, the clash of civilizations of the prophet's prognostics will have come true. Relations with the Islamic civilization seem to have tragically proved that the theory was correct; are we to have another rehearsal between the American civilization and the Chinese Confucian civilization?

((c) Heartland. This version has been edited by Asia Times Online.)
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