What is the greatest obstacle to westerners’ understanding of China?
Richard Black, studied at University of Toronto
I was living in China until May of this year splitting my time between Hong Kong and Zhongshan.
I’m at the point where I don’t even like to talk about China with people who don’t know it because the same old tired stereotypes keeping coming up.
Two major flaws I see in western thinking on China are:
1、It must become democratic to be successful. I certainly understand the ideology behind this, but look at a few facts: China’s growth is literally unprecedented in world history. Since 1978 when Deng Xiaoping started to liberalize China, its per capita GDP has increased by 52 times. China has lifted more people out of poverty since then than happened in Europe during the industrial revolution. Do you realise just how stupid it sounds from a Chinese perspective to hear people lecture them on democracy when the world’s leading democracy has Donald Trump in power? From their perspective why do they need democracy? Their system is outperforming any other system on earth.
2、China will collapse, just like Japan in the 80’s. China’s per capita GDP is 14% of that of the USA and its population is 4.3 times the size of the USA. This is not at all like the scenario with Japan. China is investing in long term projects such as the BRI, in education, in research, in foreign investment. Nothing indicates short term thinking that might collapse. Will China undergo economic contractions? Yes, they just did and they got through it and it was nowhere near as bad as the US housing market collapse.
As others have said, go to China, be blown away with what it’s really like versus what you think it’s like. It’s wealthy beyond belief and poor beyond belief. The food is fantastic and the food is god awful. The people are kind and they’re damn nasty, the driving is something to behold. Go experience it and form your own views.
Tom Chandler, Sourcing and technology transfer with Chinese industry for 2 decades
1、About 11,000 km is the major obstacle…
2、The media likely comes in a close second place.
Personal contact with the Chinese people ( or any other culture) always reveals somethings about the people of that country, With more face to face contact, all people have a better understanding.
As a westerner learning to understand China, I have traveled to many locations in China several dozen times and with each contact with new friends and business associates, I understand a lot more about China and the people. Understanding how to do business in China begins to break down many barriers to understanding other things about China, including the government officials, and how the citizen fits in to this society that is seemingly so different than the west, but not really … at least from my narrow perspective.
China is evolving so quickly in the past 25 years, that I suspect some Chinese may also have some “understanding gaps”, with unprecedented growth in housing, infrastructure, availability of goods, etc, in just less than one generation.
My understanding of China in 2000 will be changed considerably by my frequent trips considerably over the past 15 years, as the skyline literally changes year by years.
I don’t see how any one can truly understand another culture from such a distance , particularly with politically biased media often publishing opinions that differ from reality .
EDIT: Travel to China, spend some time with people, eat the food, use the squat toilets, and learn about the Chinese culture and why so many Chinese people are so proud of their culture and their country , and respectful of their government.
Robin Daverman, World traveler
There are already a lot of good answers here. Distance, Language, Mass Media, are all great obstacles. I just want to add one more item to the list – 2500+ years of agnosticism/atheism.
The greatest obstacle for Westerners to understand China is just how incredibly brainwashed the Westerners are by the Abrahamic Religions. All this
“I’m burning you up on the stake for the good of your soul.”
“I’m killing you in massive numbers and bombing you to pieces so that you can have Freedom.”
“I’m advocating for the breakdown of your social structure and social contracts because everybody can have more Right but nobody needs to have more Obligations. Like everybody gets to spend more money but nobody needs to worry about making money.”
The vast majority of the Westerners actually, wholeheartedly, believe this sh*t. The Chinese, coming from an agnostic/atheist culture, wholeheartedly don’t believe this sh*t. The Chinese believe –
You are nice to me, I’m nice to you.
Killing somebody without trial is absolutely the worst of the worst. If a person is dead, what Freedom are you talking about?
Your “Rights” don’t come from “God” and don’t grow on trees. You get it from other people just like you. So your Right is some other people’s “Obligation”. Thus if you yourself don’t shoulder equal Obligations, you should not expect to get any Rights either. It’s all mutual.
The Chinese think of everything in terms of People – people manage people, people solve problems, people manage the environment, people live together, …. The West, coming from a theist culture, are obsessed with various abstract concepts, various “-isms”, a whole bunch of them. One of the hilarious cultural conflicts you see on Quora is how many Westerners keep asking “Is China Still Communist?” and coming up with a lot of highly abstract definitions of Communism, and how China fits or not fit with them. Well let me tell you that one of the biggest face palm moment in CCP’s history was in the 80’s, when the Chinese people told the CCP:
“Being poor is not communism!”
“Well what is communism then?”
“Being rich together!”
You see, that’s how the Chinese think of communism – being rich together. All those academic stuff means nothing to the common Chinese. They don’t care, and they don’t get why You should care either.
The same things goes with the concept of “Law”. The Chinese view “laws” as a way for people to get along. No more and no less. It doesn’t take on some divine meaning just because It’s the Law. That’s why most of the laws and regulations in China have a period of “trial and revision”, basically, to see if most people agree to abide by them. If they don’t, then obviously the law is wrong and need to be changed or rolled back. It blows the Chinese’ mind if they know that the US Congress, with 10% approval rating, gets to make Laws, and the rest of the 90% of the Americans just automatically follow the law or go to jail.
The Chinese culture is not only non-theist, but also non-doctrinal. Clothes is just for people to wear and look good. Tea is just for drinking. Bureaucrats/Civil Servants are just one of the tools that enables people to take care of the common interest, and all live better. The Westerners tend to look at these through the subliminal lenses of Culture, Tradition, Democracy vs Evil Yada Yada, … The Chinese don’t even get why Westerners make a big deal out of all these stuff, keep trying to bend the real world into the imaginary world, while ignoring the most important things, like, are the people living better? Is the society becoming more civilized?
What can be more important than real people?