How do Chinese people view the US?

November 26, 2009 | Posted by Chris

With admiration and respect, generally speaking, even though there are sometimes hurt feelings.

Culturally, America has great influence on Chinese society. Especially to the generation born after 1980 who grew up trying to imitate Michael Jordan on the basketball court, American culture means openness and possibility -- themes that are reinforced by the countless Hollywood movies they consume. Intellectually, America still waves a banner of idealism that inspires academics and common people alike, even if they have reservations about how well some American ideals fit in with Chinese society. It's no wonder that millions upon millions of young people aspire to study in the US.

Chinese people respect the US for supposedly possessing the secret to great economic success, a secret that they are keenly interested in understanding. Even if the financial crisis of 2008 has damaged the prestige of American capitalism, there is no doubt even among ordinary Chinese that the US is central to the global economy and the quality of life of the average American far exceeds the quality of life of the average Chinese. In fact, during the 1980s and 1990s, Chinese people often attributed to America a familial title that bestows great respect, saying that America is China's "older brother" (dàgē or 大哥). While nowadays people in China would like to think of their country as being on more equal terms with the US, which is true in many ways, the sentiments behind calling the US "older brother" still widely exist.

(In fact, Chinese feel more positively about America than Americans, according to a Newsweek magazine poll in Fall 2009: 81% of Chinese polled believe the US is staying ahead of China on innovation, while just 41% of Americans feel they're staying ahead of the Chinese.)

To be sure, flare-ups of Chinese nationalism do occur, and they are a double-edged sword for the ruling party: while populist nationalism is sometimes encouraged by state media, thus channeling the population's sentiments, things can get out of control at times and have real-world implications. For example, in 1999 when NATO accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Chinese people's feelings of resentment from humiliating colonial days bubbled into wide protests that caused a minor international row.

All in all, visitors to Beijing will find that the locals are very curious about the outside world, and they are eager to communicate and make friends with someone from a faraway place like America.

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