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« The Erosion of Asian-American Confucianism | Main | More on Understanding China »

May 12, 2011


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Brilliant post. It's exactly what I think (but am not able to articulate) whenever a Chinese says something about how foreigners don't understand China.

I don't think the Vice-Premier's comments reflect China's growing confidence. In fact, I think too much is made of this in the west. I think it simply reflects what I've come across quite often in China, a notion of cultural superiority. The often expressed idea that Chinese culture is 5,000 years old (or 8,000 years old, depending on who you're talking to), seems to carry the implication that western culture is so much younger and therefore so much more ignorant. That the Vice-Premier said that out loud is probably not a reflection of growing confidence, but more of diplomatic ineptness.

By and large, I think that the west does not understand China. Nor do I, for that matter. I sure hope there are people in the State Department who understand China, else we're all in serious trouble. That doesn't mean westerners can't understand China, so I agree with you there. I don't know how many times I've been told (as a student of Mandarin) that to speak Mandarin I must understand Chinese culture, and (implied) since I'm not Chinese, I'll never be able to do that. I guess I might as well go home now.

You're right, China is incredibly complicated. Though it's not just because of the changes over time or the regional differences. Those are the obvious ones. There's something else here, in how people live their every day lives, how they accept or reject CCP rule and the history they're taught. Nationalism a sense of having been grievously wrong in the past play a part too. I can't articulate it well, because it's complicated and I haven't come to understand it yet.

Sam: I think that you know better about China than that VP from China, who basically do not know her country's best accumulated culture heritage products - Tao and Buddhism.

Which is not surprising, since that regime profess to despise spiritually and opt for an entirely materialistic world view(ie. get rich quick, end justifies means, and anti-American brain-washing to its subjects, not citizens).

How can you expect its spokesmen to understand that Americans are a much more spiritual and enlightened people, and that to the core, its Christian values are shared by all decent people throughout ages, China included?

As a Chinese, I see it very naturally our shared humanity. But they of the regime simply can't or won't! Thank you Sam!

Could you talk about what you think of the new book by Henry Kissinger "On China", after you have a chance to read it someday?

It is not only a question of knowledge about China. It is also a question about attitude towards their own culture and china's. The ability to accept certain differences or not.

For example, when a Chinese utters the phrase:"there is no why", then it matters less if one knows where that phrase comes from, than to be able to accept it as being part of Chinese culture. Once accepted, it can be worked with.

Another example is how (Christian) Americans come to China with a sense of superiority. (see one reaction above) They cannot accept differences and get in all sorts of trouble with the Chinese. I'm not saying they are wrong about things like labour contracts, human rights and such, I'm saying they achieve nothing by telling the chinese how it should be done. When a Chinese asks me for some advice, I often have to say that my advice would be western, and might not be the best advice for a chinese in China.

The world is not perfect, not in the east or west. Dealing with this imperfection works better if one works from within the system than from the outside.

Ah, but you all missed the backstage commentary before the show.

{responding to the comment that the Treasury Department will continue with its measures to devalue its currency while some countries continue to put substantial amounts of their foreign reserves into it in lieu of their being no other stable world investments).

Wang Qishan: Damn fool, I knew you were going to say that.

Geitner: Who's the more foolish? The fool, or the fool who follows him?

Our history may not be long, and it may be simple (to some), but it is consistent. And it is that consistency that others may have trouble to emulate in their own political spheres.

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