Friday, February 27, 2009

Why does everyone like me?

For all the well-deserved anti-Americanism in the world, perhaps no place is it better deserved than in China. The Chinese individual takes massive burdens on himself for the betterment of the American individual. One example is the competitively low wage a Chinese laborer accepts in exchange for keeping the price of a Tonka truck, or a Kitchen-Aid food processor down. Another could be the relatively slim purchasing power of a Chinese citizen based on a national policy of currency devaluation vs. the Dollar, again seeking to keep prices low for you’re average Joe-Six-Pack (esp. if he’s drinking Tsingdao). Now both these arguments are reversible, that they have positive macroeconomic effects, and net-positive social effects, but one that does not is that same average Joe-Six-Pack’s proclivity toward China-Bashing.

I’ve been a lot of places and met a lot of people, and I know the difference between wide-spread national stereotypes (See: France; Cheese-loving surrender-monkeys, America; George W. Bush), and translating those into personal stereotypes. But the unfortunate frequency with which Americans confuse the two regarding China is belied in the media. National insults rightly stir national animosity (whereas the Europeans have a lot less to complain about), especially when Americans so frequently fail to clarify the subtle difference between Chinese People, and their disagreement's with their government's' policies, or with corporations' lack of safety oversight while seeking higher profits. But nowhere in the world have I found such uniform and unambiguous goodwill directed at a simple foreigner (外国人). I have now been welcomed to Beijing several times.

Arguably a large part of the pleasant attitudes is sheer interest. I have been approached by more than one stranger, bus-ticket-collector, student, or barker wanting to know why I am visiting, and how I like it. They are sure to comment on my ‘excellent Chinese’ even if I only manage one word in a conversation.

I am still relatively new here, but I know that if I were Chinese, I would have some serious reservations about how Americans regarded Chinese. But perhaps that’s just because I’m neurotic. Either way, that was a freebie.


  1. I've actually wondered this a lot as well - in respect to Japanese anyway. When I was there I got a lot of the same treatment (or at least what sounds about the same). Now I know they aren't completely comparable, and most would probabely not like me comparing them. However, I have a couple of ideas on the subject.

    First is that because of their situations they are more able to seperate the individual from the state. I don't know if I even buy this one. Most people that I met had little to no idea what was going on with American politics.

    Second is their education (I'm not sure if China has the same methods). In Japan they way they are expected to learn English is through exposure with the subject. I agree this is an important aspect, but I don't think it should be the foundation. They are not really taught the grammar behind the language. Its really this that I think give the interested/curious nature.

    Either way though, the ideas are both able to incorporate the desire to show them arrested development, and the subsequent disappointment when you realize it wouldn't be translated. God knows they're squinters ... God knows.

  2. I had a similar experience traveling around South America. In Chile, a place where the majority of people have very concrete historical reason for disliking Americans I found that we were greeted with open arms. Contrarily, in Peru a place with less American influence and a more endogenous culture, they were not so welcoming (plenty nice but I think they're motivations had more to do with getting at our tourist dollars).

    I think that for the most part people are able to distinguish between government policy and the unintentional impacts of an economic climate as opposed to the intentions of an individual. Furthermore, people really seem to appreciate foreigners who go to the trouble of trying figure out their nations impact on other parts of the world. Someone much more important than me once said "travel is the enemy of bigotry." I think simply meeting people from other places whether at home or abroad is a pretty good cure for bigotry as well.

    p.s. this is your cousin dave.. great blog, it passes the time at work quite well