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5 Honest Questions Americans Have for You, China

China United States
by Matt Hershberger Mar 18, 2015

THE UNITED STATES AND CHINA are basically complete opposites. Americans tend to have no idea what it’s really like in China, and as a result, we’re deeply suspicious and fearful of the gigantic, terrifying monolith that is Communist China. Since we’re the two most powerful countries in the world, we could probably benefit from opening up a bit of a dialogue between our cultures, right? Here are some honest, no-kidding questions we regular Americans have for you, China.

1. You’re not like, planning on enslaving us, right?

We Americans are deeply suspicious of China (and I’d imagine the converse is true as well). The biggest worry is that you guys basically own us, economically. It’s a fear that’s based off of a pretty poor understanding of global economics, but it’s a fear that needs some assuaging anyway: pretty much all of us have an uncle who will go on rants about “outsourcing jobs to China,” or how “China owns our children’s future and wants to convert us all to communism, so THANKS, OBAMA.”

Most of the Chinese people I’ve met, though, are not so interested in owning the United States as they are in improving their position in life. This is something we could benefit from hearing a little bit more.

2. So… why does basically zero Chinese culture ever make it over here?

Don’t get me wrong: I know that there’s a ton of culture within China. But we’re getting like, none of it over here in the United States. Chinese food has been distorted in America to an almost unrecognizable extent, and I don’t think we’ve ever gotten any Chinese music over here except for the type of stuff that’s used in meditation studios. As far as movies, we get a few from the world’s third biggest movie market, but they are almost exclusively movies centered around martial arts (like Kung Fu Hustle, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Hero).

And I know this doesn’t go both ways: when I was in China, I could basically see whatever American movies I wanted to in theaters, and DVDs of our movies are available everywhere. The Chinese people I spent time with were generally familiar with if not fluent in American pop culture. Why does so little Chinese culture ever make it across the Pacific to the U.S.? Is that our bad, or yours? Because it can’t possibly be good for our relationship if we know nothing about you.

3. Why the ambivalence about individual rights?

I was living in China on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. It was a big news story in the west, but the English-language Chinese newspaper I was interning at had absolutely no interest in it. When I asked young people about the event and why they weren’t upset about government repression, they usually just shrugged and said, “your government is oppressive, too.”

The most instructive answer I got, though, was when one young man said, “30 years ago, members of my family were starving to death. Now, we’re able to afford nice things that our parents could never afford. Why would we question a government that’s made that change?” Americans are frankly baffled by this. We like to imagine ourselves as rugged individualists who are skeptical of any and all authority, so any philosophy that focuses on collective rights rather than individual rights is really difficult for us to understand.

4. Why so pissed at the Dalai Lama?

The dude is like, super chill and peaceful. Yes, the culture in Tibet prior to the Chinese invasion was unjust and feudal in many ways — ways that, admittedly, many Americans are unaware of — but the Dalai Lama’s pretty much number one on America’s “Spiritual Leaders We Would Most Like to Hug” list. It’s pretty hard to understand why someone this huggable is on an enemies of the state list.

5. How awesome was Pacific Rim?

Our countries might not agree on everything, but the robots vs. monsters sci-fi movie Pacific Rim grossed $100 million in both of our countries. We’ve seen the future of Sino-American relations, and it is giant robots fighting giant evil monsters from another dimension.

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