The Chinese, on the other hand, are fascinated by America, although often perplexed by its inherent contradictions. The US is free and unfair, creative and fashion-challenged (some describe blue button-down shirts and khaki pants as our “uniform”), sporty and grossly overweight, individualistic and self-deluded (they love to laugh at narcissistic, talent-free American Idol contestants). They are amazed a nation of 300 million self-starters does not come apart at the seams.
Deep ambivalence. On a personal level, the Chinese admire - are even intoxicated by - US-style individualism. At the same time, they regard it as dangerous, both personally and as a national competitive advantage.In 1999, when America bombed the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia, the nation erupted with rage, but it was the fury of betrayal, disorientation and stunned rejection. No one chanted, “America is evil.” Instead, there were tears of disillusionment. The US, then widely perceived as a land of endless opportunity and noble ideals, was exposed as “just another country” in which the powerful protect their interests at any cost. I had been in China for a year, always greeted with openness, curiosity and warm facial expressions. When the news of my country’s misdeed swept the airwaves, the lights went out. No one’s eyes met mine. They wondered whether I, too, was a fraud, a commercial hack intent on profiting from China at the expense of China. After a week, tempers cooled but a scar of regretful suspicion has since marred the cultural landscape.
Deep affection. Evidence of deep affection for the American way of life is everywhere. Illegal DVDs of US movies and television shows sell like hotcakes, especially the likes of Friends, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives and The Big Bang Theory, which celebrate a quintessentially American fusion of community and individual idiosyncrasy. The election President Barack Obama, a black man with no dynastic credentials, is regarded with awe, a tribute to genuine egalitarianism. Every conglomerate wants to become the “GE of China,” while Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are role models of the highest order, respected for personal vision and achieving master-of-the-universe status. Amongst denizens of rural China, less worldly than their coastal counterparts, America is not only esteemed for its freedom; it is also described transcendentally as “a land of dreams.”
Tom Doctoroff is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers´request form.
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