Thursday, July 24, 2008

In fairness...

I have been fuming more and more over Chinese nationalist screeds at the bottom of news articles and blog posts--you know, the long diatribes about how Tibetans are ungrateful for the civilization brought to them by their masters, about how people should stop criticizing China about Darfur or Zimbabwe because, well, China had it rough once, too, just like Africa, about how because other countries share certain of China's problems those problems aren't actually problems,  etc, etc.  

But then I turned on MSNBC today and watched the talking heads on "Race for the White House" debate whether or not Obama's admitting in Berlin, every so gently and briefly, that the U.S. has faults might hurt him politically.  

Why might saying something so patently obvious hurt him?  Well, as the panelists rightly noted, many Americans don't like politicians or celebrities currying favor abroad--or appearing to curry favor abroad--by saying bad things about the U.S. of A:
David Gregory:  "Eugene Robinson, is this the message that Americans want to hear Obama delivering overseas, not in this country, but going to a foreign capital ...
There's not the same wounded pride here that you sometimes hear in China, but there is the same sense of not talking to stuffy foreigners about something that's our business.  If there's not the same wounded-ness it's because there's a tad more bluster.

It reminds me of a friend who said that in some ways China and America are more alike than America and Europe.  Now, I don't mean to let Europeans off the hook (their attitude to the U.S. tends to be similar to Northeastern Americans' attitude toward Southerners: "Well, since we're clearly not as bad as them, we have no problems--not on race, not on religion, not on nothing").  But it's true, I think, that what frustrates Americans and Chinese about each other is not some vast cultural gulf but that we're so remarkably similar.


jkd said...

But it's true, I think, that what frustrates Americans and Chinese about each other is not some vast cultural gulf but that we're so remarkably similar.

I always say the same thing about the U.S. and la France - both of us think we're the best, want everyone to agree, and want everyone to want to be American/French. The last point is a crucial one and I think one of the major disconnects between the U.S. and China - Minutemen aside, the U.S. is most definitely a polyglot nation of immigrants. China, internal ethnic diversity aside, is not: I could no more become Chinese than grow wings while, conversely, most Americans do accept immigrants who proudly proclaim their Americanness as fellow Americans.

Old Tales Retold said...

I agree there's not the same sense in China that others ought to want to become Chinese--or that this is even possible. But there is a demand, at times, that others adopt China's aspirations as their own--"everyone desires a harmonious society" or "good people of the world do not want the Olympic Games politicized."

China still sometimes calls on states and individuals to, like itself, identify themselves with a broad "developing world" (or, in the past, "Third World"), much as the U.S. appeals to "freedom-loving peoples" around the globe. But the Chinese demands and appeals have a certain defensiveness to them.