(Aug. 22, 2008) — I've been really busy these days. Besides watching the Olympic Games for hours and hours, I've had a good taste of the Western world's criticism of China. From radio shows to the Internet, China is the favorite fodder for controversy.
The Beijing Olympics are, without a doubt, extremely emotional for China. They're a 100-year dream coming true, for all 1.3 billion Chinese people.
Yet, for Americans, it's not easy to sympathize with a country that's geographically, ideologically, culturally and historically half a world away.
To understand China, let's start with history.
China's 5,000 years of civilization, as illustrated at the extravagant opening ceremony of the Beijing games, was trampled on in the 19th and 20th centuries. The West's colonial occupation of China up to 1945, the civil war, and the missteps of the PRC government until the 1970s marked the country with poverty and disgrace. Those remain sore spots for the Chinese. And the memory of shame from yesterday intensifies the feeling of pride today.
Americans who have lived in China long enough do appreciate that. Kent Kedl, general manager of Shanghai-based Technomic Asia, wrote: “Twenty years ago when I was teaching in a Teacher's Institute in rural China, where the average wage was barely $40 a year, I never thought I would see this day. So I am going to gather with my friends and neighbors at the local pub and will lend my voice to the shouts of 'Zhong Guo Jia You!!' ('Go China!') I, too, get misty when I see a Chinese gold medal winner on the stands and hear the national anthem. I am not Chinese and I will never claim to know what it is like to be Chinese, but I am honored to be here among them as they are discovering just what that is.”
The Chinese people pride themselves on regaining national independence, economic prosperity and international status. They also assume, naively, that their success naturally spurs respect and friendliness from abroad.
A recent Pew survey reveals that three in four Chinese believe the world loves China, according to the Washington Post.
It makes me sad that the Chinese people are unaware of and unprepared for the criticism, and, undeniably, some hostility from outside the country. In this setting, criticism — sometime unrooted — tends to spark tension, not constructive dialogues.
China has plenty of problems, needless to say. However, the only way for China to resolve the problems, be it pollution or human rights violations or income gap, is to ride the current momentum of economic growth and smoothly transform the society.
Therefore, let China have its moment. Let the Chinese savor their accomplishment to the point where they make peace with the wounds in history, obtain a greater sense of security and move on to desire grander goals of humanity.
As Kedl puts it, “Pride in building a nation into the fourth-largest economy in the world over the past 20 years is child's play compared to the challenges of building one that represents justice for every one of its citizens … Give it time and the Chinese people will stop comparing themselves to where they have come from and will start measuring themselves against where they could be. Then — and only then — will change happen in China.”
Sooner rather than later, China will learn to face the music, take it gracefully and strive to improve. Until that day, let's bear with China with patience.
Nina Ying Sun is
Nina Ying Sun isPlastics News assistant managing editor and China specialist.