The seminar "China in the World" at Columbia University on Thursday gathered a panel of respected scholars on China from the United States and Australia, and there was just something wrong in the conversation.
The American scholars kept talking about hot issues regarding China with a US national interest in mind. The Australians focused on their own concerns. Few seemed to care much about what Chinese really want.
This is a big problem in many debates on China today. If everyone chooses to be obsessed with only his agenda, they are just going to bypass each other.
Many in US political spheres like to tell Chinese what they should do: appreciate its currency, spend less on the military, consume more goods and consume less energy.
But they hardly pay much attention to what Americans should do: save more and cut down on energy use, which is four times the usage by Chinese per capita. As I sat in the heated university's Faculty House in a shirt despite the freezing cold outside, teachers and students in Shanghai, where I am from, have to wear thick coats in unheated offices and classrooms.
Americans should worry more about their military spending, which is more than the rest of the world combined. The money has been spent lavishly as many Americans lose their jobs and home ownership.
Many discussions in the West about China lack a representation from China. A Chinese panelist for the seminar on Thursday would have made the event more relevant.
This focus on self interest and negligence of voice from China is probably why many Western debates sound so foreign to Chinese.
In a live broadcast of the White House's welcoming ceremony for President Hu Jintao on Wednesday morning, CNN went uninterrupted about Obama's speech. But when Hu spoke, CNN turned off the audio and simply showed Hu speaking. What you heard instead was anchor Christine Romans' verdict on China.
Was her judgment more important than the speech by the head of state representing a quarter of humanity? No it wasn't.
CNN's blind rejection of listening to an important and different voice stems from the deep-rooted mindset that "we are right and they are wrong". That's why talks of lecturing China are never in short supply.
If China learns just a bit from the Western obsession of lecturing others or if China is truly "assertive" or even "aggressive" as some describe, the Chinese should tell American leader upfront that they should apologize for the invasion of Iraq by misinforming the world, they should shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp today, and they should tell Americans to save more.
China has never pointed a gun at the US for borrowing money, importing its goods and moving manufacturing jobs to China. So stop blaming China for all your own problems and failures.
Oh, I am not done.
The US should lift the inhumane embargo on Cuba and stop drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The list goes on and on.
A strong backlash from the Western habit of lecturing China has surfaced on the Net in the form of a poem that says, "What do you really want from us?"
If some think Chinese are "nationalistic", the rhetoric of lecturing China indeed drives more people into that direction.
It is natural for China, a huge country under great transformation, to have problems and many serious problems. Who doesn't have problems?
But putting yourself in China's shoes, at least for a moment, will help work out many of the hot issues instead of having everyone bypassing each other.
The author is deputy editor of China Daily USA. He can be reached at email@example.com