Chen Weihua

Try putting yourself in China's shoes

Updated: 2011-01-24 07:54

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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The seminar "China in the world" at Columbia University on Thursday brought together a panel of respected China scholars from the US and Australia. However, as you may have noticed, there was something missing in the conversation.

At least one Chinese panelist from China at the seminar on Thursday would have made the event more relevant.

The Americans kept talking about the hot issues in China with US national interests in mind, while the Australians focused on their own concerns. Most talks in the West about China lack representation from China, and few seem to care much about what Chinese people want.

This is a big problem with debates on China today - everyone chooses to be obsessed with their own agenda.

Many in the US like to tell China what it should do - appreciate its currency, consume more goods and less energy, spend less on the military.

Few Americans pay much attention to what the US should do - save more and cut down on its energy use, which is four times that of China per capita. As I sat in the heated Columbia Faculty House in just a shirt despite the freezing cold outside, teachers and students in Shanghai, where I am from, have to wear thick down coats in unheated offices and classrooms.

Americans should also consider their own military spending, which is more than the rest of the world combined.

Such focus on self-interest and ignoring voices from China is probably why many Western debates sound so foreign to Chinese people.

In a live broadcast of the White House welcoming ceremony for President Hu Jintao on Wednesday morning, CNN broadcast Obama's speech without comment. But when Hu spoke, CNN just showed the picture with anchor Christine Romans giving a verdict on China.

Was that judgment more important than the speech by the head of state representing a quarter of humanity?

Such willful indifference to an important, yet maybe different voice, stems from the deep-rooted arrogance of the US and its "we are right and they are wrong" mindset. That's why talks lecturing China are never in short supply.

If China learns just a bit from the West' obsession with lecturing others, or if China were truly "assertive" or even "aggressive" as some describe, China would tell the US that it should apologize for the invasion of Iraq by misinforming the world, it should shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and it should tell its citizens to save more.

Maybe China should continually lecture the US for borrowing money, importing its goods and moving manufacturing jobs to China.

Americans should stop blaming China for all its problems and failures.

And I am not done yet. The US should also lift the inhuman embargo on Cuba and stop drone attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Indeed, the list could go on and on.

What do you really want from us? - a wildly popular poem among Chinese netizens - is a strong backlash to the Western hobby of lecturing China.

If the West thinks Chinese people are "nationalistic", it should consider whether it is its constant fault finding that pushes people in that direction.

It is natural for China, a huge country under great transformation, to have problems, many of them serious.

But if people would put themselves in China's shoes, at least for a moment, they could become part of the solution rather than be part of the problem.

The author is deputy editor of China Daily US edition. He could be reached at



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