I like living in China. I like living in an all-Chinese neighbourhood and being part of a Chinese community. I like learning Mandarin. I like reading piles of geeky Chinese culture and history books. I like interviewing locals and writing their stories. I’m trying to understand and respect China. It’s just that some days, China doesn’t help very much.
What’s hurting China’s image
Right now “China” is making it hard for people like me to “look up to China.” In my personal experience, there are two main ways that this happens (first with the laobaixing, second with the rulers — two distinct groups).
First, in my personal relationships with Mainlanders, people are often so hyper-sensitive about how foreigners see China that we can’t actually have “real” conversations about the Olympics. Anything that could possibly be considered remotely negative is seen as anti-China, and people suspect me of either trying to bash China or of being too stupid to know what I should and shouldn’t say or write. So we just avoid talking about it. This attitude (from teachers and co-workers) is getting very tiresome. It’s sad and disappointing. We try to overlook it and ignore it, but after a while it influences our impression of China and the Chinese people. However this is actually not as big a deal. It’s annoying but I know I’ll get over it, just like I know that Chinese people have lots of different opinions (they don’t all think the same). It’s the second factor (below) that’s much more damaging to foreigners’ opinions of China as a nation.
Second, the way the Olympics have played out, with the broken Olympic-related promises (the protest zones/traps, red-handed cheating, fake minorities, and patronizing statements from Olympic officials at press conferences, for example), really make it impossible for many Westerners to increase their respect of China – even Westerners like me who want to be positive toward China. This factor is the big one, I think, that is killing China’s image in the West.