Scholarly article documents Western stereotyping of China

By Wang Wenwen Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/26 20:03:40

China's relations with the West are defined not only by how China interacts with the West, but also by how the West understands China. Today, with China being the world's second largest economy and China-related affairs mattering to almost every corner of the globe, the West still understands little about China, its culture and more importantly its modern life and business.

A recent article by Kerry Brown, professor of Chinese studies and director of the Lau China Institute, analyzed the UK's relations with China and noted the lamentable fact that in 2017, British universities produced only 270 graduates in Chinese studies - less than the figure 20 years ago.

Indeed the figure is a manifestation that understanding of and engagement with China remains mostly for a tiny minority in the UK. Meanwhile, many observers admitted that it is the same in the rest of the Western Hemisphere. The lack of understanding, however, creates ample room for misunderstanding.

Among a slew of reasons, the Western media has played a role. While reports tend to focus on sensational human rights campaigners and controversial issues, coverage is based on stereotypes and often ignores the issues of interest to their readership.

The stereotypes come from an inherent prejudice and bias of the West that has endured ever since China's humiliation in the past and in the first few decades since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 when the country had nothing in comparison to the West. 

At that time, there were a handful of people in the West with an interest in China, who became China specialists and helped liaise between China and the West. 

However, along with the rise of China and the Chinese people, the first generation of China experts retired, but the old prejudice lingers. The Westerners of the new generation failed to have the impulse to understand China and the way it deals with the West, resulting in a fractured and incomplete narrative about China.

Westerners should be encouraged to learn more about China, its culture and its language. This does not mean that they are to be Sinicized, but that China and the West can communicate on an equal footing and find room for coexistence and co-development. Looking at China through a Western lens and finding fault with China, a country so fast-evolving, diverse and different from the West, will make both sides lose development opportunities.

Perhaps Mr Brown is right to point out, at the end of his article, the need for the UK to increase its level of Chinese literacy and have a workforce able to engage with China - amid its volatile ties with the EU. If the West is clear that China's shifting winds have already had an impact on them which they cannot afford to ignore, it should try harder to understand the movement of the winds.

Posted in: OBSERVER

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