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Understanding China From A Place of Respect

China looms large on the Western mind. We collectively wonder, if secretly so as to not seem arrogant, if China threatens our economic hegemony. We wonder if it will soon outpace us in science, military prowess and global cultural influence. We grimace at the thought that a pseudo-communist state, devoid of democratic principles, might soon wield more power than us on the world stage. (But let's be honest, the West hasn't only spread love and acceptance and prosperity throughout the world. Nevertheless...)

What makes it worse is that China is so mysterious. It is so culturally, linguistically and historically removed from what seems familiar to the West that China might be our closest accessible example of an alien culture. This may seem intolerant-we're all just people after all, doing our best to get by in life, raise our families, make a living and eke out some happiness-but China hasn't helped this perception by being particularly transparent or open to foreign prying eyes.

The scariest part is the rumbling sub-text behind Western rhetoric on China. There always seems to be an implicit threat of violence, as if an eventual war is inevitable. As China rises up economically, militarily and culturally, it will have no choice but to trespass into American and European economic and cultural spheres. And these powers will have to protect what is "rightfully" theirs.

Perhaps this is true, God forbid. But if one thing drives a lead-up to violence, it's ignorance and vague, generalized fears. And that's exactly what's going on.

Along this vein, we must do our part to learn about China. We must understand her aspirations, her peoples, her style of governance, her attitude toward other nations and cultures and, really, what makes China tick.

This is no small task. China is a teeming mass of people-rounding out at 1.3 billion people. That's more than three of the European Unions or four Americas. And within this enormous amount of people exist upwards of 60 distinct, indigenous ethnic groups. It is absurd to assume any sort of overall homogeneity within the Chinese population.

But that doesn't mean it is impossible to get some understanding of China. In fact, there are numerous insights that could help us gain a more three dimensional, nuanced view of this fascinating and complex culture. And doing so, on an individual and cultural level, can help mitigate any possible animosity as China ultimately grows to become on par with North America and Europe economically, militarily, culturally and otherwise.

Let's see if we can dispel a few pervasive sentiments. For example, there is a general sense that China just blindly wants to expand itself and its area of influence. This is untrue on two levels.

  • China is simply trying to find a way to provide its people and nation with the resources it needs to build infrastructure, create energy and keep everyone working and fed.
  • China's resource acquisition is incredibly well planned, intentional and shrewd. Commenting on China's corporate/state fusion entities that are reaching their tentacles out into the world, blogger Brent Pierce pointed out:

"Utilizing its own brand of state-controlled capitalism, a new facet of corporate market domination has emerged - one that has enabled China to reap enormous benefits from the robust activity of its corporate vehicles."

Interestingly, China's economic excursions into foreign territories could be argued to be vastly more peaceful and beneficial to said foreign territories than similar endeavors by Western powers. China is making enormous inroads into Africa, cutting deals with African nations that help finance infrastructure projects and provide much-needed jobs to these impoverished nations in exchange for raw materials. African peoples and leaders are grateful for the help and China gets the resources it needs.

All too often, paternalistic finger wagging at so-called human rights violations or a need for democracy thinly veils the West's resource-acquisition into undeveloped nations. This breeds resentment and ultimately fuels uprisings or civil wars. China makes deals everyone can get behind.

China is similarly propping up central Asian nations in exchange for rights to build natural gas and oil pipelines across this massive continent.

In further attempts to attract resources with enticing offers, China has begun to open the door to foreign direct investment (FDI). This domain still leaves much to be desired, but recent political developments indicate that China is motivated to make concessions to foreign investors. There is money to be made in China, even if you're not Chinese it seems.

A broader, informed view of China paints this country not as a potential aggressor or threat, but rather a nation just like any other. They have their needs and they're doing what they can to fulfill them. In many areas, they are doing incredibly well, and without rocking the international boat. They deserve our respect and admiration, not our fear.