By Emily Mitis
According to the 2010 National Population Census of China, 19.3 percent of the world’s population are Chinese citizens. Due to China’s rapid rise on the global economic stage the relationship between the United States and China has become increasingly important to the future of both countries in recent years. So what do China’s 1.4 billion people think about Americans?
Herewith is a sampling of conversations with people from the streets of Shanghai and Beijing that provide clues as to what that thinking might be. Many cited the same sources that condition their opinions, such as China Central Television (CCTV) and the Internet, and most admitted to never having met an American.
Yu Xuejian, 20, a receptionist in a hotel in Shanghai, said he feels conflicted about Americans. He believes the people of America are generous and do great things, but the military is dominant and oppressing.
“The government stomps all over little countries, and tries to take over the whole world,” said Yu. “But the people are amazing. The commerce and architecture of the U.S. is so developed—in the countryside, a plan for a house or a store is thought of, then designed and created in just a few days.”
Yu explained that he has learned this from Chinese-speaking guests at the hotel, as well as speaking to friendly Americans on the subway and in the airport.
“America is the ideal country to live in,” he said. “Hopefully the cultural gap [with] China will [close], so we can both learn from one another.”
Ye Qing, 32, an accountant who just moved to Shanghai from Beijing, said she admires the U.S. for the copyright system that protects its artists.
“America, a country of freedom and openness, protects the people who make art and say things out loud,” Ye said. “The copyright system is very complete, but here in China we have pirated versions of everything, which is terrible for our creators and our country in whole.”
“China hopefully will get to that point one day,” she said. “We have much to learn.”
Jia Liangzhi, a 59-year-old retired community watchman in Shanghai, said he doesn’t like the American government.
“That country is full of terrorism,” Jia said. “As long as there is a world war, the United States will participate and call the shots. As long as a nation, no matter how small and [weak], disagrees with America, America will try to fight them and destroy innocent lives.”
He explained that he sees this on the news, and reads it in newspapers and online. He said he believes the American government needs to stay out of other, weaker countries’ affairs, and that the U.S. always “takes wealth from the poorest peoples for its own benefit, and then starts to blame other nations, such as China, for doing bad things.”
Jia also stressed that what he feels about the American government is completely separate from what he feels about the American people. “The people are so nice, and very friendly people.” He added, “Many of them speak their mind against their terrible government, and that is good.”
Sixteen-year-old junior high student Zhao Yifan in Shanghai said she thinks people from America are fun, friendly, and free-minded.
“I watch shows online like iCarly and Hannah Montana,” Zhao said. “They are always having a good time and doing amazing things. I want to do things and become famous like them.”
Zhao said she thinks these shows give the U.S. high international status, because people everywhere know them and love watching them. She wants to visit America on a sightseeing tour with her family soon.
Ping Huili, 75, pushes his large cart of umbrellas, clothespins, magnets, twine and other goods through busy streets in Shanghai every day. He said he vehemently believes America is wonderful because of its “real” democracy, and the power it gives its people to speak up.
“The government treats its people so well,” Ping said. “The government keeps its promises and seldom, if never, lies to its people flat out.”
Ping described a scene that he feels exemplifies the openness in America: “I once watched on TV, where someone threw a shoe at President Bush. That won’t be found here, in China, but it is wonderful. Not because the president is bad, but because people can actually give their opinion out loud, throwing a shoe.”
Although this incident did not happen in the U.S., Americans witnessed this, and Ping said feels that the people in America can still do outrageous things to express themselves, and the government stands behind their right to say anything.
Zheng Daohong, 48, sells shoes in a neighborhood market in Shanghai. Playing cards with two of his friends and his
son, he explained his anger towards the American military, but his appreciation of the American economy.
“Libya,” he said. “I don’t like the way Americans bully the Libyan people.”
“America never listens to the U.N.’s decisions, and just throws bombs everywhere. I always read this in papers and see it on television.”
However, he said he believes that the country’s contribution to technological development, charitable work, and economic success is admirable.
“These great things come from American people not in military uniforms.” He added, “These are the good people.”
Zhu Bo, 28, an engineer of assembly machines for car parts in central Shanghai, said he really loves the U.S. after interning abroad near Philadelphia a few years ago.
“The American people are warm-hearted and helpful,” Zhu explained in English. “Once, while holding a map, lost in Philadelphia, I was approached on the street by more than one group of people offering to help me find my way. It was incredibly nice of them to help a lost stranger.”
When it comes to matters of the U.S. government, Zhu explained that the country’s policies for free speech, especially online, are something to be admired, especially since the “great firewall of China” prevents him from going on sites such as Facebook to network or stay in touch with American friends.
“Americans use email and Facebook and go online like crazy,” he said. “I could be sitting two seats down from my friend in the U.S., and he will still email me ‘Bo! Let’s do lunch!’ when he could have just asked, in a whisper.”
Wang Fang, 25, a receptionist at a hair salon in Beijing, said she thinks very spiritedly about Americans
and believes they are great.
“They are so brave,” she said. “They dare to jump from the highest cliffs!”
Wang said she sees this on television and reads it online.