I want to do something different with this entry and make it more like a guest blog. A friend of mine, Yungang Bao, provided me with extensive feedback that further illustrate some of the points I was making in my previous blog post. It’s interesting to read his Chinese perspective and therefore I copied his feedback verbatim below. He gave me permission to share his write up in this blog, but before I do that, I want to provide some context.
Yungang Bao is a Chinese scientist and professor at China Academy of Science’s Institute of Computing Technology (ICT). He got his Ph.D. from ICT, and he did a postdoc from 2010-2012 at Princeton University, one of the most prestigious Ivy league research schools in the USA. He is one of those Chinese people that is highly educated, smart and eager to learn and make a difference. His write up below shows some of the disillusionment in the West/USA that he and people like him have experienced over the last few years. He details how he and his peers almost idolized the USA in their youth and then overtime, and especially during the last half decade, realized that the USA isn’t the ideal society it likes to portray itself as. His write up also shows that he and his peers don’t consider China to be an ideal place either but that it is worth improving and that’s what he and his peers are doing.
It’s this can-do attitude that led me to pack my own bags and move from Europe to the USA almost 25 years ago and I’m now seeing that same spirit and excitement here in China. People want to improve themselves and their country. That’s one of the reasons why I find China and the development it goes through so fascinating. However, don’t get me wrong, I’m a proud USA citizen and I love the opportunities the USA has provided to me. I would never want to exchange that for another country, but I also understand that Yungang feels the same way about his country, both the good and the bad, and that he wants to make it a better place.
Here is his verbatim write up. Notice his intention to make this a sequel.
Thank you for sharing your observations and insights. Your blog is perhaps one of the most objective sources in English media describing what happened and is happening in China. I’d like to share my observation and experience in the last two decades. These will be a series of stories.
(1) The battle of social media
I understand that most western people recognize China as an evil country under the dictatorship of the evil CCP party (actually the official name is CPC, the Communist Party of China), because they perceive China through only western media rather than living in China or even visiting China. So it is kind of fun to read answers on Quora about some topics such as how foreigners have changed the way they think about China after visiting.
In fact, most of Chinese people were also deeply influenced by western media. This influence has lasted for three decades since the early 1980s and didn’t fade until the 2010s. When I was in high school, one of the most popular things was to buy a powerful radio to listen VOA. When I just entered Nanjing University (NJU) in 1999, I found that a lot of classmates started to prepare going aboard by learning TOEFL and GRE. When I graduated from NJU in 2003, probably one fourth of my classmates left China.
Since the early 2000s, social media started booming in China and a lot of knowledgeable people published their opinions on the Internet. This group of people were called public intellectual (公知), who either used to study abroad or were doing research on the west system including politics, economy, law and society etc. They wrote articles on blogs, expressed opinions on social media, got interviewed on TV, and were very influential. Their key ideas were very straightforward that China was far way behind the west countries so whatever China do is wrong and whatever the west countries do is right, resulting in a very popular perspective in China at that time that the US is the ultimate goal for China’s future, just like the lighthouse in the dark sea.
The situation got changed around 2010 because of the Internet. Arab Spring swept countries in the Mid-East one by one, with the goal of pursuing a democracy country under the instructions of the US and its allies. However, the results were not as good as expected, instead, full of wars, disasters, tragedy and refugee. There was a flame in Wang-fu-jing (just near your hotel) where the US Ambassador Huntsman was captured by a video. https://www.ksl.com/article/14496704/video-showing-huntsman-near-protest-in-china-stirs-controversy
There was a short dialogue. A Chinese man said, “Hey, Mr. Ambassador, what are you doing here?” Mr. Huntsman replied in Mandarin, “I’m just here to look around.” “You want to see China in chaos?” The man asked. Mr. Huntsman replied “No“, “I don’t expect to see that.“
few months later, on a president-elect debate, Mr. Huntsman said: “We should be reaching out to our allies and constituencies within China. They’re called the young people. They’re called the internet generation. There are 500 million internet users in China. And 80 million bloggers. And they are bringing about change, the likes of which is gonna take China down.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-LodoUppuA ) “Take China down“, well, this was the real thought of Mr. Huntsman.
Thank to the Internet, these two videos were wildly circulated in China’s social media. Many young people realized that they were just like tools used by politicians of other countries. Then there were evidences that many public intellectuals on social media were support by foreign funding.
President Trump further accelerated the awakening process by breaking the dream of the ideal US society deliberately described by the public intellectuals. The trade war, Hong Kong issues, Xingjiang issues, discrimination on Chinese in the US, comparisons of dealing with COVID-19, “I can’t breath” and the BLM movement, comparisons of rescuing victims in falling buildings and so forth….. Many Chinese people felt that they were deceived over the past decades. More and more facts show that the US is not a good example of future society.
On one hand, many Chinese people felt that they were deceived over the past decades. Although the Great Fire Wall (GFW) blocks most Chinese people from accessing the information outside China, there are still tens of millions of people who are generally well educated are able to cross the GFW. Many of them read news written in both English and Chinese and compared what described in western media and what really happened in China. They found that there are tremendous disinformation and bias in western media. To most Chinese people, western media is no longer trusted.
On the other hand, Chinese people, especially the young people, got a more mature perspective on the world — every country has its own problems which can only be solved by its own people. Chinese young people started to look back into the history of China and found that there are many valuable philosophy, wisdom, practical experience as well as sacrifice and lessons in the 100-year history of CPC. They started reading Mao’s books, the sales volume of which surges seven times from 2015 to 2020.
To conclude the results of the battles of social media, Chinese people recognize hypocrisy of some western media and become more and more confident.
It is worth noting that during the past four decades, no matter how China lagged behind the west countries, there were always a number of people insisting on the philosophy — getting our own job done well. In particular, top leaders of CPC held the belief that “development is the absolute principle” proposed by Deng Xiaoping. So China actually doesn’t care about socialism or capitalism. Once an approach is beneficial for development, no matter which country it was first proposed, no matter what time it used to be adopted, China is willing to try (I’ll describe how China tries new approaches in future sections). There are two famous quotations by Deng Xiaoping: 1) Black cat or white cat, if it can catch mice, it’s a good cat; 2) Cross the River by Feeling the Stones. China, under the leadership of CPC, probably is one of the most down-to-earth countries all over the world.
To be continued…