The average American is ill-informed, if not absolutely ignorant of everything about China. Apart from those with greater exposure or those with an genuine interest in foreign affairs, China is the same oppressive, uncivilized country under a ruthless, authoritarian and corrupt government since the Cold War, albeit slightly richer.
As someone that lives in China for 18 years, it is obvious to me that now that as China meteoric rise continues threatens America’s long-held status, Americans are responding to this with fear, which is clear from their rather ambivalent attitude. One on hand, they look down on China, citing corruption, the great-firewalls and oppressed human right activists on the basis of democracy. They speficially denounce China for stealing their jobs, for food safety, pollution and many things that are not uncommon in other developing countries. On the other hand, they are aware of China’s economic prowess, and how the future will be more or less belong to China and not the US. Any bits of objectivity, however, is clouded by exaggerated media reports fueled by the ongoing onslaught on the nation.
Brad Jester, Work at SunPower, live in Shanghai
In general, Americans don’t know that much about China as it is large, complex, 6000+ miles away, not part of our education system, and to this day communicates with the world via Exxon Mobile-like press releases.
I believe Americans distrust China as a whole due to 15 years of anecdotes about intellectual property theft, unscrupulous Chinese manufacturers and business people, “crazy bad” air pollution, food pollution, top gov officials having net worths over $1 Bn in China vs. $10 M in the US, China allying with America’s worst enemies, human rights abuses, etc etc.
Starting from this fairly rooted sense of distrust, and coupling it with the realization that China’s middle class rise has been at the expense of America’s middle class, I believe Americans feel first and think second about China. The feeling is often negative.
On the other hand, Americans respect progress, and have taken note of the efficient way the Chinese gov builds infrastructure, implements its plans, and seems to not bicker like American politicians do.
Sam Serber, Study at Harvard, never been to China
These products do not have a good reputation. “Made in China” is synonymous with being poorly-designed and short-lived. (As opposed to seeing “Made in Japan” or “Made in Germany,” which basically mean well-designed and high quality.) Chinese products just seem like a copy of a copy. What I mean by this is that it seems like products that are made in China are being manufactured by somebody that doesn’t even understand the design. There might be exceptions to this, although I can’t think of any off the top of my head. Everything else (mainly price) being equal, every single American I know would choose a “Made in the USA” product over its Chinese counterpart. Every single one.
With regards to Chinese culture and Chinese people, most Americans regard China as somewhat mysterious. I am a well-educated person by any standard. I do not know a lot about Chinese culture aside from bowing when people greet each other.
Lots of draconian laws, you can’t easily just move cities and have your child attend public school or get health care. Lots of people in China have a hard time because they are not registered to the city they are living and so they have a hard time getting a decent place to live or their child in school.The one child policy or a forced abortion with violence. Horrible pollution. Just for a Chinese person there can be a lot of things to get around. Not a lot of freedom of speech.The culture is very interesting, the Chinese have incredible work ethics and family affiliation. I like Chinese food.
I would say the average American is somewhat fearful of the growth of China. They are bombarded with media stories about how they are on the losing side of a trade imbalance and similarly US jobs are being outsourced. Those who lose out vilify china directly (though India and other South Pacific nations also play a part, they are not lumped in the same category). Here there is also the intellectual property concern, which is viewed as deeply wrong. The media image is China is growing at the expense of the US.
There is also a deep concern that China, now a significant world power is taking over America by buying its debt. Few actually understand what this means but many think that it is disastrous. This was a major selling point of the sequester, ‘is this government dept. important enough to sell debt to china?’
On the other hand, the government and business owners are trying to capitalize on the perceived deficiencies of the west. They are using the generally unregulated business sector and abject poverty to make the most money possible and they are the ones responsible for the poor world view about China.
While most Americans put the Chinese in a poor light, the Chinese culture is evolving and perhaps our attitude will too.