What do Americans think of China?

Joseph Lemien: Studied at Kalamazoo College, Speak Chinese, and live in China.
My impression is this: regular Americans think that China is a communist state (sometimes the words facist or dictatorship are used) and that people in China all or mostly work in sweat shops and have very little freedom. Americans tend to believe that China is a negative influence in Tibet, and that it is a aggressive and bullying force around it’s borders. In the United States the perception that China is somehow stealing American jobs is common, and China is often seen as a rival or a competitor, in a purely economic sense, but also in a political sense. There is a lot of fear of a non-democratic country gaining such power and influence in the world. I think that the general impression is that the rise of China has more negative consequences for the world than positive consequences for the world. People who are more educated tend to have more balanced and nuanced views of certain issues, but the underlying theme of negativity is still common. A vast majority of americans severely dislike the government of China, and don’t have much information about or impression of the culture or the common people aside from Kung Fu and Wuxia movies.
Nicol Lo, Works at Carnegie Mellon University; live in China for 18 years


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.

Melanie Reynolds, Young American
I like Chinese people but I think China is a hard place to live.
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.
Evan Torkos, studied at University of Michigan


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?’

William Bono, Itinerant Economist in Virginia
I’ve liked every Chinese person I’ve met. Their willingness to jump in with both feet, moving to the other side of the planet where the people don’t look, write, or speak the way they’re used to, is inspiring.
Rather than hit highlights of my personal experience, I’m going to speak in general terms here. There are two reasons for that. First, all my information is secondhand at best: the news, other people who’ve lived there, that sort of thing. So, I’ve never personally dealt with the Beijing government. Second, you can think of a central government as a single entity and talk about what it is doing as a whole. Thinking of a country’s people all acting or thinking the same way comes across as somewhere between “unwise” and “mildly insulting,” but being able to do that is kind of the point of having a central government. So, I’m differentiating between the central government, which has me concerned, and the people it governs, who I rather like.
Milo Grika, Technical writer, Works at Kovarus
Most of our ideas about China are negative, and it’s tough to break away from negative stereotypes. The problem is separating the news makers from the regular people. Like 99% of the world population, the Chinese are just trying to feed and take care of their families.

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.

Michael David Cobb Bowen, Lead Data Architect, Lives in Southern California


The American model focuses on the pitch, the resources and the goal. People are assembled and organized any way possible to reach the target. If personalities conflict then they are reorganized or replaced. Decision making is cyclical and may evolve at any time during a project.

Chinese work in the context of what assembled people and their relationships can do. In contrast to the American model, the team is most important and relationships between team members are settled before any work is begun. If there are conflict then it changes the goal.

I think the cliche about one Chinese kung-fu school battling another gives insight into the Chinese character. People are defined by their skill – what they can do, and how they are associated together. This is the social unit in China. This rather inverts a few American assumptions about the individual. I perceive that China is a meritocracy but it isn’t about fulfilling the potential of the individual. The individual himself is nothing and is not worth respecting until he possesses a skill and masters it. The Chinese is thus defined by work, a Chinese who is not working doesn’t possess a character or spirit worthy of respect. For the Chinese it is not about being, but doing. Being is an emptiness. The personality should not interfere with the skill. The person is only expressed through the skill.


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