Helen Gao has a great little piece in the New York Times about how her American experiences changed how she talks with her family and friends about China.
Interestingly, Ms. Gao faced something many of also face.
“Often, I find conversations about China with Chinese relatives and friends trickier to navigate than those with American acquaintances. In America, my firsthand perspective of China gave me credibility and strengthened my stories and arguments. But here in China, my time spent in America seems only to have alienated me from others. If I say something critical, it is often taken not as social commentary but as a sign of shifted loyalty, of contempt for my homeland, of uncritical worship of all things American.
I have lived in six countries on three continents — traveled extensively in a fourth continent and seven additional countries. And nothing has made me more appreciative of the liberties we have in the United States than all those years abroad. Yet, to so many in the US the reaction to what is good about the rest of the world comes out similar to what Ms. Gao faces in China.
Because there are some good things in other countries, does not mean one’s home country is bad. It just means there are differences and maybe some ideas that can improve you homeland.
Unfortunately, too many Americans — including too many elected officials who set policies — have little or no understanding about the rest of the world. They are woefully and deliberately ignorant of the rest of the world.
Some argue for an isolationist political policy (“We are not the world’s policeman.”) or a trade policy that would destroy the American economy (“Slap massive tariffs on all imports until US factories re-open.”). Or they have a simplistic view of foreign relations (“Send in the Marines” or “Cut off aid to country X until they always do what we tell them to do.”) They just don’t see the connections with the rest of the world is a fact of life that cannot be changed.
The issue, as so many have argued, is not that the United States is weakening, it is that other countries are gaining in economic and political strength. There are more players in the global market and the US has to adapt to that reality.
Besides the isolationist view of too many opinion leaders, I also blame the lack of reporting that puts how Main Street and the rest of world fit together for America’s lack of understanding of how the world and America fit together.
The stories can be fun and informative:
- A local micro-brew swaps recipes with a Belgian brewer. (A local-global connection that tastes good)
- They can use something we all share to explain a larger issue. (Connecting corruption and traffic lights)
- They can show how international visitors affect the local economy. (Orlando sees connection between Main Street and the rest of the world)
- And they can show how even non-resort areas benefit from international trade. (Linkage: Exports a vital part of economic growth)
These are not difficult stories to do and they show LOCAL people how they are connected to the world.
Maybe with a bit more reporting along these lines we will have fewer ignorant comments about political and economic isolationism.
Oh, and getting back to Ms. Gao’s issue, maybe if China had a free press instead of a top-down party directed media, the Chinese people would be less ignorant about how things are not only in China but also in the rest of the world.