From his perch at the Washington Post,Â John Pomfret is one of the better-known American journalists writing about China. He is also, coincidentally, one of my oldest and closest friends. I quibble with him often about his take on China, particularly now that Iâ€™m living here and he isnâ€™t. He moved back to the US five years ago, and wrote a well received book about China called â€œChinese Lessonsâ€.Â Quite a lot of it was written in my dining room in LA.Â
For a change, I actually agree with the main thrust of one of Johnâ€™s articles on China. Itâ€™s an opinion piece, co-written with his colleague Steve Mufson, published recently in the Post. Itâ€™s title: â€œThere’s a new Red Scare. But is China really so scary?”Â Read it here.
The key insight is that America, in the midst of a deep and long recession,Â is undergoing one of its periodic bouts of self-laceration. The widespread anxiety that America is in decline is exacerbated by a sense that China is now better, smarter, faster in many important ways. A lot of this is plain silliness, as Johnâ€™s article points out.Â
Americaâ€™s problems are home-grown. Chinaâ€™s rise over the last 30 years is overwhelmingly positive, for its own citizens first and foremost, but also for the rest of the world, US included.Â
Thereâ€™s a lot for an American to admire, even envy, about China. Two examples: even while remaking most aspects of its society, the family has retained its primacy in Chinese life, as a source of stability, happiness, and purpose. China also remains the most â€œkid friendlyâ€ country I know, measured by the care and affection lavished on the young Chinese, particularly infants and preschoolers.Â
Americans, in the main,Â have always had a special fondness for China, regardless of the state of the political relationship between the leaders of the two countries. But, that fondness doesnâ€™t stop many of them from perpetuating simplistic notions about the place. Once, China was seem as hopelessly backward and poverty-stricken. Now, itâ€™s seen as a novice superpower, outmuscling the US across the globe.Â
Johnâ€™s article cites a quote from Sun Tzu, â€œIf ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”