From his perch at the Washington Post, 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 I’m living here and he isn’t. He moved back to the US five years ago, and wrote a well received book about China called “Chinese Lessons”. Quite a lot of it was written in my dining room in LA.
For a change, I actually agree with the main thrust of one of John’s articles on China. It’s an opinion piece, co-written with his colleague Steve Mufson, published recently in the Post. It’s title: “There’s a new Red Scare. But is China really so scary?” Read it here.
The key insight is that America, in the midst of a deep and long recession, 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 John’s article points out.
America’s problems are home-grown. China’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.
There’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 “kid friendly” country I know, measured by the care and affection lavished on the young Chinese, particularly infants and preschoolers.
Americans, in the main, 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 doesn’t stop many of them from perpetuating simplistic notions about the place. Once, China was seem as hopelessly backward and poverty-stricken. Now, it’s seen as a novice superpower, outmuscling the US across the globe.
John’s article cites a quote from Sun Tzu, “If ignorant both of your enemy and yourself, you are certain to be in peril.”