Chinese dream more than just carbon copy of American ambitions

By Christopher Marquis Source:Global Times Published: 2013-8-28 23:13:01

The hallmark of effective leadership is having a vision that resonates with and motivates followers. In this way, Chinese President Xi Jinping's Chinese dream is impressive and inspiring, focusing on the "great revival of the Chinese nation." Yet as the Chinese government continues to develop what the dream means, they will also need to closely manage how it is interpreted by both international and domestic audiences.

In my discussions with some Americans and from reading US media, my assessment is that there are two different misconceptions about the Chinese dream in the US.  

First, the state power and military aspects of the dream exacerbate some Americans' fear of China's increasing global power. For them, the Chinese dream is aggressive and potentially threatening to the US and the American dream.

This fear is stoked by opportunistic US politicians who try to convince people that China's desire to be an important global voice is hostile to the US interests.

However, this interpretation is overly simplistic and plays into a defensive US foreign policy view that ignores all the ways the two countries are aligned and intertwined.

In reality, the Chinese dream is not about taking anything away from the West, but about China itself and restoring a new "Golden Age" to China.

A second type of misinterpretation happens when Americans hear the Chinese dream and think of the American dream.

The American dream focuses very much on individual achievements and desires. In this day and age, this is usually tied to consumption. Therefore, many people assume the Chinese dream promises the same things: a house, two kids and two cars.

Although many Chinese people no doubt want these things, through analyzing discussions on Weibo, we found many Chinese netizens directly refute this vision, seeing it as too small and selfish to be worthy of the national dream.

Xi's dream is unique to China, and we believe that because it is focused on collective achievements, it is in many ways loftier than the individually focused American dream.

The Chinese dream taps into the people's deep historical pride and reminds them that China can re-establish that type of global significance.

However, our Weibo analysis found most Chinese netizens are departing from the official version of the Chinese dream.

Rather than seeing the main goal of the dream as raising China's stature on the global stage, they express their desire for resolving contemporary collective concerns, such as steep economic inequality, air quality, and food safety. 

Thus, for the dream to become embraced by the Chinese people, it needs to be articulated and communicated in a way that better resonates with their current needs and desires.

In other words, the idea of a collective vision resonates with people, but the people's dream is for a China that will tend to its pressing social and environmental needs in the next decade. 

Thus, in order for the Chinese nation to be great again in today's global context, the government should be more proactive in using the vision of the Chinese dream to foster civil society institutions that should grow side by side with economic development.

And the government should communicate more with the public about the concept of the Chinese dream and the approach to realize it.

The Chinese dream is truly an inspiring vision for the nation that connects China's historical prominence with its future, a future that encompasses more than economic growth. 

The author is an associate professor in the Organizational Behavior Unit at the Harvard Business School.

Posted in: Viewpoint

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