Chinese students shape US public opinion
Published: Jul 25, 2018 06:18 PM

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The change in the way Americans look at Chinese students in the US is in line with the American mind-set of looking at China. This would help us gauge the public opinion about President Donald Trump's trade war with China.

I was one of the first generation of college students after the Cultural Revolution in 1977. Because my major is English, many of my classmates went to the US after graduation and stayed there since.

At the time they went to the US some 30 years ago, most of them were penniless. One of my classmates set foot on American soil for the first time with $20 in his pocket. They often received help from ordinary Americans or charities.

Such behavior toward young Chinese students showed their compassion, which was related to the religion they believe in. At the same time, there was also a sense of nobleness in giving and spreading religion among the poor, and thus taking the high moral ground.

The mentality of Americans toward Chinese students today has undergone profound changes. The new generation of Chinese going to the US are richer and go there seeking a better life. The Americans who used to help international students no longer feel the religious sense of mission and superiority toward Chinese students.

Of course, the premise is that most Chinese students no longer need such help. The families of these students have enough money to finance their studies in the US. They are buying their kids a bright future, an education to enable them to compete with US students.

If you look at the recent changes to some US college campuses, you may find the increase in the number of Chinese restaurants is common. Chinese students are the main customers of such eateries.

When I traveled in the US in recent years, I found these restaurants are packed with Chinese students at the weekend.

Some 30 years ago, almost all my classmates studying in the US had to work in the restaurants, washing dishes or serving customers.

"The Chinese are coming," is an old story. The beginning of the new story is still "the Chinese are coming," but the other half is: "They are rich, very rich."

This is also a logical transformation of understanding China. Ordinary Americans don't think about how many dollars Chinese students contribute to US universities, and how hard their parents worked to earn these dollars.

The logic of the Americans is very simple: China's exports to the US are growing, the Chinese are earning huge sums in dollars, causing capital outflow from the US and taking away American jobs, especially during economic downturns when unemployment rises.

The bilateral trade between China and the US has actually brought huge profits to the US, as the spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a recent news briefing.

But where are these profits going? Ordinary Americans seem to have experienced no change. Their salaries have not risen. For example, in 2009 just after the international financial crisis, Ford Motor Co. and the United Auto Workers Union agreed to cut the average hourly wage of union members to about $55, down from more than $70 two years ago.

The financial status of the Chinese students has changed. They use US dollars their parents earned to go to the US and receive the best education.

And then?

The Americans will surely think that most of the Chinese students will return to China later to produce more "Made in China" products and make full use of the knowhow they learned in the US for China's development, and finally lead to moving more jobs to China.

They are mistaken in thinking that the future of the US is in the hands of young Chinese people, actually it is in the hands of young American people. You can't stop knowhow flowing from the developed countries to developing countries. But you can still "make America great again" by improving your competitiveness.

The author is a senior editor at People's Daily and a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina