China should more proactively tell good stories about itself to ill-informed Western public
Published: Feb 25, 2022 05:22 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

China deserves special recognition for successfully hosting the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, which demonstrated how the nation promotes social harmony through the idea "Together for a shared future." Nevertheless, many Westerners stand firm, unlikely to overcome their stubborn anti-China stance. People's lifelong convictions will always be difficult to change and the solution for boosting China's image to outsiders would require shifting cultural attitudes.

Before addressing the solutions for encouraging Westerners to embrace China, let's disclose the challenges. Many Westerners, especially Americans, have grown up being taught that the Cold War was a global existential crisis that pitted democratic Western governments against so-called anti-democratic countries in the Eastern Hemisphere, including China and the former USSR.

Consequently, the mindsets of Americans and many Europeans were starkly black and white, without comprehending the nuances in between. Westerners viewed themselves as heroes in their own media narratives, while China and Russia were depicted as villains in Hollywood films, TV shows, school textbooks on world history, and most parts of Western culture. 

Although the USSR is no more, most Westerners remain suspicious of Russia. 

In regards to China, few Westerners have an understanding of the real China. They rely on Western mainstream media reports to tell them what to think about China. Washington has implemented apparent propaganda to keep Americans as fervent anti-China folks.

The motives can be explained from a business standpoint. There's big money in the hating China games. The US Defense Department budget this year alone is over $770 billion, while China and Russia combined have spent less than half of the US' budget on defense. 

US Defense contractors, particularly Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, have scored huge weapons deals not only with the Pentagon but also with London, Brussels, NATO, and Canberra. Spreading horror stories about China in the media that spark rallying cries for more military spending explains why defense contractors are generous donors to many of the world's leading political think tanks that have tremendous influence over the mainstream media.

The US Military-Industrial Complex will not mend its ways, nor seek any compromise with Beijing. But not all hope can be lost. IOC (International Olympics Committee) President Thomas Bach delivered a speech at the closing ceremony of this year's Winter Olympics. He said the event "gave peace a chance" and this is the message that must succeed. China endorses all nations' paths to peace and prosperity and that is the key.

China is better served by focusing more attention on its soft power agenda to persuade the world that they are a good country. The Chinese citizens should not worry when outsiders are criticizing them. There's an old saying, "you can't please everyone," so no matter how hard you try, there will always be some groups of people finding faults with you. But can China do anything to transform global perceptions and to improve its image on the world stage?

China can take a more proactive stance to tell good stories about itself, to inform the public of the truth and to highlight outstanding features of Chinese culture. It would be amazing to see more works of Chinese literature, history books and contemporary China books that were originally published in the Chinese language to get reprinted in more foreign language editions, especially in English.

At most book shops in North America and Europe, the China section only sells books that are either: anti-China, Cold War history or ancient Chinese history that have no connection to today's China. You might find a few tourism books but don't expect to find other books that explain the positive aspects of China's reform and opening-up policy, rural reforms, eradication of poverty, or the rapid and transformational industrialization, urbanization and modernization drives that have swept across the country helping China to emerge as a global economic superpower.

China does indeed have a good story to tell and it will be the Westerners who can help to change Cold War mindsets. A long time ago, I was a "Cold War warrior" myself, who thought reading Tom Clancy novels was the right approach to understanding China. There was a time when I agreed with the extreme anti-China viewpoints of former US national security advisor John Bolton. But it was discovering the greatness of Chinese culture and encountering the kindness of the Chinese citizens that changed my mind. I read the Four Great Classical Novels of China and learned the Chinese have great works of literature that stand on the same scale or higher as Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities.

My first visit to China was to Shanghai in 2007 and it was eye-opening. I grew up learning that the Chinese were allegedly brainwashed political zealots and American-haters but I had witnessed none of those behaviors. I met ordinary people with ordinary lives. And that's the real China. Accordingly, China's image can and will improve but it's going to take a cultural attitudes' adjustment for it to succeed.

For instance, the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries is doing their part to promote cross-cultural exchanges and to create more dialogue between nation-states. Such efforts will bear fruitful results in the long-term outlook. Westerners who are happy to live and work in China stand eager to talk about the Real China as well. 

Although many Americans and Europeans stand reluctant to look at China in a positive manner, many of them do have some appreciation for Chinese culture.

The author of this article is the author of "US vs China: From Trade Wars to Reciprocal Deal," as well as geopolitical consultant and commentator on Asia-Pacific affairs, based in Beijing. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn