STUDENTS GREET NNPA CHAIR–First grade students in Xi’an, China eagerly practice their English on NNPA Chairman Cloves Campbell, Jr. (Photo by Ann Ragland/NNPA)
BEIJING (NNPA)—When Americans think of China, it is usually a faded image frozen in time. It is an old film, shot in what could pass as the beginning of time, of cold, dour, high-stepping soldiers bouncing past a review stand in unison with a rifle resting on one shoulder and both eyes fixed on the box of dignitaries sitting to the side.
But China is more than outdated military footage. The People’s Republic of China, as it is formally known, sits on an area of land slightly smaller than the United States. But its population of 1.3 billion people is four times larger than the U.S. population of 315 million.
Students in China, like those in other counties, tend to know American history better than most Americans. Whether it is arrogance, ignorance or a combination of both, Americans, in general, know little about their past and even less about China, an ancient civilization that dates back more than 5,000 years.
“Many Americans see China as a Third World, underdeveloped, cheap and poor country,” explained Carl Humphrey, an African American who has lived in Shanghai for five years. “In my opinion, this thought process goes back to education or mis-education. Media within the United States can also be partly blamed.”
Many Americans were introduced to China through those outdated newsreels, Charlie Chan movies that stereotype Chinese as smart and sneaky as well as martial arts movies featuring Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Blacks were drawn to martial arts movies, many of them filmed in Hong Kong, because they could see Black actors, such as Jim Kelly, kicking it with Bruce Lee.
But knowledge of China needs to extend beyond cinema if for no other reason than by 2027, according to projections by Goldman Sachs, China will overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy. And that will have profound implications not only for the U.S., which will slip to second place, but for western society in general.
“The West has thought itself to be universal, the unquestioned model and example for all to follow,” Martin Jacques wrote in When China Rules the World.
“In the future it will be only one of several possibilities…. In the future it will be required to think of itself in relative rather than absolute terms, obliged to learn about, and to learn from, the rest of the world without the presumption of underlying superiority, the belief that ultimately it knows best and is the fount of civilizational wisdom.”
If China becomes the dominant economic superpower, as expected, it will be a different kind of world. China has benefited from globalization perhaps more than any other country; even in the formerly closed society, there are abundant signs that artificial geographical boundaries have been removed.