THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AMERICAN AND CHINESE OPENNESS
Chinese students of her long history understand that the rise of Han and T’ang dynasties came about because of extensive cultural interaction with the world through flourishing commerce via the silk route that reached to Europe. They also understand the set backs of a self-imposed closed society during the later Ching dynasty (1600s – 1900s) because of the complacent and arrogant attitude that China had nothing to learn from the outside world. For over three hundred years since 1700, China suffered bitterly for not opening enough to the outside. However, the more recent Western-imposed containment during the early years of the founding of the People’s Republic of China was not entirely the fault of the Chinese government. (Mao Zedong was eager to normalize U.S.–China relations by launching "ping-pong diplomacy"). Thank goodness, that is all in the past and China has forged ahead with her reform and opening up initiated by Deng Xiaoping. The last three decades of China’s success amply testify to her willingness to learn from the outside. There is no turning back.
In my honest opinion and observation for today, America has a confident and open domestic society. But China is more open to the outside, because the nation as a whole is more willing to learn from the outside. Mere openness to outside news, without the humility to learn, can result in self-censorship and block acceptance of news about outside culture and success. This failing has happened to all declining powers in the past.
China’s willingness to learn from the outside during the last three decades is exemplary for a country of her size. Throughout PBS news' spontaneous interviews of persons on the street during Obama’s Beijing visit, all knew Obama by name. A simple game of statistics by interviewing residents of major U.S. and China cities would no doubt show that more Chinese know Obama by name than Americans know Hu Jintao by name. There is a general lack of respect and arrogance of the American public towards Chinese culture. This attitude is nurtured by the U.S. media’s chronic criticism of the Chinese government. This trend will continue unless the U.S. as a nation demands the implementation of fair, accurate, and more diverse cultural reporting by the U.S. media, as signed onto by all major media in the World Media Summit Declaration, Oct. 2009.
Interestingly enough, a similar contrast can be observed in the history of East and West cultures. Traditionally, the Chinese agrarian society exhibited a tightly controlled family and imperial structure, with a stern head of the household and emperor. The order of the society was Confucian with strict moral discipline within. However, the Chinese empire was never very expansionistic and was satisfied with a tributary system, rather than imposing its values on its neighbors. On the other hand, Western power was typically expansionistic and colonized the conquered territories. At the same time, Western culture traditionally valued democracy and practiced a loose family order. This is in keeping with American’s wish to police the world; yet the society within is very liberal. This cultural gap between East and West will take continuing dialogue to bridge and is the main reason for America’s critical view of China's domestic policy. The world order today is not very democratic internationally. A new world order is needed for our multilateral, multicultural world.
With the current trend continuing, China will become more liberal and will improve its domestic openness, including the internet for domestic consumption. By all indications, China will grow more confident about her internal security as the government implements its “Concept of Scientific Development” and the country becomes more prosperous and its society more harmonious. This will take time. China will also remain internationally more outward-looking to learn from the outside than America is. For China, this is by necessity, as well as by national determination, for a long time to come.