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An American “Chinese” Ambassador

A 1972 video, “Misunderstanding China” from the CIA Film Library, and available on Amazon.com is a perfect example of the power of the media over the minds of a nation, also serving as a snapshot into the fears of Americans during the early 70s. Talk of international conflict spawned a fear of the Red Chinese that was hard to shake from the American population, especially after the implementation of anti-Chinese propaganda. The Cold War was not yet over, and it would be decades before the distrust of the Chinese people rooted in this conflict would begin to reverse.When forming opinions about other countries and their people, much of the time ignorance results in fear. This was the case in America regarding the post cold war perspective on the Chinese, as deep rooted suspicion carried over from previous years found its’ way into the minds of the new generation. Yet since the century of humiliation, the Chinese have reestablished themselves as a world superpower, finally able to demand respect from both peers and rivals in the global community once again.

World's Fair Skyline in ShanghaiI admit before traveling to China for my first time, I was fearful of what I was to find there. I was excited and exceedingly curious, but I couldn’t put my finger on the reason why I held a general aversion for the Chinese. My distaste arose not only from the questionable “Chinese food” I had eaten in the U.S.; I thought the Chinese were loud and secretive and there were too many of them. Yet upon my arrival, I discovered my worries of a homogenized communist country to be entirely unfounded. Whispering “free Tibet” in your hotel room did not result in the Chinese police materializing at your front door. Opposite from my opinion of the Chinese being a walled off people, once spoken to, they easily opened up and became as personable as anyone anywhere.

My assumptions on the state of the economy in China were just as misguided as what I’d thought about the Chinese people.

Chelsea Ginn

Guest Contributor: Chelsea Ginn

Everywhere I went, transactions were being made, goods were being sold and money was changing hands. From what I knew about a free market, I seemed to have stumbled into a perfect example of capitalism. What were all these cranes and high rises doing in Beijing? Where were all the government housing facilities? The best part about it was returning to all the cities I had visited 5 years prior and seeing the changes in the streets. I literally got to see China evolve before my eyes, as the last of the hutongs and alleyway neighborhoods were demolished to usher in a new, updated city scape. In a few short weeks, my opinion of China became drastically different than that of the general American population; my apprehension was replaced by admiration and my fears of China dissolved. I then wondered how much else I had been fearful of only because I had been trained to do so by my culture. It became my responsibility to investigate the truth under all the propaganda. Additionally, I knew then that I must act as an ambassador for China and fulfill the role of an American that can return home and talk about all the splendors of a Far East land.

In the new era of globalization, I find it interesting that racism still holds strong. My background in evolutionary biology makes it difficult to harbor any feelings of nationalism, for I know that supposed racial supremacy does not reflect genetic differences within the human species. At the heart of all racism lies the concept of superiority, a complex that is perpetuated effectively through mass media. Here we have the paradox of the information superhighway: on one hand we have greater access to truths about our world, yet on the other we must filter through the subjective medium. We create the stereotypes that demonize the Chinese, such as in early 19th century pulp magazines, to reduce our contact with the foreigner as well as dehumanize them as a population. This allows us as Americans to see the Chinese as competitors or rivals instead of as human beings and equals in a global community.

When Americans first went into China, their motives were both economic and ideological. The merchants saw a vast, untapped market and the missionaries saw an expanse of unconverted souls, waiting to be guided into salvation. TagsChina needed to be “Americanized” or so Westerners believed: for the Americans at that time truly believed they needed to spread the concept of democracy to unknowing, barbaric foreigners. This still holds true, as we have seen from recent conflicts in the Middle East, where Americans are unable to accept select authoritarian regimes. As we can see, superiority does not always have to be purely racial; discrimination against political systems occurs just as frequently.

In the “Misunderstanding China” video, one can see how the media can change the perspective of an entire nation. Much of what we believe about another culture or race is ingrained into our behavior at a young age, so I am lucky to have seen the truth before I was corrupted by other peoples’ fantasies of China. It is understandable that we as Americans feel threatened; China is our greatest economic rival with a military that will one day match that of the United States.