What I love about China is quite a bit. I am an American and have lived in China for over 20 years. I love America and cry when we sing “I am proud to be an American, where at least I know I am free.”
However, I have found things in China that I should mention. I know these comments are generalizations and there are exceptions, but these are things I have generally found to be true. Also, many things I find here I might also have found in other developing countries. I found them here. Finally, some of these lessons may have been things this Swedish American needed to learn more than some others.
What I Love About China
1. China, Italy, and Mexico are the competitors for the American stomach for a reason. China is a food culture and do not make them late for lunch.
2. I never knew before I moved to China that most Americans are lonely and do not even know it. What I mean is that Americans like to talk about the weather and some highlights about our kids, but we do not go much deeper. I have an Afrikaner friend who lives in the States. He says that just when he feels the relationship is going deeper, the American will suddenly back off relationally. Most Americans have an invisible wall that they do not recognize that no one or almost no one crosses. Remember the Simon & Garfunkel tune says, “I am a Rock, I am an Island. I touch no one and no one touches me.”? We do not get personal. For example, I can talk about religious faith or how much they earn with anyone in China whereas you cannot touch that in America or you risk losing your friend. It seems I was open to something different when I came to China and discovered that in America we did not talk deep. I am glad to have become a deeper person here and less lonely. (Though I never knew I was lonely before I came)
3. Americans are desperately independent. Freedom has come to mean I do not rely on anyone emotionally or otherwise. This is related to 2 it seems. Individualism has become extreme in America. I pump my own gas and never talk to a teller at the bank. I bought a house and borrowed US$60,000 from my Chinese friends and not a penny from my American friends. They would rather give me some money than loan any. When I first married my Chinese wife 14 years ago, I walked around the table to get a knife right behind my wife. She called me on it immediately. “Why are we married if we do not ask for anything?”
4. Americans give free gifts. We want no tie or outstanding debt as it were. Chinese give gifts to create and buttress their relationships. No one talks about a free gift here. 2, 3 and 4 are related here, and I am glad to accept this new thing. I think it has made me a better person.
5. In the 2001, the American Navy sunk a Japanese fishing boat and many Japanese school students died. No government angst was aired by Japan, The Americans apologized profusely and paid all costs for the losses. The families were upset and wanted apologies and got them. No one in Japan said we did it on purpose. In 1999, the US bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, it was all angst and blame and harsh words all across China, and no one in China even yet believes the Americans did this by accident. No students died, but three reporters did. The Chinese people are a introverted deeply emotional people unlike the Japanese. Chinese mothers teach Tang dynasty poetry to their small children. China has a National Holiday to honor a poet who committed suicide. America honors the guy who made someone else die. The relation between America and China is a love-hate relationship and emotional from the top government to the bottom peasant. The relationship with Japan is not love-hate. It is more like business. I would describe the Americans as being an extroverted audacious shallow emotional country. I would describe the Japanese as being a rational detailed private country. so the relationship with China is invariably emotional. Being a naturally rational person, I gained a lot from the perspective of a deeply feeling country.
6. The Chinese are backing into the future with their eyes firmly fixed on the past. I love history and yet my countrymen had little interest. Here everything might be seen with eyes fixed on the past. Chinese when I first arrived might approach me and say “Do you love China for her 5000 years of written history?” I have often enjoyed talking and debating history here in a land where people still believe the South Koreans started the Korean War. Further, so hard for China to crack the habits of its past in child raising, medical thoughts and on and on. They seem to say “Surely China could not have been wrong all these 5000 years?” They challenged me to think more about what is true and what I believe about the past.
7. I can ride a bicycle here and never need a car. In America we must have a car as our cities are spread out and our public transportation stinks as we are desperately independent ( see 3 above).
8. I have learned to not take things for granted, like clean roads, and blue skies with white clouds, and clear win win relationships.
9. Happiness cannot be bought I have seen some of the happiest faces in some of the poorest places here.
I guess I should stop. God Bless America and God Bless China, May they each learn from the other.
Thoughts? Surely others have more to add.