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3 reasons foreigners misunderstand China

误解中国的三个原因.jpg


In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Misunderstanding China,” China expert Michael Pillsbury claimed that China is difficult to understand and predict for the West. He states, “To this day there is no expert consensus on China’s economic growth and GDP, the size of its military and intelligence budgets, or even its intentions toward the West.” He is both correct and wrong. He is correct because even among the best experts on China’s security behavior, debates are heated, and one can find more diverse and extreme views on China among journalists and the public. But Pillsbury is wrong because he seems to put the blame on China experts themselves.

近来,美国《华尔街日报》刊登了一篇中国问题专家撰写的文章,称中国艰深难懂,令人捉摸不透,就连西方的中国问题专家对此也无能为力。文章称,专家们对于中国的经济增长和GDP,军事和情报预算规模无法达成一致意见,甚至中国对西方的意图也摸不清。一方面,文中正确地点出中国问题存在激烈争论的事实,但另一方面,却错误地把这一切归咎于中国问题专家。

To be fair, it is not easy to accurately understand China. Many Chinese themselves do not fully understand China despite their cultural advantages and local knowledge. Today’s China is hard to fully understand because it is huge, rapidly changing, and complex.

平心而论,要准确了解中国并非易事。很多中国人自身也不完全了解中国,即便他们拥有文化优势和本地知识。这是因为中国幅员广大,发展迅速,国情复杂。

That China is huge is probably agreed on by almost all China watchers. But in practice many of them seem to forget this important point when making conclusions about China. For example, when assessing China’s future economic growth, many analysts love to point out that China’s growth is slowing down to around 7.5 percent this year and see this as evidence of China’s coming collapse. Unfortunately, they seem to have forgotten that China already is the second largest economy in the world and for any large economy 7 percent growth would be a dream number. When was the last time a second largest economy grew at 7 percent? Can the U.S. and Japanese economies today dare to dream about 7, 6, or even 5 percent growth?

几乎所有中国问题专家都有共识——中国是个庞大的国家。但事实上,许多专家为中国下结论时,又似乎忘记了这重要的一点。例如,不少分析师在评估中国未来经济增长时,喜欢指出2014年中国经济增长已减至约7.5%,以此作为中国经济即将崩溃的迹象。可遗憾的是,他们似乎忽略了,中国已是世界第二大经济体,而对于任何大经济体来说,百分之七算得上梦幻般的增长。上一次第二大经济体达到百分之七的增速要追溯到什么时候呢?今时今日,美国与日本还敢幻想百分之六、七,甚至是百分之五的增长吗?

The point here is simply that China has already become a giant economy and it is time to take it seriously.

其关键就是中国已成长为经济巨人,不容小觑。

Another aspect of China that has been ignored often is the fact that China is changing very fast. This means that a lot of China’s problems that might seem serious and difficult to resolve might actually disappear quickly once the leadership has made up its mind. For instance, for years China has been criticized for its serious corruption problem. Many in the West simply reject the possibility that corruption can be curbed by the central government, believing that democracy is the only way to solve the problem. Now everyone seems surprised that China’s anti-corruption campaign is making real progress and shows no signs of slowing down.

另一个经常被忽略的事实就是中国变化之快。也就是说,一旦中国领导层有所决定,许多看起来难以解决的棘手问题很快就会迎刃而解。例如,腐败问题使中国多年来备受诟病。西方不少人直接认为中央政府不可能遏制住腐败问题,只有民主才是唯一良方。但是现在,令所有人吃惊的是,中国反腐风暴取得实质性进展,丝毫没有减慢的迹象。

Moreover, very few in the West, particularly in the media, seem to understand that China is indeed complex. Here “complex” simply means that China does not neatly fit into any existing models of governance such as democracy and authoritarian regime. The simple, linear, and ahistorical view of human development that has become so popular after the “end of history“ is now being challenged by China’s real practices. Even Francis Fukuyama himself has changed some of his views in recent years. Now Fukuyama believes that “a strong and effective” state is also important in governance. He even claimed that “U.S. democracy has little to teach China,” as he thought that China’s model of governance is unique. Regardless of what one thinks of Fukuyama’s claims, one thing is clear: using dominant Western concepts to understand China can be risky.

此外,在西方,尤其是媒体界,只有极少数人能理解中国国情其实很复杂。这里的“复杂”,指的就是现存的治理模式,如民主或极权制度,都不能照搬到中国身上。自《历史的终结》一书问世以来,简单线性,非历史性的人类发展观广泛流行。但如今,这一观念正遭受来自中国实践的挑战。就连作者福山本人近年改变了部分看法。现在,福山认为“一个强大有效的”国家对维护统治也很重要。他甚至声称,“美国民主没什么可教中国的”,因为福山觉得中国统治模式很独特。不管大家对这番论调持什么样的观点,有一点很清楚:用占主导的西方观念去理解中国,这样做存在风险。

Needless to say, we shouldn’t go to another extreme to reject all Western concepts and frameworks in understanding China. That would be equally wrong. To improve our understandings of China, three specific things can be done. First, acknowledge that China might indeed be different (but not entirely different) from the West. There is nothing wrong here as universalism does not mean we all need to the same. Second, acknowledge the legitimacy of the CCP in China. No matter what you think of the CCP, it is going to be a dominant political force in China for a long time. Third, the media can start by reporting on China on a more balanced basis.

不必说,在理解中国时,也不该走另一个极端,即把一切西方观念和理论体系拒之门外,这同样也是错误的。要更好地理解中国,有具体的三件事可以做。第一,承认中国与西方之间存在差异(但并非完全不同)。这没什么不对,因为普世主义并不代表所有人都如出一辙。第二,承认中国共产党在中国合法性。无论你对中国共产党看法如何,在很长一段时间内,它都是中国的主导政治力量。第三,媒体对中国的报道要更平衡。

Right now most media outlets seem to focus on the negative side of China’s development, which is necessary but not enough. There is no need to praise China, but a balanced view between negative and positive coverage can help readers better understand China.

现如今,大多数媒体都侧重播送中国发展的阴暗面。这么做虽有必要,但只报道负面还不够。不必对中国大唱赞歌,但视角要不偏不倚,正负两面报道,这才有助于读者更好地理解中国。

2016-06-23

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