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Huge contrasts in the ways how America and China see the world

 America and China, contrasts


American and Chinese top generals do not really know how to talk to each other. They are like computers running on different operating systems." That was the verdict once offered to me by a US official, who has watched many US-China summits from close quarters.

美国和中国高官并不真正知道如何与对方进行对话。他们就像采用不同操作系统的电脑。这是一位曾经近距离观察多次美中高级别会谈的美国官员作出的判断。

 

For China and America have profoundly different ways of looking at the world. I see five big contrasts.

中国和美国看世界的方式存在极大不同。这表现在五个巨大的差异上。

1. Cyclical v linear: China has a very long history. The US has a very short history. Mr Xi likes to point out that "China is an ancient civilisation. We have 5,000 years of history." The US, on the other hand, has been in existence for less than 250 years. This difference in perspective has a profound effect on the way that the two countries' leaderships think about the world.

1. 循环性和线性。中国有着悠久的历史,美国的历史则非常短。中方喜欢说,中国是一个文明古国,有着5000年的历史。而美国建国还不到250年。这种视角上的不同对两国领导层对世界的看法产生了深远影响。

 

Broadly speaking, the Chinese think in cyclical terms, since Chinese history is defined by the rise and fall of dynasties. Good periods that can last centuries are followed by bad periods that can also last for centuries. By contrast, ever since 1776, the US has basically only travelled in one direction — towards greater national power and personal prosperity. As a result, US politicians tend to think of history in a linear fashion and to believe in progress as the natural order.

广义上来说,中国人是从循环的角度想问题的,因为中国历史的特点就是朝代的兴替。盛世可能持续上百年,接下来可能是持续较长时间的乱世。与之相反,自1776年以来,美国基本上是朝着一个方向发展的——朝着国家实力的增强和个人财富的增长发展的。因此,美国的政治家倾向于以一种线性思维方式看待历史,认为进步是自然的法则。

 

2. Universalism v particularism: America's founding creed is that "all men are created equal" and have the same unalienable rights. From this flows the instinctive American belief in universal values such as freedom and democracy — that should, ideally, be applied everywhere.

2. 普遍性和特殊性。美国建国的信条是"人人生而平等",拥有同样不可剥夺的权利。由此带出的是美国人对自由和民主等普遍价值的信仰,而且他们认为理想情况下,这应当放之四海而皆准。

 

The Chinese, by contrast, are particularists. They believe that what is right for China is not necessarily right for the world, and vice versa. This difference in mentality underpins America and China's contrasting approaches to intervention in foreign conflicts and the protection of human rights .

与之相比,中国人则是特殊论主义者。他们认为对中国有益的不一定对全世界都有益,反之亦然。这种思维方式上的不同是美国和中国对外国冲突进行干预和保护人权等问题采取迥然不同态度的根源所在。

3. Ideology v ethnicity: The American state is built around the ideas embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Millions of people have become Americans by living in the US and embracing those ideas. 

3. 意识形态和种族划分。美国是建立在《独立宣言》和宪法中包含的理念之上的。数以百万计的人在美国生活后成为美国人,并支持这些理念。

 

By contrast, China has a much more ethnically based view of what it means to be Chinese. If I moved to the US, I could become "American" fairly swiftly and my children would certainly be Americans. But moving to China would not make me or my children Chinese. As a result, the Chinese and Americans tend to have rather different assumptions about crucial ideas such as nationhood, citizenship and immigration.

与之相反,中国对于什么人是中国人则有着更加以民族为基础的观点。如果你搬到美国,你可能会相当迅速地成为"美国人",而且你的孩子肯定也是美国人。但是搬到中国并不会让你和你的孩子成为中国人。因此,中国人和美国人对于国家、公民和移民等关键看法有着完全不同的理解。

4. Individual v community: American leaders stress the rights of the individual. Chinese leaders stress the interests of the community. The difference between American individualism and Chinese communitarianism filters into their attitudes to the state. In the US, the ideas that the individual needs to be protected against an over-mighty state is built into the constitution and into political rhetoric. In China, it is more normal to argue that a strong state is the best guarantee against "chaos" that has led, in the past, to civil war and bloodshed.

4. 个人和集体。美国领导人强调个人的权利。中国领导人强调集体的利益。美国的个人主义和中国的共产主义的不同渗透到了他们对政府的态度之中。在美国,面对强大的政府需要保护个人这一理念写入了宪法,并融入了政治语汇之中。在中国,认为有力的政府是防止出现曾在过去导致内战和流血的"乱局"的观点才更正常。


 Many Americans assume that this Chinese rhetoric simply reflects the self-interest of the Communist party. But it also has deep historical roots. Americans might trace their emphasis on individual rights to the War of Independence in the 18th century. By contrast, in stressing the need for a strong state, Chinese leaders unselfconsciously refer to the "Warring States" period, which began in 476BC.

许多美国人认为,中国这种说法仅仅反映的是共产党的自身利益。但是,这种想法也有其历史根源。美国人可能会把他们对个人权利的强调追溯到18世纪的独立战争时期。相反,在强调建立一个有力的政府上,中国会提到开始于公元前475年的"战国时期"。

5. Rights v hierarchy: Different attitudes to the state lead to contrasting views of what holds a society together. Americans stress individual rights and the law. But while there is now much more talk in China of the need for strengthened "rule of law", the Communist party is also promoting the Confucian tradition, which stresses a sense of hierarchy and obligation, as crucial to the smooth functioning of society. Once again, this has implications for international relations — since it affects China's view of the proper relationship between big countries, such as China, and their smaller neighbours.

5. 权利和等级。对政府的不同态度导致了有关是什么把社会凝聚在一起的截然不同的看法。美国人强调个人的权利和法律。而尽管现在中国也越来越多地谈到需要加强"法治",但共产党同时也在宣扬儒家传统,儒家思想强调等级和义务对社会的平稳运行来说至关重要。这对于国际关系曾产生一定影响,因为这影响了中国对如它这样的大国和更小的邻国之间的恰当关系的看法。

China's sheer size has always shaped the way it views the outside world. But here, at last, is a strong similarity with the US. Both countries have something of a Middle Kingdom mentality. The idea of the Middle Kingdom is rooted in China's past. One historian describes it as "the extraordinary conviction of the Chinese people that their land is the centre of everything".

中国庞大的国家本身就一直影响着它对外部世界的看法。但是在这一点上,中国和美国终于有了一个共同点。两个国家都有一种中央王国的思维。中央王国的想法在中国的历史上根深蒂固。一位历史学家称之为"中国人抱有的一种深信不疑的观点,即他们的国家是天下万物的中心"。

 

This conviction was shaken, a little, by the "century of humiliation" that began in the 1840s, when European and Japanese imperialists defeated China in battle. But a resurgent China is now sometimes accused of returning to a Middle Kingdom mentality, particularly in its treatment of the rest of Asia.

19世纪,帝国主义者在战争中打败中国开启中国的"屈辱世纪"后,这种看法略微有所动摇。但是,现在复兴的中国有时被指责又回到了中央王国的思维中去,尤其是在它对待亚洲其他国家的问题上。

The US, meanwhile, has become accustomed to its role as the world's sole superpower. American foreign policy is still based on the belief that the US is the "indispensable power" in ensuring global order. American presidents, like Chinese emperors of old, are used to receiving extravagant tributes from foreigners.

与此同时,美国已经习惯了其作为世界唯一超级大国的角色。美国的外交政策仍然建立在美国是保证全球秩序"不可或缺的力量"的观点之上。美国总统,就像中国过去的帝王们一样,已经习惯从外国人那里获得奢侈的贡品。

It is comforting to discover that there is at least one respect in which China and America are very similar. The trouble is that while both countries may regard themselves as the "Middle Kingdom", they cannot both be right.

发现中国和美国至少在一个方面非常相似令人感到欣慰。问题是,在两个国家可能都认为自己是"中央王国"时,它们不可能都是正确的。

2016-06-23

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