China-US “Ping-Pong Diplomacy” and the ice-breaking tour that was the Philadelphia Orchestra’s first visit to China in the 1970s opened a new chapter for the people of both countries to enhance understanding and deepen friendship. With increasing cultural exchanges between the two countries, people in the US have more opportunities to learn about China and are eager to more deeply explore China’s more than 5,000 years of history and fruitful culture, as well as understand Chinese people’s philosophy of life and values. The Global Times interviewed three US expats residing in China, who shared their stories about the country, misunderstandings about China in the West and how they see current China-US relations and cultural exchanges.
‘Mr Egg’ Brian Linden wants to establish bridge between China and the US
Brian Linden from the US, who lives in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province, traveled to Laos with his wife in late February. He told the Global Times that in the past, it would take eight hours to travel from Vientiane, the capital of Laos, to Luang Prabang Province, a place rich in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. However, thanks to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the high-speed train built by China, it now only takes less than two hours to make the journey. In Laos, the train is inspiring groups of young entrepreneurs to look beyond Vientiane and pursue business opportunities along the train line.
The year 2023 marks the 10th anniversary of BRI. Linden said China’s investment in neighboring countries has inspired many local people. By investing in their infrastructure, China is helping to boost their economies and is providing them with hope.
“If China were not to do that, I don’t believe there were any other countries waiting outside the door of Laos to say ‘we’re going to do this and help you.’ So in that regard, I felt very, very proud of my adopted home [China],” he said.
Linden first came to China to study in 1984 and he was amazed by China’s economic development and profound culture. In 2004, he returned to China with his family. He later settled down in Xizhou township, Yunnan Province, and founded the Linden Centre, or “Xilinyuan,” to welcome guests from all over the world while preserving local cultural traditions. Since Linden has been in China for 38 years, his wife likes to call him “Mr Egg,” as she jokes that he is white on the outside and yellow on the inside. Linden said he hopes that “Xilinyuan” can act as a platform to promote China-US cultural exchanges and eliminate communication barriers between China and the Western world.
According to Linden, the way Americans see China has changed over the past four decades. They have gone from inclusiveness to reticence to fear.
China has grown in geopolitical relevance, a fact that is difficult for the existing order to accept. However, he believes China’s voice on the world stage will continue to grow.
“In this regard, we should focus on our commonalities and not allow our views to become too extreme,” he said. “Many Americans respect China, and many Chinese respect America. We need to continue to promote cultural and educational exchanges and business ties between our countries. ‘Xilinyuan’ is trying to bridge the divides between China and the outside world. “
He pointed out that China suffers from a soft power deficit compared with the US, as Starbucks, Apple products, Michael Jackson, Coca Cola are nearly everywhere, which underlines the US soft power.
Without a flourishing soft power foundation to offset the media’s critiques, the narrative about China is limited, he said, as he believes that China needs to continue to expose the world to its traditional wisdom and charm.
“We need to define who we are as a people and not allow the Western media to do this. It is important for foreigners who have experienced China to share the reality of this country with the outside world as they have a more nuanced view of this country. They can offset the negative stories being shared with personal experiences about the many positive aspects of China’s recent development,” he said.
The most common response Linden gets from his foreign guests is “we never knew that China was like this.” Usually they are talking about the warmth and hospitality of the people. China’s greatest soft power resource is its people, and China needs to create more opportunities for authentic interaction between all Chinese people and the world, Linden said.
Recently, Linden has been promoting his new book One Village at a Time across China. He told the Global Times that an English version would be published overseas as well.
“Because of geopolitical issues, I think it is necessary to go out and share this. My role is to promote continued interaction between the peoples of China and the US. I need to share the authentic stories about China that too often go untold. These stories are as valid and important as the political posturing that occurs at the governmental level,” he said.
‘Hotpot King’ Nathan Rich: US always tries to put China into ‘adversarial role’
Political commentator Nathan Rich, better known by Chinese netizens as “Hotpot King,” has been living in China for years.
He has posted more than 100 videos about China on Chinese and overseas platforms, gaining more than 4 million subscribers in total.
Many of Rich’s videos have been regarded as pro-China, as in those videos, he either shared a China he personally experienced that was different from the negative images depicted by some US media outlets, or fought back against US media’s smears against China, using strong evidence and clear logic.
Although a few Western media outlets have labeled him “pro-China,” Rich said he doesn’t speak for the country.
“I don’t consider my videos to be pro-China, so much as pro-logic, reason and treating China fairly,” he told the Global Times. “That is quite a different thing to me.
“I’ve never been interested in if people like China. But when I see parts of what I consider to be my culture – America, the West – when I see them describing events in China that I’m literally standing in the middle of, and I’m looking at a description that doesn’t match reality, it makes me confused and annoyed. It makes me want to make videos talking about the actual truth of it,” Rich said.
“If that is considered pro-China, then so be it.”
Fluctuating China-US relations have become strained in recent years in the eyes of many, especially since the start of the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict.
Rich believes that the worsening relationship between the countries is mainly due to the US’ hostility toward China.
“America will always try to put China or Russia into an adversarial role, regardless if they’re doing something worthy of that little label,” said Rich.[Some people in the US] constantly use very loaded terms like “China’s expansionism,” or “China’s desire to take over or replace America,” Rich explained.
“They take this view and use it for political reasons,” he added.
Rich came to China the first time in 2012. Having been to dozens of Chinese cities and having talked to lots of local people over the years, Rich has gradually gotten to know the real China.
This made him able to recognize the many misconceptions that many Westerners, especially Americans, have about the country.
One of the misconceptions that Rich has heard multiple times from Americans is that “Christianity is illegal in China,” he noted.
Having worked with Chinese Christians and been to Christian churches across China himself, Rich commented that he feels the saying is bizarre.
Worse still, Rich thinks the biggest misconception is the assumption that ”everything that’s ever happened in or because of China that turned out to be bad was intentionally bad, because ‘China is just bad to the core.'”
The assumption exists especially among those who have been “very indoctrinated by anti-China media,” he told the Global Times.
Therefore, to reduce misconceptions and enhance people-to-people exchanges between the two countries, Rich suggests people in the West spend more time listening to Chinese individuals instead of repeating “scary sounding clichés and stereotypes.”
“So I think for Americans, it’s really important that we focus on backing up our opinions with independent research, rather than the skimming headlines and tweets we saw that day,” he noted.
‘Beijinger’ Andy Friend expects return to ‘respecting each other’
Many moviegoers were impressed by the character “Mike,” played by US actor Andy Friend, in the Chinese sci-fi blockbuster The Wandering Earth II.
They become even more amazed after watching Friend speak the native Beijing dialect in Chinese action comedy film Hidden Man.
Born and raised in Beijing, Friend sees himself a “total Beijinger” who just has a white face.
With over 25 years experience on movie sets both in Hollywood and China, Friend is one of the best bilingual filmmakers working on co-productions and commercials in China.
His combination of on-set film experience and creative artistic skills has made him a popular visual effects producer in the Chinese film industry.
He pointed out the difference between films in the US and China is that most films made in the US are about superheroes and more about individualism while Chinese movies, like The Wandering Earth II, are more about group efforts in which everyone in the world needs to work together to solve common problems.
But there is one thing in common: filmmakers need to work hard to make original stories for their people.
“As long as human stories are told well, then they will be universally accepted,” he said.
Friend said he believes that many people in the US really do love the Chinese, noting that China and the US actually did a lot of positive things for each other in the past.
“I’m hoping that the two countries will return to something like actually working together and respecting each other. Sometimes politics just pushes people to extremes and it’s not so pretty,” he said.
ARTICLE FROM: Global Times