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The American Dream Is Alive and Well…In China

Could it be that the Chinese now believe more in the American Dream than do Americans themselves?

Takeaways


  • Stop talking so disparagingly about the United States, we are told. We just can't believe it. You are destroying our dream for the future.
  • If U.S. immigration policies allowed it, 97% of the Chinese people would probably want to move to the United States, our hosts said.
  • The fact that paralysis may lie ahead for Americans was definitely not what the Chinese had expected to hear, or more to the point, wanted to hear.

On a recent media trip to China, perhaps the most amazing finding was that the American Dream is alive and well — 7,481 miles (12,039 kilometers) away from the U.S. capital.

In many of our exchanges with Chinese interlocutors, they took great umbrage at hearing news from our group of Washington-based journalists and thinkers about how stuck in a rut American politics had become and how U.S. society was riven with serious conflicts.

The fact that paralysis may lie ahead for Americans was definitely not what the Chinese had expected to hear, or more to the point, wanted to hear. Their questions to us were along somewhat predictable lines, but all based on the assumption of a self-confident America — and a confident and coherent American society.

Will the economic crisis be over soon? Will Americans keep buying our products? Will you embrace more environment-friendly policies? Will there be a race for supremacy in the green economy of the future? Can we cooperate on carbon-reducing technologies?

Those were the types of questions, on the level of grand policy with practical applications, that we found ourselves confronted with time after time. And they were always presented with cheery optimism about future collaboration opportunities, not as sinister schemes to scope out one's opponent in a zero-sum game.

Hearing about how the U.S. political process was effectively treading water, the Chinese were especially remarkable in their wholehearted display of an American-style can-do attitude. Yes, there are problems, big ones, but aren’t we humans here to get them solved? What do you mean that political reservations are standing in the way? Why would anyone do that?

The environment and climate change is not a matter of ideological beliefs and preferences. So we were told by virtually everybody in this presumably communist nation. This field presents serious engineering problems to be resolved by human ingenuity.

What do you mean climate change is a politically contentious matter among Americans, our interlocutors asked. Not all is well in the United States?

Yes, we know the country’s citizens are currently faced with severe economic problems, including a mountain of unemployment. But why is it so hard to counteract? And what do you mean, we may see an end to the American spirit of optimism?

Why would political leaders fight climate change categorically, we were asked. Why not simply tackle an issue that is so clearly in front of us? You mean, the United States may no longer be the vanguard of modernity? Americans may be losing their legendary self-confidence?

That’s terrible news for all of us here in China, they said. After all, virtually all of us in this interconnected age dream the American Dream. Wherever our aspirations may take us, but we’re all hoping to be like Americans one day.

In fact, we heard that if U.S. immigration policies allowed it, 97% of the Chinese people would probably want to move to the United States.

So stop talking so disparagingly about the United States, we are told. We just can’t believe it. You are destroying our dream for the future. Believing in America’s great future as a signal for all of the rest of us is what has kept us Chinese going through many a dark day.

Yes, we are proud how far China has come — and in such a relatively short time. But still, they said, our ultimate goal is to be like the Americans, with their big houses, ample space and large cars. That’s what we dream about. Don’t destroy that vision of our future.

Chinese idiosyncrasies aside, what is so striking is that, from a European perspective, the thrust of American optimism in the 20th century was a combination of can-do spirit, planning and the law of numbers. Can-do in terms of orientation toward problem-solving, planning because the U.S. approach was to run massive quantitative analyses in the field of social studies — and the law of numbers because anything the United States engaged in was just so much bigger than what the Europeans were capable of as individual nations.

This treble root of American optimism — in foreign eyes — has now moved on to China. With a leadership composed of engineers, the can-do orientation is only natural. If the U.S. social sciences — and from that vantage point, human progress — were quantitatively driven, the Chinese are taking this to another level.

In terms of the law of numbers, the Chinese are making the Americans feel awed the same way the Europeans were once awed by the Americans.

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About Stephan Richter

Stephan Richter is the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Globalist. [Berlin/Germany]

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