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By Steve Kelman

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US-Chinese perceptions, redux

I just had my quarterly meeting with 50 or so Chinese university students who are in the U.S. for the China Future Leaders program.  To my surprise, a number of students again apparently cancelled -- or their parents cancelled for them -- because of fears of swine flu in the U.S.  (The last time the group came, swine flu had just broken out, and almost half the group cancelled. This continues to be a problem, even after students have obtained visas and, in some cases, paid for the trip.)
 
I asked the students two questions this time that I had never asked them before.  First, I asked them how many thought that the U.S. government on the whole was friendly to China and how many thought it was unfriendly.  Eight voted "friendly," 13 "unfriendly."  (The rest thought the policy was mixed.)  I then reversed the question, asking them how many thought the government of China was on the whole friendly or unfriendly to the US.  This time, 23 students voted "friendly," two "unfriendly."
 
I am pretty sure that if I had asked the same question to a group of American university students, the numbers would have been similar but switched. 
 
It's this same story about the human tendency to see others as powerful and as trying to thwart us. I wrote about this in the context of cybersecurity in a recent column in Federal Computer Week, where I described an article I had read in a Chinese newspaper about how unprepared China was for possible cyberattack from the U.S.  -- exactly the opposite of the U.S. perception, which is that we are unprepared for a cyberattack from China.
 
Any comments?
 
One of the students also stated that he thought many Americans misunderstood China's "one child" policy.  China was very very crowded, and China needed the policy so as not to become even more crowded.  And besides, he added, when families have only one child, they can afford to give their children more -- if there were more than one child in his family, the student added with a bit of a smile, his parents couldn't afford to send both to the U.S. for the China Future Leaders program.

Posted by Steve Kelman on Jul 28, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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