China gains economic and financial power, but is still struggling to find its place in the world, writes China veteran Tom Doctoroff in the Huffington Post.“So China’s road to becoming a “soft” superpower will be long and rocky indeed,” he says.
Unlike Japan, a cocooned island, China is not apart from the world. Indeed, the country fancies itself the center of the universe, a cultural supernova that sucks in anything in its path. China – as much as civilization as a nation-state – has endured for thousands of years, a feat attributed to natural order. The “idea” of China is, in local people’s eyes, absolute truth. China analyzes, dissects and atomizes the political systems of other nations. It studies Western competitive advantages and applies them to local circumstances. But it is also a country in search of its own Copernican revolution. It remains unable to weave itself through the warp and weft of other societies. For example:
Other than Huawei, a business-to-business telecommunications company, no Chinese corporation has achieved significant scale in any developed market – Haier’s fifteen percent share of cheap microwaves and mini fridges in the US does not count – due to, among other factors, the inability to balance marketing and sales functions;
International cuisine is a hit in public settings where middle class Chinese bend over backwards to project an image of cosmopolitan erudition. However, even sophisticated Shanghainese rarely eat foreign foods at home. According to Treasury Wine Estates, only 5% of booming red wine consumption occurs at home;
Chinese expatriates, particularly men, do not assimilate well. They often return home with a simplistic view that the West “looks down on” them. But reality is subtler. At business schools and in offices, clusters of Chinese retreat into self-effacing, gun-shy cliques reinforcing stereotypes of Chinese men as soft;
Second- and third generation American Born Chinese struggle to reconcile the imperatives of Chinese heritage – obedience to parents, obsession with “face” – with US individualism. Identity confusion sometimes results in an odd hyper-Americanism;
Oversees students, acutely aware of the deficiencies of China’s memorization-based education system, nonetheless avoid Western liberal arts like the plague. The most popular majors are still engineering, math and business;
Starting in 2004, the government opened hundreds of Confucius Institutes to promote inter-cultural “harmony.” Due to a dearth of effective outreach ambassadors, they have ended up as language schools;
So China’s road to becoming a “soft” superpower will be long and rocky indeed.
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