I read an article the other day that said that the Chinese yuan is now 49 percent “behind its fair-value benchmark with the dollar.”  The yuan has been pegged to the dollar since 2008, which means that as the value of the American dollar rises or falls, the value of the yuan rises and falls in correspondence.  The pegged yuan is a ploy by the Chinese government to keep all products made in China affordable for the people known as the best consumers the world has ever seen, 21st century Americans.  (If you want to see a complete list of products made in China, go to www.madeinchina.com.)  This creates what is known as a trade surplus for China, which means that they export more than they import, which is good for China, and bad for the United States.  A lot of people in the States think that if the yuan was not artificially suppressed by the Chinese government it would decrease the amount of things we buy from China, increase our exports, and increase the number of desperately needed U.S. jobs.  China now owns 894.8 billion dollars of American debt, 24.3 percent of the national debt, the largest chunk owned by any single nation.  Basically, the U.S. government has dug itself into a hole, and now with the financial crisis in America lingering-or at best, leveling out-the People’s Republic is in the best position out of any government in the world to help us dig ourselves out.

But, as Shiu Sin Por, a policy advisor to the Hong Kong government, wrote in an op-ed piece for the New York Times, America is not going to get any help from China by being tough.  Having dealt with the Chinese custom of saving face firsthand, this statement struck a chord with me.  In China, it is considered very rude to become visibly upset, no matter what the situation.  Many-a-westerner in China have made a bad situation worse by resorting to anger, causing a severe loss of face, and most likely making the receiving party lash out with more anger.  For example, I was riding my bike on campus the other day and up ahead I noticed a student riding his bike towards me, and he was staring at me like, well like I was a foreigner.  I maintained my line of direction, but his fascination with me led him to slowly drift into my trajectory, and before I knew it we crashed into each other.  I wanted to yell at him, as if he would have understood me, but I quickly had to regain my composure, ask if he and his bike were ok, and go on my way.  Had I lost my temper it would have resulted in him loosing face and reacting by becoming angry at me, maybe even going to extremes to insure that his mianzi (face) was still intact.  This class of cultures can be magnified to a global scale, where the more we come down on China for its many shortfallings, the more China feels the need to take the United States down a notch.  To put it in simple terms, the Chinese are very, very sensitive.

Yet if you do a search for China on any of the major news sites all you get is bad press; humans rights violations, unsafe children’s toys, Chinese hackers snooping on Gmail accounts.  Now by no means am I saying that these issues don’t deserve coverage, on the contrary, I believe the right of free speech and the resulting power of journalism to be the greatest legacy that the founding fathers will ever give to this world, but as Spiderman would say, with great power comes great responsibility, and while western audiences strive for the most honest, direct, and dare I say confrontational style of journalism, in China, a more tactful approach is always best.  This very difference between our cultures is one of the biggest reasons for my interest in China.  One that’s been the world’s leader in economics, politics, military might, and culture for the past sixty years, and one that’s on the verge of becoming the world’s next superpower.  While these two great nations would benefit from a mutually beneficial relationship, the gap between us is actually growing wider every time the newspapers hit the stands.  So I encourage you, next time you slap a Free Tibet bumper sticker on your car, or read an article criticizing China’s human rights record, consider the good that it’s actually doing.

I’m working on setting up a Flickr page, so check back soon for updates on that.  Zai jian!