I had an interesting encounter with a man on the street yesterday that reinforced my belief in the importance of a better relationship between the United States in China.  I told him I was from America, and he brought up the election of Barack Obama.  When I asked him how he felt about Obama, he grimaced and mumbled, “Bu xihuan Obama,” I don’t like Obama.

“Wei shenme?” Why?

“Yingwei xihuan Hou Jin Tao,” Because I like Hou Jin Tao (the president of the PRC.)

Usually when I ask about Obama Chinese people respond by saying that they like him, but it occurred to me that they’re most likely being polite, and that the man I met yesterday was probably more honest about his opinion.  Afterall, what reason would the Chinese people have for liking Obama?  Ever since his election relations between China and the United States have been increasingly strained.   The United States has been increasing pressure on the PRC to adjust its suppressed currency in the hopes that it will increase US exports to China, and a visit from the Dali Lamma to the US caused a good deal of controversy.

It makes sense if you think about it in these terms, but what I found most interesting was that the man said he didn’t like Obama because he liked Hou Jin Tao.  Chinese people, for the most part, have an astonishing sense of national pride.  I’ve even heard a Chinese girl say that the two best days of her life were when Hong Kong was given back to the PRC, and when it was announced that Beijing would host the 2008 Olympics.  This massive national pride may help to explain the man’s preference for Hou Jin Tao, but I think the concept of disliking a politician simply as a foil against another is a concept that Western audiences may have a hard time grasping.  For example, you may have voted for Obama instead of McCain because you believe in his policies, but not because you didn’t like McCain himself.  But in China, this would be a more acceptable response.

I’ve said it a million times before and I suppose I’ll say it again.  China’s role as world leader is increasing every day, and as we head into this century of great change, the importance of a good relationship between the US and China will be as crucial as ever.  As a writing major studying at a tiny Chinese city, I play a rather minor role in this relationship, but I’m reminded of the importance of it every time a little kid on the street stops dead in his tracks at my appearance, simply because he’s never been exposed to the site of a foreigner before.  I hope that one day my writing and my ability to speak Mandarin will help bridge this gap, and encourage a better, more open, more understanding relationship between these two great nations, and I implore all who read this blog to do their own part.  Learn to speak Chinese.  Take a year to teach English in China.  Study Confucius.  Try your best to disseminate the bad press about China that floods the American media.  Give China the respect that it deserves.