In the mid-1980s, the movie “Black Rain” was released. The plot began in the United States, with two policemen caught in an internal war within the Yakuza, the Japanese mafia. The plot follows the two policemen’s journey to Japan with the suspect and his extradition to the local police.
The film rode the American fear of a Japanese takeover of the American economy. In the 1980s, this fear dominated the political atmosphere of the United States as Japan grew stronger.
In the end, the American fear passed after it became clear that with all due respect to Japan, its technological power and determination, it still poses no risk to the United States.
At that time, China had only begun its first recovery steps and was not yet a threat or force to be considered, but since then a lot of water has flowed in the Yangtze river, and China has become one of the world’s strongest and largest powers with the ambition to take first place.
The first immediate answer is: People are afraid of China because they are afraid of what is strange and different from them.
Chinese are very different from Western countries, culture and societies. Chinese are different in appearance and language incomprehensible. While inside the western world, there is not such a significant difference between Spain and England for example.
The difference is much deeper and is expressed in almost every possible aspect, while the difference between Spain and England is much more minor because these are two countries that belong to the same Western civilization, both of which derive from the same roots.
Still, do Westerners fear the Indians, just as they fear the Chinese?
The answer is not.
Indians are also completely different from the Western world. Language, appearance, food. So why do the Chinese scare the Westerners more?
To understand this, let’s begin with the trivial reasons.
The Chinese look very different from the western look. Many Westerners cannot tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans. For them, they are all slanting.
Moreover, when the average Western person sees a group of Chinese for the first time, he will find it difficult to distinguish between them. Later, if he gets to know them, he will differentiate. But in first sight, everyone looks the same.
On one of my visits to Bangkok, after a year of living in Taiwan, I remember sitting in a cafe on Khao San Street in Bangkok, looking at all the blond young Westerners, and suddenly they seemed the same to me, they all seemed the same to me.
I received this perspective after a year of living with Taiwanese people.
When you cannot tell the difference between people, you are less sensitive to their facial expressions, which naturally leads to distance, alienation, and fear.
A Westerner who speaks only one language will feel comfortable in other Western countries even if he does not speak their language. The main reasons for this are the basic letters and similarities of his languages that originate from Latin.
The letters of English are common to almost all Western languages, so even if you do not understand what is being said, you can still partially understand what was written.
And even when he does not speak the language, there are still words that ring in a similar way and allow him partial understanding.
All this does not exist in Chinese. Words, pronunciation, syllables, letters, everything is completely different and completely incomprehensible. There is no way to understand anything.
The inability to understand is also an inability to communicate and the inability to communicate increases the sense of alienation and engenders fear.
Western countries are all part of Christian culture. There are Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, Anglican, but among them, there is a common cultural denominator, which is expressed in various ceremonies, holidays and customs.
For example, the new year of the western countries celebrated exactly on the same date, according to the solar (Gregorian) calendar while the Chinese new year is celebrated according to the lunar calendar.
Beyond Christianity, there is a common history (even if hostile), common values and the same regime (in most Western countries).
Chinese culture is different.
Chinese ethos is not related to the West in any way. A formative event like the French Revolution, for the Chinese, is meaningless in terms of direct historical influence.
Chinese beliefs, Taoism, Confucian tradition, Chinese history, are all very different from those of the West.
The lack of cultural identity is almost absolute, and it also creates distance and alienation that leads to fear.
The cultural aspect, of course, affects the rules of everyday behavior and things that are accepted as acceptable in the West (such as appealing to a young person over the adult) will be perceived as totally unacceptable in Chinese culture and vice versa.
Thus, tourists and businessmen who come to China are lost in the thicket of Chinese etiquette rules. They do not understand what is permitted, what is forbidden, what is considered acceptable, what is perceived as offensive behavior.
The inability to understand the rules of conduct in China also produces a sense of alienation that leads to fear.
Chinese cuisine is one of the richest kitchens in the world. The number of dishes and options is inconceivable.
There are a huge diversity and different Chinese cuisine that are characteristic of different regions in China.
If you come to visit a Western country like Italy, England, France, Spain, the United States and other Western countries, you will be able to find similar food in different versions, in different restaurants.
In other words, there is diversity and different types of food, but there is a certain homogeneity that characterizes the local cuisine in each country.
In addition, the ability of the foreign visitor to understand the menu is easy. Even if the menu is written in a foreign language to the visitor.
In China, however, the variety of dishes is significantly larger than the number of dishes in Western countries. In many Chinese restaurants, the menu is in Chinese, making the visitor completely dependent on hosts.
But that’s the easy part of the food.
The hardest part is related to some of the dishes. The practice of eating dogs in southern China, with the rather shocking sight of barking and howling dogs in cages waiting to be slaughtered, gives rise to very harsh feelings among Westerners and reinforces in many of them the concept of Chinese “cruelty.”
Although, for those who eat a cow or pork, what is the essential difference?
Personally, I am a vegetarian, and I understand the lack of logic in the different attitude to cow, pig and dog, but one cannot ignore the fact that it is very emotional and the treatment of dogs in the West is very different from that of cows and pigs.
Beyond these factors, which can cause a sense of alienation and fear, there are various factors related to China’s standing in the world and its strategic ambitions.
CHINESE ECONOMY GROWTH
Until the early 1990s, most Western countries were not troubled by China. In the reign of Mao Zedong, China went from bad to worse and posed no threat to Western countries and certainly not a threat to the superpowers.
With the rise of Deng Xiaoping, China began its miraculous recovery and enormous potential has already begun to be understood.
At a fairly rapid rate, China took over all the low-tech industries and became the world’s largest workshop. Chinese growth led to the destruction of entire industries in Western countries, but of course, it did not stop there.
China did not plan to remain a workshop of Western countries. China has begun to build more sophisticated technological industries.
Knowledge of the industries was not achieved only in kosher ways, which aroused great hostility and especially a concern among Western countries who feared that their technology would leak to China.
The economic boom was also translated into accelerated construction of infrastructure, in an unprecedented scope in the world. Skyscrapers, trains, airports, dams and more.
The Chinese have gained economic power that has been translated into military power and political power.
China, in an attempt to satisfy its inexhaustible hunger for resources, began to spread economically toward Africa and South America. Invested in infrastructure and mines and ensured the continued flow of resources to its growing industry.
But the Chinese did not seek to strengthen for the sake of strengthening but exploited the strengthening in order to realize a long-term strategy.
In its own view, China views itself as the central power of the world. It is not yet there but she wants to get there.
This aspiration is already a threat to some Western countries that are concerned about the Chinese regime, their inability to understand and communicate with it in much the same way that they communicate with each other.
Of course, the United States feels that it is the country most threatened by China’s expansionist ambitions because unlike other countries, the United States is militarily deployed all over the world, including East Asia.
But China is not only aspiring to become the number one superpower in the world but is working strategically to get there.
In recent years, China launched two mega-projects. One is a global bank (AAIB — Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) that competes with the Western World Bank.
China has established an investment bank that provides loans, without restrictions, to countries that in some of the cases, could not receive it from the western world bank.
That is, when the World Bank gives a loan, it places conditions such as economic reforms or government reforms. China places an alternative. It does not require reforms and thus addresses a large group of countries that do not meet the criteria of the World Bank or not interested in meeting them.
Dozens of countries have joined the World Bank of China in a competitive situation and an alternative to the Western World Bank.
The second mega-project is The Belt and Road Initiative, probably the largest project in human history. China is rebuilding the ancient Silk Road, by land and by sea.
It connects itself with countries in the Middle East and Europe by establishing infrastructures such as seaports, airports, railways. For this purpose, China provides loans to countries that are unable to finance the huge projects in their territory.
The loans, as noted above, can be given without asking too many questions. But if there is a country that cannot repay the loan, as in the case of Sri Lanka, the payment is made by leasing the infrastructure to China for many years.
Of course, it gives the Chinese strategic power and has given great leverage to such a country and at the same time arouses great concern in India, that Sri Lanka is like its backyard.
I think it is possible to understand how this all arouses great concern among Western countries and people.
Is there any reason for this fear?
I’m not sure.
When the Chinese finish the project, hundreds of millions of people living in the area will be able to enjoy these infrastructures. Transportation will be faster, safer, and more efficient.
The Chinese interest, of course, is to allow for faster goods transportation that will improve the competitiveness of Chinese manufacturers. A completely legitimate interest.
China’s economic power is also reflected in the realization of expansionist ambitions in the South China Sea.
The Chinese claim about the South China Sea has been around for many years and has been anchored in Chinese law.
The problem is that the Chinese claim collides with other claims by the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei and Taiwan.
The Chinese do not take into consideration the claims of the countries located on the shores of the South China Sea and take steps that are actually taking over the sea.
Over the last decade, the Chinese have invested great efforts in building bases of a military nature in different parts of the South China Sea.
The Philippines filed a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice in Hague and won, but it did not impress the Chinese, who said they ignored the ruling.
The Chinese do not put their hands on the plate and invest huge sums in developing their army and developing technological capabilities to challenge the US, or even become better.
Meanwhile, the tension in the region is increasing because of the American determination to preserve freedom of navigation and aviation in areas China claims territorial ownership.
Will there be a war between China and the US over the South China Sea? I do not think so, but things can definitely get out of control.
There is no doubt that South China and the news coming from the region also contribute to the concerns and fears about China.
Many in the West do not know the history of China and Taiwan and regard them as two different countries, with one country, China, threatening and a second country, Taiwan, is threatened.
Also, many people refer to conflicts between countries in the most superficial manner and take the side that seems weaker to them, regardless of the justice of the matter.
This superficial perception of the China-Taiwan conflict sees China as an aggressive country trying to take over Taiwan, a smaller and weaker independent state.
Of course, here too, the result is a fear of China’s expansionist ambitions.
China is not a democratic country. It’s no secret. Even more, it seems that President Xi Jinping is tightening the hold on power in the country. The attitude towards human rights, individual freedom, freedom of speech, is different from Western perception.
Tiananmen Square events are still etched in Western memory.
Are people in China afraid? fear? living in terror?
I do not pretend to know 1.3 billion Chinese, and certainly not to know all of China, but my feelings from many visits in China were good.
It’s really a subjective experience but it’s my experience. The feeling is that there is a great deal of freedom. In quite a few cases, they talked to me about politics and asked my opinion about China. I felt that the people I came into contact with, as part of business trips, were not afraid but were living their lives.
But for Westerners who have not visited China, they see China through the media prism that cannot convey these feelings and experiences, especially when it focuses on the difficult things, naturally.
GOOGLE, YOUTUBE AND FACEBOOK
The Chinese government is unwilling to accept social networks that it cannot supervise. They are afraid of a political association that will lead to unrest and rebellion in the communist party.
So, China blocked the use of Google, YouTube and Facebook. The Chinese have alternatives like WeChat (sort of combination of Facebook and WhatsApp), Baidu and other platforms.
Foreigners who use their own mobile, can log in to Google, YouTube and Facebook via the G3/4 system but not via WiFi, unless they are in the hotel. At least, this was my experience in China.
Here again, it’s understood, how this decisions and actions by the Chinese government can increase the concerns and fears of western people.
I have listed many reasons that lead the average person in the West to be afraid of China. Much of the fear of China, and perhaps the central part of the fear, stems from the lack of understanding and lack of familiarity with Chinese culture, and especially the lack of familiarity with the Chinese themselves.
I lived in Taiwan for a year and a half and visited many times in China during the last 15 years. I have come to know, appreciate and love this rich culture (which is part of East Asian Cultures).
Personally, business trips to China or tourist visits in China, in my opinion, they are much more enjoyable because of the human warmth, the interaction with the Chinese, warm hospitality and generosity.
I would always prefer to travel to China rather than to travel to the United States or Europe. In terms of personal security, China is much safer than the big cities in the West.
You can go alone without fear, almost everywhere. I do not think it’s possible to say that about London, Paris or New York, cities with peripheral areas that should not go into them, either day or night.
I certainly think that some of the fears from China are justified, but personally, out of my intimate acquaintance with the Chinese and Chinese culture (which is part of East Asian Cultures), I am optimistic about China.
I do not believe that China has any intention to launch a war, despite the occasional rhetorical statements made against the United States and Taiwan. All in all, this is a very calculated country, with a history of very few external wars.
I do think that China needs to perform more marketing of itself, in the western countries.
The Chinese do not understand the Western world and ignore its public opinion. China does spread Chinese culture through more than 500 Confucian institutes which spread around the world, but those who are mainly exposed to these contents are students of East Asian studies or students who want to learn the Chinese language. Not the broad crowd.
The Chinese do not invest in advertising on social networks that they block in China. They do not invest in the marketing of Chinese culture to the public in the West. Thus, Chinese culture remains distant, incomprehensible and alien.
Which naturally produces distancing and fear.
Originally published at www.quora.com.