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【Voice of Scholar】Liu Kang: Action and shared values key to winning global voice

January 05, 2012      Author:

Lately China's discourse power in international arena becomes a hot topic. The issue is often magnified, as it pertains to China's big global strategy.

I have attended many conferences and also reviewed some papers and projects concerning such a topic over the last few years. I've heard a lot of empty talks, hardly based on solid evidence.

Empirical study is especially important if we want to have a sensible discussion. We should make huge efforts to understand international public opinion through empirical research. If we don't understand how others think and talk, it's as if we are speaking Chinglish to them. Even if the grammar is correct, the listeners won't be clear about what we're saying, since we don't understand their culture, thinking, and modes of expressions.

Nailene Chou Wiest, a Chinese-American journalist who has worked in China for many years, recently wrote a commentary titled "The Closing of Chinese Minds." She complains that although more and more Chinese have been to the US and think they have it figured out, actually they lack deep understanding of the US. One important point is that how Americans look upon and understand China. Wiest thinks that Chinese are greatly affected by conspiracy theories and believe that Americans are brainwashed by a US media that always demonizes China.

When researching China's image in the US at the Research Center for National Image at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, I made some interesting discoveries. On the one hand, 55 percent of Americans believed China had a political system which meets its public demands, and 61 percent held that China is already influential in global politics. On the other hand, 80 percent of people believed that China restricts its own citizens' political rights, and 67 percent thought China was dodging its international responsibilities.

Why do Americans have seemingly conflicting views toward the Chinese government? Through cross examination, we can see that Americans take a firm stand on such issues as political values and ideologies. They closely identify with US mainstream values and universalism, that is, multi-party system, representative democracy, free economic competition, the foundation of the middle class, the rule of law, and cultural diversity. Their judgment of the Chinese government, or any governments, is all based on such political values.

Our survey shows that Americans' attitudes toward Chinese government reflect a conflict of values. We need to think about it seriously. Can such a conflict be resolved? Can we embrace such Western-centered universalism? It is a very complicated and large issue. China has avoided talking about it for many years, and instead concentrated on its GDP growth. China has developed its GDP rapidly, but this now is no longer a solution but a problem.

Is any kind of universalism applicable universally? Is Western universalism a common set of values for all humanity? How can we contribute to the construction of common values for humanity through dialogues and integrations between Chinese traditional values and modern Western civilization?

It's high time to reflect on, and debate over these questions. However, such debates need to be grounded on solid, practical, and realistic knowledge and reason.

Chinese are often inclined to philosophize. However, when real issues are at stake, they lose their composure quickly and seek instant benefits. Such a conflicting stance shouldn't be China's core values.

China is becoming more deeply involved in global affairs. If China still strives to keep a low profile, international public opinion will think China is burying its head in the sand. Certainly China shouldn't flaunt its wealth and GDP everywhere. And the power of discourse is not just a matter of speech, but is expressed through action. China should match its words to its deeds, and actively seek constructive participation in global affairs, especially in troubled regions such as the Middle East.

If China can do things well and fairly, and set a good example, we will win respect from the world and gain more discourse power. The foundation of such power lies in the active participation in building shared human values through honest words and deeds.

Liu Kang is Dean of Institute of Arts and Humanities, Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Director of the China Research Center, Duke University.

Source: Global Times