A Year of Debating China

A review of a particularly acrimonious year in an ongoing debate.

Issue: Winter 1999-2000

It is now widely believed that the most serious challenge to America's primacy will come from China. If indeed this turns out to be right, there is some cause for concern, for over the years Americans have had great difficulty thinking rationally about China. They have tended to oscillate violently between romanticizing and demonizing that country and its people. Thinking has largely been dominated by stereotypes: China as Treasure, in the form of insatiable market or investment opportunity; China as Paragon, the source of a superior wisdom, either ancient and Confucian or from a little red book; China as Sick Patient, needing Christian or Western democratic understanding, care and cures; China as Ingrate, insufficiently responsive to and grateful for our ministrations; and, of course, China as Threat--at one time Yellow Peril, at another Red Menace, and now, in the eyes of some very vocal and not uninfluential Americans, as rival, malevolent superpower.

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