How Americans don’t understand Chinese culture in politics

I found this post by Rebecca MacKinnon delightfully amusing because at the World Economic Forum, Thomas Friedman basically got ripped by a senior Chinese official because he didn’t understand how the culture works.
She makes the following observations:

It’s interesting that China’s diplomatic strategy is to score points with other countries who chafe at American superpowerdom by advocating geopolitical democracy. No wonder Chinese leaders see U.S. support for internal democracy in China as an effort to score points against them.

So very true. If the U.S. supports democracy everywhere, then wouldn’t you think that a nudge of internal democracy would be a slap in the face? It’s like if China began to promote Communism everywhere in the world, and then started to tell the U.S. that Communism would really be better off for the people. You just don’t do that in someone else’s house, even when you might believe different.
Friedman makes a crack at how the people in power make boring speeches and Diplomat Sha rips into the argument itself. MacKinnon points out the differences in the culture and why Sha said what he says:

In Chinese culture, if you’re already powerful, you don’t want to act like there is a need to win anybody over. If you act like you care what people think of your speeches, you’re admitting weakness. You leave it to loyal henchmen like Sha to say provocative things on your behalf, but avoid stooping to verbal sparring yourself. It also runs directly against Chinese culture for a powerful person to admit to being powerful or talk about being powerful. It’s what you do, not what you say that counts.

No kidding. This was a brilliant observation.
Interestingly enough, I find that there are many people that just don’t understand how things work in China or other countries. Remember the sleeve yank incidence over a year ago by President Bush on a visit to China? His entourage should have told him about different cultures and how NOT to invade other people’s space. You know the saying… When in Rome, do as the Romans. So when you find someone that understands how the Chinese internal politics work, and willing to explain it to others, you just have to applaud and breathe a sigh of relief that at least some people get why it is the way it is.

  • You know, I wouldn’t pretend to understand Chinese culture but it appears our current leadership falls short of understanding any culture including our own.

  • You know, I wouldn’t pretend to understand Chinese culture but it appears our current leadership falls short of understanding any culture including our own.