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China needs wisdom to react to foreign criticism

15:41, June 18, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

It is half jokingly remarked that China has survived its bitter days of being attacked and the hardships of starvation, now it's high time China be lashed out at, as the country is already standing in the world spotlight, like it or not.

With China going global, it will have to bear as much of abuse as that of praise. How to properly react to the outside criticisms is becoming a subject of study which requires more than passing thought for an emerging power like China.

Customarily and readily, China tends to adopt the following two approaches to handle criticisms from the outside world: The first is "Ostrich Policy". Burying head in sand, it would possibly keep deaf to the harsh words. The case of Yuan-Shi-Kai in Chinese modern history might drive home the point. Yuan (1859-1916) had himself proclaimed emperor in 1916, but died shortly afterwards, leaving China divided between rival warlords.

It is recounted that Yuan's ambition to resume the throne after abandoning the hard-won "monarchy" is stirred up by his son, and a puppet newspaper "Shuntian shibao" (Shuntian Daily), which, following the son's instructions, would carry nothing but flattery words to fawn on Yuan and overstate his achievements, thus convincing Yuan his "tremendous popularity" is enough to support his ascendance to the throne.

"Listen to both sides, you will be enlightened," as goes the old saying. But Yuan, burying his head in sand, and heeding only one side, ends up benighted, and doomed.

Perhaps, it is easy to tactically borrow a line from Dante Alighieri to fend off others' jibes and taunts towards "Ostrich Policy" of the kind----Go your own way; let others talk. But it is by no means a wise and strategic response to criticisms.

The second approach is of such a low taste that it is described as the way like "a shrew shouting abuse in the street". It proves to be a legacy left over by the ‘Cultural Revolution" (1966-1976), which not merely wrecks havoc on the traditional fine culture, but poisons China's national characteristics.

Stamping feet, clenching teeth, pounding fists in the air, and screaming at the top of lungs, the Chinese media would, once and even today, try for dear life to quarrel bitterly with any rival voices and anything deemed to be insult and injury. Even the titles of some newspaper articles smell of gun smoke, such as "Slap Paris in the Face" and "Drive away the American Paper Tiger" and "Knock flat the running dogs of the West." Things like these just defy enumeration. But enough is enough.

Admittedly, one would feel discomfort of being targeted and criticized by an supposedly "outsider", but it is in fact a chance to get a taste of how it feels to be criticized by outsiders, and this, hopefully, will help develop the skill set to see things from different perspectives.

Also, it is indeed a fact that the China coverage by mainstream Western media is often tainted by self-serving motives and tends to be unconstructive in many ways. While on the other hands, many problems or symptoms pointed out by foreign papers are just areas where China needs improvements; and criticisms of the kind are actually conducive to and in line with China's contemporary mission of building a "harmonious society" with "people-orientation'.

Constructive suggestions from the outside world should be heard and paid heed to with great respect. For those who are hostile or unfriendly, however, what China should do is to turn on Brain, but turn off Emotions. As a rising power which increasingly attracts the global attention, China needs to demonstrate its poise and self-confidence when faced by criticisms.

Indeed, the Chinese people have shed sweat and tears to get to where the country is now, and the bitter "mouth water" of the unfriendly Western media cannot make China go astray and dampen China's prospects. Arguing with those who have preconditioned mindset and ill intentions is a waste of time, and the best response to them is simply looking away and going ahead.

Even if any criticism can be discouraging, it is important to keep in mind that some of the negative remarks can also contribute significantly to faster growth and higher performance. To all the well-intentioned constructive feedbacks, China will have to learn how to accept them graciously, and even thankfully.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."