These responses to Karen Christensen’s question “What’s the most important thing to know about China?” come from all over the world. Many are from Berkshire authors. We have arranged them by author name, and you can click a name to read that person’s comment. We plan to highlight some of our favorite comments in future posts, but wanted to share the entire list first.

Roger Ames, University of HawaiiEugene Anderson, University of California, RiversideMorris Bian, Auburn UniversityRichard Bodman, St. Olaf CollegeSusan Brownell, University of Missouri, St. LouisPaul Buell, University of North GeorgiaJoel Campbell, Troy UniversityMark Caprio, Rikkyo UniversityHiu Man Chan, Cardiff UniversityJulie Chen, University of HelsinkiYimeng Cheng, University of OxfordTim Clissold, AuthorChris Coggins, Bard College at Simon’s RockChris Coggins, Bard College at Simon’s RockJorge Tavares da Silva, University of Aveiro Kent Deng, London School of EconomicsMichael Dillon, AuthorJonathan Fenby, Trusted SourcesChongyi Feng, University of Technology, SydneyPaul French, AuthorEdmund Fung, Western Sydney UniversityDavid Gordon, Shepherd UniversityDavid Graff, Kansas State UniversityKenneth Hammond, New Mexico State UniversityIstvan Hargittai, Budapest University of Technology and EconomicsR. D. Hill, University of Hong KongBret Hinsch, Fo Guang UniversityDorothea Hoffman, Appalachian State UniversityLaura Hostetler, University of Illinois at ChicagoBruce Jacobs, Monash UniversityDavid Kenley, Elizabethtown CollegeArthur Kleinman, Harvard UniversityMichael Kowalewski, The Old School, BhutanJames Kynge, Financial TimesChin-Chuan Lee, City University of Hong KongJane Leonard, University of AkronJinyan Li, York UniversityVivienne Lo, University College LondonColin Mackerras, Griffith UniversityRichard McBride, Brigham Young University HawaiiEdward McCord, George Washington UniversityRana Mitter, University of OxfordMargaret Ordonez, University of Rhode IslandSteven Phillips, Towson UniversityPitman Potter, University of British ColumbiaPatrice Poujol, City University of Hong Kong • Xiaolong Qiu, AuthorJeffrey Richey, Berea CollegeMoss Roberts, New York UniversityPaul Ropp, Clark UniversityNorman Rothschild, University of North FloridaJames Sellmann, University of GuamPatrick Shan, Grand Valley State UniversityClement So, Chinese University of Hong KongYan Sun, Queens College, CUNYTony Tan, University of South FloridaJohn Thompson, Christopher Newport UniversityJohn Tian, Connecticut CollegeLik Hang Tsui, Harvard UniversityAndrew Wedeman, Georgia State UniversityZhiyi Yang, Princeton University Yanjie Bian, Xi’an Jiaotong UniversityWeidong Zhang, Winona State University

Roger Ames, University of Hawaii

We are in bad shape. The current US administration governs by lying to the people. Its fake news is destroying our democracy. But our mainstream media, in their reporting on China, is also “fake news,” mere China bashing. There is much to be criticized about China, but we don’t have the moral purchase to simply criticize their reality from the heights of our unrealized ideals.

Eugene Anderson, University of California, Riverside

Probably everybody knows China has 1.4 billion people and is the most populous country on earth (though India is rapidly gaining), but that’s the most important single fact. Most people don’t realize China is bigger than the US in area as well as population. It’s a pretty rich country now, with per capita gross domestic product well over $14,000 a year – that may be one fact people won’t know and should. And that the wealth is very unequally distributed, about like the US, in spite of communism.

Morris Bian, Auburn University

Politically, China has had a centralized bureaucratic system of government for many centuries, a fact that, I believe, the average citizen should know.

Richard Bodman, St. Olaf College

Many and perhaps most Chinese have a positive impression of the US and of individual Americans. Many would like to visit, live or work here, or send their children here to school, and they are generally very hospitable to American visitors in their country. Hence the current disagreement between our leaders, I’m sure, is a great disappointment. Second, Chinese are proud of their country and want to see China recognized by the world for her achievements. Also, they have learned to be suspicious of political rhetoric, whether foreign or domestic. And finally they know far more about us than we do about them. The best way for Americans to know more about China is to invite a Chinese student over for dinner. Just call up the nearest college or university, find the international students’ office, and volunteer to be a host family. If you’re a young person just out of college then go to China and teach English for a year or two, preferably away from the big cities on the coast.

Susan Brownell, University of Missouri, St. Louis

In terms of working against the tendency to demonize China, I like to tell Americans that Chinese people have a great sense of humor, love to laugh, and are very funny. If you read Confucius, you even find that he had a keen sense of humor. Would you say the same about Jesus? Many Americans do not realize this because when mainland Chinese arrive in America, they are often hindered by a language barrier, and their brand of humor tends to involve cleverness with words. Also, due to their hierarchy consciousness, they don’t necessarily express humor around superiors or strangers, which could include American foreigners.

Paul Buell, University of North Georgia

Despite the efforts of the official class to claim complete continuity, Chinese history has been anything but continuous. Tang culture and society, for example, were utterly different from that of the Han, for example, and from recent Chinese history. That is why I love China, the ability to be different and pretend it is all the same. Another thing I try to communicate to those asking me about China is that the Han were not the only show in town. During the Mongol era, the Han were a large group but the Mantse in the south were very important and the rulers were Mongols and, most important, Turks, and even Westerners like Marco Polo, cooperated with Han and Mantse. Read Marco Polo. He was there, was a wonderful observer, and got it right. China was multicultural and he knew that. I am currently working on a 450-page fragment of an Arabic medicine hospital manual. Few societies would be comfortable with such a mass of foreign material, and that was the tip of the iceberg. Characters in the wonderful plays of the era call for booze as sayin darasun, good wine, under its Mongol name. The Chinese word for train station, zhan, is a straight Mongol borrowing too. I could go on and on. As a historian, I have no time to be “for” or “against,” although I certainly take positions on Chinese and Uighurs, for example, or Tibet. China just is, live with it.

Joel Campbell, Troy University

China’s long history and deep culture informs the thinking of both elites and ordinary people about China’s key role in the world. Americans, with their short history and relatively shallow culture, have difficulty understanding a people infused with a deep history.

Mark Caprio, Rikkyo University

I would like people to understand that China apparently does not have the influence over North Korea that people in Washington expect it to have given their long history of relations. From ancient times China’s influence had less to do with its domestic issues – save for their checking to ensure that kings succeeded each other in an orderly manner – and more to do with their diplomatic relations. China appears to have been for the most part a rather benevolent hegemonic leader.

Hiu Man Chan, Cardiff University

China can never be a ‘black or white’ debate, as any sincere interest in this most ancient/modern civilisation need to be around searching for solutions to the issues that relate to a population of over 1 billion people, composed of 56 different ethnicities.

Julie Chen, University of Helsinki

One should not associate ‘good/effective governance’ with democracy. Often when people think about a non-democratic regime like China, there is a belief that there is no effective nor good governance. Some aspects of Chinese governance can be more effective and innovative than that in America. But of course the authoritarian nature and motive of many Chinese ways of doing things are not welcomed in the US.

Yimeng Cheng, University of Oxford

I believe that one thing would be the Chinese perception of China as the centre of the world, or even the universe, which persisted for several millennia. According to this view, the period between the Opium Wars and the present represents an anomaly in China’s long history, and therefore her increasing assertiveness in international affairs merely represents a return to equilibrium or a “normal” state of affairs.

Tim Clissold, Author

* I’m afraid that I have to give you a choice out of two, but they are both strongly related to history. The first would be to try to explain the 2,000-year dynastic cycle as it oscillated between stability and chaos in regular 300-year cycles. The fact that China has experienced comprehensive system collapse and total war at regular periods in its history has given it a great fear of chaos. This permeates everything in Chinese society and explains why people there place a greater importance on the citizen’s responsibility towards society over their individual rights compared to Western people. Each society is trapped by its own history. In the US, there is overriding importance attached to individual rights, even to the extent of carrying guns, which is regarded elsewhere as unacceptable. In Germany, people are typically more accepting of regulation than in the UK, probably because they experienced more turmoil. In Japan, social convention is very strong for similar reasons. China is at the opposite end of the scale from the US and this explains almost all of the differences at the macro-level between the two societies. The second choice is linked but a bit more comprehensive. What I would do is try to disabuse people of the current Western orthodoxy concerning China. By that, I mean that I would try to explain that, despite all the problems endlessly recounted in the Western press, in the last three decades: China’s share of global GDP has risen from 2% to 18%, whilst the EU’s has shrunk from 30% to 16% (IMF); China’s urban population has increased by 450 million people but it has avoided the development of slums (SSB); the number of undergraduates full-time at university increased from 2 million to 25 million (SSB); Chinese life expectancy overtook that of the USA for the first time in 2016 (WHO); people in China living on the equivalent of $2 PPP per day fell from 88% to 6% by 2012, i.e.: more than 500 million people were lifted out of absolute poverty (World Bank); 87% of Chinese were satisfied with their government, compared with 40% in the UK and 33% in the USA (independent poll of 43 countries by Washington-based Pew Centre, 2016. The 200-year global predominance Western power and values is drawing to its close. The Western press and academia are overwhelmingly hostile to the political leadership in China, largely because they feel threatened by something they do not fully understand and which appears contradictory, because it calls itself “Communist,” and because China’s leaders are not elected by a periodic universal vote. However, there is no real evidence that China will stumble. Kevin Rudd, former PM of Australia and the only Mandarin-speaking head of a Western government, recently argued that it “would be reckless to assume, as many do in Washington, that China’s transition to global pre-eminence will implode under the weight of the political and economic contradictions alleged to be inherent in the Chinese model.” The reason for all of this is that the Chinese Communist Party is really not a Communist Party at all! It draws almost all of its inspiration from the 2,000-year tradition of governing a vast and complex state throughout Imperial China. So I would try to persuade people to discover more about the way that China developed over a 2,000-year period rather than worrying about the headlines. That means understanding Confucianism. Each of us needs to take a long hard look at the facts and, in the words of Oliver Cromwell, “think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Chris Coggins, Bard College at Simon’s Rock

* Over the course of 34 years, I have lived in China for extended periods of time (six months in 1984 and one year in 1994-95), and I have visited the country to lead research and teaching programs more times than I can easily count. Here is the one fact that I would like Americans and others who are not Chinese to understand: Since the late 1970s, China has changed more rapidly than most people who have not witnessed it firsthand can readily imagine. The word “change,” in this case, signifies manifold aspects of life that range from economics, to politics, to popular culture, to civil rights, and (inclusive of each of these categories) to the lifestyles associated with rural and urban places. In short, China has experienced structural changes that amount to a transformation of both the sense of a collective national identity and the possibilities for individual self-expression. As a fifty-five-year-old who has many friends in China and many Chinese friends who live abroad, I can tell you that people who are my age or older never imagined in the early 1980s that China would experience explosive economic growth for over 30 years, making it the second largest national economy in the world and lifting hundreds of millions of people from a general condition of economic simplicity and general equality to a mass consumer society where virtually every good and service available in the US is available even in small rural townships. In fact, many services are far superior to those available in the US; for instance, the high speed train network in China far surpasses any kind of equivalent that is ever likely to be developed in the US, if present failures in this country are any indication (go Berkshire Train Campaign!). Similarly, no one I know expected to have the kinds of civil liberties and privacy that people in China now enjoy. Yes, the surveillance state includes facial recognition technology, and the state has its hands so deeply in social media that credit ratings and court records are, in some areas, made available against the netizens’ will. This is indeed horrifying. For the majority of people, however, the government is distant, and more-or-less benign, as long as you follow the rules and do not launch a direct challenge to its (self-proclaimed) integrity. The Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese State are in the process of building a state-socialist version of Singapore on a continental scale. As the One-Belt-One-Road Project grows to connect virtually every country in Eurasia and Africa in an enormous trade zone, all of the countries of the Americas will have enormously important decisions to make. Will we join the rapidly developing world-center, the core area of economic growth and emerging political power, or will we dream of a time that never existed, when America was a great country because of its guarantees of individual freedom and economic well-being? Will our dreams cause us to turn inward and ignore what is happening in the wider world as China follows its 50- and 100-year plans? Will we only be able to focus on 4-year election cycles ad infinitum (or ad nauseum, take your pick)?
I would add that once they have been introduced to you, most Chinese people are the best hosts you could ever imagine. I have spent many years trying to become equally hospitable, and I am still working on it.

Chris Coggins, Bard College at Simon’s Rock

* Over the course of 34 years, I have lived in China for extended periods of time (six months in 1984 and one year in 1994-95), and I have visited the country to lead research and teaching programs more times than I can easily count. Here is the one fact that I would like Americans and others who are not Chinese to understand: Since the late 1970s, China has changed more rapidly than most people who have not witnessed it firsthand can readily imagine. The word “change,” in this case, signifies manifold aspects of life that range from economics, to politics, to popular culture, to civil rights, and (inclusive of each of these categories) to the lifestyles associated with rural and urban places. In short, China has experienced structural changes that amount to a transformation of both the sense of a collective national identity and the possibilities for individual self-expression. As a fifty-five-year-old who has many friends in China and many Chinese friends who live abroad, I can tell you that people who are my age or older never imagined in the early 1980s that China would experience explosive economic growth for over 30 years, making it the second largest national economy in the world and lifting hundreds of millions of people from a general condition of economic simplicity and general equality to a mass consumer society where virtually every good and service available in the US is available even in small rural townships. In fact, many services are far superior to those available in the US; for instance, the high speed train network in China far surpasses any kind of equivalent that is ever likely to be developed in the US, if present failures in this country are any indication (go Berkshire Train Campaign!). Similarly, no one I know expected to have the kinds of civil liberties and privacy that people in China now enjoy. Yes, the surveillance state includes facial recognition technology, and the state has its hands so deeply in social media that credit ratings and court records are, in some areas, made available against the netizens’ will. This is indeed horrifying. For the majority of people, however, the government is distant, and more-or-less benign, as long as you follow the rules and do not launch a direct challenge to its (self-proclaimed) integrity. The Chinese Communist Party and the Chinese State are in the process of building a state-socialist version of Singapore on a continental scale. As the One-Belt-One-Road Project grows to connect virtually every country in Eurasia and Africa in an enormous trade zone, all of the countries of the Americas will have enormously important decisions to make. Will we join the rapidly developing world-center, the core area of economic growth and emerging political power, or will we dream of a time that never existed, when America was a great country because of its guarantees of individual freedom and economic well-being? Will our dreams cause us to turn inward and ignore what is happening in the wider world as China follows its 50- and 100-year plans? Will we only be able to focus on 4-year election cycles ad infinitum (or ad nauseum, take your pick)?
I would add that once they have been introduced to you, most Chinese people are the best hosts you could ever imagine. I have spent many years trying to become equally hospitable, and I am still working on it.

Jorge Tavares da Silva, University of Aveiro

The most important aspect to know about China is the culture, especially the Chinese thought framed in the Confucian tradition also explained by geographic location. For American citizens, it is important to understand that they are facing an ancient civilization, with a completely different way of life and mentality. There´s a tendency for Americans and Europeans to understand the rest of the world as equal themselves. But realizing China involves reversing the way of thinking. For instance, while in USA and Europe there`s a leaning for individual attitudes, in China there´s a collective mentality. Groups and consensuses are always dominant. The colony is more important than the ant, so surnames came first then first names. Besides, China understands the rest of the world as different from itself. Therefore, only after the understanding of these characteristics, we can perceive many other dimensions of the Chinese world.

Kent Deng, London School of Economics

There has been a major discontinuity since 1949 in China’s long history in terms of ideology, governance, economy, and growth pattern. Before 1949, China was by and large ruled by the Confucian literati. The economy was a private one. After 1949, China has become another Soviet Union. Old China and ‘new China’ have very little in common.

Michael Dillon, Author

The whole business of being ‘for’ or ‘against’ China has bedevilled Sinology and all aspects of China studies for decades. Anyone who does not start out with the presumption that the PRC is a Bad Thing is likely to be labelled a ‘friend of China’ and obviously not to be trusted. I was criticised for using Chinese-language sources for my biography of Deng Xiaoping, on the assumption that anything produced in China is automatically tainted. I suspect the critic could not read Chinese sources or at least not well enough to be able to appraise them critically. Nobody ever asks if we are ‘for’ or ‘against’ New Zealand or Burkina Faso. The fact that this question is asked so often about China is purely a hangover from the Cold War and it gets in the way of serious and constructive thinking about China. The one fact people need to know: China’s problems did not start with Mao. War, civil war, and desperate rural poverty created the conditions for revolution out of which Mao and the CCP arose. If I were allowed a second fact, it would be that China did not give up ‘Communism’ in the 1980s. Too many commentators in the media have given the impression that the CCP was somehow irrelevant. Whether or not we like what it is doing, it still remains in power (as people should have noticed with Xi Jinping) and we ignore its influence at our peril.

Jonathan Fenby, Trusted Sources

*China sees itself in historic terms. Developments since 1978, economic reform and opening up and the birth of a materialistic society, together with the current friction with the US, have to be fitted into a concept of the nation that stretches back through the long imperial era and, in the view of its inhabitants, gives the country a particular character. This mindset may be exploited by the rulers to their advantage but that does not, in my view, make it any less true.

Chongyi Feng, University of Technology, Sydney

Currently China is a communist party-state run by the Chinese Communist Party which seeks to perpetuate its dictatorship and privileges.

Paul French, Author

After the awful 70th anniversary celebrations last year and introduction of new school history textbooks, my one fact is: The Communist Party of China did not win the Second World War in China or defeat the Japanese. That was the Nationalist Chinese Army with the help of Allied (primarily American, but also British) aid.

Edmund Fung, Western Sydney University

I would like people, especially Americans, to learn about China as a normal country that, like any other country, has its strengths and weaknesses, virtues and evils, achievements, failures, and problems, as well as aspirations to a good life for its people. The West should see China for what it is, good and bad, rather than what it wants China to be, and deal with it on that basis. It would be great if Americans could adopt a critical yet empathetic understanding of China’s philosophy, history, culture, and political experiences in the modern era. It doesn’t help to view the PRC today through the prism of anti-Communism or with a new Cold War mentality. Instead, the West should continue to engage it at all levels, uphold the values that we consider universal, and take a stand where those values are ignored and where national interests are at stake. There will always be conflicts between nations. But we must not rush to judgment based on ideology, because what is happening may not fit neatly into preconceived theoretical boxes or because we don’t like what we see.

David Gordon, Shepherd University

China is that it’s a place of controlled chaos. And while the government controls aspects of national life, the country would never have reached the position it has without the hunger of ordinary people to improve their life circumstances, past practices be damned.

David Graff, Kansas State University

There’s not one fact that explains or sums up everything people need to know and serves as a guide to action. The “facts” I encounter are typically interpretations linked to trend projections: a threatening China is going to dominate the world or a reassuringly capitalist China is becoming more and more like us. I spend huge amounts of time disabusing students (and others) of both notions.

Kenneth Hammond, New Mexico State University

On the one hand, there is the fact that China accounts for almost all the reduction in carbon emissions over the past 5 years on a global level, and that China invests more in education, especially in engineering and science education, per student than the US does. But I think the thing ordinary people need to know is that China is just a place like any other, meaning that the people want the same kinds of things as people in America or Brazil or Kenya: a decent living, a better life for their children, and enough security and stability to pursue their own livelihoods. When I take travel groups to China what I see is that people immediately react to the things about Chinese people that are just like us. American travelers are often surprised to see people smiling and laughing, shopping and eating in restaurants, and just going about their daily lives. The fears and mental baggage of the Cold War still cloud most people’s thinking about China. So the simple ordinariness of the place is perhaps the one thing I would want others to understand.

Istvan Hargittai, Budapest University of Technology and Economics

I have been editing the international journal Structural Chemistry (Springer-Verlag) for 29 years, from its foundation. When I started receiving manuscripts from China they were very poor both for the language and content. Gradually things have improved and nowadays we receive truly good contributions. What has not changed is that I can’t get reviews from Chinese colleagues although I try to involve them in the refereeing process. It is somewhat oversimplifying, but this is the general pattern that they accept the benefit of participating in international scientific publishing, but decline making the effort to provide service in it. On more than one occasion I came to suspect that this is due to their lack of knowing English. But then, they should make the effort to learn it. Their relying on translators severely limits their becoming part of the international science community. By telling you this I doubt that I answered your query, but you can pose the question as whether I am for or against my Chinese authors. I am for them even if I am quite critical of them.

R. D. Hill, University of Hong Kong

Do not trust them. The Han Chinese are the greatest people in the world and all others are inferior. If you understand that painful though it may be to some, you understand more than most international politicians.
I should know, I’ve been married to one for over 50 years.

Bret Hinsch, Fo Guang University

It’s important to distinguish between the Communist Party and China. The CCP tries to conflate the two and pretend that the party and China are the same thing. This is incorrect. China existed long before the Communist Party, and it will continue to endure after the party disappears. No one in China ever voted for the Communist Party. It conquered China with an army and ruthlessly persecuted any critics. Within contemporary China there is an immense diversity of viewpoints, and many people disagree with official positions.

Dorothea Hoffman, Appalachian State University

Chinese people, the Han ethnicity included, come in many varieties and identify with their local regions even when they move about China. This is not unlike the United States with its regional identities.

Laura Hostetler, University of Illinois at Chicago

* The most important thing for Americans to understand about China is that during the first half of the nineteenth century, Britain and other Europeans nations looked for a way to reverse the balance of trade, because they had a growing trade deficit with China. The British East India Company discovered that by importing opium from Bihar, India, it could reap tremendous profits and reverse the trade deficit. When China, alarmed at both the reversal of the trade deficit and its new and widespread problems with opium addiction, sought to stop the import of opium, Britain inflicted war on China in the name of “free trade.” In a series of resultant unequal treaties over the course of the next 20 years, Britain and other European powers, as well as the US, forced China to open up to Western trade, and adopt their diplomatic practices as well. China today is painfully aware of this period of national humiliation. The resultant desire for a big, strong, China is the one thing that the people agreed on during first half of the 20th century when, after the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911, there was a century of civil wars over questions of who would hold power and according to what kinds of ideologies. The current government often drums up patriotic sentiment over this history in order to maintain popular support. The fact that now the US has a serious opiod crisis of its own accompanied by an enormous trade deficit with China shows that what comes around goes around. If China were to push matters of “free trade” in the current trade war, it would be doing just what Britain (and its Western allies) did to China in the 19th century.

Bruce Jacobs, Monash University

If there is one “fact” which is important today, it is that the current regime in China is a very nasty dictatorship which imprisons, tortures and kills its people, is colonial and racist, is territorially expansionist, and which tries to influence foreign countries through subversive methods to follow its policies.

David Kenley, Elizabethtown College

China is an incredibly diverse, multi-cultural state. Stereotypes rarely apply.

Arthur Kleinman, Harvard University

With the general framework of China bashing, still the default position for American media, here is what average Americans should consider: Since the economic reforms of 1978, China has witnessed an unprecedented increase in wealth and poverty reduction, raising 600,000,000 out of poverty, and the building of a middle class, development of a modern health care and mental health care system, and governmental response to a huge problem of aging and eldercare epitomized by the fact that in 2040, fully one out of four Chinese will be over 65 years.

Michael Kowalewski, The Old School, Bhutan

The one thing anyone, expert or not, who knows anything about China will say is that Chinese harbour an intense resentment against the humiliating Western powers who enforced unequal treaties, demanded extra-territoriality, and fought the Opium Wars. Far from seeing the West as a beacon of human rights, the West is seen as historic oppressor. This is compounded by the essentially imperial nature of Chinese nationalism. China is not an empire but the Empire. Other countries are barbarians according to their distance from China, the centre of the world. Such has been the Chinese world view from the beginning of the state, and the ruling dynasty (currently the CCP) has the mandate of Heaven. Like Russian imperialism (“Moscow shall be the third Rome”), imperial destiny is hard-wired into the Chinese soul. Its adventure with democracy ended in tears in Tiananmen. The Belt and Road scheme is an expression of this imperialism – wealth is spent not on increasing domestic prosperity but building influence across the world. The South China Sea is another issue on which it will not give up. It even lays claims on the territory of tiny Bhutan and is prepared to square off with rival India over a few acres of mountain. So in China we are dealing not with another nation, just a bit bigger and older, but a totally different world which fully asserts the rights of the first born. When the young John Ruskin was asked what a chapel preacher talked about he replied “Sin.” “And what did he say about sin?” “He was against it.” So one can be for or against China, but just as sin is still here, so will China be – reminding us, too, of our own sins, amongst them genocide, warmongering, profiteering and hypocrisy. Not to mention intellectual property theft. They haven’t asked for payment for gunpowder or porcelain or the plough – yet.

James Kynge, Financial Times

My one thing would be that there is not one thing. China is a very different place from the US, different in almost every aspect and it requires diligent study. If you don’t have the time or inclination to study it, then please refrain from entering the debate on China. People who know very little but clog up the airways is one of the many problems afflicting our democracy. Humility is the great lost virtue that is undermining the west. And if you really pushed me I would say the one piece of essential knowledge – which is useless without further study – is that the Communist Party is the boss. The big boss.

Chin-Chuan Lee, City University of Hong Kong

It is easy to find 100 reasons “for” China, and another 100 reasons “against” China. That’s why China must be understood with reference to historical, comparative, and concrete contexts.

Jane Leonard, University of Akron

Chinese are comfortable with a highly structured leadership hierarchy and value system that stresses the individual’s role in and contributions to a group over individual freedom. A leadership cadre may be authoritarian but is expected to act in the interests of the whole society.
I would not think in terms of being “for or against China.” Americans need to accept the Chinese government and society on their own terms, without measuring their achievements according to Western values.

Jinyan Li, York University

Chinese people are like the American people in general: there are good people (decent and open-minded) and bad people.

Vivienne Lo, University College London

China historically was always an open empire, interacting with the rest of the world at every level. It is quite capable of innovation, and the short periods during which it seemed closed, including in the twentieth century, are an illusion.

Colin Mackerras, Griffith University

The one fact I think Americans (and Australians) should understand about China is that it has a long and powerful culture in which a strong central government has been vitally important. Individuals receive less emphasis, and the community as a whole probably more emphasis, than in the West. Attitudes towards individual rights and responsibilities differ from the norm found in Western countries.

Richard McBride, Brigham Young University Hawaii

Those in power in China are obsessed with security. Perhaps because their country was meddled with by European powers to a great extent in the 19th century, and suffered greatly from Japanese atrocities and civil war in the 20th century, they will go to any ends to be left alone. They believe that if they promote the facade of being economically powerful and in control, they will be left alone. The current ruler of China, Xi Jiping, is functionally no different than Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who sees himself as a ruler for life. And why not? If North Korea can have a communist dynasty, why can’t China, which is the largest “communist” country in the world. China is increasingly becoming a surveillance state in which the people are monitored electronically by the state. People’s faces are being monitored, and when I visit I am probably being monitored, too. The economic divide between haves and have-nots is great. Traditionally, in Chinese history, the people have risen in revolt when things got really bad. One wonders if the government isn’t trying to prepare for something.

Edward McCord, George Washington University

As academics I suppose we don’t put ourselves in for or against categories—though I suspect one can be labeled a panda-hugger by simply arguing that we should try to understand China’s position. First, it is possible to be for or against certain Chinese policies (whether in the defense of universal values or US national interests). But even then, the second part is to see the general framework. In terms of history, I think what needs to be understood is the way in which the Chinese people (encouraged admittedly by their government) see their history through the lens of exploitation and invasions by foreign powers, which makes nationalism a predominant factor in all international relations.

Rana Mitter, University of Oxford

China’s historical context is of more help in understanding contemporary China than is true of many Western countries.

Margaret Ordonez, University of Rhode Island

China’s textile traditions are among the oldest and most enviable of all cultures, and the China National Silk Museum in Hangzhou is playing a major role in protecting and portraying those traditions. It is definitely worthy of a place on travelers’ itineraries. Recently renovated and expanded, it houses one of the largest collections of Chinese costumes and textiles in the world. The Chinese Center for Textile Identification and Conservation has been a notable addition to the museum’s mission.

Steven Phillips, Towson University

China is hard to summarize. It is just too big and diverse. Are you thinking of the “old” China you were taught about in high school, the China of wise Confucians with long beards and rice-growing peasants? That’s only a small part of China, and China is still hard to know. It’s an authoritarian, one-party regime. Anyone who tells you they know what the Chinese people want or believe is probably using the idea of the “Chinese people” to pursue his or her own agenda.

Pitman Potter, University of British Columbia

If I had to pick one fact, it would be the diversity of China: regionally, sociologically, ethnically, politically, economically, and culturally.

Patrice Poujol, City University of Hong Kong

The first thing that comes to my mind is ‘change’: throughout history what strikes me with China is its ability as a centralised system to endure and adapt to the changes of its environment (not just ecological environment, but also geo-political, political-economic, social, etc.), to the point where one wonders if the environment changes China or if China changes its environment. I personally think (unoriginally) that it is probably both.

Xiaolong Qiu, Author

There is “no bottom line” in the present-day China. In an increasingly materialistic society, everything is possible for money or personal gains. In ancient China, the Confucian ethical system would say what to do, and what not to do. But you are familiar with so many scandals in the Chinese society. The ideological disillusion or moral bankruptcy can be traced to a lot of things, of course, but the factor of “no bottom line” may throw some light on what’s happening in China.

Jeffrey Richey, Berea College

China has a very long history, throughout most of which it has been a very powerful nation. This history helps to explain both why most Chinese see China’s “rise” as a restoration of the global status quo rather than something new, and why the Chinese view the century from the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s as a period of “humiliation” rather than the norm for Chinese civilization.

Moss Roberts, New York University

Any reality comprises a welter of facts, themes, memes, issues ,as you know, and every fact is relative to so many others. Picking out a single one from the larger patterns? Here’s a piece I wrote recently. You can take a sentence from it, if you wish.
http://www.settimananews.it/italia-europa-mondo/reflections-chinas-icons/

Paul Ropp, Clark University

I went into the China field during the Vietnam era, thinking that American ignorance of Asia (and the history of Western imperialism) was leading us to commit war crimes in the name of “freedom.” It’s easy for me to say (especially in the age of Trump) that I’m for China, or more correctly, I’m for the Chinese people. What strikes me most clearly is that most Chinese people want for their lives just what American people want for their lives. They want health and prosperity for themselves and even more so for their children and grandchildren.
Chinese people see themselves enmeshed in relationships, and it’s the relationships rather than individual autonomy that give their lives meaning. Americans tend to emphasize (way overemphasize) individual autonomy as a supreme value. That’s just puzzling to most Chinese. The Chinese have a much keener sense of history than Americans do. They are an old civilization while we are in our adolescence. Chinese see themselves rooted in a proud and great 5000 years of inspiring history and culture. Americans see themselves as untied to the past and rushing on to a great future. The other point I would make in contrasting Chinese and American outlooks, is that we rose to power in the 19th and 20th centuries through our technological and military prowess. China was technologically and culturally the most advanced civilization on earth for much of its history, and then was vandalized and humiliated by Western businessmen, soldiers, and missionaries in the 19th and early 20th centuries. All Western sermonizing on free trade and open markets reminds China of Western opium traders and China’s century of humiliation. It’s ironic to me that Chinese today, with all their problems of pollution and government corruption, report in public opinion polls being much happier than we Americans report in our polls. They have seen more rapid material progress in their lives than perhaps any generation from any country at any time in history.
The Chinese now look at our American political dysfunction with a good deal of schadenfreude. American polarization today resembles that of the 1850s. We no longer have a consensus on what kind of nation we want to be, or on what should be our most important values. So, as an American China specialist, I am now more worried about the future of America than the future of China.

Norman Rothschild, University of North Florida

Many assume that China is a monolithic and monovalent entity, which it is not. There are multiple Chinas, just as there are multiple Americas. Trying to define China in a single, broad stroke or a simplistic explanation is bound to fail. There is a Chinese proverb – mangren mo xiang – the blind men grope the elephant. Each of the blind men grope a different part of the elephant – the tufted tail, the ivory tusk, the pillar-like leg, the serpentine trunk – and asserts that that is what an elephant is, little realizing that it is merely a single component of the larger pachyderm. China is figuratively a massive elephant. To assert that one part of the whole is like a blind man’s naive assertion that “This tusk is China! This tufted tail is China! This trunk is China!” But none of these parts/components really capture the complex and nuanced totality of China. Imagine a socialite flouting brand names on Nanjing Road in Shanghai, a globe-trotting entrepreneur co-running a hotel with Russian partners in Hainan, a cave dwelling family in western Shaanxi proud of their boy in the army, a Hui imam in Xi’an deftly navigating local politics, a half-Han, half-Dai tour guide selling eco-friendly tours in Xishuangbanna, or a Uighur separatist trying to stay off the grid in a small town in Xinjiang. With 1.4 billion people, 56 minorities, diverse biodiversity, tremendous social and cultural diversities there is no simple answer to the “What is China?” question.

James Sellmann, University of Guam

The “for or against” move is a false dilemma.
Those are not the only choices, and it polarizes the relationship, promoting distrust, violence and even war. Such polarization will not lead to a win-win or even a success for us, the USA. I’d think that “we the people” are now mature enough to see past the false dilemma and negotiate a reasonable relationship with one of the oldest, sustained cultures of the human world that has contributed greatly to human flourishing, science, ethics, education (the civil service tests etc, and also Kongzi as educator) and find a way or many ways to work together for peace and prosperity.
The “us against them” is based on the “you must die for the cause,” nonsense in my humble opinion. We must learn to live for the cause of human flourishing, prosperity, and success in living well together. The false idea that we can “win” at the loss and expense of others never worked in global history and it certainly will not work in the “brave new world” of today. The competition of cultures is not about one winning or being “for or against” another it is about self-improvement via competition to keep oneself at the cutting edge of human growth and development.
War and violence is profitable for industry. Polarization is about making money for corporations and sacrificing young on both sides to the god of war. This kind of thinking is dangerous. People need to study, learn and appreciate each other.

Patrick Shan, Grand Valley State University

China is a huge country, a great civilization, and a large market. It is true that the United States is the only superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union; however, there are many regional powers the US must work with, including China, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, and others. Without basic knowledge of those regional powers, the Americans cannot find a good way of working with them. China today is the second largest economy in the world as a result of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms and modernization. The US should not lose the chance of being a part of that huge market. It is true that a huge trade imbalance between China and the US exists; diplomats and officials should work to persuade China to purchase more from the US. The average citizen should know that China is a great civilization and the Chinese have contributed significantly to global life in terms of cultural heritage and philosophical thoughts.
I myself have been studying the Flying Tigers and co-authored a biography of General Claire Lee Chennault. Chennault was an American who organized American pilots to fight in China during the Second World War. That episode shows that the two countries have a shared a history of friendship and cooperation, and demonstrates that the two countries could work together although they had different cultures and diverse traditions. We should ask “how much do we know about China?” rather than whether we are “‘for’ or ‘against’ China?”

Clement So, Chinese University of Hong Kong

I wish non-Chinese could understand the difference between “cultural China” and “political China.” When we see China in the news, especially about the Chinese government or official activities, we are talking about “political China” as represented by the government in Beijing, or more specifically the Chinese Communist Party. The image of China is very much shaped by the current regime and recognized by people all over the world. But for some Chinese people, we differentiate and talk about the identity of “cultural China” which has 5,000 years of history. This refers to history, culture, traditions, and values of the Chinese race, not just the current government which was only established in 1949. We talk about the Chinese identity (among Chinese people). Some would identify with the current regime, others with “cultural China”, or with both.

Yan Sun, Queens College, CUNY

The collective will comes before the individual will; the individual will is subordinate to or may even be sacrificed in the name of the collective will. The reverse is for the West. This is the most important difference in normative or cultural values between China and the US.

Tony Tan, University of South Florida

One fact about China that seems to have escaped average Americans is the cost of education and medical care. I frequently hear Americans say that because China is a communist country, education and medical care are free. These statements often occur within the context of debating whether the US is becoming a socialist country. The connotation seems to be that if the US becomes like communist China, undeserving/lazy people or whatever category of people that are under attack will be getting free education and medical care (paid for by others, the “good” people who will have to pay for these benefits). I always wonder where the heck these people got the idea that education and medical care are free in China. I am 47 years old and in my life time, education and medical care have never been free. As a child, I had many friends whose parents were too poor to send them to school. Even within my family, my parents could only afford to send one of their three children to school; I was the lucky one. As a student attending medical school in the 1990s, I frequently saw parents rushing their sick children into the emergency room and dropped on their knees to beg for care and were always told that treatment would not be provided until payment was first made. Sadly, some Americans think that where the US should be headed.

John Thompson, Christopher Newport University

As heir to one of the richest and most ancient civilizations, China has been, is, and always will be a major contributor to human history, regardless of whether subjects of our current – and declining – global imperium are “for” or “against” it.

John Tian, Connecticut College

China is a country with a much longer history than the US, more than four times more people, whose lives center very much on the family.

Lik Hang Tsui, Harvard University

China is not one culture; it is many, many cultures.

Andrew Wedeman, Georgia State University

The Chinese conception of the international system is that China was a superpower in the past, its leadership intends to make it one once again, and there is widespread popular support among ordinary Chinese for China reclaiming its superpower status.

Zhiyi Yang, Princeton University

As an ethnic Chinese (and a Chinese citizen still, but that’s less important), I have always been assumed to be “pro China,” so I have the opposite challenge: to convince the Americans and the Germans of my fierce intellectual independence. When it comes to one thing that they should know, it’s a tough question, as there are so many! How about this: The ancient Zhou ancestral rituals used light beer as toast for the deities and ancestors, in the hope that they, in a hopsy-topsy state, would casually bless their unworthy descendants with eternal happiness. Joking aside, what I would really like Westerners to know is that China has always been a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and intellectually diverse country in a constant state of change (talking about which, the essential classic for all early intellectual schools was the Book of Changes).

Yanjie Bian, Xi’an Jiaotong University

To a delegation of northern European bankers visiting China, I explained the 1+3 features of China’s social structure: 1. Chinese Communist Party leadership. China since the Qin dynasty has gotten used to one-man/one party rule. When this was challenged, wars were a constant presence in society. +1 Hukou. Chinese people are registered where their homes are, so that authorities know how to control people under their jurisdiction. +2 Danwei. Since early industrialization around 1900, urban employers have functioned more than an economic entity to exercise political and social control, not to mention that peasants are bond to their land owners. +3 Guanxi. Personalized social connections matter for nearly all opportunities of access to resources and valuable positions, now and past, ever since Confucius.

Weidong Zhang, Winona State University

China is unique and complex, unlike any other country in the world in terms of its culture and history. At the same time, it is dynamic, not static, a moving target that we have to keep up with all the time. One fact about China I wish the world could understand China better is the Chinese way of thinking and doing things, ranging from ideas of individual and family in Chinese society, economic and social development, human nature relationship, their role in the world, to name just a few items.