Editor’s Note: There has been much talk about China since President Trump took office. But here at Liberty Nation, we believe there has been much more in the way of heat than light. Thus, we proudly present this multi-part series by Managing Editor Mark Angelides, examining political life inside the Middle Kingdom and how its long cultural history and recent political upheaval will impact the United States. Mr. Angelides lived and worked in China for over a decade, speaks Mandarin, and offers unique insight into how Eastern global developments will impact political decisions in the United States.
In part one of this series, we will be looking at what ordinary Chinese people think of The Donald.
While pundits and the media elite lament President Trump’s foreign policy over the last year, what has been starkly lacking is any genuine insight into what those in the upper echelons of Chinese government might be thinking. And more importantly, what do the people on the streets of the Middle Kingdom believe of Donald Trump’s “unique” handling of all things Chinese?
In the U.S. if you draw breath you’ve heard the media elite criticize Mr. Trump’s dealings with China; each slight and barb is designed to leave the impression that someone of the president’s background or character could not possibly “win” in a contest against the “mighty Chinese.” But this shows a distinct lack of understanding of the Chinese nature and their will to move forward in global cooperation.
The Real Folk
It is often touted that the Chinese people have very little effect on their own government, but China is a nation built on revolution after revolution… It is a foolish leader who ignores the thoughts and feelings of the 中国人民 (regular Chinese people).
“Donald the Strong” (唐纳德强者) is well-thought of by people from villages and from mega-cities for different reasons. Those on the poorer end of the scale respect him for his range of accomplishments. They see him as a business leader who went on to become a TV personality and ended up as the president of his nation. We can all agree that this is an unusual enough career trajectory in our countries, but in China, it is quite unprecedented.
In China, political power is something that is determined very early in one’s life. This is partially due to a certain amount of nepotism, leading to the “princelings” of the party, but many of the nation’s leaders are those that joined the Communist Party during their early school years. They wear the red neckerchief and attend meetings about what is expected of them as well of their fellow citizens. If these young people do well in their Gaokao exams (高考; the final examinations before choosing a university), the possibility of power opens for them. Since Trump was not primed for a political career ending in a presidency, the Chinese perceive that “Uncle Donald must be a man of exceptional talents.”
The wealthier city dwellers see Trump not as a Princeling, but as someone who has used his advantages and relationships. In massive urban areas like Shanghai and Beijing, the children of the rich are well-known for squandering fortunes on vanity projects whilst playacting the “business mind.” Many of these pet projects are successful, but usually though customers trying to “buy” Guanxi (relationship) through their patronage.
When they see what Donald Trump has achieved with his inheritance, turning it into a vast and powerful business empire, it boosts his popularity. He is not perceived as an inheritor of wealth, but a builder of fortune. This, among all things, makes him worthy of Chinese respect.
The key indicator of social status in China is the amount of “face” (面子) a person has, including how others view them. Face can be gained or lost by the way you hold yourself, or by how others treat you; should a person of power and importance show you friendship or respect, it adds to your Face significantly.
When President Trump visited China, his whole tour was an exercise in Face.
From arriving by plane to enormous fanfare (in stark contrast to President Obama’s arrival), the scene was set for a visit of grandeur in the eyes of the Chinese. To be granted an exclusive dining experience in the Forbidden City was big news in the U.S., but in China, it was YUUGEE.
President Trump was treated as an honored guest of respect by the Chinese leadership under President Xi Jinping; setting the stage for an era of cooperation and friendship that has not existed in China’s history. The regular folk, whether rich or poor, see this display and understand that although all actions will ultimately benefit China, these two great nations are about to go hand in hand towards the future.
In part 2, we will examine how political relations between the nations have fared under Trump’s presidency.