China in Americans’ minds

There are a thousand China in a thousand people’s eyes. What Chinese people think about the outsiders opinion to us can be totally different with the real Western minds. As an international student, I witnessed misunderstandings. Due to shallow understanding or even lack of knowledge, the Chinese stereotypes  root in American people’s mind. 

I recently started to follow Karlie Kloss on Youtube. She had a video package about her trip to China. She went to Shanghai and Beijing. Her experiences were typical. Adjectives she used were like “incredible”, “overwhelming” and the like. There was one sentence she said when she was at Chenghuangmiao, Shanghai and I quote, “We are in this ancient Chinese market, for hundreds of years they have probably sold fruits and vegetables, and now they are selling drones.” Well, China is always about the perfect but weird combination of the ancient and the modern. That’s a thing about China, especially cities.

For Karlie, her one-week trip in China can be mind-blowing. For me, something an old gentleman said to my friend and I was heart-striking. We were in New York by then, on the very top of the Empire State Building. 102nd floor I remembered. This gentleman has been dealing with customers and suppliers from China for decades and he really loved China and Chinese people though he has never been to China. He had some lovely and genuine comment about his clients, and that is exactly what I want to see. You comment based on your personal experiences. That is the only way to be fair.

There is no way that I can break those stereotypes myself. But I hope I can at least do something about this to the people I’ve dealt with and I will be dealing with.


If you search Chinese stereotypes on Google, the following would pop up.

*Tai Chi and Kong Fu.

Every Chinese knows Kong Fu. Famous action movie star Jackie Chan and the Kongfu Panda series reassure this. Seriously, if this is the fact, we would have conquered the whole globe.

*Feng shui

Chinese people can be superstitious and believes in Fengshui. Well, actually this is not the case in many part of China. I am from the north and I cannot speak for all, but my family and almost everybody I know don’t have a favor in Fengshui. There are certain things we view as lucky but we would prefer to call this customs instead of Fengshui.

*Red everywhere

It is true that red represents good fortune in many occasions in China. Parents wear red ties or dresses when their kids get married, for example. But this doesn’t necessarily means that we use red for everything happy. Maybe it is because the advertisement is just too much…

*Chinese are good at maths

For heaven’s sake, I suffered a lot when I was in high school. The only reason that makes you feel that Chinese students are good at maths is because you are not so good at it. No offense. I am taking College Algebra this semester and I was shocked. The material we talked about and will be talking about are covered in junior high school. And for the same topic, we dug deeper and the exercises were way harder. So it never about we are good at it, it is because we started earlier, which is completely reasonable. Considering the huge population we have, we can only select elite by making the problems harder and harder. Poor Chinese students…

*Information from the outside cannot get in.

I would like to tell a story to illustrate this, and this can be biased but it does represent a fraction of American people’s mind. My roommate bought a car. On the way back to our apartment, the dealer riding with her asked her what music she enjoys. When she told him a pop singer in the US culture, my friend can clearly tell that he was astounded. It seems that he never thought that foreign music can get in China. Well, what can I say?

There are plenty of other things that can be biased and I won’t be able to list them all. But I do sincerely hope the correct knowledge about China can spread out further, and I see myself responsible for this while I am here.

I also want to recommend this book here. This is closely related to my topic today and I enjoyed reading it a lot. Hope I can share with you here. The name is The Chan’s Great Continent: China in Western Minds, from Jonathan D. Spence. He researched westerners’ point of view about China from various perspectives.

The author is a renowned sinologist. He has an interesting Chinese name that he calls himself. Do look it up.




Author: Yue Zhang

Graduate student currently studying at University of Westminster, London. For my passion in storytelling, I am adventuring abroad to learn more.

3 thoughts on “China in Americans’ minds”

  1. I have always found Chinese people to be great friends, this brought me to live in Beijing in 2013, it is a rather polluted, concrete and cold city in the winter, but I found people generally friendly and a pleasure to be friends and to work with, I look forward to returning one day 🙂


    1. So nice that you’ve been to Beijing and want to return back. I do have to admit the pollution and wild wind is awful in winter these years, but I am still very proud of my city.
      One question, were you in Beijing for work or study or something else?


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