Students also call him “arrogant,” a short, tentative mention before they drop the subject. In the Chinese university classroom, where for five years, I have taught courses in literature, fiction, and international politics, these oblique references to politics are remarkably popular.
But for an American professor at a Chinese university, for every passing news cycle, Donald Trump’s shadow hangs heavier. The students are unfailingly respectful, but their references to the trade war, the eviction of Huawei from the US markets, and the eventual buyout of TikTok all indicate darkening attitudes towards the nation whose prestige, sadly, precedes me.
Trump as ‘Imperial Legacy’
If Trump’s not a “bully,” he has been rejected as a joke. I always get the impression, though that he represents an ego greater than any single human, no matter how strong or dangerous. Instead the egotism of Trump is the legacy of the colonial West, bent on prolonging the “century of humiliation” of China and sticking bullishly to its place in the world.
In China, where wariness about the colonial past of the nation resides concurrently with a hunger for Apple phones and the newest Hollywood films, views towards America have always been divided.
But Trump’s presidency could not have remedied the balance of a picture of America characterised by its narcissism, civil instability and whatever stupid stuff Trump does every week.
Discrimination and Unfair Trade
With coverage of Trump’s latest tweets, China’s news networks run wild, accompanied, days or months later, by students pointing to the “hurt feelings” of the world.
In particular, Huawei’s expulsion seemed to inspire a strongly personal feeling of indignity. It’s just not right,” said many students, plastering the face of Trump in the middle of a scathing presentation about trade abuses.” “He doesn’t play fair; he discriminates against the people of China.”
These remarks appear particularly justified in view of Trump’s campaigns against Wechat, Tiktok, the Chinese Consulate in Houston, and even the close expulsion from American universities of overseas students. The credibility of the American media and its institutions is constantly questioned by Trump’s dubious “security concerns.”
A very daring article once claimed that the internal propaganda of America was so successful it had successfully created its own “patriotic firewall.” Many see Trump’s statements in China as blatant lies, and the overwhelming majority of Americans believe them, it is believed.
The Democracy vs. the Superior Chinese System Defects
More and more, I have seen claims portraying the election of Trump as the ultimate chink in the armour of democracy. Students packed their papers five years ago with oblique references to the advantages of elected democracy.
This have almost vanished entirely. Instead the majority now stress the Chinese system’s resilience, its efficiency, its ability to organise and plan for the future.
Trump’s mentions frequently reflect a cynicism against Western institutions and their cynical inability to respect human rights, ideals that are gradually viewed as the obsolete hopes of an age that has expired.
A few have viewed the scandalous actions and questionable moral character of Trump as a sign that democracy just doesn’t work. The Chinese media’s persistent reports that Trump’s treatment of COVID-19 “demonstrates the superiority of the Chinese system” are starting to sound more and more warranted.
For years before making a statement about faith, students who imagined that any American was a Christian apologised to me. They do the same thing these days when they’re debating Trump. The mind of my students may be one of the few places where America remains a united front, an idiotic behemoth of a country whose people are genuinely in accordance with what their president says.
Recently, in a series of doctoral theses on “national reputation,” one of which focused solely on official comments from the White House to determine the views of the American people, I was shocked to see this notion taken very seriously.
As unrealistic as this illustration may be, it is the one I have most frequently seen. Trump’s America gradually resembles the beast from the outside that many have accused it of being a sinking ship still intoxicated on delusions of its own meaning, captained by a maniacal boy.
Is it possible to mend relationships with America?
Today, with Trump still contesting an election that he says was taken from him, I can’t help but wonder if the presidency of Joe Biden would influence overseas attitudes.
Barack Obama remains unfailingly famous. As the symbol of America’s old “happy days” with China, he is always listed peripherally, and Biden’s victory was received by the Chinese media with unexpected enthusiasm.
Yet it’s easy to feel like there has already been so much harm done. Increasingly, America looks like a democracy with little constructive to offer to the rest of the world despite the turmoil of the first presidential debate and demonstrators flooding our streets.
Some also suggested that for this, Trump gets so much credit, that the downfall in America has broader origins in national hypocrisy and inability to live up to our own principles. Although having a likeable figurehead might be all that matters on the other side of the world. Or at least one who, through his Twitter account, is a bit more careful.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions shared here are those of the writer and do not generally represent The Globe Post’s editorial stance.