How do Chinese people view the United States?

Society & Culture

Recent polls conducted by organizations like Gallup and Pew have shown a precipitous decline in U.S. public opinion toward China. But how do the Chinese feel about the U.S.?

How do Chinese people feel about the U.S.?
Illustration for SupChina by Derek Zheng

Editor’s note: Below is a complete transcript of the Sinica Podcast episode with Yawei Liu and Michael Cerny.

Kaiser: Welcome to the Sinica Podcast, a weekly discussion of current affairs in China, produced in partnership with SupChina. Subscribe to SupChina’s daily access newsletter to keep on top of all the latest news from China from hundreds of different news sources. Or check out all the original writing on our site at, including reported stories, editorials and regular columns, as well as a growing library of videos and of course, podcasts.

We cover everything from China’s fraught foreign relations to its ingenious entrepreneurs. From the ongoing repression of Uighurs and other Muslim people in China’s Xinjiang region to the tectonic shifts underway as China rolls out what we call the Red New Deal. It’s a feast of business, political and cultural news about a nation that is reshaping the world. We cover China with neither fear nor favor.

I’m Kaiser Kuo coming to you from beautiful Chapel Hill, North Carolina. If you have listened to this show at all in the last, what, 11 and a half years since we started it, you’ve probably heard my exhortations to try to understand the Chinese perspective on things to practice informed or cognitive empathy. It’s been a constant theme on this program.

Well, today we’ll be looking specifically at important facets of the Chinese perspective, popular Chinese sentiment toward the United States and Chinese perceptions of how China itself is perceived internationally. The Carter Center’s China Perception Monitor recently partnered with RIWI Corp, a Canadian survey data collection outfit, to survey just a short of 3400 Chinese people in the PRC. And the results are very interesting if not entirely surprising.

We will do more though than just look at some survey results because my guests will doubtless have some real insights into the factors that are behind these shifts in perception. Joining me today to talk about Chinese perceptions is Yawei Liu, the senior advisor on China at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Someone whose tireless work on behalf of a better understanding of China and the avoidance of conflict has made him someone I have long admired. Yawei glad to finally have you on Sinica.

Yawei: Thank you so much for inviting me to talk to you and through you to many people who are fans of your podcast.

Kaiser: Well, that’s wonderful that you could be here with us. And also joining me is Michael Cerny who’s Associate Editor of the U.S.-China Perception Monitor and an infill candidate at Oxford. He’s worked on this survey research. And Michael, thanks for taking the time to join us.

Michael: Thank you so much for having us on the podcast.

Kaiser: It’s wonderful to have you first, before we get into the survey itself, let’s talk a little bit about the Carter Center and the U.S. China perception monitor. Yawei, could you give us an introduction to the Carter Center’s work on U.S.-China relations and then maybe Michael you can tell our listeners who aren’t already familiar with it about the Perception Monitor and its work. So Yawei, first you.

Yawei: Thanks Kaiser for that question. Obviously President [Jimmy] Carter was known for being the U.S. president that formalized the diplomatic relationship between the United States and China. After President Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan in 1980, he visited China in 1981 at the invitation of Deng Xiaoping. Because Deng said, “You are a good friend of China. You are welcome to visit China at any time you would like to.”

So during one of his later trips to China, President Carter told Deng Xiaoping that, “Now I run a Carter Center. We would like to have some projects on the ground in China. Do you have any recommendations?” And I believe Deng told President Carter that Deng Pufang, his paralyzed son, was the chairman of the national association for the disabled people in China. So that’s the first project that the Carter Center got involved in, is to offer special training for the teachers at the special schools. Those that are deaf.

And then the second project is to… Again working through the National Association for the Disabled is to help China import a German artificial limb production line, which I believe is still operational in China. So, that’s the earlier part of the Carter Center’s involvement. That’s largely in the area of health. Now in about 1996, one of the directors at the Carter Center heard that there were village elections in China. And through this director and a counterpart in China, the Carter Center and the Ministry of Civil Affairs Signed a MOU basically inviting the Carter Center to observe village elections in China. So, that agreement was formalized in 1998.

That’s when I came on board because the director, Professor Robert Pastor, is actually a Latin America hand and I was his student at Emory. So he invited me to come on board and we started working there. And that work literally ended in about 2012, when lastly we invited a group of Chinese scholars and officials to observe the second election of President Obama. After that point I think we were told, directly and indirectly, “You guys are no longer welcome to work on promoting grassroots democracy in China. And if there’s anything you would like to do, we would like that to focus on promoting better understanding between the U.S. and China.” So that’s why we made the switch in 2012.

Kaiser: Right. Very different time.

Yawei: Yeah. Since then, we’ve been working on stabilizing, particularly after 2017 and to increase better understanding. So this recent survey is one of the efforts on that front.

Kaiser: Fantastic. So Michael, why don’t you tell us a little bit about the U.S.-China perception monitor that you’ve been working on and some of the other projects that you’ve undertaken while serving there as associate editor.

Michael: Absolutely. So as Yawei mentioned, after the end of much of the Carter Centers on the ground activities related to China in 2012, the U.S.-China Perception Monitor was established in 2013 in order to support the Carter Center’s goal of stabilizing the U.S.-China relationship. And the specific editorial focus of the website surrounds clarifying misperception. And by that we mean the gap between reality and how individuals perceive, understand or interpret phenomena related to the U.S.-China relationship.

At the moment the website publishes a variety of content like interviews and commentaries surrounding some of these misperceptions, for example, can affect the relationship both at the non-governmental and at governmental levels. And of course our latest project, The Pulse, which focuses on public opinion in China.

Kaiser: Right. That’s fantastic. Staying with you just for a second here Michael, can you talk about the methodology behind this particular survey? I mean, any time anyone presents survey data from China there’s always some pushback and it’s understandable from people who are going to insist that it’s impossible to get representative samples online.

There are going to be people who will remind you that doing this kind of survey research is itself illegal in many instances when it comes to China. They’ll tell you that the results are colored by censorship, the results are thus unreliable or that they just reflect heavy handed propaganda efforts. How do you typically respond to those types of critiques, many of which have quite a bit of legitimacy to them?

Michael: Yes. This is absolutely an issue that researchers face when conducting public opinion research in China. But this is precisely why we decided to part partner with RIWI. So RIWI is a company based in Canada that conducts surveys using a cutting edge technology called Random Domain Intercept Technology or RDIT for short.

And the basic premise of this technology is that it can intercept users when they happen across webpages that do not or no longer exist such as by entering an incorrect URL. And when they do type in addresses like that, RIWI will offer them a non-incentive survey, which provides an anonymous, safe and online way to administer surveys in hard to access regions of the world like China where this problem…where running representative surveys is an arduous and potentially restrictive process.

Kaiser: Clearly you have an over-representation of people who are bad typers though.

Michael: Yeah. That is certainly true. And of course the limits of using a survey like this is that we are only surveying the internet-using population of China. So it’s representative of those who use the internet in China. There are of course individuals who don’t use the internet that this type of survey technology can’t capture. But the reliability of these results ultimately are quite reliable and do give us good insight into what the majority of the population that do use the internet do believe.

And I will add just one other thing is we have been asked before why do people take the survey if they weren’t incentivized to do it, right? And this is something that’s true of all surveys, which is generally people are interested in the subject of the survey and that’s why they choose to take it.

Kaiser: Right. I actually had a pretty extensive political survey that I did the other day and it took half an hour on the phone with this guy though. It was pretty interesting. It was the first time I’ve actually been called for one of these… it was obviously on American politics but it was fun. And yeah, it was for exactly that reason that I’m interested in the subject matter. Anyway, it’s interesting the two of you chose these two particular questions. First of all, who was responsible for selection of the two questions that you put?

Yawei: I think I talked with Michael and then we talked with the person at RIWI. This is a pilot survey. We call it a pilot because we don’t know how good this kind of survey is and secondly, this is not a cheap endeavor. So that’s why you see we only have two questions. And we decided one, we want to have the questions whose result we can compare to conventional surveys, which will help us to better understand the value of this kind of survey.

Kaiser: And what was the thinking behind the pairing of these two questions? The first, which is about Chinese attitudes toward the U.S., that isn’t surprising at all. It’s interesting for reasons that we will obviously want to get into. But what was the thinking about pairing it with the question about China’s perceptions of what the rest of the world thinks of it? They don’t seem like they’re quite symmetrical.

Michael: The two questions definitely aren’t super symmetrical but we went into this project with the goal of starting regularized public opinion surveys in China about U.S.-China relations and to identify possible misperceptions prevalent among the Chinese public about the United States and about Chinese foreign policy. And two features of current survey works stood out to us, which further motivated us to start this project and to ask these questions.

The first is that there’s regularized public opinion surveys that measure American attitudes towards China such as those conducted by Pew and Gallup, which are two very high quality surveys and have asked a few different questions not just in the United States but also across developed democracies around the world about their attitudes towards China. And we felt that that kind of regularized work, which we hope to eventually build up to and achieve, was missing from the literature available or the research available on Chinese public opinion.

And second, there’s excellent academic public opinion research in China that make use of surveys. I’ll highlight the work here of Dr. Huang Haifeng. He’s a professor at University of California, Merced that looks at how the Chinese public underestimates or overestimates qualities of China and how those can be corrected. For example, how do the consequence of certain types of misinformation and how when new information is supplied, people tend to change their views.

And one fascinating area we wanted to explore was how Chinese think China is viewed internationally in light of all this other survey work that we’ve seen like those done by Pew and Gallup that suggest that China isn’t viewed particularly well in developed democracies and there seems to be a downward trend in developing countries as well.

Kaiser: When I first looked at the survey I thought about the pairing of these two questions. And I thought that maybe your operating hypothesis had something to do with how negative sentiments that the majority of Chinese now seem to hold toward the U.S. or in some way related to the evident self-confidence that China feels. So in my mind there did seem to be some sort of connection and I was curious to see how that would play out. I would love to see that actually track over time to see whether there is some kind of an inverse correlation between sentiment toward the United States and belief in China’s global perception. It could be interesting.

Anyway, so in terms of Chinese perceptions on international opinion on China, I think one of the things that you guys did with this survey that I really enjoyed was how you included this expert commentary. So as you read down through the results, you had reputable China scholars who were commenting on the results. And one that really caught me was what Jude Blanchette said. He made this observation that the surprise that many Americans and Westerners would probably register on learning that a large majority of Chinese believe China to be viewed positively just shows how we are not paying enough attention to how is actually viewed in Africa or in Latin America or in much of the rest of the developing world in the global south.

I’ll ask you Yawei. Do you think that the Chinese who answered that question truly had Africa and Latin America in mind when they were answering or do you think they were maybe unaware of or willfully ignoring the evidence of American, European, Australian, South Asian, maybe even Southeast Asian views of China? Maybe another way of putting this is, isn’t this maybe just another example of the same diluted exceptionalism that so many Americans are prone to suffering? This idea… Look, Americans are surprised to learn that America isn’t universally admired and regarded as the greatest nation on earth. That American democracy, shock, is not the only form of democracy out there. And that not everybody sees America as that shining city on a hill.

My first reaction was that maybe this is evidence of the same exceptionalist delusion.

Yawei: I still believe even though Brian Wong’s article and other comments point out to the fact that perceptions of China in developing countries are probably totally different from perceptions of China in Japan, in European countries, in the United States. That is a valid point. But when I look at the result, I tend to believe this has a lot to do with the availability of information to the Chinese. Certainly I think they’re ignorant about…or they don’t know how Japanese perceive China, how Americans perceive China, although this group that we are able to pose this question is online. And I think if you compare those people that are online to those that are not online, those who are online certainly are more informed of what’s going on outside. Still, obviously this needs to be backed up by other statistics.

If you watch primetime news in China, you have the first 25 minutes all about good things in China and then the five minutes left over are focused on how bad things are in the U.S. and the other parts of the world. This survey took place in the context of China having much better control of the pandemic, whereas in the U.S. and the other parts of the world they certainly have different. And I think maybe they inferred from the fact that since we were able to do such a good job, since our economy is still in good shape, we got to be admired. Other parts of the world got to have a positive perception of us.

That’s my guess. And again, I think, and which I pointed out, China’s information processing is very successful and very effective. And this is also what, since Xi Jinping came to power, is fostering people’s confidence in their own system, in their own road, in their own eventual becoming a supreme power in the world.

Kaiser: Yeah. And I would very much agree. I honestly don’t think that this reflects careful, “Hmm. You know what? Actually to answer this question, I’m going to think about how people in Zimbabwe or in Chile or Ecuador think of us.” I don’t think that’s what’s happening. And this does to me still highlight a pretty severe disconnect. Let’s come back to this question in just a little bit. But let’s talk about Chinese views on the United States.

You guys find that in aggregate 62% of Chinese now hold an unfavorable or very unfavorable view of the United States. And it’s worth noting that very unfavorable is actually four points higher, 33%. As high as that number is it’s actually still quite a bit shy of American unfavorable opinions of China which Pew has at an historic high of 76%, if I recall correctly. So how do you see these RIWI survey results compare to findings in other polls that have tried to determine Chinese attitudes toward the U.S.? Michael, I understand you’ve looked at some of this.

Michael: Yeah. So when we place our results in the broader research and broader literature on other surveys that look at how Chinese view the United States, our results are largely consistent with representative surveys. So surveys that are trying to resemble the views of the Chinese population. What this brings us to then is why we’re seeing this transition over time. And there are a few different scholars that focus on public opinion research that offer some very interesting perspectives on why this might be the case.

And referring back again to Dr. Huang’s work, an argument that he makes is that we’ve seen over the past 30 to 40 years in China a transition from a far too rosy depiction of the United States such as the one that emerged after the reforming opening up period, the idea that the moon is round or broad, over to one inspired by a much more self confident vision of China. That China has achieved all of the socioeconomic prosperity that once Chinese looked at in the United States and now think that more assertive policies by the United States on things like trade for example are attempts to contain or suppress China’s pursuit of that prosperity.

Kaiser: Right. It really starts to wrinkle now more than it did before.

Michael: Absolutely.

Kaiser: What are some of these polls that you looked at for example that look at Chinese attitudes toward the United States?

Michael: So there are a few that I can list off the top of my head, which I encourage people to go read about. So there’s a fantastic review done in the journal of Contemporary China of five of them by Jessica Chen Weiss.

Kaiser: Right.

Michael: And most of these actually, they don’t look specifically at how in the abstract people in China view the United States. But instead measure Chinese public opinion on things like hawkish and nationalistic attitudes that often involve the United States. And some of this is indicative of what we are measuring, which is that there’s a rising anti-American sentiment. So for example, a 2012 survey by the Research Center For Contemporary China at Peking university, tried to measure how hawkish Chinese citizens were. And then another 2015 and 2016 survey by Jessica Chen Weiss and Allan Dafoe also tried to measure those hawkish attitudes.

And what these surveys along with the other three that the review finds is that there’s this general idea that China should rely more on military strength. It’s more distrustful of the United States’ military presence in the region and that they find that these views, they increase over time. Younger generations, for example, are more nationalistic in this sense.

Kaiser: Right. Yawei, you looked at a Global Times survey as well, right?

Yawei: I not only looked at the Global Times survey. I also looked at some of the surveys that are done in China on exactly how Chinese perceive the United States. Actually, I think these findings are pretty interesting, which lead me to believe that the policy, since President Trump all the way now to President Biden, its biggest loss is the loss of what I believe is the U.S.’s most effective weapon against China: the positive perception held by the Chinese people of the United States. And that has been in sharp decline in terms of the lack of trust of America.

But if you look at even the Global Times, the famous or infamous survey cited in one of his daily briefings. He said 97% of the Chinese polled by the Global Times had a negative view of the United States. But if you look more carefully at the Global Times data, which is all there at its website, it’s very interesting. So basically if you look at that number is that those that do not like the United States at all, the number is 52,000. But then if you look those who used to like America but now start disliking America, that number is 45,000. And then there’s a third number over there. It says they like the U.S. because it’s advanced, scientific and technological advancement, because of the innovation because of rule of law. But they don’t like U.S. policy towards China. That number is close to 40,000.

So if you look at all these numbers, those Chinese who have a more or less objective view of the United States, I think they are still in the majority. That they believe the United States is a democracy, United States has a tremendous international influence, United States is a big military power that can project its power all over the world. I think majority of the Chinese… One survey that was done by the China_US exchange foundation… They have a popular survey. They also survey the experts of the experts, particularly on the professors, faculty members. This survey was conducted in 2019. Over 92% of them believe that the U.S. has unparalleled capacity in innovation. Think about it. So I think our number 62 is relatively low in terms of unfavorability.

There is one U.S. company called Crowell & Moring LLP Survey. I believe that might be a consulting firm that is operating both in the U.S. and in China. According to its survey, 74% of the Chinese survey do not like the U.S. So ours is 62. Obviously if we’re going to do this again we need to drill down in terms of that we need to ask more specific tailored questions to find out what exactly these perception are. It’s not monolithic and I still believe that the Chinese side, despite the fact that information is not free, in terms of their view of the U.S. as a power, it’s more objective. Although they do like what U.S. is doing to China now.

Kaiser: Yeah. It’s interesting. I was looking at the results and one thing that stuck out for me was that the 55 to 64 age group, those are people who really came of age in the early years of reform and opening. Among those you see both the highest levels of area unfavorable and almost the highest levels of very favorable. It’s like among demographic groups, this age group seems to be the most polarized when it comes to attitudes toward the US. I guess I’m not surprised by this. This is the age group that I’m in, that’s right above me. I’m at the lower end of that.

And just for my own sample, I get the impression that there really are a lot of strong Americophiles who also have a very Americophobic streak in them as well. It’s pretty divided even within individuals in that group. What do you suppose accounts for this? We were talking about the generation effect on this. But what is it about this generation that has them so polarized over the United States?

Yawei: The other survey I mentioned, I think it’s done by the China-U.S. exchange foundation, also pointed out to the fact that the older are the more unfavorable view you are going to hold against the U.S. and the younger you are there is a more positive view of the United States. I think for the older generation, particularly as you mentioned above 50, in their sixties, I guess the education they received, the access of information they have sort of have colored or tainted their view of the United States.

And many of them certainly grew up in the Mao era and that’s the era where anti-American sentiment was the deepest and maybe that prejudice still is there. It may be one dormant for a few years and now with U.S. and China in this fierce rivalry those that have been suppressed now are flowing up

Kaiser: Not long ago, I had an academic named Yao Lin, Lin Yao actually his Chinese name on my show. A political scientist. He’s now getting a law degree at Yale. But he was on the show to talk about beaconism and Chinese attitudes toward America. We were specifically talking about why it is that so many Chinese regime critics or dissidents, both in China and in the Chinese diaspora, were so supportive of Donald Trump. But really pro-Trump attitudes were, as far as I can tell, quite widespread even among ordinary Chinese despite all the gratuitous insults toward China and everything.

When we look at most other developed countries at least, the polling data suggests that Donald Trump was a major reason for a decline in favorability toward America. And we see that it rebounded somewhat after Biden took office. Has this at all been the case with China or has the Biden victory not done anything to improve favorability among Chinese?

Yawei: No. I think of the major countries that were polled, the view of the United States has changed significantly after Biden was elected. But the case in China is exactly the opposite. There is no change. There is no uptake in terms of view of China. I think that beaconism, certainly in the wake of what happened on January 6th, has seriously eroded many Chinese’s belief that the U.S. is a model, particularly as a democracy. Whether that model is there or not. I think that beacon light has, if not completely darkened, it has dimmed a lot.

Kaiser: Yeah. And we’ll talk about, besides January 6th, another major factor in that in just a little bit. But I guess what I was getting at with that question, I think… And this is what I was really hoping to hear about: Are Chinese people on the whole now convinced that American hostility toward China isn’t just rooted in partisanship or in who sits in the White House but it’s deeper than that? That it’s more structural or something. That America’s real intention, not as a party or as a White House administration, but America’s intention, is to undermine China’s rise? To destabilize China. To hamstring it. Is that the idea now that’s gelling in the Chinese mind?

Yawei: I think the idea that the United States is out there to undermine the rise of China, to even make China disintegrate just like the former Soviet Union, has become stronger and stronger among the elite.

That doesn’t mean that the Chinese people, the Chinese elite, their view of the U.S., where the U.S. is, how powerful the U.S. is, that’s a different perception over there. But I think the belief that the U.S. is out there to… has less to do… almost nothing to do with ideology. It has very little to do with human rights, all the other things.

Basically the U.S. goal is to undermine the rise of China, does not allow China to be a competing rival, does not allow China to edge the U.S. out of east Asia and Western Pacific. I think that conviction is getting there and is sinking deeper and deeper into the psyche of the Chinese leaders and of the Chinese elite. Although they still believe maintaining a good relationship with the United States is good for the future of China, is good for China’s economy.

To have a good relationship is good for China. Where the U.S. is out there to basically make China disintegrate, not to allow China to get to the level so that China will be an equal rival of the U.S., I think the balance of these two ideas will impact the outcome of where this bilateral relationship is going to go.

Kaiser: It’s interesting because we have in the United States a broadly held popular narrative now about China. When you ask Americans about their views, the ones who hold a negative view on China, which is of course a substantial majority now, they would say China is totalitarian. That it’s people don’t have fundamental freedoms. That they have cheated for many decades in international trade. That they have stolen billions of dollars in American IP.

They’ve reneged on agreements like allowing Hong Kong to have universal suffrage. They’ve threatened to snuff out another vibrant democracy in Taiwan. They have committed if not genocide, then something like crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. And now China is hellbent on displacing the United States as the top dog globally. So from your answers now we are seeing the outlines of something analogous to that held by the majority of Chinese elites you were saying. What are its elements? You’ve talked about America wanting to keep China down. What about it’s views on America’s future itself and America domestically? What does it see? Does it see America as some desperate declining power for example?

Yawei: Well I think they’re competing views of America among China’s elite in the early years of the People’s Republic, of course whatever view Mao was holding would become the view of the entire party and the media. That view is basically a fear that the United States would pin its hope of changing the color of China on the third and the fourth generations of the Chinese people. John Foster Dulles, the peaceful evolution thing. And of course with the reform and opening up, that view has somewhat disappeared but it’s there.

I don’t think it has ever gone, there a small group of decision makers. If not at the very top at least at the security intelligence and all of those people still hold this view that U.S. there is a vast conspiracy in the Pentagon, at the situation room of the White House and the John Marshall type of people that they are going to do everything possible to undermine the rise of China. To make China disintegrate.

And then I think at the turn of the century, in the early 21st century, there’s one view that is similar to what was held in the 1950s. That’s senior Colonel Dai Xu, the so-called C-shaped encirclement of China. And the other generals and the talking heads of the retired military. They sort of are perpetuating an image of the U.S. which is bent to destroy China. However, I think these views have little or very insignificant impact on the general public. Poll after poll, the one that I looked at because of this podcast that was conducted by telephone in 2020 by the Central China University of Technology.

It basically said two thirds of the people that were interviewed still believe that United States has tremendous international influence, has very strong economy, it’s scientific technology is very developed, innovation is unparalleled. In 2020 two thirds of the people, on the telephone, still believe in that. However, I think what happened last year because of Black Lives Matter, because of what happened early this year, have made many people including maybe the top leader, look at the mess in the U.S. and look at how brighter the situation is in China. So we’re going to come out of this competition on top.

I think this is the most dangerous perception held by the Chinese because it’s going to make the leader more reckless. And the dangerous perception held by the U.S. side is to believe that China is out there to edge out the U.S. influence, to kick the U.S. out of Western Pacific and East Asia. So these two perceptions, if more and more people on both sides are going to attach themselves, attach their decision making to these two I think this would be the most significant source of future conflict between the two countries.

Kaiser: Right. I think it’s easy for us to recognize some of the recent inflection points, things that made Chinese attitudes toward the United States turn abruptly more negative, the trade war of course and the COVID response. But what about if you go back further? I feel there were other major inflection points that we ought to look at. When was the last time when survey data showed that most Chinese people actually had a rather more positive attitude toward the United States?

Yawei: As far as I can remember, if you look at some of the very traumatic moments in U.S.-China relation, the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.

Kaiser: May of 99.

Yawei: …the EP-3 [U.S. surveillance plane] collision [with a Chinese F-8 fighter] in 2001.

Kaiser: April of 2001.

Yawei: The interdiction of the Chinese on the high sea. But I think the most positive moment in terms of how China sees the U.S. as a buddy, as a friend, as a partner is in 2008. When President Bush W. and his dad, former President Bush, they were both in town for the Summer Olympic Games. And not only did they show up at the opening ceremony, they also went to the beach volleyball venue and they were having dinner in the Forbidden City.

I think all of that convinced the Chinese that the United States and China, they’re in this together. There is such a thing called a common humanity that maybe they can jointly pursue. And of course things have changed a little bit after the Olympic Games because of the wall street tsunami and that was a turning point in terms of the overview that the U.S. is invincible but the financial collapse. And there are people in China who believe it was China that saved the United States during that crisis. But I think 2008, as far as I can remember, the appearance of one former president and one sitting president all for China’s big party, that’s a very big moment.

Kaiser: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more. Michael do you know when, the last time we had, in terms of the data, a more positive attitude from China toward the US?

Michael: So in terms of a representative survey of the Chinese population, I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. But what I do know is that there was a good developing or a good body of literature that was developing in the early 2000s that was looking at why Chinese international students decided to come to the United States to study. And what a lot of that qualitative and quantitative exploration revealed was that there were very positive perception of the United States.

Not that necessarily the United States would live up to those students’ expectations, as a lot of these studies would eventually find. But it was much higher, obviously in the reform and opening up period and at least through the early 2000s, such that these researchers were able to detect very positive perceptions of the United States amongst that particular group.

Kaiser: When I started this conversation I was talking about how this pair of questions that you asked seemed in my mind to be related. And the word that popped into my mind that linked them was COVID. I kept thinking, well how China has come out of this is feeling not only much more confident as Dr. Leu was saying. With this sense that the rest of the world certainly must admire the way that it handled the COVID 19 pandemic. Because Chinese certainly feel very, very proud about that but also in their negative reactions toward the United States. My sense just from talking to many Chinese friends is that Americans didn’t show a lot of sympathy for China during the initial months of the outbreak. They tried to make the issue a political one.

We’ve talked on this show before about how regime type was so often part of the discussion. And it seemed to make Americans convinced that because this is happening in an authoritarian East Asian State that this had nothing to do with us. And there was this sense that this obliviousness about the inevitable spread to the U.S. was evidence, again this is in the mind of a lot of Chinese people I’ve talked to, they didn’t think of Chinese people as quite human.

And then of course they began to straight up blame China for the pandemic. And this was a way, not just… This isn’t just the Trump administration…Americans, more generally, to avoid accountability for the country’s disastrous mishandling that resulted, as I remind you, of now well over 700,000 lives lost. Meanwhile they were of course, very proud of their own sense of how they handled the pandemic. This so-called Lab-Leak Hypothesis also had a very negative effect on attitudes toward not just the United States but also of course Australia.

We have to remember this was happening at the same time as crisis over Hong Kong and over Xinjiang were breaking out. And there was this belief among so many of the Chinese people that I talked to that… Even ones who recognized that what has been done to the Uighur people in Xinjiang is deeply problematic. People who would even recognize that it is a gross human rights violation or who recognize that Hong Kong was deeply problematic. But they still also believe that these issues have been weaponized by the U.S. in the service of a broader anti-China agenda.

Can we talk about this cluster of things happening in 2020 and 2021 and how that affected Chinese attitudes? Is it evident in the survey results or is it something that you’ve picked up also from conversations with people?

Yawei: So Kaiser, I totally agree with you that all these issues they are problems that the Chinese government have done. How they treat people in Hong Kong, how they treat the Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang. The trade imbalance and Huawei, high tech companies and all these, I think I’ll use a very accurate word, being weaponized. South China Sea is another issue. I think the biggest weapon that is now being wielded by the U.S.

Kaiser: Is Taiwan.

Yawei: …is Taiwan. And Michael does disagree with me on this point but I think there might be a small group of Americans, whether they’re inside the government or outside the government, in the think tanks in the basement of Pentagon, truly believe the only weapon they can use to stop the rise of China is to induce men in China and Taiwan to get into a conflict. And there’s this pining hall that started with President Trump. But it’s been multiplied…

Kaiser: Yeah, it’s gathering steam.

Yawei: …by the Biden administration. And now we saw the leaked list of democratic countries that are invited to attend the democracy summit. Taiwan is also on that list so this is going to be another flare point between the U.S. and China on the issue of Taiwan.

Kaiser: Right. Let’s talk about generational change in attitude towards the U.S. as reflected in the survey. And also from our own observations, we’ve talked a lot on Sinica, on this program, about how younger people, the post-90s for instance, seem to have a lot more confidence about China in their, call it patriotism or nationalism whichever term you prefer. That it’s no longer the defensive thing. It doesn’t take the form of feeling mistreated by Western media coverage. But it’s become much more assertive.

More along the lines of, “China is doing it better. China actually… We’ve been modest about the China model but maybe it’s time for us to teach you some lessons. So if you’ll stop talking for a while and listen, you might learn something.” I feel that is manifested in your survey results. I feel I can see that in the data. Is that a fair claim? Is that claim that you think that data supports that level of confidence, especially in the second question?

Michael: I think you’ve made a very astute observation. So quickly referring, for example, back to that review of surveys done by Jessica Chen Weiss in the journal of Contemporary China, something that she discusses very well is this idea that there are a variety of mixed results about what younger generations are thinking and how hawkish are nationalistic they really are In the 2000s and the early 2010s. Because after the institution of patriotic education in China in 1994 and 1995, you had this problem where there really weren’t enough students to survey that had actually gone through the education system at that point. And that was a problem with a lot of earlier survey work really before about 2015.

Then in about 2015 and 2016 her survey results do indicate that there is a statistically significant difference in sort of a hawkish nationalistic and maybe anti-American orientation of young Chinese when compared to older generations. And then I do think you see a reflection of that in our survey results because yes, you do see this self-confidence, maybe even an overestimation of sort of China’s achievements on the international stage and that second question. And alluding back to the point you made earlier where you saw for example, amongst older generations for example, people over the age of 50, you saw there was a bifurcation in the results.

You saw that there was people who looked at the U.S. very favorably and looked at the people who looked at the U.S. very unfavorably and you don’t have that with the younger generations. Which suggests that it’s the people either before the institution of that patriotic education who grew up with a much more positive conception of the United States. But even separating this from that education campaign and looking more generally at China’s rapid economic development the post 1990, post 1995 generation, they grew up with China’s rapid advancement. They grew up with high speed rail. They grew up with leading financial technology companies et cetera and that has dimmed what I think older generations had looked at the U.S. for this socioeconomic prosperity that was supposed to arise out of things like democracy and human rights and freedom. And while China may not have those things that still achieve the same ends and that’s what’s producing the self confidence amongst China’s younger generations today.

Kaiser: And it’s always going to reflect on the United States as that sort of diametrical other, that’s always saying you cannot achieve these things without… And since that is the key message. So I’m going to go out on limb here and say there’s actually a positive correlation between confidence and negative feelings toward the United States in contemporary China among younger people.

Michael: So we’ve looked at this actually and we hopefully will release an addendum to our survey results sometime in the near future and there is evidence that’s indicative of that pattern. But actually the results are not as clear cut as you might think. So I think you’ll have to wait and see and check our website in the next few weeks to look at those results and potentially look at future ways of the survey. But it does seem, yes, the majority of people who thought… Viewed China very favorably, the majority also viewed the United States unfavorably. But we did also see this contingent of people who thought China was viewed very favorably but also viewed the U.S. favorably and that’s a puzzle we’re still trying to answer.

Kaiser: Those are my kind of people right there. No but I think they’re deluded but I know what you mean. If you had to guess as to the direction of causality though, do you think it’s the confidence that breeds the anti-Americanism or is it the anti-Americanism that brings on that belief in a positive perception of China?

Michael: The social scientist and training in me says anything about correlation and causation at the moment, of course—

Kaiser: Good, you passed the test young Padawan.

Michael: Exactly. We can only really look at correlation with these data. But this is a really fascinating area of research where social scientists and political scientists are trying to tease out the direction of causality through things like survey experiments. So I really… For anyone who hasn’t checked that, I think I’ve probably mentioned them three times on this podcast because his work is so good. But one scholar that is leading in this area is Dr. Huang where he’s using survey experiments to actually tease out which way is the arrow pointing in terms of how these attitudes are formed? What… Where do they originate from and how do you correct them?

Kaiser: Let me wrap up by asking one last question before we go on to recommendations. What are some of the factors that are contributing to the decline in Chinese perceptions of the U.S. that you think most Americans are oblivious to? Are unaware of? What are some of the things that… And then maybe what are some of the things that… Fairly low hanging fruit that Americans might be able to do that… Or the administration might be able to do at low cost to stop that precipitous decline? Big questions but what are they unaware of and what are some of the low hanging policies that we might pursue in order to slow the decline at least?

Yawei: I think there are quite a few of the things that the administration, particularly it’s China team, might be blind to. One of the things is, there’s the book… I don’t know whether you’re going to interview the author of the book called Long Game. There is no difference between the book called Long Game and the Hundred-Year Marathon. But that seems to be the narrative now is very close to the heart of the China team members. Is that there is no such a thing among China’s decision makers that our paramount goal has nothing to do with uplifting the living conditions of our people, the pursuit of happiness by our people but to edge out the United States out of East Asia, Western Pacific.

I think that’s probably one thing the administration should be clear eyed about. The other factor I think that may help stabilize the relationship is maybe American government officials, some of the think-tank people are not sensitive to the fact that when they accuse China of genocide they’re also committing double standards or even hypocrisy. If it’s a terrorist attack in New York, in London, in Madrid it’s a terrorist attack. If anything like that happens in China, whether in Tiananmen Square or in Qianmen train station, that’s the outcome of China’s bad ethnic minority policy. It has nothing to do with terrorism.

I think the U.S. side should be keenly aware of that. And the third one is what we have talked about, is about American, “We’re democracy, you are not. We’re so much better than you are.” But the facts do not bear those things out. So I think a little bit humility and modesty on the part of the U.S. not to be so big hoopla about the summit for democracy but talk about good governance rather than to talk about our system is so much more superior than your system. I think that condescension should be… If it’s contained, will be a lot better for a more… Let’s not talk about a better relation but at least to stabilize the relationship so that it does not get into a conflict.

Lastly, I would say on this entity list this measures against Chinese companies, particularly like Huawei. You have to present evidence why companies like Huawei is posing a national security threat. If not then [foreign language 00:55:21] we did a profile at our website. The entire Huawei apparatus and all the company employees and managers in China would’ve believe this has nothing to do with national security. It’s just a secretization of what U.S. can do to slow down China’s scientific progress.

Kaiser: Yeah. You’re preaching to the choir on that one with me. I would go back to COVID and I think that Americans do not understand how our conversations about China and COVID fall on Chinese ears. I don’t think they understand how deeply offensive how much perception of contempt, dehumanization and racism are inherent in the way that we responded to China’s agony and the way that we seem oblivious to how well some other countries handled it and how poorly we have. I think it’s really shameful. I feel that’s a major one that Americans just haven’t really woken up to just how that has diminished American esteem in Chinese eyes. Michael, do you have some pet peeves?

Michael: So I think the greatest problem at the moment, or the biggest pet peeve I have in mind is I… If I could make every single person in the United States pick up a book of their choice about China to learn a little bit more about the country, to learn a little bit more about how the government works and how the economy works and how it actually responded to COVID, what the origins of the pandemic were, et cetera, I absolutely would. I think a big problem with the maybe lack of sympathy is the right term amongst people in the United States towards China when the COVID pandemic first broke out is this lack of understanding of the country.

You’d be really surprised if you look at statistics about Americans ability to point out where countries are around the world, there would be plenty of Americans who actually can’t find China on a map. This issue generally seems I think very far away to a lot of Americans and maybe this is something that often [crosstalk 00:57:31]-

Kaiser: That ain’t low-hanging fruit though. That’s a big one.

Michael: Yeah. Exactly. But this is something that I hope that, for example, Pew and Gallup would look into as well when they run their surveys, which is actually testing a level of understanding of Americans before asking them questions. Or in addition to rather… In addition to asking them questions about how they perceive China because we do know—

Kaiser: Get a sense of knowledge of China.

Michael: Exactly. Because it is helpful to look at those correlates and there are studies, for example, that show that the propensity for people to want to go to war with a country, for example, is much higher if they can’t point to where it is on a map.

Kaiser: Right.

Michael: And when they can’t describe basic facts about it. And I think that many of the problems, I think, that we’ve identified during this call or a consequence of the fact that when it comes to education about the issue at the public level, whether it’s in the United States or China, though I would definitely bet on a Chinese citizen’s ability to point to where the United States is based off what we described about generations and international students travel, that the level of knowledge is low and there’s a lot to be desired in terms of understanding issues to a level where they can actually make informed judgements about the direction of the country’s policy towards the other.

Kaiser: That’s right.

Yawei: Kaiser, can I just make a quick comment on the issue of COVID.

Kaiser: Absolutely.

Yawei: I think I agree with what you said that COVID is a turning point. I agree with you that it’s wrong for President Trump and members of Congress to blame China for the origin and all that things. But I also think, on the part of China, they should be more transparent and particularly during the early days of the pandemic. I think to a certain extent America feeling bad about China, blaming China to a certain extent is caused by the earlier lack of transparency in terms of what happened in Wuhan.

Kaiser: No doubt.

Yawei: And that China has to acknowledge. And I don’t… History eventually will tell us what happened in the early days of December leading up to the final shutdown of the city Wuhan. What exactly happened over there. But I also would like to say that U.S. and China worked together in West Africa to contain Ebola. I think—

Kaiser: In 2014. Yes.

Yawei: …that… I keep mentioning that. I said that actually should be the right approach for the two countries as superpowers of the world. To collectively try to do everything to contain the virus. And now, because of the politicization of the origins and other issues, the two countries, there’s no cooperation whatsoever.

Kaiser: And that is a travesty.

Yawei: That’s tragic and that’s really bad.

Kaiser: Yeah.

Yawei: And that’s one thing I think that the White House U.S. Government can do to basically demonstrate to the whole world, “We’re competing but we’re also serious about cooperation.”

Kaiser: So I really look forward to… I’m really glad to hear that you’re going… This is just a pilot and that you’re going to be continuing to do this and you’re going to be continuing to put out data on Chinese perceptions and U.S. perceptions of China. I will follow that very eagerly and I hope that you send me some links to survey. I will… I’m sorry. And I will be sure to put links to the survey and to all subsequent surveys and results on SupChina.

The links to this will be on, of course, the show notes to this podcast. While you are at SupChina, check out the other great stuff… Why did I say that. While you are at the U.S.-China Perception Monitor, check out the other great stuff on that site. A lot of really fascinating interviews. But let’s move on to recommendations for now. First I want to remind people that if you like the work that we’re doing with the Sinica Podcast, make sure to subscribe to SupChina Access. That’s really what keeps the lights on for us so do that. That’s… It’s a fantastic newsletter. It comes to your inbox daily and it’s put together with loving care by Jeremy and his crack team at SupChina. So let’s move on to recommendations and let’s start with you Michael. What do you have for us?

Michael: So the two books I want to recommend are a slightly older one Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner and a much newer one named Causal Inference: The Mixtape. And the reason I want to recommend these books is the Nobel Prize in Economics was recently given to three economists who specialize in the development of methodologies that can reveal causality in the real world without use of an experiment. And these three economists were Guido Imbens, Joshua Angrist and David Card. And they have been… The methods that they’ve developed have been really instrumental to teasing out whether X can cause Y or whether… Or how can we know that X causes Y and this has been instrumental in political science as well.

So, for example, how do we know that factionalism within the Chinese government determines the allocation of bank loans? Which is something that Victor [inaudible 01:03:03] at UCSD has looked at. Or, for example, how do we know whether the… What the effect of college education on earnings is? So for an introductory lesson into some of those methods and recent advances in Economics, Freakonomics is a really good place to start. And then for those who are interested in diving a little bit deeper into the quasi experimental techniques, Causal Inference: The Mixtape is a really excellent book by Scott Cunningham at Baylor University and it has a cool music wrapped theme twist to the book, which makes it fun to read. And even if it’s a little bit advanced, I think it’s a great book for anyone to pick up and get a general gist of a lot of the… Some of the most fascinating Social Science Research that is coming out today.

Kaiser: It sounds right about my speed. I’ll check it out then I’ll have to ask you dumb questions about causality. Now I’m joking. I was just trying to bait you there. Okay. Yawei, what do you have for us?

Yawei: So the book I’m going to recommend, I have something to do with the translation of that book from Chinese into English. So that’s the book by Late Professor Gao Hua. The book is called How the Red Sun Rose. So it was initially published in Chinese, in Hong Kong. The Chinese University of Hong Kong Press put it out first in 2000. I remember I bought a copy of the book and trying to take the book inside China, I was stopped at Shenzhen and then the custom people seized the book and basically said, “You have two ways to approach this. One is we’re going to take the book and you can file a form and then come back to us and we’ll decide whether we can give you the book. Or the other way of doing it is just abandoned the book. Drop the book in the garbage can.”

The book is so good about the intrigues inside the party and how Mao eventually was able to dominate the Chinese Communist Party. I think the book could serve as good telescope or periscope to see what is going to happen and how the current leader managed to go all the way to the top.

Kaiser: What’s the Chinese name of the book?

Yawei: How the Red Sun Rose by Gao Hua. And Gao Hua was a true believer of eventual political reform in China. I remember when we decided to have a meeting on political reform and pilot projects in Shenzhen, he wrote to me. He said, “I heard about your meeting. I would like to come to the meeting.” This was in 2000, I think the same year when the book came out. And since the publication of the book Gao Hua was blacklisted in China. If you look… Read the book, you’d be shocked that he relied on no classified archives. It’s all based on open sources.

The fact that he was able to basically describe the Chinese Communist Party politics from 1930 to 1945 and the year when Mao basically could no longer be challenged by anyone within the party. It’s a fascinating outcome and it’s a book that will help us to gain a better understanding of the opaque politics of the Chinese Communist Party. I have a second recommendation. It’s a documentary. For those who are interested in the blockbuster during the national day, The Battle at Lake Changjin. If you’re waiting to watch it, I would advise that you watch the American PBS documentary called The Battle of Chosin. Because if you watch this American documentary and then whenever that Chinese blockbuster is available for us to watch online or somewhere inside China, after the pandemic, you’ll have a much better perspective in terms of whether history has been distorted. What are the lessons for people about war? And I think that probably should be the sequencing. Watching the U.S. American Experience documentary first and then watch the Chinese blockbuster.

Kaiser: That’s an excellent recommendation. I have a feeling we’re going to be talking an awful lot about party interpretations of history in coming weeks given that the Sixth Plenary Session is going on right now. And we’re I think planning a series of shows around that. Thanks Yawei. That’s an excellent suggestion. Michael, you mentioned Freakonomics and I want to point out that on the latest episode of the Freakonomics podcast, we’ve got Yuen Yuen Ang on it, which was fantastic and I was really delighted that after her interview at the end, when they were giving credits, it turned out that she had been recommended to the Freakonomics team by somebody who had heard about her from the Sinica podcast from… They had listened to the interview that we had done and so I got a shout-out on that and felt really good. And—

Michael: That’s fantastic.

Kaiser: So I was on a roll and you’d also mentioned Mixtape as a part of the title. There’s a recent Radiolab show called… It’s a series called Mixtape and the first one is on dakou cassette tapes, which were phenomenal in the very end of the 80s, the early 1990s really. Dakou cassettes were, of course, these saw gashed cassette tapes. Later on there were the same sorts of CDs. There were catalog cutouts that made their way to China as scrap, as… To be recycled as plastic scrap and it tells the story of them and I got interviewed for that and I show up quite a bit in that first episode, it’s called Dakou if you want to check that out. But my actual recommendation is nice and frivolous compared to the two of yours.

It’s just a dumb television show. I am not a critical binger of television. I like to just suspend disbelief and just enjoy. The show I’ve been enjoying mindlessly is called Y: The Last Man on Hulu. Other premises, there’s some biological cataclysm, a disease of some sort, that kills basically every vertebrate or mammal maybe, I don’t know, with a Y chromosome. Basically every male of every animal practically dies except for one guy and his monkey basically.

He happens to be the son of the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, this woman who, because everyone ahead of her in line, except for one cabinet secretary who they think is also dead, is a man. So she becomes president of this post-apocalyptic state and tries to run administration out of the Pentagon and it’s very challenging to say the least. Anyway. It’s really messed up. There’s a lot of your standard post-apocalyptic stuff but there’s also some really interesting contemporary politics in there.

She is a Democrat, this House Intelligence Committee chair and then the old administration was a Republican one and this cabinet secretary who comes back from the dead to challenge her is a hardcore Republican so it’s really interesting. Like everything else it’s adapted from a comic book. I haven’t read the… I have never heard of the comic book. I just stumbled on this show and got addicted to it. It’s really good. So please watch it so it doesn’t get canceled because I want to find out what happens. Anyway, thank you guys so much. What a pleasure. And like I said, I’ll put a link to the research, to the survey and I look forward to the rest of the surveys that you guys put out.

So thanks so much. Once again make sure to check out the survey results and I think they will be a lot more forthcoming and I’ll make sure to link to all of it as it comes out. Thanks so much Dr. Liu and thanks so much Michael.

Yawei: Thank you, Kaiser.

Michael: Thank you so much for having us on the show.

Kaiser: Real pleasure.

Yawei: Bye-bye.

Kaiser: The Sinica Podcast is powered by SupChina and is a proud part of the Sinica network. Our show’s produced and edited by me, Kaiser Kuo. We would be delighted if you would drop us an email at or just as good give us a rating and a review on Apple Podcasts as this really does help people discover the show. Meanwhile, follow us on Twitter or on Facebook at @SupChinanews and make sure to check out all the shows at the Sinica network. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next week. Take care.