Thursday, May 26, 2011

You’ll never understand China

This week’s Sinica podcast notes how a foreigner will never be accepted as a China expert, that Chinese people will always claim that true understanding of China is the exclusive domain of native Chinese.

You hear the same excuse in Japan, though possibly less so as the Japanese become more comfortable being thought of as a Western, not Eastern power.

Americans just don’t think that way. Anyone can offer a perspective about the United States and be regarded as an “expert” if they put in the time or show some quality in their observations.  We’ll even accept a foreign publication, like The Economist or the BBC, as a better arbiter of the truth than many homegrown equivalents. Somebody like Alexis de Toqueville is respected as one of the best American observers of all time.

You can tell the self-confidence of a culture to the degree that respects external experts.