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Amid Hu’s U.S. Visit, How Do China’s Youth View Rest of World?

January 20, 2011 at 5:23 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Now some perspective on how the people and the government in the United States are viewed in China.

It comes from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News. She had a conversation with a group of American studies students at Renmin University in Beijing.

ASHLEY ZHANG, student: I think that the United States is trying to transport its own value, like freedom, democracy, to other parts of world, but maybe China, or India, or Cuba, these countries, they don’t think that they have their own — own situations, maybe not suit those values.

ZHAO LIANG, student: I think the problem is, it might not suit China. So, if it is such a good thing, maybe China would evolve, have an evolution towards democracy on its own.

ALFREDA ZHANG, student: I think the most witty and — and tricky thing about American government or society is that they put personal liberty as the mainstream.

STUDENT: It’s cute, because the Americans tend to picture an American soldier on the street of Iraq, and saving Iraq people from hell.

And I think whenever there is a dictatorship, as someone would call it, the U.S. tend to think that it’s their job to save those people and to — and they haven’t realized that democracy is an absolute value in U.S., but it might be not that absolute in other countries.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The people would say, because you don’t have real freedom of speech, and so even if you did really hate the government, you still couldn’t say.

JULIA WANG, student: You know, I think Chinese government did make some mistake. You know, Liu Xiaobo, he gained Nobel Peace Prize. But he’s a prisoner in China. I think Chinese government really did wrong.

LINDSEY HILSUM: You think they shouldn’t have put him in prison?

JULIA WANG: Yes, I think you could force him out of China, but not into prison, for what he did.

CECELIA CHEN, student: I tend to see this question a little bit differently. I think, when I — like, I was in U.K., like, the past three months. And I see many Chinese people there. We have to, like, face all kind of, like, criticisms about our government, and then to people like…

LINDSEY HILSUM: You found out that you had to face all these criticisms about your government?

CECELIA CHEN: Yes, like…

LINDSEY HILSUM: How does that make you feel?

CECELIA CHEN: It’s like, I feel it’s so unfair, because I’m individual. How can you judge me by my government?

LINDSEY HILSUM: So, if the 20th century was the American century, is the 21st the Chinese century?

JONATHAN ZHOU, student: What I am sure is that China will — China will be striding ahead and become more and more powerful or influential than before, yes.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Become a superpower?

JONATHAN ZHOU: Maybe, it is not a superpower.

STUDENT: I hate this word.



ALFREDA ZHANG: Why, this world, always, we are hoping that there is one superpower, two superpowers? Yes, we don’t need superpowers. Maybe just the fact is that one country is stronger than other countries, more dominant in international affairs. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be a superpower, it has to coerce other countries to do things they don’t like.

ZHAO LIANG: Power is the ability to coerce or influence others. But, right now, what we see in China only capacity, but no power, because, although China is economically now the second gross GDP, but the Chinese government is facing so many problems domestically.

When others see China, they see, oh, 8 percent per year, but when the Chinese see itself, they see unemployment, they see inflation, they see the rising costs of households.


ZHAO LIANG: So, for Chinese people…

LINDSEY HILSUM: So, your view of yourselves is very different from the view from outside?

ZHAO LIANG: Yes. Yes. Yes. Exactly.

CECELIA CHEN: I just think that it’s like real gaps between China and maybe Western countries, if I may say, because China is different. So, that’s why I think is the reason why America is like so anti-China, in some opinions, because it’s different.

ZHAO LIANG: Churchill said — I don’t know his exact words, but he said democracy might not be the best thing, but it is the best choice so far.

And, also, for China, Chinese government, the political structure of Chinese government might not be the best thing, but it is the best thing for China. And we don’t see any possible alternatives to the current government. So, of course, we will support it, because it is the stabilizer. It is the protector of this country. It is so vast that it is embedded with problems, with conflicts. And we’re just lucky that there is someone there taking care of it.

JIM LEHRER: Those were international politics students in Beijing talking with ITN’s Lindsey Hilsum.