"Chinese People Are Friendly"

Before coming to China, some of my biggest questions were about Chinese impressions of the U.S. 

Flying to Shanghai, I sat next to a woman from Qingdao. Using smiles and nervous laughter, we worked through our language difficulties, and I told her I was nervous to be alone for a day in Beijing. She searched the sky for the right words and with a sugar-sweet expression said, “Chinese people, very friendly!” I believed her.

While attempting to walk off our jet lag, my colleagues and I found an exercise park near our hotel. We congregated over toy-like blue and orange fitness machines where we met a man and his five-year-old son. “My English name is Tony,” the man said. With much prodding, his son said, “My name is Jackie.” Tony regaled us with his opinions of China–U.S. relations in his halting English, when a familiar sentiment arose: “Why more Americans don’t know more China and don’t like China? Chinese people, very friendly, peaceful people.” I didn’t realize the U.S. message was one of dislike.

Awaiting a friend at the entrance to Hou Hai , a popular tourist hangout, two Chinese men sat amicably on either side of me. “Hello!” They said. “Ni hao,” I responded. Our mutual lack of skill in the other’s language bonded us in strife. Five minutes in, one of the men asked, “America and China are friends, yes? Chinese people are friendly, yes?” Every time my words fumbled he re-asked me the same question to help me regain footing. I took the reins of diplomacy and, with true sincerity, I said, “Yes, America and China are good friends and Chinese people are extremely friendly!” His lips smiled and his eyes twinkled.

The various Chinese I’ve met so far are not deterred by their nationalism in their desire for American affection and appreciation. I guess anti-U.S. sentiments in the Chinese media only go so far.


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