Chinese Culture in Americans' Eyes

Yu, Chong Ho


Table of Contents

  1. Autocratic Management
  2. Repressive Culture
  3. Confident Nationalism
  4. Advanced Science before 17th Century
  5. Conclusion

The East is always full of myths to Americans. As a Chinese, I am so curious as to study how Americans perceive the Chinese culture. As a matter of fact, in the academic circle the Chinese culture does not gain much respect. The following are examples across different disciplines.

Autocratic Management

The founder of Management by Object, Peter Drucker, accused Chinese style of management as autocratic. In his book Adventures of a Bystander, Drucker said that when Henry Luce administered Time magazine, he applied what Mao, Tze-Tung did--to divide the personnel into different factions and to spread distrust among them. Drucker asserted that the influence to Henry Luce's behaviors could be traced back to his childhood--he was born in China and thus he learned all these from the Chinese. President Roosevelt is another example cited by Drucker. Again, Drucker blamed the autocratic leadership of Roosevelt on the Chinese influence--although Roosevelt did not live in China, his grandfather was a missionary in China!

Repressive Culture

Luican Pye, a prominent expert on China at MIT, pointed out that Chinese politicians did not know how to handle power in a legitimate manner. As a result, the repression of using power leads to power abuse. Shun, Loong-Gi, a Chinese scholar who was educated in America, holds a similar notion as Pye's. In his book The Deep Structure of the Chinese Culture, he characterized the Confucian tradition as a culture of repression of instincts. When Americans enjoy sexual freedom before marriage, most Chinese waste their prime time in lives by avoiding pre-martial sex. Thus, this kind of repression leads to behavioral problems among the Chinese people.

Confident Nationalism

Joseph Leveson declared that Confucianism was incompatible with modernization. Emotionally the Chinese people dislike the Western culture but intellectually they recognize the advancement of Western technology. Michael Oksenberg, the China policy advisor during the Carter administration, affirmed Leveson's view and termed the Chinese attitude to the West as Confident nationalism. In his opinion, Chinese nationalism is self-pitying and the Chinese people feel the rest of the world owe them a lot. Amazingly, although Oksenberg made such a negative criticism to the Chinese mentality, he appreciated President Bush's intention to renormalize the US-China relations as "courageous leadership" in spite of the June 4 crackdown.

Advanced Science before 17th Century

Although many Western intellectuals disregard the Chinese culture, Joseph Needham, British scientist and historian of science, is an exception. After reviewed the history of Chinese science, Needham concluded that China was a great civilization, because before the 17th century Chinese science was far ahead to that of the West. However, I would not be too excited about Needham's admiration for our civilization because what Needham honored about China is only the science before the 17th century. Does the Chinese culture have some things here and now to make me proud of? Yes! Recently Alan Huang made a breakthrough in the development of the optical computer in the AT&T Bell Lab. Cray YMP supercomputer was designed by a Chinese engineer, Dr. Stephens Cheng. The research team, exploring superconductivity in the University of Houston is led by a Chinese scientist, Paul Chu. The list can go on and on. Incredibly, nowadays more than one third of the engineers in the U.S. are Chinese!


The Chinese people are intelligent and industrious. If we blame China's backwardness on the Chinese culture, then how could we explain the achievements of the Chinese in America, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong and other countries? Once an American asked me if the Japanese are smarter than Chinese. I wonder if the Japanese would still have the economic and technological achievements if Japan had been ruled by Communists since World War Two.

While the fire of reform has been baptizing the Soviet Union and East Europe, my heart is burned with the following question: When will the sleeping Eastern giant wake up? I wish that in the next century the Chinese culture will no longer be a mockery among American scholars, and we will be proud of our work ethics and discipline instead of condemning it as "autocratic", "power abuse", "repressive, " and "confident nationalism."

Printed in Hamline International, Vol. 1, No. 1, 1990


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