井底之蛙

2/4/2007

Does learning Chinese bring about world peace?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 12:06 pm

China Law blog asks an interesting question, and as they specifically call us out for a response, I thought I would say something. The question they asks is “Does having Americans study Mandarin make war between the U.S. and China less likely?” At its heart this is the “why study China” question that I think about a lot. In the literal sense, no, I don’t think that more students studying Chinese will make war less likely. War, as in actual shooting, could probably come about only at the end of a very long period of increasing conflict, and I don’t think dropping 2000 Chinese-speakers into the final crisis would do much good. The bigger question is will more language learning lead to less conflict?
Not necessarily. I don’t agree that getting to know people better will make you like them. Sometimes its only after getting to know people that you can really despise them. But in this case I suspect it might help a lot. At present American relations with China are sort of adrift, but at some point Americans will have to think about China and how to deal with it, just as China is trying to deal with America. I think more knowledge about China, from language classes or whatever, would do a lot of good. China’s relationship with the rest of the world is changing, and Americans need to figure out what, if anything they want to do about it. This is a rather complex question, as even Chinese can’t explain to themselves what their current situation is and where they want to go, just like every other country in the world. Present American popular and elite knowledge about China seems to be to be even worse than that about other places. Mao is dead and the Maoist era is over. China is not a super-sized North Korea that happens to produce Happy Meal toys, yet -lots- of people seem not to be aware of this. I think that there is the possibility that the rise of Chinese capitalism and the existence of American capitalism can co-exist and benefit from each other (I’m an optimist), but for that to happen understanding has to exist. Americans at fancy liberal arts colleges studying Chinese so they can read Tang poetry, business people learning Chinese so they can make a ton of cash, people taking my classes to fill a non-western cultures requirement, its all good.

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