Every week I take a taxi from the west side of Beijing to the northern edge of the city where I work. It takes about 45 minutes to get there so I usually bring a book to keep me entertained.
While it's good to have it ready just in case, before I can even open it up my conversation with the driver usually goes like this:
Me: Nihao shifu (Hello driver)
Driver: Nihao. Ni shi nali ren? (Hello. Where are you from?)
Me: Wo shi meiguo ren (I'm from the United States)
From here the response varies, but it usually goes something about like this:
Driver: Chuanpu, zenmeyang? (What's up with Trump?)
Many people in the United States when they imagine China still think about the days under Chairman Mao when the masses wore iconic green uniforms and everyone carried a Little Red Book.
While it's undeniable that the early years of the People's Republic of China continue to have a significant effect on the culture and politics of modern China, it's important to also recognize that China has made significant advances in recent years.
China's Opening Up and Reform policies under Deng Xiaoping opened China to the outside world. Since then, Chinese people have enjoyed many freedoms including the ability to travel abroad, attend foreign schools, and set up private enterprise.
Despite some significant changes, one thing that has stayed the same is the Chinese people's interest in United States.
When Chairman Mao and other top Chinese Communist Party leaders were headquartered in the caves of Yannan to conceal themselves from the opposing KMT forces, one of their favorite pass times was to watch Hollywood movies.
Sidney Rittenberg, an American citizen who lived alongside them, describes in his book (The Man Who Stayed Behind), the curiosity among CCP officials about the United States. They would frequently ask him questions about America such as if everyone in the United States owned a car.
That curiosity remains today.
Questions about the "Trade War", President Trump's attitude towards China, and his chances of getting elected again are all common questions I get after the words "American" come out of my mouth.
It's rare that I will even have a chance to tell them I studied political science in the United States before the topic even comes up.
If you're ever in Beijing and someone asks you about President Trump or the election for the White House, there's a good chance they're listening a lot more closely than you'd think.
About the Author:
Alexander is a recent graduate from Portland State University in the United States where he received his undergraduate degree in political science. He is currently pursuing his graduate degree in international relations at Peking University in Beijing, China.
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