Jeffrey Wasserstrom conducts a tour of Western dreams and nightmares of China. Whilst the span of the oscillation is remarkable, he finds the bipolar syndrome itself to be notably stable across time. The upswing — Wasserstrom suggests — is associated with hopes that ‘they’ are becoming more like ‘us’, but on the downswing:
… when the Western China Nightmare is dominant, the risk is that observers and the general public lose sight of how varied the Chinese populace is and instead grow accustomed to demonised images of China … filled not with flesh-and-blood Chinese individuals but a horde of soulless mannequins. […] Stories that dehumanise China’s population tout court are also periodically published, though only rarely do they do so as overtly as a 1999 Weekly Standard article which described the Chinese people as prone to ‘Borg-like’ group-think conformity.
When calmly dissected and investigated, durable stereotypes usually have something significant to say, about both their subjects and their objects. Western sinophobia is an especially rich hunting ground for cultural explorers, and the importance of understanding it is only going to grow. Urban Future will be bringing sustained attention to this same topic in the months ahead.