The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

The West Is Not Best …
September 25, 2015, 6:15 am
Filed under: China, Chinese Culture, Comment, Culture

As this week has been a stream of daft posts – or should I say, dafter than usual – I thought I’d end the week on something semi-serious. No really.

Don’t worry, it won’t happen again for a very long time.

One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in China’s attitude in the 5 years I’ve been here is their attitude towards ‘the West’.

When I first came here, the general attitude amongst many was 'the West was better'.

Better choice.

Better products.

Better life.

But while there are definitely some elements of the West that are still regarded as being more favourable than China, it has changed significantly over the past few years.

Some of that was due to the global financial crisis.

In some respects, it was the perfect storm for helping the Chinese population see their country with fresher eyes.

The West – a place they had revered so highly – was collapsing.

China – their home – wasn't just thriving, but was being courted by the West to 'help'.

And thanks to internet penetration reaching critical mass, hundreds of millions of people were able to see this 'once-in-a-lifetime' event unfold in front of their eyes.

Suddenly their homeland wasn't so bad after all.

There was the potential for a bright future.



Improved standards of living.

Of course certain Western brands were still highly revered – Apple for instance – but it was no longer a case of 'West Is Best' but 'Whatever Is Best Is Best'.

The final proof – at least to me – was I was seeing the attitudes of students changing.

When I first arrived, many dreamt of going to the US to study and then getting a job there to start a new life. Now? Well many still talk about going to the US to study – especially at an Ivy League School – but instead of staying there, they want to return to China to make their fortune and then maybe return to the West when they want a more relaxed life.

In other words, for many, the West is a place to learn and retire.

Think about that for a second.

But things are starting to change again.

Scandals … economic uncertainty … heightened competition … degrees that no longer have the cache they used to have because so many people now have them … they’re all causing questions to be asked and uncertainty to be felt.

What prods this feeling even more is how the US – for example – seems to be rising again.

Whether that is true is open to debate, but from a Chinese youth perspective, it seems that way.





And this is leading to more and more things being created with a ‘Western model blueprint’.

One of the byproducts of this – and the importation of many Western brands – is that we are now seeing many cities across China become indistinguishable from their Western counterparts.

Sometimes I am in a city – whether that’s Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu whatever – and I realise I literally could be anywhere in the World.

While that brings some sense of familiarity, it also makes me sad.

One of the most wonderful things about China is it’s unique way and perspective on things.

While I am not suggesting that will fundamentally change – at least in the short term – this new energy to replicate the West is definitely going to have an impact and while there are some things in the West that are beautiful, powerful and valuable … China needs to remember the best things of the West have come as a result of time, and simply replicating the ‘end result’ doesn’t mean you get the same effect.

13 Comments so far
Leave a comment

From getting a colleague a perm to this. You do swing wildly around with subject matter Robert. This is excellent and informative. As much as I enjoyed reading about your work shenanigans, I prefer this sort of post.
Now a question. Do you still think this will happen in China now the government have openly stated their desire to promote the values of the nation? I know the architecture will still be on a fast track to modernize, but will the will of the people?

Comment by Lee Hill

Bloody hell, that’s a big question for first thing in the morning. Without doubt, Xi Jinping has an agenda that focuses on bringing traditional values back. There are many reasons for that – of which state control is definitely one of them – but that doesn’t mean he is against progress, he just doesn’t want it to be at cultural cost.

For example, he has criticised how some of the modern buildings in China are ridiculous but his point is not to build them, but to not build them with the goal of simply trying to ‘stand out for the sake of it’.

If you saw some of them [which I am sure you have] you’d know some of those buildings are ridiculous, but I also feel it’s because this is a group acceptance culture and being in the pack rather than out of it, is a cultural ambition and so the architecture should also reflect it.

That said, he knows that there is an unspoken agreement with the population … follow our rules and we’ll continually improve your standard of living … so we are entering a very interesting time in China’s development where the will of the government and the will of the people will need to be carefully built.

Mind you, if anyone can do it, it’s the Chinese government, they’ve been practicing ‘devious strategy’ for thousands of years.

Comment by Rob

I know first hand how true that is Robert.

Comment by Lee Hill

This proves what the Donald has been saying. China wants to be us.

Comment by Billy Whizz

Don’t get too cocky Billy [or Donald] … remember China basically owns you thanks to your free spending ways.

Comment by Rob

I’m confused. They’ve built the West in the East. So their belief that West is best hasn’t actually changed – just their view of where the West is.

Comment by John

You’re confusing architectural design as representing cultural values and aspirations John. Are these buildings ‘Western’ or are they simply a representation of modernity? That said, the drive to ‘modernise’ means China is – in some ways – losing its soul which is why Xi Jinping is pushing the cultural values agenda so strongly.

Comment by Rob

They change their mind about who they should follow more than the australian government.

Comment by DH

The Shanghai skyline does look impressive. I’ll go visit when you’ve left.

Comment by DH

I’ll invite you when I’ve gone.
Might be sooner than you think.

Comment by Rob

How soon? Are Wieden coming to their senses?

Comment by DH

Great post Rob. I wonder if the parties push for re-embracing traditional values is because they foresee an end to their meteoric economic rise and want the people to see a negatives in having western aspirations?

Comment by Pete

Possibly Pete … those values kept billions in check for an awfully long time and with tech and travel now changing the whole landscape of opportunity for hundreds of millions of people, they need to ensure they can still ‘control’ the will of the people for the good of the government. Though they would never say that of course, which is why ‘cultural values’ is such a brilliant play … as it represents ‘doing the right thing’ even though it is, in some ways, the absolute opposite of that.

Comment by Rob

Leave a Reply