“I wore red underpants for much of last year,” says Jacob Dreyer in The New York Times. In China, where I’ve lived for the past 15 years working as a book editor, it’s supposed to be good luck. “It didn’t work”. My wife and I spent much of 2022 locked down at home like everyone else in Shanghai, and when we emerged “blinking into the sunlight”, we found that China was now “America’s enemy”. The US Secretary of State was calling Beijing a danger to “universal values”, and the rhetoric has only hardened since. China today is an “existential” threat to the US, and there is more and more talk of a “new Cold War”.
“Really? Must we?” From Shanghai, the whole idea seems “absurd”. People here are utterly immersed in American culture, having grown up using iPhones, sipping Starbucks coffee and polishing their English by watching Friends. Many of my Chinese chums studied in the US, and they all listen to American pop music and follow American influencers online. Young, urban Chinese live more similarly to Americans than to their own parents, and many are more optimistic about America’s future than my “anxious friends” back home in the US. The Chinese nationalist view of a “rising China and a declining United States” is far from universally accepted here – people understand Beijing’s flaws. But they don’t want to be hectored or threatened. “America is strongest when it leads by example.”