“What do you want most from the West?”

A common theme: chinaroadcover.jpg

“What do you think about China?” the older seed salesman suddenly asks me. He’s a balding man, with a kind face, who says his name is Zhou.

Wo hen xihuan.” I smile inanely. “I like it.”
There’s a brief pause. I’m tired of asking the same questions, so I try to think of something new. “What do you want most from the West?” I ask Mr. Zhou.

He doesn’t hesitate. “What we want most is respect,” he blurts out, as though he has waited all his life for a foreigner on a bus to ask him this question. “Yes, we want respect more than anything. I want to go abroad, like you people when you come here. You come to China, and we respect you because you are wealthy and civilized. That’s what I want too. I want to go to your country, and be respected, and get a good job there and not be looked down on.”

The old couple seem slightly surprised by both the passion and the eloquence of Zhou’s response, but they are nodding their heads. So is everyone else.

Rob Gifford, China Road (2007), p.200.

5 thoughts on ““What do you want most from the West?””

  1. The huge problem with this idea of respect is we have two different cultural beliefs.

    In Asia respect comes from (1) age, or (2) deeds.

    In the U.S. respect only comes from deeds – age means almost nothing.

    Furthermore, in the U.S., no matter what you do, you will always have vocal media detractors tearing down/misrepresenting what you do.

    China will never get the respect it feels it is due from the U.S. or the West.

  2. For Mr. Zhou – when he arrives in the U.S. he will be terribly disappointed when he finds he has moved from a society where hierarchy, position and age are important, to a “sibiling society” where all are equal – or strive to appear so.

    He will be accepted by his U.S. neighbors as an equal, but nobody gets repected until they have done something to earn it.

  3. Sadly, I agree. At least from what I can see so far, Mr. Zhou and Mainlanders like him are never going to get what they want from “the West” because we don’t even comprehend what it is they want (face), and even if we did, we wouldn’t be all that inclined to give it (assuming we even knew how) because it seems like a silly game to us.

    Even the word “respect” — I sometimes wonder if Mainlanders and North Americans operate with different ideas of that this means. I don’t really know, but I get the impression that “respect” for Mainlanders might have more to do with outward actions that give face and less to do with what the people involved really think on the inside. But when North Americans think of “respect,” at least for me, it has everything to do with whether or not I truly esteem someone for who I think they truly are, not whether or not I’m willing to make respectful public gestures to someone just because they’re a big-shot.

  4. Hi, Sorry I can’t find any contact email or anything, but I just wanted to tell you we did an interview with Rob Gifford, and can make the radio programme available to you. (we’re a Chinese community radio station in London – sorry for the plug, but I did try to find an email address…)

    Maybe you could contact me?


  5. Sorry, but both James and Joel appear to misunderstand the seed salesman. He is talking about respect from the “West” to “China”, not personal action toward another individual. Here respect = equality. Mainlanders do not feel the West treating China equally or fairly. I am surprised that a seed salesman said this – I agree with him.

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