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China – Panda or Dragon?

The following article is an introduction to The Real China Challenge: Discussions on Modern China, a non-credit Continuum course taught by John L. Rogers. The course is held at Water Tower Campus on Thursdays from September 26 to October 17. Register here for this timely course.

China – Panda or Dragon?

 By John L. Rogers

 For many countries, national identity is symbolized by animals through which a nation expresses its values, culture, and aspirations. The Chinese have at least two such depictions, the panda and the dragon. Both speak volumes about how the country is perceived by itself and others.

Large, playful, and undeniably cute, the panda demands respect, if only for its size and inherent power. As a long‐time symbol of Chinese international good‐will, pandas have become traditional gifts to foreign zoos as friendship gestures, and the image is predominate on Chinese commemorative coins and souvenirs. The Dragon, as a symbol, has a more complicated meaning. In China, the dragon, traditionally associated with the Chinese Emperor, is a symbol of strength and fortune. This is also true throughout the Eastern world where association with dragons is uniformly positive. Beyond the Dragon dance performed at Chinese New Year, the mythical creature connotes good luck and, as one of the twelve animal characters of the Chinese zodiac, it is auspicious to be born under this sign.

In the West, however, dragons tend to be viewed as evil and aggressive. The Economist magazine, which provides many amusing graphics in support of its content, unfortunately perpetuates the distinctly western view in its depiction by showing a fire breathing dragon ‘threatening’ the U.S. President over the various trade disputes between the countries. This symbolism reflects the disconnect between the East and West and leads us to the question of how to understand the future of the relationship between the U.S. and China.

The story of China’s unprecedented economic growth over the last thirty years has been told and retold acquiring almost mythical status. Hundreds of millions of people have moved from abject poverty into a more abundant lifestyle with rapid industrialization and urbanization. A large emerging middle class, fueled by new wealth, is purchasing automobiles, condos, other consumer goods, and focusing on education at a record pace. Recent reports demonstrate that China has overtaken Japan as the world’s second largest economy with accompanying predictions of its eventual overtaking of the U.S. But the cost of such growth has consequences and the world is strongly impacted by China’s return to the world stage. Everyone who travels to China comments on the air pollution. The country is now the number one emitter of green house gases, affecting every person on the planet. The International Energy Commission recently issued its report that China is now the number one consumer of energy in the world (although, it is important to note that the United States uses about five times as much energy on a per capita basis).

On the international stage, China has accumulated over $2.4 trillion in foreign reserves with the continued problematic U.S. trade imbalance and its holding of American government debt is widely reported. China has positioned itself for access to world resources investing heavily in oil and gas reserves, as well as metal and mineral mining. It has consistently taken the lead in assisting developing countries with infrastructure construction and its version of the state capitalism and economic growth—known as the ‘Beijing Model’—is viewed more positively in many parts of the world than western style democracy.

So, what does this mean for American citizens, businesses, and foreign policy? Is China unstoppable in economic terms and is it to be the next super power? Because of China’s rising position in the world, we think that it is important to understand key issues in this arena. Continuum offers a Global Studies course entitled The Real China Challenge: Discussions on Modern China. Please visit LUC.edu/continuum to learn more. Our current open section is scheduled for Thursdays, Sept. 26–Oct. 17, from 6:30–8:30 at Water Tower Campus. Register now at LUC.edu/continuum.