In 1773, King George III dispatched Lord McCartney as his ambassador to China to present himself at the court of the Qing Emperor, Qianlong. Emperor Qianlong, widely considered as an enlightened ruler, dismissed the ambassador by saying, “As your ambassador has seen for himself, we possess all things. I set no value in objects strange and ingenious and have no use for your manufactures”. It is not without reason that the Chinese name of the country means the “middle country”. Chinese have traditionally considered their place right at the centre of the universe and historians and commentators often ascribe to the Chinese attributes of an enormous self-pride, bordering on xenophobia. However, if there is one attribute which a modern historian will ascribe to China, it is “change”. China has changed beyond recognition since Deng Xiao Ping opened its doors to the external world, while at the same time proclaiming that “to be rich is glorious”. The change is not only evident in gleaming new highways and sky caressing towers, but also in the people’s minds. TNS set about to investigate the contemporary urban Chinese view of the world, and also their own place in it.
On the criteria of economic development and world leadership the US towers above all countries in the Chinese minds. Chinese clearly acknowledge America as an economic powerhouse, a world leader and an influential country – far ahead of any other country, including their own. As an economic power they place China at the third place, just a little behind Japan. However as a “world leader” and an “influential country” the Chinese place their own country at the No. 2 slot, after the US, but far ahead of any other country. It is evident that the Chinese are proud of what they have achieved (justifiably so, if you look at the 8%+ growth rate for 20 years in succession) and clearly place China far ahead of any other as a country “with a fast growing economy”.
The Chinese do not have a high association of any country other than their own as “peaceful”. The Scandinavian countries come next – though at a significant distance from China. Only 9% consider the US as “peaceful” – the same as the UK. Japan, a country against which China still harbors historical grudges, is rated even poorer.
German machinery and American computers
On the commercial front, the Chinese have the highest opinion of Germany - with a 38%association with “a country which makes excellent quality products” . US has the second highest association (33%). Japan and Scandinavian countries also do well, followed by Korea, China itself and UK.
US industry is seen to excel in many areas – ranging from quality of high tech products (No. 1 position), health care products (No. 1), and quality of drinks (No. 1 again). Germany is seen to make the best automobiles and machinery. Despite all the trouble facing the American automobile industry, Chinese still hold the American automobiles in high regard – next only to the ones made by the Germans.
But when it comes to perfumes and luxury products, no country can match the allure of France – a perception which extends to personal products in general and in fact also garments (though Chinese feel they themselves make pretty good garments).
In the field of computer hardware and software, US is the clear leader – with no other country anywhere near it (India a distant second in software). In general, American products have a perception of being technologically advanced, innovative and modern. Germans and the Japanese do better on products with good craftsmanship, good detailing and products with a long life. Quite understandably, the Chinese consider themselves as the country offering products with the best value for money (followed by Japan, and the US not doing too badly at No. 3 slot).
Fashion leader and trend setter
America is seen to combine the best of science and art, and is not only seen as a centre of technological excellence but also as fashion leader and a trend setter. US is far ahead of anyone else in producing good popular music and good movies and drama. Chinese express their appreciation of this by lapping up the pirated DVDs and downloading from free file share sites – though not as the US would like them to express - by paying the full price that the Americans normally pay.
Not only science, technology and art, the Chinese recognize American excellence in education and sports. American Universities are considered as the best, with UK not far behind.
While in pop art, the US reigns supreme, when it comes to serious art and culture, it is France which takes the place of pride, and specifically on the quality of museums, UK takes the top spot. As a country with rich culture and traditions, the Chinese are proud of their own place – India and UK are a distant second.
The Chinese feel that the US is the best country in the world to go and work in (China included). However, much to the relief of the anti-immigration American lobby, most Chinese still prefer to settle and finally retire in their own country. They would, however, like to visit America as tourists – though in this US competes strongly with several other destinations such as France, Australia , Scandinavia and Italy.
Cuisine and people
In spite of the fact that the Chinese consume large quantities of Kentucky Fried Chicken and McDonald’s burgers (or perhaps because of it!), the Chinese do not hold the American cuisine in a high esteem. On this aspect, Chinese show extreme patriotism, though some have positive associations with French food.
Finally, there is one area that the Chinese men need to seriously work on. Only 12% of Chinese women consider men from their own country as handsome (Japanese men rate the worst here). Many more Chinese women seem to be drawn towards the French, the British and the Italians (all above 20% association). However, the Chinese men are most drawn to their own women (40%), though some acknowledge the charms of the French ladies (23%). With a serious gender imbalance coupled with the poor evaluation from their women, Chinese men may find attracting suitable spouses an uphill task.
Based on an online research among 398 Chinese, aged 18-44 and living in key tier 1 and tier 2 cities of China. The research was conducted by TNS, the largest marketing information provider in China, and the second largest research agency in the world.
Written by Ashok Sethi. Ashok is the regional director methodology and analytics for TNS and is based in Shanghai.