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Shy China needs to be braver about expressing its values

2010. 21 June

by Sun Weichi
( I visited the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai last month, as part of my job as a journalist for a Chinese newspaper in the US.

The most impressive part for me was neither the animated version of the famous Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival in the China Pavilion, nor the gorgeous 360-degree rotating musical being screened in the Saudi Pavilion.

I was most impressed by the US Pavilion. It may not be as spectacular as the China Pavilion, but it's a masterpiece of publicity and effect.

The China Pavilion certainly lives up to its theme of "Chinese Wisdom in Urban Development." Through the animated versions of famous paintings of Chinese towns, the audience can explore the long history of Chinese urban civilization and the great changes in life in China.

With the theme of "Rise to the Challenge," the US Pavilion is a much more successful publicity effort. Through movies and displays, the audience can observe the bright side of US society and its diverse values. It may make the audience look forward to life in the US.

The China Pavilion is filled with a massive sense of history, while the US Pavilion has a strong feeling of reality and modernity. As a result, the audience comes away with very different impressions from the two pavilions.

It is the different values of the two nations that have led to such a situation. Values are rooted in traditions. However, does China always have to look into the past and hide its modern values?

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her speech that the point of the US Pavilion was to spread US values. Can we say the same of the China Pavilion?

Ever since the 9/11 tragedy, it has been difficult to migrate to the US. However, US President Barack Obama's invitation to the Chinese, screened at the US Pavilion, sounds very sincere and moving. Looking at his smiling face, I could not help but wonder why China keeps such a low profile in its pavilion while welcoming visitors from around the world.

China was once the most culturally aggressive country in Asia, with many of its neigh-bors adapting Confucian values and other expressions of Chinese culture. But the reality is very different nowadays.

After 30 years of reform and opening-up, with social and economic progress, China's strength has grown dramatically.

The "China threat" theory still has considerable mileage in the international community. Therefore, the Chinese government responds by keeping a low profile.

There are old Chinese sayings like "long rafters rot first" and "early birds get shot first." It is usually, but not always, a good strategy to keep a low profile. When facing challenges, we must deal with them bravely.

The US spirit and concept of "Rise to the Challenge" is very aggressive, which is what China needs. China once attached great importance to positive publicity and was good at it. But it lost this useful tool some time ago. Looking at the populist and vulgar gossip reports on some Chinese media, they might lead China to a wrong direction and future which was not supposed to happen.

In contrast, the US is first-rate at publicity. The Chinese government's publicity materials usually insist on the "right" things from their own perspectives, which are not necessarily recognized by others.

China needs to learn from the US at this point. To take a positive attitude when embracing challenges, China needs to make its voice heard and conduct high-profile publicity on some issues.

Only by moving out of cultural introversion can China generate strong national cohe-sion.

The author is a US-based Chinese journalist. viewpoint@