Ever since the West first came into contact with China 250 years ago, the Western image of China has been remarkably volatile. Based on an ignorance rooted in great differences in language, culture, ideology, stages of development, and geographical location—and reenforced by a Puritan heritage that requires us to make devils of our enemies and saints of our allies—this volatility has led us through various phases. Harold Isaacs characterizes them as the ages of Respect, Contempt, Benevolence, Admiration, Disenchantment, and Hostility. Now, it would seem, with the opening to China during the Nixon administration, we have entered a new phase, that of Romanticism.
Various groups and influences promote this new romanticism. Many people who are alienated from contemporary American society project their dissatisfaction onto China. They see in China virtues that America once had but lost, such virtues as self-discipline and selfsacrifice. Some intellectuals, particularly those a...
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