Generalization Plays the Trick

My reader wishing star quoted a poem about people’s confusing about the reaction of western world in this comment.

This morning, I received a poem entitled ” to the western world ” from a friend of mine. I have no idea where the poem was from and how many people have read this before. Anyway, I tried to translate it into English as the questions put forwarded in the poem reflect the real thinking of quite a lot of ordinary Chinese people.

Due to limited time, I was not able to polish my translation well enough. However, I tried my best to make it true to its original . I know some visitors to this blog have profound understanding of both English and Chinese languages. Your comments to the translation is welcome.

Here goes the poem in both Chinese and English:


During the opium war, when the opium smuggled from the Britain undermined our body and morality, turning us into ‘the Sick men of East Asia’, you called us yellow disaster;


When your propaganda portrayed us as “the next super power “, you said that we are a threat to all of you.


When we closed our door, you broke it through with your drugs.


When we embrace the free trade, you condemned us for “stealing’ your jobs.


When our territory was split into pieces, your armies marched in to share a spoon of soup,


When we tried to put together all the fragments back, you said we are impeding a free Tibet.


When we tried to pratice communism, you hated us because we are “communists”


When we tried to learn from Capitamlism, you hated us because we want to be capitalists.


When we possess 1.3 billion people, you said that we were destroying the earth.


When we tried to control the population, you said that we are violating human rights.


When we were struck by poverty, you thought we were dogs.


If we offer you with loans, then you will say we put your countries in debt.


When we establish our own industry, you said we are the cause to the pollution.


When we sell our products, you accused us of resulting in the global warming;


When we buy petroleum, you called that exploitation


But when you started a war because of oil, you called that liberation,


When we get lost in the chaos and confusion, you said we should rule the countory by law


When we tried to safegard the law and strike down the violence, you said we were violating human rights.


When we keep silence, you said we should be entitled to free speech.


When we utter our own voices, you said we were brainswashed or behaved too defensive


Why do you have such a bottomless hatred for us ? We asked.


No . We don’t hate you. You answered.


We don’t hate you either. But, do you really understand us ?



Of couse we do. You repied, You have AFP, CNN, BBC…..


What on earth do you want from us ?


Think clear before you make an answer …


Because all you have is limited chances


Enough. It’s hypocritical to say that we have the same world.


What we called for is one world, one deam and peace for all.


This blue planet should be big enough to hold us all.

At the first read, it seems pretty reasonable poem that it reflects the truth – the timing, the reason and the results seem all accurate. Then “What’s wrong with the western world?”

However, at second thoughts, you may found out the problem in the reasonsing there: generalization plays the trick.

I think, if you add just one term in front of “you”, the poem may reflect the truth better, and don’t cause too much problem. The term is:

Some of

Adding the term transform the poem to

When we possess 1.3 billion people, some of you said that we were destroying the earth.

When we tried to control the population, some of you said that we are violating human rights.

When we were struck by poverty, some of you thought we were dogs.

If we offer you with loans, then some ofyou will say we put your countries in debt.


To generalize what is happening in part of China as the whole China, or to generalize some of the many piont-of-views as the western world opinion can cause a big problem here. What I learnt was, be very careful to use the word of “China”, or “western world”, or “France” when we talk about somethi. Even if we have to use it to form a sentence, we need to understand by using the “big term”, it actually mean part of it.

That is the logic mistake I found out in the poem. It is just like the following one:

In a football game, when China wins, Chinese people are very sad;

when China loses, Chinese peole are very happy.

What’s wrong with this country?

To explain the confusing situation, we can better explain the same fact ths way:

In a football game between Henan and Shandong,

when Henan wins, people in Shandong is sad;

when Shandong loses, people in Henan is happy.

To describe “Henan” as “China” – the example of generalization – is root cause of the logic problem. However, it is very hard to find out this kind of mistake – the same mistake as the blind man claiming the elephant is a pole. That is also the reason in many debates, I found people are arguing whether China is rich or poor – a question that don’t have a good answer forever.

9 thoughts on “Generalization Plays the Trick

  1. Chinese citizens are confused by all of this – as the poem reflects. But finally Chinese are getting an idea of what its been like to be an American for the last hundred years. No matter what we (Americans) do we are criticized by everyone else. Sometimes we deserve the criticism and sometimes we don’t. We are used to it. Chinese need to get used to it and learn how to deal with it better.

  2. oh i really admire your analyse on this so called poem.

    at first i read it i assume every thing the poem render is accurate,but after reading your analyse ,i suppose i was wrong.

  3. We in America face similar problem. George Bush says if Americans don’t support his policies then they are unpatriotic. Hu Jintao says if Chinese people don’t support the communist party then they are unpatriotic.

  4. @Tony, those two are more like “Mixing” trick – mixing too not so related things together, so when you say A, they say you are saying B…

  5. Answering to Chinese grievances

    When we were the Sick Man of Asia, We were called The Yellow Peril.

    Actually, the Japanese were called the “Yellow Peril.” Kaiser Wilhelm II coined the term after Japan defeated China in the first Sino-Japanese War in 1895. I accept the broader point-that there is a racial component to Western worries about China-but it’s best to be clear about the historical facts. And while the racial element is there, that doesn’t mean that western attitudes can be reduced to racism. The illegitimate aspects of Western fears do not prove that there are no legitimate grounds for concern.

    When we are billed to be the next Superpower, we are called The Threat.

    Well, yes. Welcome to the club. “Superpower” has never been an unalloyed compliment. China, as you know, has been a leading critic of American hegemony.

    When we closed our doors, you smuggled drugs to open markets.

    True. That was bad. It is also true that most of the opium smoked in China during the period referred to was grown in China and, of course, transported and smoked by Chinese. That doesn’t excuse Western perfidy, but it does cast doubt on the simplistic Evil Foreigners/Innocent Chinese narrative that is peddled in much Chinese writing about the period. It is also true that, during the same period, the “imperialists” brought the first universities, modern hospitals, women’s education, railroads, streetlights, etc., to China. You might fairly respond that Chinese were perfectly capable of adapting the fruits of modernity to China in their own time and manner, without arrogant foreigners forcing these things upon them while violating China’s sovereignty, exploiting its natural resources, etc. This is the classic argument between colonizers and colonized. Interestingly, China now stands on the colonizer side of the discussion when it defends its actions in Tibet by pointing out how investment has saved the Tibetan people from their own feudal, backward ways. How worms do turn.

    When we embrace Free Trade, You blame us for taking away your jobs.

    It’s a complicated issue, but the West can be tagged with some hypocrisy on this one. Sorry about the whining. And hey, congratulations on raising the standard of living of so many people. The Chinese have worked hard and deserve to live more comfortably.

    When we were falling apart, You marched in your troops and wanted your fair share.

    There was some marching, but it wasn’t all that bad in the grand scheme of things. Take a look at the experience of countries that were really colonized, like the Belgian Congo, to put China’s experience in perspective. Again, the forcing open of China’s door brought benefits to China together with the insults and exploitation. See the “What did the Romans ever do for us?” scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

    When we tried to put the broken pieces back together again, Free Tibet you screamed, It Was an Invasion!

    The history of Sino-Tibetan relations is more complex that either the People’s Daily or the Free Tibet movement claim. For a balanced discussion, listen to the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations’ recent conference call at here.

    When we tried Communism, you hated us for being Communist.

    True, more or less. And China hated America for being a capitalist liberal democracy. It was a hate- and fear-filled time all around.

    When we embrace Capitalism, you hate us for being Capitalist.

    Not exactly. But America does fear China, in part, because China is gaining wealth and power through following (with Chinese characteristics) prescriptions that were offered by the West.

    When we have a billion people, you said we were destroying the planet.

    The United States is obviously not in any position to offer a moral critique of environmental destruction wrought by other nations. But it is in an excellent position to offer observations from environmental science, to describe best practices based on long experience, and to promote greener technologies in concert with the many Chinese, in and out of government, who are concerned about China’s poisoning of its own land, air, and water. The complaint in this line is symptomatic of one of the most dangerous (and charmless) Chinese psycho-rhetorical moves: the tendency to focus on the emotional response to a critique-the perceived insult-rather than the factual claims of a critique. My suggestion is that the Chinese ignore the insults, evaluate the facts, and clean up China’s environment for the sake of the Chinese themselves.

    When we tried limiting our numbers, you said we abused human rights.

    The issue was not the goal, but the methods. In my experience, most Chinese support the One Child policy, at least in theory, even as they are saddened by it. This difficult moral equation is best worked out by the Chinese themselves. But I would have more confidence in China’s ability to create an effective and humane population policy if every aspect of the issue could be openly debated and continually re-evaluated.

    When we were poor, you thought we were dogs.

    This is untrue, and the self-pity in the line is worrisome. America’s long record of sympathy for China’s poverty is one of the brighter spots in the history of bilateral relations. Americans have donated money, materiel, expertise, and, in some cases, their lives to alleviate Chinese suffering. While China’s great material progress is due primarily to the hard work and sacrifice of the Chinese people, one would be hard-pressed to point to any aspect of China’s development that has no connection to the United States. There was some condescension and self-aggrandizement in American sympathy for China, but it’s an imperfect world and motives are always mixed.

    When we loan you cash, you blame us for your national debts.

    Yeah. Sorry about that. And thanks for the cash.

    When we build our industries, you call us Polluters.

    China’s industries are major polluters, as China itself acknowledges. America is a major polluter too. We must work on the issue together. Again, the tone of the line is worrisome: one should be able to point out, as a matter of fact, that a country is producing a lot of pollution, without being accused of “calling that nation a polluter.” A doctor who tells a patient she has cancer is not calling that patient “cancerous,” or asserting his superiority, or claiming that he has never had or does not currently have cancer himself. He is simply taking an essential step on the road to a cure.

    When we sell you goods, you blame us for global warming.

    I think we’ve covered this one. I’ll try not to be as redundant in my comments as the author was in his or her indictment.

    When we buy oil, you call it exploitation and genocide.

    No one has said that buying oil is genocide. What has been said is that arming and abetting an oil-rich government that slaughters its own people makes one complicit in genocide. The point seems too obvious to spell out, as is the point that the American government has underwritten more than its share of noxious regimes.

    When you go to war for oil, you call it liberation.

    I don’t want to defend the invasion, but I should point out that Americans do not speak of “The Liberation of Iraq.” They call it simply “The Iraq War,” and most of them oppose it. They oppose it freely in print, in film, and on street corners. They are free to criticize their government’s positions, to unpack their government’s propaganda, and to not vote for politicians who support the war.

    Sorry to get up on the soapbox. Two of the nice things about defending American positions, no matter how wrongheaded they may be, are (1) in a pluralistic society, there is no such thing as “the American position” because the government doesn’t have a monopoly on meaning. There is therefore no such thing as the unitary “You” in China’s Grievances. (I don’t believe in the unitary “We” either.) (2) No foreign critique of the United States is ever as scathing, informed, or effective as critiques offered by Americans themselves. That gives us a thick skin, confidence, a certain immunity to insult.

    When we were lost in chaos and rampage, you demanded rules of law.

    No. Deng Xiaoping set China on the road toward Rule of Law so that that China, in its own interest, could escape from chaos by attracting foreign investment, technology, and managerial expertise.

    When we uphold law and order against violence, you call it violating human rights.

    “Law and Order” is not the same thing as “Rule of Law.”

    When we were silent, you said you wanted us to have free speech.


    When we are silent no more, you say we are brainwashed- xenophobics.

    Americans are too quick to call the Chinese by unpleasant names: brainwashed, xenophobic, nationalistic. This impulse hurts American understanding of what is really occurring in China. But asking your opponents where they get their information, requesting that they make reasoned arguments that consider all of the available evidence, and suggesting that serious historians be consulted in discussions of history is not the same thing as name calling.

    Why do you hate us so much, we asked.

    No, you answered, we don’t hate you.

    We don’t hate you either,

    Glad to hear it. One of the things that has concerned me about this spring’s dustups is that they have created the impression that Americans are anti-Chinese and Chinese are anti-American. Neither is true. I’ve worked in U.S.-China relations for 22 years, spending equal amounts of time in both countries. There are blowhards in both nations. On balance, however, our mutual fascination outweighs our mutual frustration. The Chinese are gracious hosts, are internationally minded, and are more patriotic than nationalistic. Americans are interested in and impressed by China. That is why we welcome so many Chinese to our universities, our workplaces, and our families.

    But, do you understand us?

    When most of my Chinese friends use phrases like “understand China,” they really mean “accept China’s understanding of itself” or, more specifically, “accept the Chinese Communist Party’s interpretation of things (the π˙«È).” But nobody gets to be viewed only as they wish to be viewed. People are smarter than that. My understanding of China is no doubt incomplete (how could it be otherwise?), and is certainly different than the CCP’s, but that doesn’t make it illegitimate. There are innumerable Chinese “understandings” of China just as there are innumerable American understandings of America. Perhaps we’d be better off if we dropped talk of “understanding” altogether.

    Of course we do, you said,

    We have AFP, CNN and BBC’s…

    The writer is simply putting words into the mouth of an American straw man.

    What do you really want from us?

    Think hard first, then answer…

    Excellent question. I don’t think Americans know the answer. It will take time to figure out. China’s growth over the past two decades is without precedent or historical analogy. It has major implications for every sphere of human endeavor. But China is changing and those implications are evolving so rapidly that it is impossible to come to any conclusions about them. How are we to evaluate China’s progress and problems? We don’t have an adequate measure yet. We couldn’t possibly have. China doesn’t know what to make of its progress either. As Deng said, it is crossing the river by feeling for stones. But we do know that the stakes are high. That is one of the reasons that events in China are watched with the closest scrutiny and subjected to the most skeptical analysis by non-Chinese. The whole world has a stake in what China becomes so, yes, the world asks questions and, no, the world will not take the Chinese government’s word for anything without conducting its own investigations. Congratulations are due to China and are frequently given. But the West, the East-everyone-like the Chinese themselves, has reason to ask where China is heading.

    Because you only get so many chances.

    Don’t end on a threat. It undermines your declared interest in peace.

    Enough is Enough, Enough Hypocrisy for This One World.

    Plenty of hypocrisy to go around. But hypocrisy is an easy and uninteresting accusation. Let’s scrap it. Our joint challenge is to manage complexity.

    We want One World, One Dream, and Peace on Earth.

    We have One World, whether we want it or not, and everyone wants Peace on Earth. The cultural divide is this: much of the non-Chinese world believes in Many Dreams and it wants them all at once: my dream, your dream, the dreams of people I dislike and disagree with, all competing and evolving and interbreeding in one chaotic, peaceful mess, and may the most beautiful dreams prevail. The One Dream can only be imposed by the One Power. People dislike the One Power. That’s the main reason that the Olympic torch was hounded in the West and East.

    This Big Blue Earth is Big Enough for all of Us.

    It had better be.

    Good luck in the Olympic games.

  6. @Jay: “But finally Chinese are getting an idea of what its been like to be an American for the last hundred years. No matter what we (Americans) do we are criticized by everyone else.”

    LOL, exactly. I told my wife the exact same thing after the initial Paris/London fiascos. You plan to be a world power? Then better get used to everyone else criticizing you. At least China and the US can bond as the French criticize us both from now on :)

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