Newswise — As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, scholars reflect on the ways China’s place in the world has been forever altered by forces within and outside of the country.
China has passed its peak
Wang Feng is a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine and an adjunct professor at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. He is an expert on global social and demographic changes and social inequality. He has served on expert panels for the United Nations and the World Economic Forum, as well as he served as a senior fellow and director at the Brookings Institution Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy.
Wang sees the ascendance of China in the last 40 years as the result of a unique confluence of circumstances: a dynamic leader in Deng Xiaoping, plus a significant rural population that moved to cities and provided a huge labor force. In the last 20 years, China has produced 600 billionaires — and gaping wealth disparities.
“When China was poor, people thought it would be poor forever. Now that China is rich, people think it will be rich forever. But China has passed its peak,” he says. “The headwinds of an aging population, the legacy of the one-child policy, and tremendous social inequality will present enormous internal challenges in the years ahead.”
Chilling academic exchanges between China and the U.S.
Emily Baum is an associate professor of modern Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine, and director of the Long U.S.-China Institute, which aims to bridge the gaps between academia, journalism and the public sector. Baum says the pandemic will likely affect study abroad for years to come, in both directions, with negative impacts on both sides. There was already a significant disparity with roughly 370,000 Chinese students studying in the U.S. and only 11,000 Americans studying in China annually.
“A drop in Chinese enrollments will have major consequences for the future of higher education in the U.S., where many schools rely on the full tuition paid by international students to stay afloat,” Baum says.
But equally worrisome: “The educational decoupling that had already begun before COVID-19 — and will be greatly exacerbated by it — means that there will be far fewer opportunities for each country’s students to gain firsthand knowledge of, and mutual understanding about, the other.”
China’s box office changes Hollywood portrayals
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is a Chancellor’s professor of history at the University of California, Irvine. A specialist in modern Chinese history, he has testified before a Congressional-Executive commission on China, conducted a State Department briefing on contemporary Chinese politics, and worked with the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. His articles have been published by TIME, The Nation, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, New York Times and others.
Wasserstrom notes that Hollywood films and tv often negatively present whichever East Asian country is most feared at the time. However, the power of China’s box office is changing that.
“Due to concern with the massive market for movies in the People’s Republic of China, you do not often see negative portrayals of that country on American screens,” says Wasserstrom. “A telling example of our living in a new era is that when filmmakers were setting out to make a new version of ‘Red Dawn,’ a film that originally portrayed a Russian invasion of the U.S., the plan was to have Chinese soldiers serve as the enemies. Concern about PRC box office receipts led to a change in nationality — the enemies became North Korean soldiers.”
Chinese food in the U.S. and China
Yong Chen is the author of several books including Chop Suey, USA: The Story of Chinese Food in America (Columbia University Press, 2014). He also co-curated “‘Have You Eaten Yet?’: The Chinese Restaurant in America” in Atwater Kent Museum, Philadelphia (2006), and the Museum of Chinese in the Americas, New York City (2004–05). He is professor of history at the University of California, Irvine.
He points out that the COVID-19 pandemic hastened changes to culinary habits that were already underway in China, including less consumption of wild animals, greater demand for fast food, and a shift away from communal or “family style” meals. Meanwhile, in the U.S., Chinese restaurants have been hit hard by anti-Asian sentiments, while also showing signs of resilience thanks to the popularity of Chinese takeout.