2006 Student-Faculty Fellows: Valparaiso University
Chinese Perceptions of the Rise of China and Chinese Relations with the United States
Mentor: Zhimin Lin, Political Science
Students: Bethany Birch, ’06; Carl Boschert, ’07; Stanley Chiu, ’06; Laura Van’t Land, ’06
In our proposal, we listed three basic goals: 1) to shed light on how the Chinese view the rise of China and the country’s relations with the United States; 2) to discern the similarities and differences in Chinese perceptions between the general public and the elite groups; and 3) to measure how well informed the Chinese are concerning key domestic and international issues and discover general patterns of how Chinese perceive or misperceive these issues.
While we are still in the process of processing the data collected from extensive interviews and carefully conducted surveys in order to turn our findings into two publishable papers and several essays, the research project has yielded sufficient results to help us answer these questions on a solid footing and with confidence. With four of the five members of this group returning to campus and most of the survey results collected, we plan to spend the next three months to complete the project and produce the end products.
Research is far enough along to state several preliminary results of our joint study:
1) Both the Chinese public and elites (especially the latter) remain cautious of the significance, extent, and impact of the rise of China. While most feel proud when the issue is raised, there is no rush to advocate a more aggressive Chinese foreign policy (some increase in China’s aid to other countries was supported by most interviewees and respondents to surveys), nor were there clear nationalistic undertones (in fact, even less than noted in a 2000 survey).
2) Both the Chinese public and elites hold rather modest assessment and expectation of China’s role in world affairs. Most view China as a regional rather than a world power. Most are not eager to increase China’s role in military or security issues. However, most regarded China’s active role in the United Nations as its biggest diplomatic achievement.
3) There are several discernable differences between the general Chinese public and Chinese elites regarding Sino-U.S. relations.
4) The Chinese view of the U.S. shows considerable continuity between a survey undertaken in 2000 and the one completed under this grant.
The Valparaiso students and Professor Lin spent three weeks together in China to conduct interviews (17 Chinese elites, defined as someone who can influence directly or indirectly China’s foreign policy, were interviewed), work with Valparaiso’s research partner, Zhejiang University to conduct surveys in a dozen cities in Zhejiang (over 1,000 completed surveys were returned), and observe and converse with the general public to secure more informal information.
Upon receiving notification that Valparaiso had received a Student-Faculty Fellows grant the four student participants met weekly to hone their research skills and prepare for their trip to China. I was initially assigned to research US policy towards China within the past 5 years. As time neared for the research team to move to China to execute further research, we moved to the second phase of preparation, which was writing the survey and preparing. I was assigned to construct questions regarding current Chinese perceptions of the US related to military and security issues. We also worked to expand our Chinese vocabulary to help us in the interviewing process. Once in China, we quickly developed an effective interviewing process. Now, back at Valparaiso, I am finishing research on perceptions of the role of the executive office of the U.S. government in formulating and executing policy towards China for inclusion in the group report by drawing from library resources but more importantly from the surveys completed this summer in China.
By conducting research firsthand in China, I have had a valuable experience that will be useful in my future academic and professional work. Before leaving for China I helped develop the questionnaire that we distributed to various groups in China. I also was charged with finding background information about public opinion polls regarding U.S. attitudes towards China. This information will be a key to writing one of the papers we are working on which compares public opinions of Chinese about the U.S. with those of Americans towards China. My time spent researching in China was quite an experience for me. First of all, I was able to improve my research abilities. Second, I improved my Chinese language abilities. I have studied Chinese for three years, but this was the first time I was able to use Chinese in an outside academic endeavor. The research experience has made me want to increase my work in the field of Chinese studies. For instance, I am beginning the process of applying for a Fulbright to do research in China in 2007-2008. Additionally, I plan on going to graduate school in the near future to prepare myself for a career in either international law or business.
My focus area in our ASIANetwork research project was how people’s perceptions of society are formed and why these perceptions are important. After conducting a literature review and exploring this topic, I drafted questions for our survey and interviewing that sought to ascertain from where interviewees derived their news and for how much time they followed a given story. This better understanding of perception formation has helped me become a better social researcher. In addition, after completing the field research portion of our project, I entered into a Chinese language summer immersion program to improve my Chinese.