To many in the Western world, China is still something of a mystery.
Even as Xi works to liberalize the country’s capital markets, promote the yuan in international trade and investment, and generally open the country’s doors to the world, it’s still a strange, foreboding place in the eyes of the Western public.
Tales of censorship, “disappearing” journalists, and endemic corruption don’t help, and neither does the ambiguity inherent in attempting to run a communist state with a semi-capitalistic economy.
Of course this is a two-way street. That is, the West is something of an enigma for many Chinese as well.
For those wondering what comes to mind for the average Chinese web surfer with regard to nations in Europe, we present the following map from Foreign Policy who “plotted the most common Chinese-language Baidu query for each European nation.” Highlights include "likes to fight" for Russia, "why doesn't it annex Portugal" for Spain, and "beautiful women" for Ukraine.
From Foreign Policy:
This provides a glimpse into how Chinese netizens view the peoples and countries of Europe — a continent whose industrialization once both humiliated China and inspired its admiration, and that has loomed large in the country’s imagination ever since.
The ghosts of the past haunt Chinese queries for many countries. Chinese netizens ask why France and Poland can’t beat Germany — though vague phrasing and the Chinese language’s lack of verb tenses admittedly mean these might just be soccer questions, which also appear frequently in search results about World War II. (Those Belgian red devils? That has been thecolloquial name for Belgian soccer players since 1906.) There is no ambiguity about Italy: Netizens ask why that nation was not subjected to the same postwar criticism as Japan and Germany. Britain’s role in the Opium Wars, the successive 19th-century conflicts that forced China to grant territorial concessions to European nations, comes up. And for Germany, references to killing and hating Jews topped the search suggestions, though another top query, “Why do Germans still hate Hitler?” indicates a modicum of balance.
Quirks of European political divisions and territorial boundaries also arouse Chinese curiosity. There is considerable confusion about who does and does not belong to institutions like the European Union and the eurozone. The political status of parts of the British Isles is an object of intense interest to China’s online community, which asks about the independence (or the lack thereof) of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Netizens also ask why German-speaking Austria does not unite with Germany, and why Italy and Spain do not respectively annex the Vatican City and Portugal.