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Scholar says China's image in West incomplete

Updated: 2013-03-25 13:18
By Uking Sun (

An Australian scholar said China's image in the West has improved in the past 50 years but lags much behind the real progress on the ground.

Colin Mackerras, professor emeritus at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, said Western views of China are as much a function of the West as they are of China.

Scholar says China's image in West incomplete

Colin Mackerras, professor emeritus at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. [Photo by Uking Sun/]

"China's image is shaped but the realities in China, politics and socialization of people to regard the other as exotic- better or inferior," he said at the 5th World Forum on China Studies in Shanghai.

He said there's a tendency in the West to exaggerate the defaults and downplay the achievement in China, while the change in the 1970s was not due to any change in China itself but to the politics in Nixon period.

The bias is partly due to continuing conviction that the West is superior, which acts as a kind of limitation on China's image, according to Mackerras.

Many years have passed since Jonathan Spence wrote in his book To Change China, published in 1969, that the "West has the right to change China because they had the ability, the faith, and the drive", but the remnants of this attitude is still there, the professor said.

Mackerras first visited China in 1964 and has concentrated his researches on China's ethnic minorities, traditional theatre, Western images of China and bilateral relations between China and Australia.

He took human rights as an example, saying "many in the West see human rights as individual not communitarian" .

He agreed with James Pack's opinion in the book Ideal Illusions that "contrarily to claims of what human rights scholars and advocates, China was never really the great human rights exception. "

Mackerras, also a visiting professor at Renmin University of China in Beijing, urged people to be aware of the influence of power over knowledge and the unseen limitations on thinking.