But I do wonder if sites native to non-Americans have much good to say about the U.S.?
Also very well said. I can't read or speak Chinese so I don't know what they say in general, but quite often on popular English forums, especially newspapers, you will come across huge venomous threads started by Chinese attacking all things Western and American. I'm sure it happens with lots of other forums and people all around the world. In most cases those making the comments don't know what they are talking about, since many of those people have never been abroad or have never met one of those people they are criticizing. It's rare for things to get like that here. If it did I wouldn't be here. In some ways the internet is great at bringing down those long-established cultural barriers, but in another way, because of the anonymity and facelessness, it is easy to conjure up your own ideas about those you are talking to.
I prefer not to enter that other ongoing thread about Chinese goods, but one comment that Ben made that I thought was very relevant and very important was that in order for people to understand a place and people and to be able to say anything authoritative and relevant about them, you need to visit those places and meet those people, talk to them, see how they live. Making blanket statements about a people from having read a book or magazine article about them just doesn't cut it. I think Ben was right: a lot of western notions about China are very outdated, hailing from back in the 70's and 80's. If you visited China today I think a lot of people would be astounded.
I studied architecture when I was a graduate student. My focus was on third world development and green architecture. These studies in addition to my heritage as a Filipino and my visits as a kid there and other places such as China and Pakistan, gave me what I thought was a better understanding of what problems the third world faced and what abject poverty was all about. Then, in 1991 I traveled through the Philippines for two months, and at the invitation of a famous writer there I was taken to stay for a week in the slums of Tondo, in particular the now-closed down site of Smokey Mountain, that gigantic landfill that people lived and scavenged on. What I saw and experienced shattered any smug ideas I had about being able to save the world or pretend to know what destitution is. It was utterly, irreversibly heartbreaking. Unlike anything I had ever seen in the States (I have very poor relatives in my family, from the Bronx, Brookline, and Harlem, plus I lived in Roxbury in Boston for a spell). Even today if I let any of those images enter my head I break down weeping. But the amazing thing was that all the people I met, every last eking-a-life-out-of-nothing person, from toddlers in rags to old people smoking in the alleyways, was alive. I mean, they were struggling to live, making the best they possibly could out of a really, really bad situation. And they smiled and laughed all the time, rarely complained. It was such a stark contrast to the constant whining that you hear from the States or the apathy and resignation you see everywhere in Japan. That trip fundamentally changed the paradigm I had been deluding myself with all that time.
My point is, you can't see the world for what it is just by reading about it, and you can't change your prejudices and ingrained attitudes until something outside of yourself radically contrasts to your suppositions. What you have in your head is not what the real world is all about.
Doug, yes, it's those divisions. But, oh, those divisions can be hard to see inside yourself!