I recently came across an art installation online by Yang Liu, a Chinese-born artist who lives in Germany. Her series of visual designs contrast the cultural norms and values of China and Germany, and their broader respective civilizations. Being a product of the West and East myself, I was constantly nodding at her images, as they captured much of the cultural differences between my adopted and birth country, a topic on which I have previously written. As I continued scrolling, I found myself “choosing” between which side I preferred best, depending on the topic. These choices, in the form of picking the blue (Germany) or red (China) tile and trivial though they are, in fact summarize one of my life’s larger struggles; the straddling of two different and often incongruous ways of being, and the striving to define an identity that is at once consistent with and is a synthesis of both.
There is an undeniable air of melancholy in America today. Everywhere it seems there is a growing sense that our best days are behind us, that the American Century is coming to an end, with the inevitable rise of China and a concomitant Chinese Century. There is also, of course, much in the way of punditry regarding how fast this will happen, or whether it will happen at all. My own feeling is that regardless of the details, the transition is inevitable. China, despite its non-trivial challenges and problems, is unstoppable (and if it weren’t, should it be stopped, given the likely millions who will be lifted out of poverty by its rise?), and thus regardless of whether it will happen in 2020 or 2050, many of us will live to see the day when the United States is no longer the world’s preeminent superpower.