March 30, 2016

6 facts about how Americans and Chinese see each other

Barack Obama and Xi Jinping
U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping attend a press conference on Nov. 12, 2014, in Beijing. (Photo by Feng Li/Getty Images)

Chinese President Xi Jinping is visiting Washington this week to participate in a major global summit on nuclear issues. Xi will also meet on Thursday afternoon with President Obama. The meeting comes at a time of ongoing tensions between the two countries. The U.S. and its Asian allies continue to express concerns about Beijing’s aggressive posture in the South China Sea. Washington would like to see Beijing put more pressure on North Korea to halt the development of its nuclear program. Xi’s crackdown on domestic dissent is drawing increasingly harsh criticism from many in the U.S. And Donald Trump and his competitors have made the economic challenge from China a major issue in the Republican presidential primary contest.

As Pew Research Center surveys have shown, many of these tensions are reflected in American public opinion. Meanwhile, the Chinese public has its own complaints about the U.S. – in particular, most believe the U.S. is trying to contain a rising China.

Here are six key findings about American public opinion toward China, and Chinese public opinion about the U.S.

1Overall, Americans and Chinese do not have especially positive views of each other. In our 2015 survey, just 38% of Americans have a favorable view of China, compared with a global median of 55% across 39 countries. Only a slightly higher share of the Chinese public – 44% – give the U.S. a positive rating, in stark contrast with the global median of 69%.

2Americans View Large Amount of Debt Held by China and Loss of Jobs as Most Serious ConcernsOn a list of possible issues with China, Americans are most concerned about economic issues, cybersecurity and human rights. Specifically, the amount of U.S. debt held by China and the loss of jobs to China are Americans’ top worries, but cyberattacks and Beijing’s human rights record aren’t far behind.

3Republicans are more critical of China compared with Democrats. From U.S. debt held by China to the loss of U.S. jobs and China’s growing military power, Republicans are far more concerned about these issues as a very serious problem than are Democrats. The exception is China’s impact on the environment, which worries Democrats more.

4Many Americans think China will ultimately become the world’s top superpower, and most Chinese agree. Americans are closely divided on this question: 46% say China either already has or will someday replace the U.S. as the top global power, while 48% say this will never happen. However, 67% of Chinese think their country has supplanted the U.S. or will in the future; only 16% say it won’t happen.

5Most Chinese think the U.S. is trying to hold their nation back. More than half (54%) of Chinese say the U.S. is trying to prevent China from becoming as powerful as the U.S. Only 28% say the U.S. accepts that China will become as powerful.

6Younger Generation in China and U.S. Holds More Positive View of the Other CountryYoung people in both countries express more favorable attitudes of the other nation. Americans ages 18-29 are more than twice as likely as those ages 50 or older to have a favorable opinion of China (55% vs. 27%). Similarly, 59% of Chinese adults under 30 give the U.S. a positive rating, compared with 29% of those 50 and older. And younger Chinese also find U.S. soft power more appealing – for example, 59% said they like American ideas about democracy in our 2012 poll, compared with 40% of the 50 and older group.

Note: This post was originally published on Sept. 22, 2015, and has been updated. 

Topics: China, Foreign Affairs and Policy, Global Balance of Power, International Governments and Institutions, International Threats and Allies, U.S. Global Image and Anti-Americanism

  1. Photo of Richard Wike

    is director of global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.

12 Comments

  1. Ken Moak4 months ago

    Americans and Canadians should visit China and see for themselves whether she is as evil as our media made her to be. My concern is that the subjective view of China propagated by the media could cultivate public support for a war with the rising economic power.

  2. Donald W.4 months ago

    Interesting.

  3. Anonymous4 months ago

    Visit China. You won’t regret it. It will give you insight into some of the problems facing China and how the government is dealing with it.

  4. Gleb Garshin5 months ago

    Thanks again for the free excellent research, Pew!

  5. Anonymous5 months ago

    Do we need to upgrade and increase our nuclear arsenal?
    Would this make us more or less safe?
    How much do we comet to keeping the South China Sea open?
    What do Vietnam, South Korea, Japan, and the Philepines think
    is in their best interests?

  6. sinnathamby sundaralingam5 months ago

    China today consist of many conflicting culture divisions leading to divisions of land and freedom one day. Similar to what USSR was before it got divided into different states. When one of these days Chinese Comunist authoritarian hold break loose like what happen during Gobachove rule in USSR. It will be left with one big China and many breakaway small Asian nations. Democratic future institutions like USA and EU will only grow in size and economy. when small countries may deside to join voluntarily into growing democratic institutions so that freedom of people and better living standered can be preserved.

  7. Anonymous5 months ago

    My biggest criticism of China/Chinese people is their seeming disregard for the
    looming extinction of many types of the world’s wildlife due at least in good part
    in some cases to China’s desire for body parts of these species for ornamental (ivory)
    or traditional medicine use (tigers, bears, sea horses, rhinoceroses horns, etc.).

    I have never heard or read about the Chinese government trying to educate their
    populace about the demise of elephants killed for their tusks or about the placebo
    effect of bear gall bladders/rhino horns/tiger paws, etc. when used for some
    supposed medical/aphrodisiacal need.

    As for their economic/business acumen, perhaps much has to do with their willingness
    to consider the long term and not just how much money they put in their wallets next
    month. And the Chinese/Japanese/Mexicans did not “take” our jobs; they were given
    to them by corporations because paying lower wages/benefits will result in greater
    profits to the shareholders. If Americans manufactured many of the items we willingly
    purchase at our local markets our costs for such goods would be significantly greater.
    Just as our costs for produce/fruit will increase if we close the border to Mexico.

  8. Leonard Fanuel9 months ago

    The fact that the young generation of both countries have more positive image of each other shows that the future will be decided by them , and gone are the sunset generation that have created ills on both sides. Besides, it is clear that the American economy is not based on the the number of the aircraft carriers that are deployed around the world. How the general public in the US view of their country’s position as the “global police” . Is the fledgling of muscles the only way to secure the country’s economy and blaming others on their successes. If this mindset is till acceptable it merely means that our world is either in “stand still” position with the rich being forever rich and the same applicable to the poor. What an unfair world we are living then ?

  9. Jiao Jessica9 months ago

    what is the number there, just proportion there. Really hope it should supply a number. In general is fine. Don’t need exact number.

  10. Lisa11 months ago

    With regard to the first point: Does the question in the survey ask Americans about their views of China the country, or of Chinese people? This report says that “Americans and Chinese do not have especially positive views of each other”, but then goes on to say that “just 38% of Americans have a favorable view of China” and that “a slightly higher share of the Chinese public – 44% – give the U.S. a positive rating”. Do the results represent the views of Americans on China the country, or on Chinese people? Do they represent the views of Chinese on the U.S. the country, or on American people? Surely the nuance matters here.

    1. Ryan9 months ago

      The nuance is indeed important, and also why the average citizens of countries often confuse whether it is a government or the people they have ill feelings toward. This leads to people hating entire countries of people they know so little about.

    2. wil brander5 months ago

      This is exacerbated by the generalizations created and perpetuated by the media. American media coverage of China is overwhelmingly negative and has been for decades. The people of the country are largely ignored. News focuses on the form of government there, its shortcomings and the disagreements with our government. I see hope in young people who have a more positive image of each nation. This has to be contributed to more cultural exchange between each country’s people undertaken fairly recently.