They are still trying to grow their strength and their reputation. 20 years ago, their greatest concern was how they were compared to the rest of the world. today, their greatest concern is how they seem compared to the rest of the world.
When we portray China as merely being concerned with domestic affairs, citing thousands of years of Chinese history being inward looking, we forget about the concept of “face.”
Face is a concept that encaptures pride and shame – how others see China.
Prior to the 1800s, this wasn’t much of a concern – the number of foreigners who visited China every year could be counted on fingers and toes – and the same applied to Chinese who visited other countries.
Yet with the rise of information technology, China is more interconnected with the rest of the globe. Alongside this connection is an acute awareness of other nations, and furthermore pertaining to the concept of face, an acute awareness of how other nations perceive China.
This rise in information interconnectivity has taken the concept of “face” from a personal to a geopolitical level. People start tying their national identity to their own pride and shame, and when that national identity becomes attacked, the hurt becomes very personal.