This is how the Foreign Policy web site reports research based on Baidu (China’s ‘Google’) searches for information about European countries. They characterise the results as ‘China’s hilarious and racist stereotypes of Europe.’
I’m not so sure. The thing about stereotypes is that they’re true in the minds of the people who believe them. So while we might chuckle at some of these particular stereotypes they should also make us think. What lies behind them? Are they true? If so, how can we capitalise on them? Are they untrue? If so, do we want to counter them and how?
For example, how might the Russian foreign ministry deal with the stereotype that Russia ‘likes to fight’? It might be a useful perception to encourage if the country’s feeling under threat from China. But it might be something to counter with a bit of diplomatic love-bombing if Putin feels he needs Chinese support. If the Finns really have ‘good English’ might there be some commercial advantage of that for them in China? And so on.
While some of the perceptions in the Foreign Policy chart are just plain weird, others should make us pause for thought.
So Scotland ‘wants independence’? Hmm, Alex Salmond might encourage the Chinese to believe that through his ‘Pandas? Please. Dalai Who? Never heard of him’ approach to diplomacy. More sensible Scots and Brits might want to point out that only 37% of Scots voted for independence when they had the chance.
The perception of the UK is fascinating – ‘Small yet strong.’ That’s one of the few stereotypes that is genuinely positive. It also has more than a grain of truth in it, even in these straitened times, and certainly in comparison with most other European countries shown on the map. A whole range of data, ignored inevitably by nationalists, could be marshalled to support the truth of the perception.
Of course the ‘small’ UK has a population of 64.1 million people. Scotland has 5.3 million. I don’t know what the Mandarin for ‘miniscule’ is but the Scottish population must be approaching it in Chinese eyes. So maybe John Swinney’s ironic ‘Too wee … ‘ might be true after all.
And the smaller ‘we’ are, the greater the chance of us being either un-noticed or any stereotype about us being wrong. Brigadoon, anyone? I think I’ll stick with the Chinese notion of ‘small yet strong.’