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Lao-da US should act like a big brother but not in the Orwellian sense

By Kang Bing | China Daily | Updated: 2024-01-30 06:29
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This photo taken on Oct 11, 2023 shows the US Capitol building in Washington, D.C., the United States. [Photo/Xinhua]

Lao da, the two Chinese characters, in the past, meant the eldest son of a family. Later, the term was used to by bandits and gangsters to address their boss. Now, it is a popular but unofficial term used to address the top official of a company, a university, even a government organization.

Traditionally, being the eldest son of a family more often than not meant he would inherit the family business, because he was expected to be fair to the other brothers and guide them to win new glory for the family, even at the cost of sacrificing his personal interests.

Although modern laws stipulate that all children, both sons and daughters, have equal rights of inheritance, older generations still tend to give Lao-da a bigger portion of the family fortune, if not the entire family wealth and business. That kind of arrangement, though unequal judged by present laws, was usually accepted by the other brothers and sisters as a show of respect to their elder brother, who among other things would also protect them from bullies in school.

One of my neighbors in Sanya, Hainan province, is such a Lao-da of five brothers and sisters. Each year, when he, a retired English teacher, visited the tropical city to escape the freezing cold of his home city in Northeast China, he brought one or two of his brothers and/or sisters with him and paid for all their expenses, from boarding and dining to travel. His siblings told me that they respected their eldest brother because he behaved like a real Lao-da — he was kind, fair and was always ready to sacrifice his interests for the sake of the other siblings and to maintain harmony in the family.

I wish we had more Lao-das like the retired English teacher who would peacefully and tactfully resolve family disputes. I wish we had more such Lao-das in our companies and government organizations who would help settle internal conflicts. I wish we had a global Lao-da like my neighbor who would help bring peace and prosperity instead of triggering wars and confrontations.

The mention of global Lao-da would prompt some people to turn their eyes to the United States. The US became the world's biggest economic power just before the turn of the 20th century and has maintained its position for more than 130 years. It became the No 1 military power after the end of World War II and its defense budget now makes up more than 36 percent of the world's total. More important, it became the only superpower after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

Few countries today will dare to question the authority of the US, which has nearly a dozen of its aircraft carriers patrolling the oceans and has built hundreds of military bases in other countries.

We common folks respect the US' Lao-da status, thanks to its role in defeating Nazi Germany in World War II, its help to China in the Chinese People's War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1931-45) and its support to liberation movements that freed many countries from colonial rule.

But the global Lao-da should behave like a real Lao-da, not sometimes but always, not only by showing its authority and strength but also by playing fair.

It should not have sanctioned countries for decades just because they refused to toe its line. It should not have bombed countries for months on flimsy ideological grounds. It should not have invaded countries, especially one country where it has killed hundreds of thousands of civilians by showing to the public a small bag of washing powder as the evidence of "weapons of mass destruction". It should not have vetoed UN proposals to end the Israel-Palestine conflict in which more than 25,000 Palestinians have already been killed.

People feel uncomfortable when a US president says he wants peace and democracy while hurting the interests of others. People feel unhappy when another US president says it would be a disaster if people in a certain country lived the same high-quality life as Americans.

The US will be in the Lao-da's position for many more years. So we can only pray that it behaves like one.

The author is former deputy editor-in-chief of China Daily.

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