West should bear in mind China's uniqueness

Having witnessed major changes over past decades, US scholar calls for deeper understanding and open dialogue

By CHEN YINGQUN and LIU JIANQIAO | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-05-24 09:30
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The cover of one of Kenneth Pomeranz's books.

Less prejudice urged

Even with a really good commitment from both parties to engage in open dialogue, it is evident that not all issues would be resolved, he said. But there could certainly be a lot more openness and a lot less prejudice.

People often mistakenly view openness as a favor they extend to others, he added. However, it should be seen as a self-benefit, because it is not just about helping others understand oneself, but also about gaining insight into oneself through the perspectives of outsiders.

With the state-to-state dialogue not going well, it becomes even more important to have other kinds of dialogue going on, he said. Interactions between individuals, the translation and publication of literature, the exchange of films and popular culture and various other activities can each serve different purposes to varying extents, he said.

Pomeranz is currently writing the book Why is China So Big? It tries to explain how and why contemporary China's huge land mass and population have wound up forming a single political unit.

He is also working on some other projects about China, and on a world history textbook for undergraduates, which provides an opportunity to consider historical teaching on a global scale, emphasizing the importance of historical thinking and challenging biases.

"It also involved reading a lot of the kinds of books that are used to teach world history all around the world and sort of trying to figure out how to tell the story in a way that's not just centered on the West, but also a way that will argue with an attempt to overcome some of the prejudices," Pomeranz said.

Critiquing the depiction of continents through symbols and landmarks, such as animals and architecture, he aimed to address and counteract lingering 19th-century racial biases, which persist in seemingly innocuous educational materials.

"So the world history book I'm working on is asking: How do we teach history in a way that doesn't ignore the fact that those prejudices exist, but brings them to the level of surface awareness so that we can argue without them? Because if we just pretend that they're not there, they won't go away," he said.

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