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How The Chinese Younger Generations Come To Admire President Jimmy Carter?

On February 18, former US President Jimmy Carter started to receive hospice care, according to a statement from the Carter Center, a non-governmental organization founded by former President Carter that is dedicated to “improving lives by resolving conflicts, advancing democracy, and preventing diseases”. The center’s statement is as follows:

After a series of short hospital stays, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter today decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention. He has the full support of his family and his medical team. The Carter family asks for privacy during this time and is grateful for the concern shown by his many admirers.

President Carter’s contemporaries, Queen Elizabeth II from the United Kingdom, Mikhail Gorbachev from Russia, and Jiang Zemin from China, left in 2022. Many assumed a longer time for our nation with President Carter. Sitting down, some of us may feel more worried about the future as one after another part of the past grows hazy.

President Carter received mixed comments from Americans. Some criticize his “weakness and incompetency” during his presidency. According to them, he failed to tackle the national stagflation, and his diplomatic policies to Iran amid the Hostage Crisis and China were seen as weak, compromising, and harmful to the US national interest in the longer term.

However, President Carter is now a widely beloved figure after stepping out of office. Devoted to public interests and international peace, he founded the Carter Center, and he also supported many other public charity organizations.

On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, Chinese people, especially the younger generations, also closely admired President Carter. In China, President Carter is one of the most well-known US presidents of the 20th century. Chinese people see him as a key figure in normalizing the US-China relationship and opening up economic opportunities for China to integrate itself into the global market, a necessary precursor to President Bill Clinton’s approval for China to join the WTO. For his role in Chinese economic and diplomatic development, President Carter is “a good old friend of the Chinese people”, as many Chinese proclaimed. 

President Carter is also widely admired by the Chinese people for his actions outside of China. Interestingly, he is often mentioned and contrasted with his successor President Ronald Reagan. 

President Reagan is famous in China is famous for his neo-liberalist approach to governing a country. According to many Chinese, under Reagan’s presidency, government intervention in private property and business for public interest dwindled, reflecting that Reagan’s neo-liberalism discarded the poor and powerless minorities in favor of the powerful rich and corporations under the pretense of liberty. Also, Reagan’s intensive counterattack on the Soviet Union, the powerhouse of global communism, triggered many leftist Chinese. President Reagan is then termed as “a lunatic anti-communist liberalist”.

Chinese people are generally left-leaning, upholding the socialist-communist ideal of political economy. They thus harshly despise President Reagan’s neoliberalism.

Contrary to Reagan, Carter is called “good old buddy” by the Chinese, for his devotion to the public interest and the welfare of the poor and powerless minorities, and global peace and humanitarianism. Probably influenced by the ongoing anti-American sentiment widespread in China, younger Chinese see Carter as one last representation of the original American ideal of justice. 

According to Chinese netizen Lin Ye, President Carter is “the only American president in the past hundreds of years that took the so-called American ideal of freedom and democracy seriously.” “As the leader of a global superpower, he could bend his body to strive for global peace,” said Lin.

“American people betrayed President Carter like a used utensil. When they needed him, they upheld him to the throne of power in a pretended adoration, but once he was not anymore needed, he was dumped with tides of ruthless, irresponsible, and undue condemnation,” another anonymous Chinese netizen said.

Still, Chinese people realized the shortcomings of President Carter. Putting themselves in the shoes of Americans, they admitted Carter’s weak and unwise foreign policies. Ironically, most of the alleged deficiencies in the Carter Administration’s foreign policy are seen as beneficial for Chinese development. 

Under Carter’s presidency, the US terminated formal diplomatic relations with Taiwan and recognized the People’s Republic of China as the sole legitimate government of China. This was interpreted by the Chinese as China’s victory in foreign relations with generous and judicious help from President Carter. After the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War outbreak, President Carter did not effectively intervene either.

“Former president Carter is a kind, generous, and noble statesman, and because of that, he was not suited to be a superpower’s leader. His kindness and nobility had no good in political struggles in and out of the US. Only under Carter, the US was the lighthouse of the world. Otherwise, it’s but a lighthouse of world wars,” said the same anonymous Chinese netizen above.

President Carter’s meeting with Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping in 1979 is a widely acclaimed story in China. Both leaders showed respect for each other, shedding light on the ameliorating relationship between the two countries. The two leaders smiled, shaking hands with each other, and delivered speeches together. Deng wore a cowboy hat in a ceremony, a well-known emblematic scene showing China’s determination to join the globe and the US’s welcoming embracement of China. 

Behind the two leaders are the golden age of the China-US relationship in the 1980s. For Chinese people, probably nostalgia for such peace and cooperation strengthens their admiration of President Carter even more. Delivering a wholehearted farewell to President Carter, they are ready to encounter the new tides of the future.

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