American sentimentalists—panda huggers is another term—show not only a willingness to defend China against claims that there is something wrong, but they go one step further by suggesting that the country's biggest problems are somehow the fault of foreigners. “We taught them capitalism, you know,” is a statement made by many well‐meaning Americans. It makes our way of life seem like a virus deliberately passed on to an unsuspecting people. The idea is made further absurd by the recognition that the Chinese literally invented money—both coins and bank notes—and they have long been famous for their keen mercantile sense.
One hundred years ago, sentimentalists made the equally ridiculous claim that the West taught China how to lie. “It is often said,” wrote Stanley High in China's Place in the Sun, “that there were no dishonest compradors until the foreigners taught them dishonesty.”
In the nineteenth century, foreigners repeated the wisdom that “a Chinaman's word is his bond.” Meant as the highest compliment, this common saying referred to the fact that Chinese dispensed with written contracts, relying solely on verbal agreements. Although some foreign writers depicted Chinese businessmen as exemplary agents of upright principles, their more practical contemporaries presented a different picture, one that suggested the Chinese were in the habit of misrepresenting themselves.
American missionary and diplomat Chester Holcombe sought to excuse the perception ...