With the Beijing Olympics starting at the end of this week, you might think this would be an occasion for serious analysis and reflection about China—how to understand the country and its changing society, how to handle the regime. Instead, we've mostly heard a familiar recitation of clichés. Conservatives rail against a "rising autocracy" and exaggerate China's military strength. Republican Sen. Sam Brownback went to Beijing and discovered—surprise!—that the Chinese government engaged in espionage. He fumed to CNN that the authorities could "listen to anybody and everybody and their communications and their recordings." One month earlier the senator had enthusiastically voted for the FISA Amendments Act, which allows the U.S. government to do pretty much the same thing.
China bashing is not just a right-wing phenomenon. The New Republic, mostly left of center, ran a cover story last month with the headline, MEET THE NEW CHINA (SAME AS THE OLD). Inside, the magazine thundered that "our ultimate solidarity" should lie not with the "odious government" in Beijing but "the billion long-suffering men and women of the world's largest dictatorship."