Perhaps more than most nations, China has suffered from being, "typed." The sharp differences between China and the West in race, language, tradition, and international standing have frequently led to ignorant reactions in other countries. Just recall, for example, the Chinese as they used to be caricatured in popular American mystery novels -- sinister Orientals whose long waxed fingernails were a symbol of "ways that are dark" and "tricks that are vain." This picture, of course, was not current among the well-informed, which is simply another way of saying that it was disbelieved by thousands while it influenced millions.
Today the "sinister Dr. Fu Manchu" is dead, but many an old illusion about the Chinese still lives -- the illusion that time means nothing to them, that they always absorb their conquerors, that they are a nation of pacifists. Like all stereotypes of peoples, these contain a grain of truth; yet each is basically unsound as a guide to what is happening in China today.
Ask the Chinese soldier, beaten back on many fronts and desperately in need of supplies, whether time is of no importance. Ask the Chinese bank clerk who is still wearing the suit he bought in Shanghai seven years ago whether it makes no difference to him how long the war lasts. Ask the Chinese peasant whose family has been bombed, raped, and plundered whether he looks at Japanese troops with equanimity because "China always absorbs its conquerors." And ask the Chinese scholar whether in the last three decades -- or the last three hundred -- "pacifist" China has fought fewer civil and foreign wars than other nations.
Many of these stereotypes are not so popular as they used to be, but in recent years new ones, equally far from the truth . . .