“Americans like to fight”

One day in the summer of 2013, I go to the hairdresser. The guy who washes my hair asks:

“Are you from the US?”
I: “No, I’m from Europe.”
He: “I see. Americans like to fight. They like to go into war with other countries.”

Do you think that this is a popular view of Americans in China? I’d love to read your opinions.

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24 thoughts on ““Americans like to fight”

  1. I’m guessing that most Americans don’t think of America as a warlike country. And yet, look at all the wars we’ve engaged in. Look at the size of our military. It’s not surprising that the guy who washes your hair believes that America likes to fight.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I got lumped together with Americans, British and all the “imperialists” for being Austrian. I later found out this was due to Austria having a concession in Tianjin for a couple of years!

    It seems people want to categorize (stereotype?) others so they can easier deal with them, put them in some sort of mental drawer. Whatever they remember most from the news, public opinion, or history lessons, they’ll categorize you by. For some, Americans like war like, for some Austrians are imperialists. But it probably depends on the age and background of whomever you ask.

    Liked by 2 people

    • My husband sometimes jokes about the 8 Austrians who went to Tianjin for a nice holiday (I’ve read about 200-300 Hungarians living in the Austro-Hungarian concession in Tianjin, but not about any Austrians, actually). I don’t really think the numbers matter though – even if it was only a small number, China wasn’t too happy about giving up her territory to foreign powers.


      • It’s kinda funny how a big country like China, with such a long history, remembers this incident while most Austrians probably don’t even know where Tianjin is, or have any idea how it relates to their own country’s not so long history.

        If you believe Wikipedia then the Austrians were the only ones granting the Chinese Austrian citizenship… but I guess back then this wasn’t an as attractive offer as it might have been nowadays 😉 (Supposedly it’s pretty damn hard(impossible?) for your partner to get Austrian citizenship if you don’t live in Austria).


      • That is a poor comparison Robert. Those concessions were forced on the Chinese. It wasn’t voluntary. They have every right to treat it as a sore point – and of course, Austrians would say what you’re saying – but that’s because you’re not the one losing out!


      • @Anonymous – I’m aware that this wasn’t voluntarily, nor am I defending what happened. I’m not making up excuses but I don’t want to excuse for something either that’s out of my responsibility. And while I think keeping record and memory of these thing is important, I don’t think dwelling on them is. Because it’s not helping anyone. It’s just making everyone miserable. But I think the party is partially to blame for keeping these grievances alive, and channeling them to suit their agenda. (Unfortunately Korea and Japan don’t seem to be much cleverer in this regard).

        What I find funny is how this view of China and its relationship with foreign countries clashes with reality, where Deng opened up China to the world, and where, nowadays, many rich people, including quite a few party apparatchiks, have no problem moving money and family overseas, rather than being “patriotic”. (although the question is if more patriotism and less hypocrisy is actually a good thing)


        • I’m an international relations student and we’ve been learning about the role of nationalism in East Asian relations. It’s very problematic because the governments often use nationalism to increase their support and legitimacy, as well as to distract from domestic issues. But this is a double edged sword because leaders are then forced to take a more aggressive stance against other countries (than perhaps is in their interest) because they can’t afford politically to be seen to take a ‘soft’ line by the public. You can see that this is an issue on both sides in the South China Sea dispute between China and Vietnam, as well as in the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands dispute between China and Japan. All the governments concerned need to stop employing such nationalist rhetoric as a political tool, because, as we have just recently seen in Vietnam, it is not something they can necessarily keep under control.


          • Doesn’t every country… ever, use patriotic sentiment to whip up nationality unity and emotions? It’s a proven strategy, many political and military leaders have said as such. Why do you think sports events usually have violent encounters? It stirs up tribalism in one’s genes. It is hardly an exclusive East Asian thing, have you considered your degree is biased, focusing on the “backwards” ways of Asia whilst ignoring that in the West it’s pretty much the same train of thought for those in charge? Last I checked, China did not have military bases scattered across the planet, nor does it have a global communications spy network that is capable of intercepting most data packets, wherever in the world you are.


          • I’m sorry but you seem to have misread me. I was never saying that it was a phenomena specific to East Asia or that the West don’t use patriotism in the same way. I was just saying how it is an issue for those countries (and in no way did I suggest that they were worse than the rest of the world). Believe me I have a hell of a lot to say about America’s foreign policy and that of my own country Britain. Your assumption about my degree is also incorrect, so please don’t assume the worst. I am currently studying in Hong Kong, where I came to learn about East Asian relations from a less Western-centric point of view than my degree back home offers. I didn’t want to just learn about China from the UK’s perspective, instead I get the benefit of points of view from Hong Kong and mainland Chinese lecturers and students, along with those of countless other nationalities.


  3. I hear all kinds of things. Perhaps the American government does like to fight; it’s at the ‘top’ and does world policing, but most Americans hope for restraint and it’s been a while since the worst excesses of the Bush years and even longer since the highpoint of the Cold War’s proxy conflict in Vietnam. America will never live it down…

    With average people, I like to think Americans aren’t that violent compared to our drunk(er) Anglosphere cousins 🙂

    I wonder if you answered you were American would the hairdresser say that?

    Nonpolitically, I hear all kinds of statements about how Koreans are all like this and British are like that and all Indians are bad and all Canadians are good and all westerners are libertines etc. People like to have big opinions about entire groups. Sometimes stereotypes have a kernel of truth, sometimes they’re out of nowhere.

    One day I will blog about the time I was told all Americans have threesomes in college, because a tv show said so, an interesting subject right.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the hairdresser might still have said the same thing if I was American.

      Did you know that all Austrians are really good singers? (I don’t know if we have this reputation because of Sound of Music of if people think classical music and singing are connected).

      I’m looking forward to reading that blog post.


    • I think you need a bit longer before you can say that it’s been a while since the worst excesses of the Bush years. When your country is devastated by war it takes a bit longer before you can just brush it off. Personal losses tend to stay with people for a life time and the fighting in Iraq (I admit that the UK is as much to blame for that one) is hardly a distant memory. Also the use of drone strikes has increased under the Obama administration and many innocent civilians, in Pakistan, have been lost as a result. I don’t think its a case of Americans not being allowed by the rest of the world to live it down, despite the problematic issue of government endorsed nationalism in parts of Asia. But I do agree with you that most Americans would probably like more restraint.

      As for us Brits being more violent, our violent crime rates are far lower and not so many people get shot over here. Our regular police don’t need to carry guns and you’d be hard pressed to find a Brit that would argue it’s our “right” to be able to own guns. But yeah we do like our alcohol 🙂


  4. Ha, well I know that stereotype of Americans definitely exists. But when I first met my Chinese boyfriend’s parents over Skype (they still live in China) their first question to me, the American, was whether I liked sports and which sports were my favorite! Apparently they had the stereotype that all Americans love sports! They were somewhat disappointed when I told them I definitely prefer the theater to sports…


    • I do get the impression that the majority of people in China really love sports. My father-in-law loves watching basketball on TV (and there’s a lot of basketball on Chinese TV, so he won’t get bored easily). I remember being in Kunming during the time of the FIFA world cup in 2010, people were crazy about watching the games, and although I’m usually not a fan of watching sport on TV, I definitely enjoyed watching it with them just because people were so excited about it.


  5. I don’t think it’s so much that they “like to fight” as they like to dominate. Case in point: no recent wars we’ve been involved in fought on our own soil. We prefer to take our impressive military arsenals abroad and unleash all holy hell.

    I think most of America’s problems are in fact on our own soil and it would do us well to redirect the focus. Over-investment in the military and over-involvement in issues that are often none of our business overseas has left many American citizens to slip through the cracks.

    I mean, we lack adequate funding for arts programs in schools, yet we have plenty of money for guns, tanks and bombs. Not to mention, taxing the bejeezus out of us and pouring that money into the overpopulated prison system.

    As an American, I think it’s very upsetting as this action on the part of my country does not represent my ideas or ideals about “right action.” Quite the contrary. It’s annoying to feel like I always have to explain against all of the stereotypes. That is, when and if they’re willing to listen.

    When I moved to Taiwan, I wasn’t expected to be well received after telling others my nationality. But I was pleasantly surprised by how cool they think we are here. Now I feel like I have a responsibility to live up to this judgement, rather than exploit it. We should try to earn the prize that’s already been won, because we don’t really deserve it is what I mean.

    Previously when I was living in Central America, Costa Rica, lots of the locals there perceived Americans as “selfish.” Which isn’t untrue, although it was my first time hearing so outside of my home turf’s context- which amplified my sensitivity when hearing it. It made me realize that we should be more conscientious of our surroundings when we travel. Contrary to what many of us (Americans) often assume, the whole world does not in fact think we are awesome. Rather, they’re often quite wary of us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The world’s stereotypes of Americans come from those who shout the loudest. Like, it’s obvious that you have civilised, rational people as much as war hungry people – but it’s the latter who shout the loudest, who make their opinions known. It’s the gun lobby who pushes their views onto the nation, and it’s the sports jocks who boss around the rest. That’s why the USA have those stereotypes.

      Of course the military intrusions don’t help


      • Yeah, it’s rather unfortunate in my opinion. The ones who shout the loudest needn’t do so, as they are already wielding much more power and influence than the rest of us.

        “Sports jocks”, for example, are the highest paid people in our country. If you ever check out a United States “salary map” or maybe it’s called “highest paid jobs by US state map,” you’ll see that basketball and/or football coaches are the highest paid people in most US states.

        What does it all mean? It means that we value these people more than the rest. So despite having “civilised (we actually spell that word with a ‘z’ but I digress) rational people (which might also possibly include those overpaid football and/or b-ball coaches) we don’t value what they have to offer nearly as much as we value our sports teams!

        Fortunately, this never really affected me personally, as it’s easy just to choose to ignore the unfortunate facts that we don’t like. But it is kind of an insult to the many “others” making up our complex tapestry of professions and industries that we so ubiquitously favor sports above them. Which isn’t to say that I don’t like sports, but I definitely feel that most of us like them way too much.

        Liked by 1 person

        • @ashkaufen Quick fact-check: it’s not that coaches are the highest paid of all, it’s that they are the highest paid public employees. It is about universities that use tax-payer money to pay their employees, and such jobs pay well but don’t produce millionaires, except for football and basketball coaches. However they aren’t the highest paid jobs of all in the private sector.

          It’s all about money, Sports brings schools money and they focus all their resources on that; it’s not really about how brings the highest level of education who is paid accordingly.

          The point is still taken and very valid, in fact one could argue it’s even worse that in education coaches are the highest paid…

          The recent issues about the NAACP exploitation and teams unionizing and such also say a lot about the state of higher learning.

          Indeed, America is not perfect. The worst among us always seem to be the loudest. But still doesn’t mean we all like to fight!


  6. This feels like bait.

    I agree with ashkaufen, that the US would be better served prioritizing the US human development rather than the military, but I think we slipped into a historical situation that entrenched everything from our massive global footprint to the Military Industrial Complex. Apart from a few elites generally located in the Northeast, large portions of Americans have a lot of economic, health, and education hurdles. Undoing US global entrenchment is needed for the US and the world to thrive, but it could be really, really, really difficult. It won’t happen without a lot of very strong European leadership. I’ll write more later.


    • There are a lot of arm-chair warriors in America, just like there are in China. I lived in the southern US in 2001 and in the following months it wasn’t that uncommon the run into people whose general opinion was “let’s bomb the shit out of those fuckers!”. And while there was a lot of national trauma, there was also a good portion of “don’t mess with ‘merica!” nationalism involved.

      You got the same in China where some vocal idiots now talk of a war with Japan and how they would so like it to see it happen. Even more scary when you hear (ex)PLA generals musing about a possible conflict. Let’s hope those arm-char warriors don’t actually decide to get up, because I just can’t see how anyone is going to benefit from this.


      • I’m not concerned with arm-chair warmongers: Young men with oversized adrenal glands exist everywhere. It’s the warmongers in the political bureaus, intelligence agencies, and foreign offices you’ve got to worry about. Next to climate change, accidently blowing ourselves up is probably the most likely scenario for our extinction. In the end, I guess it may just be a grand experiment to determine whether a primate with an enlarged cerebral cortex and opposable thumbs is an evolutionarily viable species.

        China is involved in several territorial disputes with Japan, Philippians, Malaysia, and Taiwan. There is also N. Korea and S. Korea to be concerned about. Hopefully all territorial disputes will be resolved peacefully, but one wonders if Asian capitals are looking at Putin’s taking of Crimea and recognizing that there are now no real consequences for outright incorporation of land from another country into your own so long as you have the economic clout to ensure no one wants to sanction you.

        So long as Japan, S. Korea, and the Philippians are dependent on the US for security we’ll never see conflict because the US needs cheap Chinese goods and China needs US consumers buying things to keep the Chinese economy growing. The trouble is the Americans want to go home and get out of this messy global policing business. It’s too darn expensive and US has heaps of homegrown poverty, violence, and domestic discontent to deal with. Millennials will be poorer and worse off than their parents. After the joys of being able to smoke what they want and marry whomever they want wears off, they’ll won’t be very happy. US disengagement means that a primary objective of post WWII US foreign policy, to thwart nuclear proliferation by integrating countries into military alliance, might have finally run its course. More weapons proliferation in more places means more chances for mistakes, miscalculations, and misguided actions.

        Liked by 1 person

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