Seeing Obama’s Win From China

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The conventional wisdom on Sino-U.S. relations is that Chinese leaders prefer Republican presidents who would be less inclined to start trade fights or needle over human rights issues. Of course the leadership never explicitly says this. And the tough China rhetoric of presidential candidates like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush evolved into a steadier approach to engagement during the later years of their terms in office. There is only so much room for movement when the two nations’ economies grow so closely dependent.

And yet on an individual level Barack Obama’s victory seems to mean something special in China. Four years ago I was in a Hong Kong restaurant on election night, and the only responses were tepid nods and pats on the back. In the packed Beijing bar where I watched the election returns this year the mood was celebratory. I saw the first champagne drinker around 11:30 a.m. When Obama’s win was declared by CNN a half hour later, the room erupted in cheers. A few people began crying.

The result touched off congratulatory calls and emails from Chinese acquaintances. One American friend was queried by a trashman on her thoughts on the president elect. That enthusiastic response was mirrored in many other countries. (Here is TIME’s story and a photo gallery examining the response in China and elsewhere.) I’ll merely add this brief note from Deng Zhuyuan, a young man I met in Sichuan shortly after the May 12 earthquake:

Nice to hear that Obama has won the election.
As a Chinese citizen, I am looking forward to see the changes.
Best wishes to you and your nation and the whole world.