How Do the Chinese People View the “West”? Divergence and Asymmetry in China’s Public Opinion of the U.S. and Europe

How Do the Chinese People View the “West”? Divergence and Asymmetry in China’s Public Opinion of the U.S. and Europe [ 5 min read ]


  • Surveys of over 2,000 people in China show clear differences in public opinion toward the U.S. and Europe. Negative views in China of the U.S. were twice as high (75%) as negative views of most European countries, while positive views in China of European countries ranged from 47% to almost 70%, compared to only 23% for the U.S.
  • A comparison with U.S. and European public opinion survey data shows that the U.S. largely reciprocated negative views of China (76%), while European views of China were much more negative than the other way around, ranging from 57% negative (Spain) to 80% negative (Sweden).
  • Analysis of the China survey data finds that young respondents were 7% more likely, and CCP members were 11% more likely, to hold negative views of the U.S., but these groups did not view Europe more negatively than average.

Source Publication:  Adam Y. Liu, Xiaojun Li, and Songying Fang (2021). Unpacking “the West”: Divergence and Asymmetry in Chinese Public Attitudes Towards Europe and the United States. Journal of Current Chinese Affairs. 

Domestic public opinion can be an important factor shaping a country’s foreign policy. While recent survey data of citizens in developed western economies find that negative views of China have reached historic highs, scant research explores whether these negative feelings are mutual. How does China’s public view the “West”? 

The data. Researchers conducted two surveys in China, one before the 2020 American presidential election and one right after Biden’s 2021 inauguration, using Qualtrics, a web-based survey platform. The sample included 2,083 adults in China. Respondents were first asked whether they held “very favorable” to “very unfavorable” views of the U.S. and nine European countries — Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the U.K. Respondents were also asked a battery of sociodemographic questions, including gender, age, education, Communist Party of China (CCP) membership, geographic location, religion, ethnicity, and household registration status. Finally, using evaluations of five statements commonly used to gauge nationalism, the survey included questions that assessed respondents’ degree of nationalism. Researchers then compared results of this survey with U.S. and European data from the 2021 Pew Research Center public opinion survey.

Sharp contrast in China’s public opinion toward U.S., European countries. Survey results indicate that 75% of respondents in China held negative views of the U.S. By comparison, according to a study conducted by the Eurasia Group two years earlier, only 17% of respondents in China had reported unfavorable feelings toward the U.S. 

Chinese views of western countries  



In contrast, respondents in China viewed continental European countries much more positively. Positive views of European countries generally varied from 56% to 60%, compared to only 23% for the U.S. Views in China were particularly favorable to Germany (69%). One exception to the positive trend was respondents’ views of the U.K.: 47% of respondents reported negative feelings toward the country.

Views between China and Europe highly asymmetric. When researchers compared their findings to data from the 2021 Pew Research Center public opinion survey, negative feelings between respondents in China and the U.S. were clearly mutual: 75% of respondents in China and 76% of respondents in the U.S. held negative views about one another.

However, China’s generally positive views of European countries were not reciprocated. For instance, in Sweden, a striking 80% of respondents held unfavorable views of China, while only 30% of the Chinese respondents held negative views of Sweden. Similarly, despite 69% of Chinese respondents holding positive views of Germany, 71% of respondents in Germany held negative views of China.

Negative perceptions between China and the "West"




Age, nationalism, and CCP membership drive variation in public opinion toward U.S. Younger individuals (those born during or after the 1990s) were 11% more likely to hold unfavorable views of the U.S. compared to their older counterparts (respondents born in the 1960s or earlier), though they held more favorable views of all the European countries in the study. Meanwhile, more nationalistic respondents were 7% more likely to negatively view the U.S. Party members were similarly 7% more likely to hold negative views of the U.S. Neither nationalism nor party membership was associated with positive or negative views toward the European countries, however.

Understanding divergence and asymmetry in China’s public’s views toward the "West.” This study reveals that there is no single “West” in the eyes of the Chinese public despite the frequent usage of the term in the media: indeed, the Chinese public views European countries far more favorably than the U.S. The researchers suggest that this may be due to rapidly deteriorating relations between the two countries as well as longstanding disproportionate attention devoted to the U.S. and U.S.-China relations by Chinese media. There also appears to be a significant divide between how the Chinese public and European public view each other, as the Chinese public held much more positive views toward European countries than the other way around. Researchers posit that this could be the case because Chinese media tends to soft-pedal negative European public opinion towards China to maintain a narrative that China is well-perceived by foreign countries and to avoid inciting backlash from the Chinese public toward European countries that could constrain the government’s policy choices.