Now the 34-year-old urban consultant, who studied at both Cambridge and Harvard, thinks it’s China that is ascendant and the U.S. that is terminally weakened by income inequality, divided government and a polarized society. He says so volubly to his more than 80,000 followers on social media. “In the end, China will supplant America to be the world’s No. 1 strong country,” he wrote on Weibo, China’s homegrown version of Twitter .
A generation after China’s late reformist leader Deng Xiaoping exhorted his fellow citizens to “keep our light hidden and bide our time,” Chinese exceptionalism is on the rise. While some Chinese still believe the country will need to embrace democracy to reach its full potential, many others are convinced the country has reached this point, not in spite of the government’s crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1989, but because of it.
Annual surveys by the Pew Research Center since 2010 show more than 80% of Chinese are satisfied with the direction of their country. Three-quarters of the Chinese surveyed by Pew last year see China playing a bigger role in global affairs than 10 years ago, and 60% view China’s involvement in the global economy as positive.
On his blog, between digressions on Socrates and Ming Dynasty economic policy, Mr. Li writes at length on the superiority of the Chinese political system. Unlike the U.S., where he says charisma is prized over professionalism and money is needed to win office, he argues that China promotes officials based on their performance in spurring economic growth and managing large cities and bureaucracies.
“Among people in my generation, there aren’t many of us now who think we should totally study the West,” says Mr. Li. “To them, China is already a great country.”
The sense that China is on the right track challenges a decades-old tenet of U.S. foreign policy, one that argued exposure to the West would lead Chinese to embrace Western values.
In the wake of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election, and amid global fears about terrorism, a generation of Chinese patriots like Mr. Li are projecting an assurance about China as a beacon of strength and stability in an uncertain world.
President Xi’s signature slogan, the “China Dream,” appeals to Chinese who aspire to a middle-class lifestyle and cheer China’s return to international prominence. On the global stage, Mr. Xi has portrayed China as an alternative to the West, with a unique political system and culture, and as a leader in areas including trade, inequality and climate change.
“What people are starting to feel is pride. It’s the pride of being listened to, or forcing people to listen to you,” says Orville Schell, director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society. “The idea of greatness for China – because they’ve experienced weakness – gravitates around the idea of power.”
非营利组织亚洲协会（Asia Society）美中关系中心主任夏伟（Orville Schell）说：“中国人现在开始自豪起来，这是一种‘你说话有人听、或必须有人听’的自豪。因为中国孱弱过。”