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China's evolving relationship with 'barbarians'

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This sort of sentiment is not uncommon amongst a certain segment of Chinese public opinion – Mr. Yang’s post drew some criticism in subsequent comments by bloggers but it also attracted considerable support – and the government is not above stirring up such feelings on occasion; Yang has not been publicly reprimanded, let alone fired.

At the same time, Westerners and Western products are sometimes presented and esteemed here as bigger, better, and more admirable. Not long ago a young American photographed sharing his McDonald's fries with an old beggar woman prompted much soul searching about Americans' greater sense of social solidarity. 

Changing attitudes 

But some observers see signs that as more and more foreigners come to live and work in China, and as more and more Chinese travel abroad or follow Western sports and film stars, an increasing number of people here are taking less extreme views of those once derided and feared as “foreign devils” or idolized as exemplars of modernity.

“There is no single strain of thought any more,” says Yu Hua, a prominent writer. “Some people may think foreigners are superior, some may not, but China is becoming a more mature society.”

That is partly because Chinese are becoming more familiar with foreigners, who were an exotic rarity only 20 years ago but can be found today in almost any city of any size. The number of foreigners entering China leaped from 740,000 in 1980 to more than 27 million last year, according to official figures.

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