Why I Don’t Hug My Chinese Tutor

As regular readers know, I’ve been studying the Chinese language since last spring.

I had previously taken a semester of Chinese in college, but it utterly defeated me. So I wanted payback. This time, I would beat it.

I was scheduled to take a language proficiency exam in Chicago next week. For obvious reasons, the testing center has postponed all the exams until September.

Right now, of course, everyone is upset with the Chinese. No matter how the Covid-19 pandemic plays out, it probably started in a Chinese city’s “wet market” that sold live bats for people to eat.

Euuw. I like and respect a lot of things about the Chinese, but that’s not one of them.

Whether we like China or not, it’s going to be a player on the world stage. There will be a need for Americans who can speak and read the language. So even though it’s postponed, my revenge for my college humiliation will be productive.

And that gets us to why I don’t hug my Chinese tutor. It has nothing to do with Covid-19.

The first reason is that he’s in Ecuador. He tutors me in online video lessons.

The second reason is that I’m not a hugger. Unless you’re a member of my family or a loved one, no hugs.

But it’s the third reason that shows how the United States (and other countries) should deal with China.

My tutor and I can cooperate because even though our interests are different, they coincide.

He’s proud of his country and he loves its language, so he wants to teach about them. I respect his country and I think its language is important, so I want to learn about them.

We do not discuss politics, about which we would disagree. Our interests there do not coincide.

And whether you love President Trump or hate him, he does seem to understand the principle involved:

The Chinese government and its people care about what’s good for China. They don’t care about what’s good for other countries unless it’s also good for China. Unlike some Americans, they do not see their country as a global charity.

If other countries’ interests coincide with China’s, then the Chinese government will cooperate with them. Both sides will benefit.

If other countries’ interests conflict with China’s, then the Chinese government will try to win the conflict at their expense. Both sides can still benefit, but it’s more difficult.

Other countries have to protect their own interests, because the Chinese won’t do it. And let’s be realistic: it’s not China’s job to prevent other countries from doing stupid things. That’s up to the other countries:

  • It’s stupid for a country to offshore its manufacturing and technological base to an adversary nation.
  • It’s stupid to run huge trade deficits that enable an adversary nation to acquire vast ownership stakes in your country.
  • It’s stupid to allow citizens of an adversary nation to graduate from your universities and then occupy key roles in vital industries and government agencies.
  • It’s stupid to allow politicians and their families to have lucrative business deals with adversary nations.

China is a great country, but it’s not going to hug us and we shouldn’t hug it. We can deal with the Chinese for mutual benefit, but it’s our job to make sure we get what we’re owed. The Chinese won’t do it for us.


Check out my book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it an “impressively nuanced analysis.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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