Chinese Premier Li Peng mocked what he called ignorant U.S. senators whose views of China came from old films and novels.
He also took a swipe at the Western media for faking the news and, in an interview published on Wednesday, poured scorn on U.S. boasts to have the world's greatest democracy."In the mind of some U.S. senators we have spoken with, China is still the backward image described in old movies or novels, and they know very little about the present China or what they have learned is a pack of completely distorted facts," Li said.
The attack by Li, 69, who will step down next month after two five-year terms as premier, appeared to be a parting shot at Western critics who identify him closely with the 1989 killings of pro-democracy activists around Tiananmen Square.
The interview was granted to the English-language China Information bulletin and carried by the official Xinhua news agency.
However, Li hailed the recent warming of Sino-U.S. ties, symbolized by President Jiang Zemin's summit with President Bill Clinton in Washington last October.
And he urged more contact to bridge a large gulf in understanding - even while insisting that the United States was largely to blame for the gap.
"China has much more knowledge about the United States than the United States has about us," said Li.
"Only after they had been to China did many U.S. senators find that the situation is totally different from what they had in their minds," Li said. He did not name any U.S. lawmakers.
Li said critics had ignored Beijing's efforts at establishing grassroots democracy.
"It is improper or unrealistic to judge China's democracy and legal system and human rights condition by Western standards," he said.
As a developing socialist country, China had a different concept of human rights than the West, which stressed individual rights.
"Still, even judging by their own standards, the human rights situation in the West is not satisfactory," Li said.
He questioned whether the U.S. was any more democratic than China, which has introduced elections with multiple candidates at a local level.
"The United States adopts direct elections," Li noted. "But actually, the selection is only between two candidates. Still they claim it is the greatest democracy."
Although China's state media could learn a lesson from Western counterparts on how to act as a watchdog on government, it was more reliable, Li said.
"Our news reports are based on serious investigation to ensure the fidelity of the news, which is obviously different from some fake reporting for temporary or sensational efforts in the Western news media," said Li.
Likewise, China could learn from U.S. economic strength, science, technology and culture.
"But we could never agree to the U.S. claiming of 'leadership over the world'. "
Last week the U.S. State Department said in its annual human rights report that China had made progress on some fronts but still abused fundamental freedoms of its people.
China denounced the report as "irresponsible" and an excuse to meddle in its internal affairs.