An old friend, British but resident in Guangzhou for the last few years and with long experience of dealing with China before that, was in Birmingham the other day.

I asked her what she thought she had learned.

"The old saying is," she said, "that after a month in China you think you know enough to write a book; spend a year there and you might write a chapter; after a lifetime you realise you know nothing at all."

The Chinese might say just the same about us but the events of the last week or so have, for me, highlighted yet again how incomplete our understanding of China still is.

Curiously enough, it has been close reading of the newspaper business pages together with a recital of Chinese folk music that brought this to a head.

Studying the papers and their analysis of ongoing economic events in China has been illuminating.

Over the period since the economic crash in 2008, the impression is that the commentators see China as an elderly couple might regard their neighbour's teenage son.

First, they noted with surprise how much bigger and brighter he seemed suddenly to have got (though they are bit dubious about the academic achievements he boasts).

They also appreciate how obliging he seems to have become - offering to help with heavy work in the garden and around the house.

Just lately though, they have begun to feel he has become more than a little wilful and self-centred.

Now everyone is anxious about a change in attitude that might even disrupt the entire neighbourhood.

Moving out of the realms of teenage psychology, what we have is a slightly condescending appreciation that China's commitment to economic growth did greatly help the global economy to stumble through the crisis without actually toppling over.

Recently though, more than one expert has complained, a little plaintively, that China was now seriously letting us all down.

This was by failing to achieve an overnight transformation from low-cost, export-focused, commodity-hungry player to middle-income, domestic-consumption, import-eager one over the course of the last decade.

And, as they haven't done it yet, could they please get a move on and do us all a favour?

Long, parental experience suggests to me that "your mum and I are a bit disappointed in you" is rarely the way to motivate a recalcitrant teenager.

China, it almost goes without saying, does not cast itself as moody youngster in this scenario. Not at all.

To underline this, take the recital of Chinese music performed by the eminent visitor, Professor Hashing Li , under the auspices of the University of Birmingham's China Institute just last week.

One of the instruments on which the professor is a virtuoso is the xun, (clearly related to the ocarina - anyone else remember The Troggs and Wild Thing?)

Professor Li told us that the xun dates back some 7,000 years. Now, as with their contemporary economic statistics, some Chinese estimations of the duration of their civilization owe as much to mood as to mathematics.

But, notwithstanding any rounding errors, the antiquity of Chinese culture is a source of immense national pride.

The music with which Professor delighted his audience revealed another dimension. The wistfulness and melancholy of many of the melodies was underlined by titles such as 'Autumn Homesickness sitting by a Dressing Table' and 'Morning in the Miao Hills'.

Much of this reflects a deep attachment to a unique traditional landscape and old values.

The final aspect of the Chinese personality that Professor Li revealed came when he produced a version of the xun which had been modelled in the shape of a coffee mug.

He told us that this was the only instrument in the world that you can both play and drink from - though, to be fair, he didn't try both at the same time.

What he did do though was to give us a version of 'Home, Sweet Home' on the instrument that for brazen surreality must score pretty high on the Tristan Tzara scale.

And the point is? Well, that treating a nation claiming 7,000 years of history, a poetic attachment to its landscape and values together with a riotously playful sense of humour as wilful schoolchild isn't going to get us too far.

Many of us have misgivings about both the political and economic set up in China.

As much as we talk of the desirability of disruptive activity in business, the fact is rather a lot of folk would be happy to see the disruption that China has brought vanished away.

That's not going to happen. Maybe we need to commit to the long lifetime of learning about China and see just where that gets us.

Michael Loftus is director of News from the Future