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Wednesday, September 05, 2012

On China's Dysfunction

"Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in." - Leonardo da Vinci

***

You’ll never be Chinese

"I wanted to be Chinese, once... I wanted China to be the place where I made a career and lived my life. For the past 16 years it has been precisely that. But now I will be leaving...

If I had to choose one word to describe China in the mid-1980s it would be optimistic. A free market of sorts was in its early stages. With it came the first inflation China had experienced in 35 years. People were actually excited by that. It was a sign of progress, and a promise of more to come...

Deng had promised the Chinese people material wealth they hadn’t known for centuries on the condition that they never again asked for political change. The Party said: “Trust us and everything will be all right.”

Twenty years later, everything is not all right...

Modern day mainland Chinese society is focused on one object: money and the acquisition thereof...

To rise to the top you must be grey, with no strong views or ideas. Leadership contenders might think, and here I hypothesise, that once they are in position they can show their “true colours.” Too late they realise that will never be possible...

Leadership requires empathy, an ability to put yourself in your subordinate’s shoes. It also requires decisiveness and a willingness to accept responsibility. Believing themselves to be unique, the Chinese find it almost impossible to empathise... the system is designed to make avoidance of responsibility a prerequisite before any major decision is taken...

A leader must also offer something more than supremacy. The current “world leader” offers the world the chance to be American and democratic, usually if they want to be, sometimes by force. The British empire offered freedom from slavery and a legal system, amongst other things. The Romans took grain from Egypt and redistributed it across Europe...

The Party wouldn’t know a legal system if you swung the scales of justice under its metaphorical nose. (I was once a plaintiff in the Beijing High Court. I was told, off the record, that I had won my case. While my lawyer was on his way to collect the decision the judge received a telephone call. The decision was reversed)...

There is one final reason why the world does not want to be led by China in the 21st century. The Communist Party of China has, from its very inception, encouraged strong anti-foreign sentiment... To speak ill of China in public, to award a Nobel prize to a Chinese intellectual, or for a public figure to have tea with the Dalai Lama, is to “interfere in China’s internal affairs” and “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.” The Chinese are told on a regular basis to feel aggrieved at what foreigners have done to them, and the Party vows to exact vengeance on their behalf...

Everything the Party does to fix things in the short term only makes matters worse in the long term by setting off property prices again... I hope the upheaval, when it comes, is peaceful, that the Party does not try to distract people by launching an attack on Taiwan or the Philippines...

China does not nurture and educate its youth in a way that will allow them to become the leaders, inventors and innovators of tomorrow, but that is the intention. The Party does not want free thinkers who can solve its problems. It still believes it can solve them itself, if it ever admits it has a problem in the first place. The only one it openly acknowledges, ironically, is its corruption. To deny that would be impossible"

***

China: at war with its history

"The party archives still hold many documents that remain “sensitive,” in the official euphemism. The extent of cannibalism in the Cultural Revolution is something he had discovered during his research...

Most striking this year, perhaps, is that the centenary of 1911, which marked the end of over 2,000 years of China’s imperial system, has gone largely uncelebrated. The party preferred to remember its own 90th birthday in July, perhaps unwilling to remind people that what the 1911 revolutionaries embraced were not the ideas of Karl Marx but democracy...

The result is an ostensibly modern nation in which historians can still be fired or worse for deviating from the party line and in which, in the name of social stability and national security, a fifth of humanity must pretend to believe a national story invented to keep the Communist party in perpetual control...

The mission of public history became to demonstrate that foreigners had been behind the country’s major setbacks since the early 19th century...

5,000 years ago, China did not exist in a shape recognisable today. The true political father of the Chinese state is Qin Shihuangdi, the brutal first emperor of the Qin dynasty, who, some 2,000 years ago, conquered neighbouring princely states... But the territory ruled by Qin Shihuangdi was still only a fraction of the size of today’s People’s Republic. The political entity that he created was to fragment and change repeatedly in the following centuries. China’s current borders date only to the 17th century...

[They claim] that the term Chinese applies equally to the majority Han and to the ethnic minorities now within its borders. The Qing emperors knew different: they spent much of the 19th century suppressing rebellions both by disaffected Muslims and those native Chinese who saw them as foreign oppressors...

In 1974, war crimes committed by the Japanese invading Manchuria in 1931, then China proper in 1937, had been so forgotten that when a Japanese delegation visited Fudan University in Shanghai where I was studying at the time, the campus was festooned with banners that proclaimed “Friendship between the Japanese and the Chinese People, from Generation to Generation.” The 1937-38 Nanjing massacre which left 150,000-300,000 Chinese civilians dead, and the Japanese occupation of China (1937-45), might never have happened. Nor were the mid-19th century Opium Wars with Britain prominent in the public memory...

The National Museum of China, one of the cornerstones of Beijng’s monumental centre, has spent almost as much time closed as open since it was inaugurated in 1959"
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