After working in the hospital for almost 10 months, my co-workers are finally starting to talk with me about politics in China (this serves as a good reminder of 1. how important relationships are in China and 2. how hard it can be to get interesting information). Two of the women were fairly willing to talk one-on-one with me about it, but when the third woman would come in the room the conversation would die instantly.
Whenever we have these chats someone always makes sure to close the door (sometimes I even do it). It’s not that I would normally be worried about what is said, but the Party office of the hospital is directly next door, and one can never be too careful.
One of the most interesting bits to come out of our discussions is their insistence that China is a developing country that would never want to be a global power. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard these two arguments, which seem to be common knowledge for many Chinese people.
I would normally agree that China isn’t quite a developed country yet, but there are more than 100 million people in China living in cities that could be mistaken for New York or LA. Usually the person telling me this lives in one of China’s more prosperous cities, which is hard to stomach (the co-worker in this case owns a big apartment, two cars, and is considering spending a small fortune to send her child to school in the US).
The part that bothers me is that “Developing Country” is used as an excuse. China can’t cut pollution because it is a developing country, China can’t build schools because it’s a developing country, China can’t give people freedom of speech because it’s a developing country…
Meanwhile, China has spent billions of dollars on high-speed rail, hosting the Olympics, and launching men into space. Clearly, being a developing country doesn’t limit which vanity projects can be funded.
This argument of being a developing country though is crucial for China’s second claim:
China doesn’t want to rule the world
Forget the news about China’s aircraft carrier, growing role in Africa, and second largest GDP, China doesn’t have any real power in the world. Just today they posted a story on People’s Daily that Kissinger had said “China won’t be the next superpower,” which seems like an odd thing to publish days before the Party’s 90th anniversary, unless that is the message the Party wants repeated.
This is a part of the Party’s crucial creation myth (which we’ll be getting more into soon) that China was a powerless and abused country until their rule began. If China is powerful now, than the Party would have fulfilled it’s role and may no longer be needed by the masses.
It also is a convenient dodge for responsibility; powerless, developing countries are picked on by the rich western ones who have already exploited the world’s resources and people. This is China’s favorite argument as to why it shouldn’t have to limit its carbon output, even though it now pollutes more than all of South America and Africa combined.
Tomorrow we’ll be looking at a few more myths crucial to the Party’s rule.