“My problem is that the gov’t covers up this information, if the Chinese people knew what was happening they would be outraged,” I said, naively assuming that I understood Chinese people’s complex relationship to the world beyond their borders. With that the younger co-worker began searching for news of Darfur on the Chinese web.
Between Western thought and Chinese policy there remains a giant chasm. The U.S. and Europe have reached a consensus that supporting oppressive regimes leads to terribly corrupt countries that are unable to pull themselves out of poverty (Zimbabwe for example). While China argues that these dictators provide the necessary stability that allows for businesses to open and grow the economy, China itself is the proof of this argument, even though the Party would not say so explicitly.
These conversations are rare in China, so I decided to double down on this topic. I tried switching to a country that was much closer to China, physically and in gov’t dogma: N. Korea.
“You know the gov’t there spends money on expensive cars, and liquor while its own people starve, yet China insists on supporting its actions without question. N. Korea has even started selling nuclear secrets to countries like Iran. How is this supporting peace?” I asked, knowing that this too was something that went unreported in official papers. I provided facts and figures from “Nothing to Envy” and “Escaping North Korea“, but they were unmoved by these arguments.
The younger one chipped in, “All governments are like this, they spend money on themselves. It’s not our job to stop them.” This response was met with a disapproving glare from the older co-worker, it was an unorthodox reason. The younger one turned back to her computer to continue her search for information on Darfur. Based on previous conversations with the younger one, I got the feeling that she was troubled by these world events that were new to her, but she didn’t dare exposing her thoughts in front of her more senior co-worker.
To me it seems that the West and China will remain at an impasse on what to do with corrupt dictatorships. China knows that opposing them would be hypocritical and only invite further international criticism of their policies on human rights, and their actions in the sensitive minority areas of Xinjiang, Tibet, and Inner Mongolia (which according to my co-workers is full of wealthy Mongols, whose salary is higher than their Han counterparts in Shanghai). China’s foreign policy options are limited by their own domestic policies.
Finally the younger co-worker found information on Sina, “See,” she said proudly, “we have this information. 350,000 people were killed.” The other one looked me square in the eye told me, “Chinese people just don’t care about it,” as if this was reassuring.
For a moment I lost all hope for China’s future. Then I remembered earlier that day the same co-worker had heard someone discussing Mao’s stature, and decided to do further research on her own. She came to the conclusion that Mao in fact was only 1.73m, and that the Party had created a myth. When she told the president this, he had criticized her for questioning Mao’s official height, but she persisted.
China is slowly changing, orthodoxy is being challenged, and I’m lucky enough to occasionally catch a glimpse of it.
Tom, in my experience, those are conversations best held in very small groups – as in you and your younger co-worker (rather than her and more senior workers). It is difficult, at best, to often get true, unvarnished opinions regardless of what facts you may present. And your difficulty is compounded because often those facts are unavailable to Chinese in China. Heck, even Chinese outside of China refuse to see “facts” sometimes and view them as nothing more than propaganda by foreigners (even though, outside of China, they might well be the “foreigners”).
Trying to break through those preconceived notions (even those put there by gov’t propaganda) will take time and patience and a little bit of effort and willingness by your audience to see an alternative point of view.
I think there are no easy solutions to solving the problems which are presented by the worlds dictators and that right now neither China nor the West has the answer to deal with these issues. Look at Libya, where interference really hasn’t reaped the rewards that so many hoped for. I also think in one sense that while dictators maybe brutal they still do provide a lot of stability and there are no assurances of what will replace them if they are removed, an example of this is Iraq which almost fell into the abyss after Sadaam fell. Secondly I genuinely do believe that Chinese people in so far as is possible employ a policy of non-intervention, even in family disputes or public incidences between family members, Chinese people are generally very reluctant to intervene even if there is violence present. Finally I would say that no country in the world intervenes in issues such as Darfur without some level of self interest and these interventions rarely tend to be purely altruistic. I would recommend an interview from the aspen institute with a Chinese venture capitalist regarding for a further insight into Chinas dealings in Africa and a view on Governance in general (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2JUHnrb14U) some very interesting and controversial opinions
The problem with the noninterventionist policy is that eventually you reach a tipping point. Just like in Libya when China started wooing the rebels. What will happen with Pakistan now that it has come to light that the terrorists in xinjiang were trained in pakistan? And how about the Chinese general who advocated going in to the Sudan to take out the pirates that wreaking havoc on Chinese vessels?
As China steps on the world stage, other countries will be looking to it for leadership. Leadership cannot be grounded in the principle of “wherever i can make a buck”
Oops, I meant Somalia not Sudan.
Yeah, it’s times like these when I get somewhat frustrated by how similar cynicism can seem to naivete. It tends to be on display when some kind of criticism is made about China and the usual response is “but Western government do (insert nefarious plot)…”
It’s essentially a modified version of the kneejerk left-right bunfights that take place in Western societies. Regardless of whether the initial criticism is true or not, pointing out the flaws of the other side does nothing to enlighten anyone regarding the substance of the initial criticism and forces the conversation to either shut down or become confrontational.
To me there’s only one clear defining principle here – access to information. Until Chinese citizens can access information freely, they’re always going to suffer a handicap when it comes to political debate.
Not everything is a matter of East vs West, Left vs Right or Right vs Wrong, but in a vacuum of information these labels regrettably, often serve as the only basis from whence a conversation can begin.
When the moment comes, I believe a lot of ordinary Chinese are willing to challenge the current rule. During the June 4th event, millions of chinese swarmed the streets, in cities large and small, in a matter of days to demand for democracy with passions that I hadn’t known existed hitherto. On any average day though, people have to dea with the dailiness of life, overcome their fear, and find ways to game the system that has few principles and too many 潜规则。We can hope or despair depending on who we are; I will choose to hope for my own sanity.
Looks like the Great Patriotic Education Campaign is putting a stop to China’s adaptation to the modern world so don’t get too excited. In 10-20 years things might be back to the way they were in the 1970’s.
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In my experience, many of the Chinese simply don’t believe the vast majority that is officially reported. However, the barrage of propaganda will influence thinking. So despite the fact that many people will argue that China is the world’s envy and western country are trying to bring down China, if you ask if they could immigrate to the U.S., most I have met immediately said yes.
I don’t think it’s that Chinese don’t care about world events, but having been made aware time and again that speaking on domestic issues is forbidden and will bring you personal trouble, it’s just not worthwhile to invest time and energy to affairs outside of their own realm.
[…] so it’s willing to look the other way. And Chinese people either don’t know about it or know about it and don’t care. World governments won’t soon forget […]
China is not the only country to use propaganda.
The West has done it and refined it to an art-form barely distinguishable from reality.
Same thing can be said of these foreigners, who will rid them of THEIR “propaganda influenced beliefs”
(Access to information doesn’t mean believing in them, as info was available to the younger worker in the story of the article.)
This belief or notion that the West & its people must in some shape or form try to help the poor & sad Chinese people break the shackles of this propaganda is quite honestly laughable in light of what the West and its people themselves do.