“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.