Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The modern myth about China and its people

By China Watcher

A month ago, I chanced upon the conversations coming from an adjacent table concerning the Beijing Olympics and the ongoing economic developments in China. 5 out of 10 persons having their dinner at the table were Westerners. A petite lady with Chinese features told the Westerners confidently that China has come a long way since Mao’s Cultural Revolution in the 70s and there are lots of encouraging social developments in Chinese societies since then. She suggested a group trip to China for a holiday. One skeptical and hypocritical Westerner retorted loudly that she will only venture to the country if there are no more human rights violations, religious suppression, corruption and pollution.

I could not help but quietly laughed at the poor lack of knowledge and how misguided are the general Western perceptions about China and its people. Most of them only obtained their information from the narrow lens of the irresponsible Western media and the strong influential opinions of the neo-conservatives in their daily lives, both at the office and at home. China bashing has become a “favorite past-time” among the Western media in order to sell their journals, papers and periodicals to take advantage of the situation when its residents are still trying to grasp a foreign culture in which there are significant differences in language, customs and societal standards. This has somehow led to the birth and development of a western mainstream thinking that everything about China is “bad and evil”. At the extreme end, this continuous reinforced thinking eventually led to the formation of a closed mind on China and its people like the Westerner’s reactions which I have brought up in the above example.

I would say openly that the majority of the Westerners who initially formed a poor mental image of the country were taken aback by the strides of progress in Chinese societies and the modern architectural facade located in the coastal eastern cities, the moment they set foot in China. Most impressive of all from the accounts of their traveling diaries was the extent of the people’s hospitality and the modern facilities quite unlike what their earlier presumptions were. Four US cyclists of the US Olympics contingent had to apologize for wearing masks upon landing at the Chinese capital due largely to their ignorance caused by the many misinformed or exaggerated articles by the media back home. Pollution was another issue which was played up by the press. Is there a perception and reality gap over here? Obviously the answer is yes.

Do the Western people know that the Han Chinese in the rural areas can have a second child if the first is a girl? Do the Westerners also know that the Chinese minorities like the Tibetans and Uighurs are excluded under the one-child policy?

China practices “controlled religious freedom” even though the Communist rulers are atheists. The present Chinese government had significantly loosened its control on religious activities when compared with the situation 30 years ago. The Chinese government has also annually allocated funds to build new churches, temples, mosques and for maintenance of existing structures. Westerners need to know that there are sufficient places of worship for religious followers but due to the inert fear of religion being used politically, the central government want to have a say in the managing of the activities. I do believe if the Tibetans or Muslims are not outwardly political in their motives, there are certainly rooms for more flexibility in the preaching of one’s own belief. One good example is the Hui’s Muslims.

It is also clear that there are still gaps in the standard of religious freedom as interpreted by the West and the Chinese government. Given time when Chinese societies become more mature and knowledgeable with a sizeable middle class, the gaps could be narrowed with the demand for changes coming from its people. The West took more than 500 years to attain the current level of religious acceptance in their societies. Even in the present developed societies in US and Europe, I have heard of complaints from Muslims migrants who felt that their religious rights were being infringed when there are surveillance regulations enacted by the mainly Christian based governments and the presence of selective discriminations in the name of security which they had to endure in their adopted home country.

It is a known fact, that there is economic disparity between the coastal cities and the inner provinces as reflected in the widening income gap between the rich city dwellers and poor rural farmers. Economic reform is a continuous process and we do note some encouraging development inland where the villages are finally able to enjoy part of the success of China’s impressive economic growth over the past 20 years. Growth in the urban centers will take place first and then it will spread gradually to the smaller towns, counties, villages and communes. The literacy rate of China in the rural area is slowly improving and at least, I can boldly proclaim that the crime rate in still relatively low as against its population size of 1.35 billion.

China is known worldwide as a producer of cheap and low quality goods and all that will change in a matter of time if we take the economic model of Japan, South Korea or even Taiwan as a yardstick for the elevation of technological progress and development.

Though China's political system is still largely one-party rule, the economic system is undeniably capitalist with a high degree of government intervention similar to most Asian countries.

China is a huge, mysterious and complex country with a diverse population and it is important not to rely solely from third parties perspective but to view the country personally to gather information necessary to make a sound, fair and reasonable judgment

1 comment:

geranios said...

The myth of the Chinese nation, CCCP style, is that it is one big happy family of Han and various "minorities". At least one of those "minorities", the Tibetans, were never a minority in their own land for their 2000 year history, and were never threatened with being a minority in their land until recently. China has spent a large amount of money to attract Han into Tibet as part of their colonization effort in this ancient land. Try as it might, China's insensitivity to the reality of its harsh policies in its Tibetan colonies are fanning the flames of nationalism, uniting Tibetans across the three provinces of Kham, Amdo, and UTsang (so called "TAR" and most of Quinghai, parts of Gansu,Sichuan and Yunnan--the places where Tibetans have traditionally been the majority or sole populations until after the occupation). China rejects the "middle way" approach of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Govt in exile, while at the same time the desire for complete independence grows within Tibetans with every insult China makes towards the Dalai Lama, and every Tibetan martyred or tortured for expressing the desire for freedom from foreign occupation of their land. Liberation for Tibet may well be a long time in coming, but it will come, as it did for the nations of the Soviet gulag, despite it seeming so impossible to achieve at the time. Allowing Tibetans to have more than one child and paying for a select few to attend Chinese colleges and get a Chinese education--complete with a hilariously fictitous account of Tibetan history as a part of the "motherland" (should it be a surprise that many of them eventually become even more nationalistic than their educationally deprived breathern)is not the same as truly respecting the Tibetan people and acknowledging their true history. The myths about "China" are not so much Western, but more those of the CCCP, which has created its own distorted view of history and a rehashed version of the Ching empire (minus a large part of Mongolia,thanks to the deal with Stalin for arms that Mao made), just as the same party did in Russia when it recreated the old czarist empire in the form of the Soviet Union. The lesson that should have been learned by China's leaders is that no empire built by force without true heartfelt loyalty of its captive colonies lasts forever. The snipers on the rooftops of Lhasa today, and the police in the streets, night and day, demonstrate that the CCCP knows full well what Tibetans truly think of their Han overlords.