What Does China Stand For?

Oct 30, 2010
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Its economic clout aside, China remains an impotent political figure, both on the international and domestic fronts.

Here is a translation of an op-ed from a Chinese blog about Liu Xiaobo’s Nobel Peace Prize that we at Fool’s Mountain found interesting:

With their economies still in doldrums, many European nations have come to eye recent Chinese economic growth with jealousy. And the Nobel Peace prize recently awarded to Liu Xiaobo provides them an opportunity for self congratulations. China is a weak and backward country. They don’t respect human rights. When Westerners look at China today, their perspective begins with 19th century. First by guns and violence, later waving the flag of human rights, Westerners seem to want to suppress China at all costs.

For them, it is not relevant whether Chinese people improve the circumstances that surround their daily livelihood. It is not important whether people are lifted out of poverty. Their ideological position seen to be torn from an anachronistic page from the cold war; even I, as someone who is typically critical of the government, feel manipulated and abused. Whether such attitudes stem from genuine misunderstandings or calculated conniving is hard to say. In the same breath, they light a fire to Chinese people’s genuine yearning for reform and douse it by calling Chinese people as “backward” and “brainwashed.” They pursue realist, zero-sum, geopolitical games under the empty rhetoric of “freedom” and “human rights”.

I believe most Chinese people in their heart understand what China has gone through to be where it is today. Westerners (including even many Chinese) have forgotten that China used to represent for the world a beacon of light – of a just, enlightened, harmonious power from the 16th – 18th century. But from the 19th century forward, with guns, steel, and cannons, Westerners soon came to regard China as backward. In the new game, it does not matter what China stands for. As long as China does not submit to the West, the West will never acknowledge China.


117 Warhol's rendition of Maoism (Photo credit: National Gallery of Australia)

Communism as practised today is already captured by special economic interest groups.

But what does China stand for? In the economic sphere, there is shallow capitalism. Politically, there is communism? You must be kidding. Communism as practised today is already captured by special economic interest groups. The Chinese government has become the laughing stock of the world. The fact that it wields so little influence on the international stage is a direct result of its corrupted shying away from taking substantive political reforms. It knows only of censorship and control. It is so weak that it cannot take on simplistic and false ideologies such as “freedom.” It cannot take on even second-rate intellectuals such as Liu Xiaobo. It must hide behind vague notions of stability and harmony. It concedes notions of “Civil Liberties” and “Universal Values” to be defined in terms of Western notions of “freedom” and “liberty.” Isn’t true universal right a government that can provide for the people? Chinese political and philosophical thought has a long and enlightened history. It complements Western political thoughts well.

The Chinese government knows only of censorship and control. It is so weak…it must hide behind vague notions of stability and harmony.

Yet today’s politicians have botched things up. They have forgotten that politicians are supposed to be just, enlightened, and compassionate. They are supposed to serve the people. How can our leaders talk about justice, virtue, and compassion when they are neither just, virtuous, nor compassionate?

There is no denying that the Nobel for Liu has hit a raw nerve for the government. But the prize hurts not because of Liu’s empty call for “freedom” or “human rights”, but because of the dilapidated state and impotence of Chinese political thought in this early period of the 21st century. Our dilapidation can be seen everywhere: from our taking anti-Chinese writings on Facebook and Youtube as basic political teaching materials, to our artists relying on movies such as those about Yi He Yuan to capture their imagination of the Chinese Renaissance, to our artists finding expressions only through one dimensional vocabularies of passion and oppression, to our college students and farmers relying on money to assess their self worth, to our local officials and police making their careers at the expense of ordinary people, to the media outdoing each other in a relentless pursuit of sensationalism and mind-numbing entertainment. Our dilapidated state is the real indictment against our current state of affairs.

True enlightenment and political wisdom can be found in our bookstores, our libraries, the great human traditions from all around the world. But from our leaders to the most ordinary of our citizens, no one appears to care about these things in their daily life. This is the great travesty of Chinese society as revealed by Liu’s Nobel prize.


This post was originally published on Fool’s Mountain in October 2010.