Thursday, July 17, 2008

History and Victimization by the "Anti-China West"

I had some correspondence with some one I do not know who reads this blog and other things written by me available on the internet. He described him or herself as a "typical Chinese" aged 31. My correspondent is vitriolic in attitude to the Dalai Lama and appalled at the protests against the Olympic torch relay. He also feels that the West had blackened the reputation of Chinese products by over-dramatic reaction to the problems of lead paint found on toys, etc.

Here is a summary of my responses to him or her:
Much of his anger he traces back to the ravages of Western imperialism on China starting with the First Opium War of 170 years ago. I am with him on the idea that establishment of colonies and treaty ports in China was not a good thing by today's standards of assessment. But I would also say that it is also not good to have a "victimization" mentality which seeks to blame these historical events for China's political shortcomings today (as measured by UN Covenants, I mean). Basically the situation in China today is really about domestic factors. The really damaging events in recent history such as the Heavenly Kingdom of the Taipings Rebellion, failure of the 1911 Republic and lapse into warlordism,the Anti-Japanese War, the political persecution of innocent people in the political campaigns of the '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s, the terrible famine incurred by the enormously tragically wrong-headed policies of the Great Leap Forward Campaign, the destruction of so many books, ancient buildings and artefacts in the Cultural Revolution etc. did not involve actually "the West" in a negative role. The Korean War can be an exception to this and close to a million Chinese lives were lost (although you don't see much acknowledgement by the DPRK authorities of this huge sacrifice made be the PLA "volunteers") But basically the people in South Korea are a lot better off than those living in a kind of political hell in the North so historical verdict would not see China supporting the North as such a good choice in today's terms.

Essentially Chinese people are responsible for China's issues today and the solutions are domestic too.

But the "China will eventually become democratic some time after Burton is dead" concept that my correspondent espouses is not one I find too reassuring. I would be more convinced if there were some signs that there is progress in this regard, but they are hard to find in a one-Party state with such efficient mechanisms for suppression of political dissent.

The Tibet issue to Tibetans is not really about how much worse the pre-1959 Dalai Lama regime was than Han rule today. Tibetans yearn for recognition of their identity and culture. It is not about their rational self interest. I judge that they will never give up their resistance to Han domination of what they regard as their sovereign native territory. Same goes for Uyghurs. International interest In these matters is based on universality of human entitlement to rights expressed in international Covenants.

A lot of people in the West believe that China should not use the Olympics to affirm moral claims in state behaviour at this time (including in Sudan, Burma, etc.). They do not want the Olympics to be a celebration of the current political regime.

The quality and safety problems with some Chinese imports are valid, but there are international institutions and the market to address these. There used to be issues in quality shortcomings in Canada wheat exports to China that were addressed this way too.

My conclusion:
I like hearing from Chinese people who challenge what I write about China here and elsewhere. There are always more things to talk about.

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