Don’t trash the China

There are just so many articles by Western writers on China nowadays. It all about the unhappy Chinese that will be doomed to be poor and downtrodden because of the lack of democracy …. Thus, this article is quite a gem, because it dares to go against these Western journalists convention. It much better written than the typical trash for mainstream western publication.

Many in China may be poor today and work long hours to earn meagre wages, but they have hope and can see improvements in their lives year by year. Many aspire their children to have better lives. Instead in the West, people are hardly happy with their government and political leaders. Yet these are the leaders who think that they have the solutions for China given their incessant lectures to China, as if Chinese people and leaders can’t think for themselves. 


July 25 2008

Despite the west’s worst fears, most Chinese are happy with the transformation of their society

A Pew survey published this week suggests Chinese people are upbeat about the future direction of their nation. In 2002, only 48% of Chinese people surveyed were "satisfied" with it; today, 86% are. In 2002, 52% rated the Chinese economy as "good"; today, 82% do. Although many respondents recognise that China’s "traditional way of life is getting lost" as it leaps from creaking Stalinism to gleaming modernity, 71% said they like the "pace of modern life". Only 3% think China’s global economic influence is negative.

Ninety-six per cent of respondents think the Olympics will be successful and 79% describe the games as "important to me personally". Chinese people know their country has problems – rising prices, the rich/poor gap, corrupt officials, air pollution and unemployment – but they seem generally, and inspiringly, optimistic about the future. Good for them.

These Pew findings contrast dramatically with western attitudes to China. Where Chinese people seem happy with the economic progress of recent years, western observers see only its downsides. China is described as a "rapidly advancing dystopia where rivers run black", where the widespread use of "the dirtiest fuel of all" – coal – is putting the planet on "the fast track to irreversible disaster". Many fret that Chinese demand for more stuff – meat, fridges, cars and other apparently outrageous luxuries – is contributing to the food price crisis and the warming of the planet.

Some claim that China’s thoughtless economic rise is causing job losses in America and Europe, or even that China’s cheap toys and even cheaper dog food are choking our children and poisoning our pets. When it was discovered that some Chinese toys had relatively high levels of lead paint, fears were expressed in the US about American children’s IQ possibly being lowered as a result of chewing on these "toxic" toys.

Many in the west regard the games as an opportunity to berate China. Simon Jenkins says he hopes the Olympics will expose "the true nature of the Beijing regime". Some want them relabelled the "Genocide Olympics" in reference to China’s relationship with Khartoum. Others call on Gordon Brown and George Bush to use the Olympics to pressurise China to reform. There’s no question that China remains an authoritarian regime, but what earthly right do Brown or Bush have to lecture anyone about authoritarianism? People in the moral gutter cannot take the high ground.

No doubt some will argue that the Pew survey results simply show that Chinese people are too scared to give honest answers to pollsters, and that western observers can take a more sophisticated, critical and objective view of China’s dirtiness and wickedness. This is self-deceiving pomposity. In truth, the difference between Chinese attitudes and those of western commentators reveals what really lies behind the China debate today: a tussle over modernity itself.

From the old cold war brigade in the US to trendy green groups in Europe, China has been transformed into the whipping boy of the 21st century, an "all-purpose rogue state", as Mark Leonard describes it. Much of this fear-mongering is driven by western distaste for progress. Many see in China the "mistakes" that we in the west have already made: industrialisation, the expansion of cities, skyscraper-building, mass migration, the rise of a consumer society. Our own doubt about these historic gains for humanity means we look at China and see its awe-inspiring development as something dirty, dangerous or duplicitous.

Slowly but surely, the western elite’s self-loathing of recent years is transforming into a loathing of China, which is seen to represent everything that is rotten about "western-style" modernity. Anyone with an ounce of humanism should challenge the demonisation of the Chinese and instead share in their optimism about the future. Whatever the killjoys in Islington and DC might say, it is an unalloyed good that Chinese people’s material lives are improving; let us hope their political lives rapidly improve, too.…8/jul/25/china


About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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