China has always been a mystery to the West. Ever since Marco Polo introduced Europeans to its charms in the 14th Century the West has been both captivated and horrified in equal measure. Whether by its isolation, perceived cruelties, its unChristianity, its sheer size, its Dynasties, its culture, foot-binding, use of opium, or just its inscrutable ways, China was, and remains, inscrutable.
Over time, the West has sought to conquer, then influence, then constrain, then trade, then exploit and now, it seems, coerce and cajole China to change its ways. To be, in essence, more Western, for China to be more like us and to be, in effect, less Chinese. Christian missionaries tried, governments tried, by force and by trade, individuals fell in love with China, Hollywood, artists and writers added to its mystique. The world too, from time to time, marveled at its past achievements like the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army, or gasped at the staggering statistics of China’s population, currently 1.3 billion people or 20% of our planet’s total, or more recently perhaps thought nervously of China’s growing strength, both militarily and economically, and tried to understand the unique hybrid form of totalitarian capitalistic communism that is driving it. And failed.
For China is not Western or a foreign country that has become Westernized, it is China, a great concoction of contradictions and anomalies that have built up over thousands of years to create one of the greatest countries on earth. An empire, in fact, that developed for the most part in total isolation from the rest of the world and which has gone from a feudalistic Dynasty, to gangsterism and warlords, to nationalism, near anarchy, brutal subjugation under the Japanese, civil war, revolution, and communist revolution in its purist and most radical form. A revolution that took in the cult of leadership, Stalinist style economic plans, genocide and a cultural-revolutionary revolution that would see China destroy utterly much of its non revolutionary past including its art, its literature and where possible many of its people and yet emerge with its communist ideology intact.
China’s communist revolution in fact grew out of foreign interference, for China had been sliced and diced by the British, the French, the Americans, the Russians, the Germans, and most noticeably the Japanese who in the 1930s decided to show how big and tough they were by attacking what was then a weak and virtually defenseless country. China was a mess, a 20th Century basket case, with foreign powers claiming chunks of it for their own and generally riding roughshod over the impotent Chinese government. Moreover, much of the land was controlled by feuding warlords, nationalists and communists, all of whom fought each other, the government, and who totally exploited any people not on their side.
By 1949 things were so bad that most foreign powers had packed their loot-filled bags and left while the nationalists, led by Chang Kai-shek, and the communists, led by Mao Zedong, fought it out. The communists won and Chanh Kai-shek fled with as many of his troops as could follow and set up camp in Taiwan, with US protection of course. Since then Chinese communism has followed its own unique path to nirvana in its own way and on its own terms, give or take the odd Soviet missile and the occasional copyright infringement.
Under Mao, China may have looked organised but it was an economic disaster. It had state-owned collectives and Soviet style state run industries none of which were remotely profitable. Mao instigated a plan for a Great Leap Forwards though it would have been better called A Great Step Backwards. It was a disaster, millions of people died from starvation, nothing worked and economic failures were hidden by political crusades and slogans. Everyone may have had a little red book but they didn’t taste good and when Mao went to the great politburo in the sky in the late seventies Mao’s successors set about not dismantling communism but by making it work, Chinese style.
The much-underrated Deng Xiaping got rid of a lot of the Soviet style collectives and introduced private ownership, and allowed private enterprise and new businesses to operate outside of government control. Further he created new Special Economic Zones in areas like Shanghai, which, free of much regulation and state interference, brought in foreign investment and business. Now, nearly thirty years later, China’s economy is booming and is second only to the US as a world power.
This is the new Chinese revolution; it's a revolution that is uniquely Chinese and the West doesn’t like it and, in particular, the liberal, human rights obsessed, Obama-riven, hand wringing West. Why? Because Chinese communism didn’t collapse in 1989 the way Russia communism did. In fact, when the pro-democracy brigade in China decided to get all happy-clappy and start banging their drums in Tiananmen Square and building papier-mâché statues to the Goddess of Democracy, the Chinese government showed exactly what they thought of free speech and human rights. They sent in the army, killed several hundred protestors, and drove a tank straight at the Goddess of Democracy and flattened her right in front of the worlds press.
Now, twenty years later, as China’s economic might by necessity makes her a big player on the world stage, so über democrats like Hilary Clinton feel that they can lecture China on Human Rights as if they were ticking off a cheeky coolie. Equally, trendy and crucially important companies like Google can threaten a nation state with the removal of its product if the State doesn’t change its behaviour in a way that suits that particular company’s business and, suddenly, it's 1899 all over again. Even the UK is getting in on the old imperialism act with the country’s entire liberal media backed up by our main political parties all lecturing and whining hysterically to China when China sentenced a UK citizen to death for attempting to smuggle four kilograms of heroin into the country. No doubt Gordon Brown sees the chance for an election boost here and will restart the Opium Wars with himself in the role of ‘Chinese Gordon’.
Chinese occupied Tibet now has more Human Rights activists in it than Buddhists and has to operate while being lectured to constantly by uptight angst ridden college graduates on how to run their country. China, it seems, is the New World Order’s yellow-faced bogeyman du jour, only now Fu Manchu has cut off his pigtail, shaved off his long moustache and wears a suit rather than silk robes. But to the West he’s still evidence that a leopard can’t change its spots. Once an evil Chinese bastard, always an evil Chinese bastard as they say in liberal, caring circles everywhere.
Yet do the Chinese care? If we believe the Human Rights brigade there are 1.2 and a half billion Chinese, all desperate for their right to send emails to other Human Rights activists in Palestine or wherever. The reality is that most Chinese are too busy making money, getting kitted out in the latest Gucci and Chanel uniforms and flogging Mao Zedong kitsch to tourists to care about their human rights.
This is China, not Tooting, a country that has never known democracy, that saw five million of its people starved to death as policy under Mao and watched the Japanese in 1937 rape, torture, mutilate and murder hundreds of thousands of their countrymen in their then capital Nanking and the West did nothing and said nothing. Even now, Japan denies it ever happened. Sorry, it seems for Japan, is the hardest word. The key Western powers were no better as virtually every possible item of value or cultural significance that they could get hold of was looted, stolen or smashed during their occupancy and China’s indigenous religions were mocked and decried as heathen and their followers dismissed as savages. Now as we start the 21st Century we’re at it again and still telling China what to do.
New ‘capitalist’ China, it seems, is where the East meets West and the West doesn’t like it. We don’t send gunboats any more, or send in troops to loot and destroy or grab territories like Hong Kong. No, now we whine and wail and political opportunists like Gordon Brown and Hilary Clinton have hissy fits and newspapers and commentators, who would normally bend over backwards to use the most gushing politically correct euphemism when describing someone’s race or ethnicity, feel it perfectly acceptable to describe the Chinese as barbarians and lampoon their culture and government.
China has no reason to listen. Its people will choose their own destiny, which may well be democratic or most likely a uniquely Chinese variation on it. Whatever they choose though, they should choose it because it is their choice and not the choice of self-aggrandizing Western politicians and egoistical human rights activists whose arrogance and hectoring of the Chinese is on a direct par with the Christian missionaries who so plagued China in the 19h Century, they were wrong then and the activists are wrong now.
Confucius say he who buys US treasuries will eventually own the seller.