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Levelling with China | The Monthly | Linda Jaivan

06 Aug

August2008 Levelling with China is just one of the goodies in the August issue of The Monthly, the Aussie magazine which in 2006 brought you Kevin Rudd on politics and religion. Jaivan is well qualified to write on China. She is a friendly critic, but a trenchant one nonetheless, so I have given this the flag. 😉

Every day, we carry on about how the Chinese nation is going through its most dangerous period. Yet, in fact, the Chinese people lack a sense of urgency about the crises and dangers we face. Our overweening sense of self-importance, conservatism and complacency, blind optimism, propensity for idle boasting, flattery, unscrupulous behaviour, self-deceit, and trickery have the most serious consequences for the nation and our people.

He Baochuan wrote those words back in 1988. A scholar of the philosophy of science, he had worked on China’s first computer in the 1960s. His In the Hills of China, blunt and forceful, was one of a number of books, articles and even television shows produced at the time on the subject of what some intellectuals daringly called “the China illness”. Commonly cited symptoms included the burgeoning population, looming environmental disaster, bureaucratic incompetence, corruption and unbalanced economic development. He Baochuan’s editor, Xu Yinong, commented at the time, “In the past, people have talked about Reform as being a process of ‘crossing the river by feeling for the stones’. The real worry now is that in all too many situations we simply can’t find any stones.”

In the Hills of China was banned, along with many other works, as part of the clampdown on dissent that followed the 1989 protests and massacre. The People’s Daily and other state organs published attacks on authors like He Baochuan, accusing them of wanting to sell out China to the West. The shrill language of these attacks bore echoes of Red Guard rhetoric, and was a foretaste of the style of vilification which netizens and other self-appointed guardians of China’s national honour today direct at anyone, Chinese or foreign, deemed to have insulted China’s national pride, often because they have dared to address its problems.

A few months ago, when the violence in Tibet prompted worldwide protests and counter-protests, a mainland student, Grace Wang, tried to encourage dialogue between pro-Tibetan and pro-Chinese protesters at her university in the US. Web vigilantes went after her with viciousness; after her parents’ details were found and published, self-styled patriots smashed the windows of their home in Qingdao and dumped faeces on their doorstep. Wang wrote in the Washington Post that her mother and father had been compelled to flee. The threats on her own life forced her to accept police protection. But she also insisted that there were people on the pro-Chinese side who had been willing to talk with the pro-Tibetans before the more strident voices drowned them out.

Jane Macartney, the Beijing correspondent for London’s Times, received death threats following articles she published earlier this year on the Tibetan situation. Her attackers noted that she is a direct descendent of Lord Macartney, whose refusal in 1793 to kowtow to the Qianlong Emperor is part of the long and vexed history of the West’s interaction with China. In relatively short order, beginning with the Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century (which Britain fought to enforce its ‘right’ to export opium from the Subcontinent to China), China experienced military invasion, economic depredation, dynastic collapse, republican revolution and adventurism, warlordism, cultural upheaval, more invasion, war, civil war and Communist revolution. As the Monash University China scholar Gloria Davies so eloquently phrases it, China is “a nation that was hurt into being”…

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Posted by on August 6, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, Chinese and China, current affairs, magazines

 

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