Monday, 21 April 2008

The Growing Pains of China

I've been giving a lot of thought as to why the Chinese seem to react so hysterically to any hint of criticism from the outside world. I think I know some of the reasons but first I want to outline some conversations I've been having with my Chinese colleagues. The Government here are responsible for yanking the largest number of Chinese people out of poverty and internal strife and into a modern 21st century environment ever. No other group of people have singlehandedly done so much for one country. Therefore the general view of Government by the Chinese is that they have done a sterling job.

Who could dispute that?

However in order to achieve that stability and meteoric growth a number of the usual freedoms which have evolved with many different institutions over several centuries in the West have needed to be limited. The discussion in the mainstream media is never critical of the Government, but I'm assured that within the privacy of the home it's quite normal. The point made to me earlier is that if China's backbone or the migrant worker classes were subjected to a mass media message more critical of China's own shortcomings, it would lead to massive instability. Our news institutions in the West are critical of our own failings but that's because the maturity to handle the criticism is generally there.

OK back to hypersensitivity of criticism. The Chinese are only ever exposed to the 'Good News' provided by the state run media, of success after success. It then comes as a bit of a shock when criticisms are leveled against this country despite the successful nature of accelerated wealth accumulation conditions provided by the State. It is even more of a rude affront as those criticisms come from the outside. No family can handle criticism from any outside party when constructive criticism from within is stifled and curtailed.

The video above prompted me to write this post because its weakness is the obvious. The author never ever concedes that China may have some responsibility for anything at all, at any time. I think it would be wise for the West to become better at admitting its own shortcomings in a more public manner with the institutions of our governments and their diplomatic agencies. Internal debate and criticism may be endemic in the West but unfortunately the Chinese get to see very little of type of content that makes it into the "comment is free" section of The Guardian. If the West were a little smarter about getting its message across to the Chinese, they'd be making Chinese language viral videos with the type of criticism we subject each other to on a daily basis.

It will probably take a few more years yet though, for the West to intellectually accommodate the East as an equal sibling and also for the East to come to terms with the responsibility of being on the word stage. The Olympics in China's case will be a good start for getting to know each other. However do expect more growing pains.


  1. I know what you're saying Charles and I agree with alot of it - though I still feel China is badly tarred with being 'anti criticism' because whilst they may be more 'open' about their response to negativity, I don't see too much of a difference to how America/Americans act when the World passes negative judgement on their actions.

    I suppose one difference is that the majority of China feels offended whereas in the US it's more conservative states, but it's still not as unique as many people try and suggest.

  2. "The author never ever concedes that China may have some responsibility for anything at all, at any time."

    I never hear western media talking about the slavery we put children under to make our products, or the pollution we heap on other countries so it doesn't show on our books, or the natural resources we effectively steal to make the money to keep doing the above. Or that maybe the world's terror troubles might just have been caused by the US training Al Quieda and trying to manipulate elections around the world...etc etc etc

    Patriotism is blinding. But no more so there than here.

  3. Hey Cynical Rob. I can't comment on my own blog with some internet connections but I hear you. Its easy to paint a binary picture, the West good, China bad. All in all I think China is doing a remarkable job of managing 1.3 Billion. I guess one of my points is that China isn't ready quite yet for the rough and tumble of the kindergarten we call world politics. Neither the leaders are used to being questioned or the people aren't used to the notion that not everything is rosy when a good 360 degree view is taken.

    Famous Rob. Good points. If there is one issue we need to get to grips with its that most of China's carbon footprint belongs to the West and our insatiable desire for pointless shitty stuff. As long as it's new, we think we should buy it. China sees the West as a spoiled child and I can't blame them.

  4. The video contains a lot of "distorted media" of its own with several doctored photos - some for comic effect. And it has a style that is very familiar in the US conspiracy culture of the right and left. But it is very interesting and does seem to show how China could see itself surrounded by unfriendly countries despite sacrificing its people's health and industry producing inventory for Wal-Mart and a million $1 stores across the world. It's interesting that nationalism is being used to direct attention from the factory owners and others who profit from China's suffering newly industrial classes. But that's why nationalism was invented, to take away attention from the continual struggle between workers and owners, (please forgive my use of this mid-19th century term.) It is worth remembering that nationalism, and the nation state, is a relatively modern concept that grew up alongside capitalism.

  5. Hi Tom. This is a brilliant comment that I cannot do justice to for a response as I'm running around Asia at the moment. I'll be coming back here shortly once my travel has settled. Thanks for dropping by.