Jacqueline Oud - Culture

Debate: all this talking about China


The year 2003 launched in France the year of China and many special exhibitions were set up about China, its arts, its history and other areas. Not only in France but also in the rest of the world, China is taking up more and more space in life and the variety of subject is large. In science they made the impressive news of launching a space shuttle including Chinese astronauts without the help of any other nation. In Cinema the movie picture "Hero" has been received with a lot of enthusiasm worldwide and regarding literature since Nobel price winner Gao Xingjian in 2000 - who since has become rather popular - China can be found again in the bookshops.

A closer look to the past

During the Mongol era - many have heard from Genghis Khan - but also before with the Han, China has known very prosperous periods that the world is very well aware of. Since then in fact, China has not managed to regain its place of importance and has instead among the world nations obtained an image of communism - with Mao - friends with Russia and a nation covered with secrets. China nowadays no longer has Mao, nor Russia but the highest population of the world in not very favourable conditions. As to my point of view, they have become more and more isolated and on top, had to find a way to face their internal situation, so the only way out was to come back on the world stage of nations.

Fear, pride and suspicion

What is a bit embarrassing, I suppose, is that China is rather proud as a nation, or at least its political leaders. I can understand them as they are being part of a very big country with a beautiful past, it is quite heavy to carry this with you and have been trained to do so with pride. To come back to the world, they would like to be able to tell that they really did great and they don’t need any help, that it is just to join the others and be fun that they are now joining.
China doesn’t want to show the problems they have internally, doesn’t want to say, "Hey, we went the other way, and we need to get back on the track the world has decided to follow. Maybe our way wasn’t the best neither." On the other hand, many nations that already fear China because of its secrets and its size, want to show only the negative sides of China. So finally what do we have: on one side the nation that wants to say how great they still are, and on the other there are nations that want to point out every dirty detail of China. The world will not get very far with this and it creates more and more suspicion among the spectators.


As seen before, we have all the ingredients to make a good movie out of this. Bad luck, the Chinese were one step ahead and made "Hero" in 2003. Passion, pride, honour but above all the stake of the country are themes of this movie that has mostly been received as a propaganda from China. Chinese 7th Art is very well valued worldwide - though often censured locally - but this film had not the intention to be an example on it, notwithstanding its sense of colours and other delicate attentions of beauty and elegance.
It is always easier to impress the less well informed than the intellectuals and it is even easier if the type of information that can be obtained by the population can be managed. Chinese politics clearly try to use propaganda for their population as to keep their heads up of pride. Let’s not forget that honour and esteem is one of the most important aspects of live in Asia, losing its "face" is about the worst thing that could happen to them. If Chinese leaders would all of the sudden speak about all the problems their country is facing, none would regard them the same way again. One does not put "its dirty laundry" outside. It is therefor important to understand both sides of the story.

What matters in this case is the real aim of the country and its government. Does it also want to keep its head up towards its own population? How is the local population treat? Internet is changing a lot since it reduces the possible propaganda. However, very few have access to internet. The main population still lives isolated from all that might happen. The local mentalities thus have not changed, but taking into account the enormous population it would also be impossible to change quickly. The part of China that we don’t know is worlds apart from the China that is being communicated by the government. The part that is changing and aware of the ambiguity is only the top of the iceberg, the intellectuals, but they were chased during Mao and are not looking forward to attract too much attention for fear of reprisals.

But it also provides an argument for the fact that the government cannot be as honest as they "should be". The country may be leading its life on different levels and thus the quicker ones should not be delayed by the slower ones. China has an enormous population that needs to be fed, that needs to "survive". As long as this mass of population will not have a certain standard of living they will not be ready to reduce the birth-rate and thus not decrease the population growth nor the general needs for "survival". Bear in mind that all misfortunes of China are communicated broadly, such as the SARS, the bird flue etc...

China and its gradual position in the world economy

It is of general interest to China to obtain a strong position in the world economy so they can assure their future. Whether this future will be purely for a certain comfort of surviving or whether it includes the wish to recall the era of a Great China in full splendour, the way of operating and the end will be all the same. This future is already preparing itself for example in the huge stake it has in the financing of the debt of the USA balance sheet. Step by step China will infiltrate in the world economy from different sides. Its huge markets interests the capitalists whereas its population represents cheap labour and thus enable China to reply to low-cost manufacturing needs. The problem that may exist is that few have a clear perception on the different levels of infiltration. From outside of China the interests are various and do not go well together. China will take an advantage of this thus "attacking form different sides". Whether one should be afraid of China or not depends on what you are looking for. Anyhow, if anyone wants to refrain China from advancing it will need joined forces, if not there is no stopping them. The different interests of actors have created a network to complicated to stop. Future only will show if China will become the Eldorado the capitalists are hoping for, though nothing is yet giving the hoped for signs. Otherwise China will obtain the position of power what it is looking for, we should not underestimate them.

[24 February 2004]

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