That said, something has been bothering me for a while now. Maybe it’s the one-sided view of the problem. Maybe it’s because I feel we’re witch-hunting. Maybe it’s because I can’t take hypocrisy very well. or maybe I’ve just been brainwashed my the Chinese as my friends like to joke.
I’m a former Langues’O student. I’ve been studying Chinese for over 12 years now (yeah, I started young… French curriculum, you know). I lived in China, I studied, I and worked there. I don’t necessarily know more than you about the country but I can see the other side of the story.
So, what’s the deal with China?
Well, first of all, China is a young Republic. The country was ruled by feudal dynasties until the 1911 republican revolution. And then, China didn’t really have a steady government until Mao took power in 1949. After Yuan Shikai and the warlords, after the Guomindang dictatorship, after WW2 and the Japanese invasion, the Communist took power quite easily. They had a strong new ideology and they had resisted against Japan — that’s what people mostly wanted at the time.
Second of all, there is one think you should know: China hate to be told what to do. Especially by Westerners. Hey, we all have a weakness, don’t we?
Remember what I was saying above? The last dynasty, the Qing, fell in 1911. Well, at the time, China was pretty weak and definitely not “modern” by Western standards, Diplomacy and trade, for example. China was the “中国”, ruling over Asia, center of its world. The Qing did accept foreign trade, but on a limited basis (specific harbors, Chinese middlemen…). And meanwhile, the rest of the world was entering the industrial revolution. And then… clash.
Chinese tea, silk and porcelain were in high demand in the West, yet China wanted little that the West had to offer, causing the Westerners to incur an unfavorable balance of trade. A remedy was found: England got into opium trade. Imported from India, it was used to buy Chinese goods, then forwarded to Europe. Chinese opium consumption soon became a social issue, but the trade benefits England, which just had attempted to establish, one more time, an embassy and got turned down. England eventually picked a casus belli and started the Opium Wars. The Qing Dynasty, already in internal turmoil, couldn’t resist. In 1842, the Nanjing Treaty was signed: China had to cede Hong Kong to the British, open harbors to foreign trade, limit duty, grant British national extraterritoriality etc. Britain was to have most-favored-nation treatment: it would receive whatever trading concessions the Chinese granted other powers. They later obtained the construction of railways, zones of the economic and political influences in their leased territories. The Treaty of Nanjing set the scope and character of an unequal relationship for the century of “national humiliations”. The treaty was followed by other incursions, wars, and treaties that granted new concessions and added new privileges for the foreigners.
This short war symbolized the brutal integration of China in a new world order, invented and dominated by the USA. The continual reference to the Unequal Treaties marked Chinese history: it is only by recovering Hong Kong that Deng Xiaoping “washed the honor of China“.
Even after WW2, when the new Chinese Communist Party and the Guomindang fought for power, the USA tried to influence the outcome, in the hope of avoiding another “red country”. Basically, it’s only when Mao took power in 1949 that Westerners left China for good… well. almost for good. Remember… Hong Kong and Macao were only returned to China in 1997 and 1999!
So you can imagine why China doesn’t like to be told what to do. To the Western world, especially to North America, the “new continent”, a century is a long time. To the Chinese, it’s yesterday. Apparently, when Kissinger once asked Zou Enlai if he believed whether the 1789 French Revolution benefited humanity, he replied, “It’s too early to tell.“
So, for me, it all comes down to one thing: who are we to judge China?
First thing, pretty much all countries around the world have active secessionist and autonomist movements: La Réunion, Brittany, Corsica (France), Québec and Western provinces (Canada), West Papua (Indonesia), Brussels and Flemish region (Belgium), Azores (Portugal)… just to name a few randomly. So no problem, go demonstrate for a free Tibet but you may open a Pandora box — how would you feel if Chinese were demonstrating for the independence of Quebec or Alaska?
We are outraged against Chinese imperialism: yet, a hundred years ago, we had no problem invading China. Some may argue that the current war against terrorism is just another face of imperialism. France and many countries are still influencing their former colonies… and so on.
China and human rights? Not the best match, agreed. Nonetheless, China is making progress. And let’s look at ourselves, once again. How long did it take us to abolish slavery? To stop killing people because they had darker skin or just looked different? To allow women to vote?
Now, can we just stop being so blind and look around us? Are we that good and that virtuous that we can blame other countries? And why China, suddenly? Is it the worse country we know? Do we usually boycott what we think are dictatorship? Because I clearly remember us having a pretty good relationship with Saudi Arabia (hello, human rights, anyone?), Libya, former Zaire… just to name a few. Let’s just stop being hypocrite.
I won’t boycott the Olympic Games. I love China and I love its people. I keep on hoping the country find its own way to be, between Western influence and the weight of its history. I hope human rights keep on making progress, because there were progress. And I hope I was able to show you another side of the story.
You’re welcome to argue with me!