I just read The Economist’s lead article this week titled “Angry China”. I came away from it disappointed, and I would like to explain why.
The main gist of the article is that the Chinese government should be worried about the rising tide of Chinese nationalism because a great deal of the anger now directed at western policies and interests are in fact, anger at Chinese government policy. Handled the wrong way, this tide of Chinese nationalism could very well turn against the Chinese government, leading to unpredictable consequences.
Here are the money quotes:
China’s rage is out of all proportion to the alleged offences. It reflects a fear that a resentful, threatened West is determined to thwart China’s rise. The Olympics have become a symbol of China’s right to the respect it is due. Protests, criticism and boycott threats are seen as part of a broader refusal to accept and accommodate China.
There is no doubt genuine fury in China at these offences; yet the impression the response gives of a people united behind the government is an illusion. China, like India, is a land of a million mutinies now. Legions of farmers are angry that their land has been swallowed up for building by greedy local officials. People everywhere are aghast at the poisoning of China’s air, rivers and lakes in the race for growth. Hardworking, honest citizens chafe at corrupt officials who treat them with contempt and get rich quick. And the party still makes an ass of the law and a mockery of justice.
This is a classic “bait-and-switch” argument. The anger directed at the west is in fact domestic Chinese anger at Chinese government policies, according to this thesis. This is a dismissal of any anger at the west as an argument completely without merit, and an attempt to shift all of the blame onto the Chinese government.
It is exactly this kind of argument which Chinese see as western hypocrisy and double standards. Of course there is anger at some Chinese government policies, but these are a separate issue. Please don’t try to change the subject!
Sure, there are some aspects of Chinese government policy which Chinese citizens would like to see change. But the pro-Tibetan independence folk have committed the sin of lumping Chinese citizens together with the Chinese government in their criticisms. To the Chinese, it seems like a classic attempt to hijack the Olympics, something which almost all Chinese are truly proud of, and to turn it into a bully pulpit for their claims of Tibetan independence.
What angers both the Chinese government policymakers and people is that while the country has developed in economic terms and yes, even in human rights terms, that has not been recognized in the west. Instead, there continue to be politicians and media figures who continue to hector China, and play a leading role in shaping western opinions and political policy about China. To the Chinese, it seems like no matter how hard they run to the finish line, there is always someone out there moving the finish line even further away while they are running the race.
Trying to steal the Olympics and letting the Chinese have their day in the sun would be very similiar to insulting an American simply because George W Bush is his president. This is exactly what the pro-Tibetan independence supporters, and the China media critics have done.
Why should these people, who have little deep understanding of China and the Chinese (or Tibetans for that matter) have such an influential role in shaping opinion about such an important relationship as the west’s relationship with China, and be given so much ink and free air time? In light of this, why shouldn’t Chinese get angry about this very unfair and one-sided view which is put forward in much of the western media, and then passed off as the truth? And why doesn’t the western media instead reach out to westerners who have lived in China, and maybe, even speak the language in order to get a deeper understanding of the country?
Is this fair?
The real reason many Chinese are angry is not redirected anger at Chinese government policies, it is a genuine anger at a very biased and one-sided view about China which casts it as irresponsible, selfish, oppressive and wrong, and then throwing all Chinese citizens into the same basket.
The Economist is, generally speaking, a fair and open-minded newspaper, and usually presents well thought-out positions and arguments . It should look deeper than dismiss all of the Chinese anger out of hand.
If this lead article is the best that they can do, then I’m not optimistic about relations between China and the west.