Wednesday, August 6, 2008
three meltdowns and one china syndrome
Tang Jie, a 28-year old Chinese graduate student and creator of the popular nationalist video above, discussed a broad range of topics in a recent New Yorker article, including the obvious prevalence of state censorship in his homeland. He noted, "[b]ecause we are in such a system, we are always asking ourselves whether we are brainwashed," he said. "We are always eager to get other information from different channels." Then he added, "But when you are in a so-called free system you never think about whether you are brainwashed."
The ramp up to China's momentous showcase of its, inter alia, grand power, wealth, and athletic prowess has brought with it a ton of English language press. The New Yorker, the very best in non-hockey, non-Chomsky reading, has looked at the rapid ascent in the development of China's boxers, while the Times has denuded China's clever solution to the troubling presence of the devastatingly poor that inhabit the cracks of Beijing's colossus: just build a wall over them!
I find much of what's written in the American mainstream on China to be a healthy cocktail of equal parts condescension and ethnocentricity, topped off with a splash of good old fashioned ignorance (and a dash of cointreau). Of course, Chinese rule in Tibet deserves a harsh rebuke and threatens the very existence of the Olympiad, whereas American occupation in Iraq, with a far greater civilian death-toll and an almost complete destruction of civil society, deserves criticism within the noble, intellectual culture only in so far as it costs American lives and affects the American economy.
I'm not a fan of Chinese nationalism in the same way I don't support nationalism of any kind, not to mention the entire idea of nation-states. The only person I've known with a rational justification of patriotism came from a Baltic Republic, a country whose very cultural existence was threatened by its lack of political independence. Maintaining cultural identity, linguistic diversity, religious freedom are all to be respected and valued. Being proud of your community, way to go, bro. But a bias in favor of one's own political leaders and rights over those of another peoples? A cloak for self-interest and alternative to compassion and understanding. Patriotism is the last refuge for scoundrels indeed.
It's hard for me to say if Tie Jang and his retinue lean a little closer to the "good" kind of civic pride or the "bad" kind of mindless jingoism that enables rulers and elites to exploit in the name of country. But China, as a non-industrialized and globally uninfluential player over the course of the most recent geopolitical periods, has not given its people too much to cheer about over the last 50 years, singing songs and prayers to Mao notwithstanding. As the Middle Kingdom makes its steady climb towards industrialization and wealth accumulation, the young intellectuals in those obscenely massive urban centers are shunning the glossy enchantment of the West that other countries in similar states of development so hopelessly imbibe (hello, India); rather, they are looking inward and to the past to forge a unique and more concretely Chinese identity, one that appears be accompanied by the manpower and the economic muscle to flex that identity around the world. What does all of this mean? The naive hope in this beaten down corner is that any buttress against US global domination and its very non-democratizing efforts around the world has to be a positive step. The more likely result, however, based on even a cursory examination of the history of world affairs is that it will be business as usual, the names of oppressors slightly changed, but the list of crimes and victims always as long.