“Without the GFW, Could China Win Western Public Opinion?”

This forum post on Anti-CNN asks the question of netizens: “Without the Great Firewall, would China be able to occupy the battlefield of the Western public discourse?” Here is a sampling of some of the responses by Chinese netizens:

NO IT CANNOT.
1) China lacks language skills. You should know most people only study foreign languages to pass tests.
2) [Chinese] lack the necessary knowledge, they can only understand the sciences [not the humanities].
3) They lack the historical common knowledge, language background, and cultural background. They’re only willing to study the sciences

It can’t, the power to take the initiative is in the hands of others.

I feel it can’t. I once read a media studies professor’s analysis of Western media [idea] dissemination strategies; I feel that we’re really behind in this aspect. As far as regular netizens are concerned, our national education doesn’t teach these kind of techniques, so [common people] probably couldn’t out debate Westerners. Most importantly, at the present the platforms for international exchange were all created by Westerners.

[In response to the above comment] It’s not a matter of being out-debated, it’s that Chinese are taught to love the nation and the Party from when they’re young; Westerners learn freedom, equality, and universal love. With totally different liquids used in the brainwashing, could there be a common language?

Definitely not, even if we had the truth, we would be drowned by all sorts of their strategic moves.

I feel it can, justice eventually defeating evil is a historical trend!

If you judge it, we haven’t even started debating it yet and we’ve already lost! So what is there to debate about? My answer is that it can’t.

It can’t. Many Chinese have already “climbed the wall”, but the information outside it is fundamentally biased towards the West, so they [the Chinese outside the GFW] naturally believe that what the West says is correct and objective. If we were to get rid of the wall, these people would join the West in a battle for public opinion.

Completely impossible. Only when our actual physical power outpaces that of the West could our values win superiority. Value systems are propped up by “hard power”, not by the gift of gab.

It can.

Definitely not. They don’t communicate in Chinese, and if we communicate with them in English we’ll definitely be no match!

At the moment, no…but we must continue and improve!

Although I haven’t made a formal count and there’s no official poll, from scanning the first few pages of comments it seems that most people agree China could not win the battle for public opinion with the West, at least not at the moment.

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0 thoughts on ““Without the GFW, Could China Win Western Public Opinion?””

  1. “would China be able to occupy the battlefield of the Western public discourse?”

    I find this completely scary that the extremists in both the United States and China get to control the dialog that our two nations should be enemies and do battle. There are a lot of people in both China and the United States that see each others as brothers and sisters. United we can make this century the most peaceful in history, divided we will only destroy everything we worked to accomplished. As I told my Chinese in-laws, America and China are mirror images of each other. We both have the same desires and we move in the same direction of progress, but we also have cultures and problems that are opposite of each other. America has a lot of wealth but relies too much on debt, China is growing very quickly but this growth is on the backs of migrant workers and the poor. China has a lack of human rights, but America has the lack of filial piety. America has much to learn from China as China has to learn from America, and I hope more people on both sides of the Pacific Ocean are able to see the similarities and the things we can learn from each other rather than the excuses we can use to destroy the two greatest nations that have ever existed.

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  2. I wonder what do they consider the “battlefield of Western public discourse”? Blogs? Comment sections on articles? No one group dominates Western public discourse, and haven’t for a long time. There are some big names that a lot of people listen to, like salon.com, Rush Limbaugh and the Daily Show, but few people listen to all the writers out there. Heck, we don’t even have time to read/listen to all the people we *want* to read/listen to. Chinese writers jumping into the fray would just muddy the waters more, and probably increase the signal to noise ratio. It’s a silly question, because the discourse space is not a battlefield.

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  3. In addition to the two excellent points above, I’m also wary of thinking of GFW policy in terms of how it looks to the outside world. China should manage/dismantle the GFW for its own long-term development, even culturally, and not to score points with the West. Dismantling the GFW would help them engage the West in a more equal relationship because it would allow Chinese people to openly discuss all aspects of their lives and history, which I think would allow Chinese culture to flourish. Chinese culture is, of course, already ancient, nuanced, and profound, but when people across a country can fearlessly express themselves and challenge each other’s ideas, creativity explodes and people’s views of the world become much more sophisticated.

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  4. The guys at Anti-CNN are simple binary minds. They see the World as good vs evil, China vs West, black vs white… what is “to occupy the battlefield of Western discourse”? The question itself speaks lots of the mentality of the author. Debate is not about conquering, it is about participating and having access to different views and keeping your mind open. Opening the GFW would very positive to attain just that. Having an open government that lets individuals speak their minds and does not censor the media would help even more.

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  5. Debating is definitely a skill and it is possible to have good ideas but lack the means of expressing them in an convincing way. The question is: what do the Anti-CNN commentators want to argue? If the internet is a battlefield, what are they battling for? What vision do they have for the world? What is everyone missing?

    Are the fenqing just fighting to preserve their country’s image? That’s not an idea or value or plan or anything.

    Of course, they might reply that power is at the heart of everything and because they were born in X nation-state, their highest goal in life should be to increase the power of X and, as netizens, the way they can do that is through strengthening X’s “soft power” by saying nice stuff about X and denying bad stuff about it. But if they don’t have any ideas in there, theories about what is fair and unfair in the world, how to help people live better lives, etc, then even the soft power thing won’t go far.

    It reminds me a bit of Karen Hughes, that ambassador Bush sent around the Muslim world to improve America’s image. She came back saying everyone thought the worst things about the U.S.: that we torture people, invade countries without reason and imprison people for long periods without trial. “Anti-Americanism,” she called it.

    Well, yes, it was anti-Americanism but it was also all entirely accurate. Hughes had no ideas she wanted to share with the world. She just wanted to disabuse people of their “misunderstandings.” But there were no misunderstandings.

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  6. There is no battlefield, it’s all made up to stir sentiment.

    Most Chinese believe in the same values as the “West” regardless or whether or not the government implements it. What it really comes down to is that China doesn’t want to be TOLD what to do. If democracy, freedom of speech, uncensored internet etc were a Chinese, homegrown movement, there would be no “patriotic backlash” against them.

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  7. I’m not an expert, but I haven’t seen any blogs specifically dedicated to that. When I see translated content, it’s usually in the form of forum postings, and a lot of the longer writings supposedly from foreign sources are outright fakes, or at best unattributed (as is the general habit on Chinese forums) and impossible to verify but highly questionable. I’ve seen some translations of short comments made on bulletin, boards, but they’re usually from English-language boards within China, and the translators often seem to overlook that some of their purportedly “foreign” viewpoints seem, from their English and attitudes, to also come from Chinese.

    OTR said what I think much more eloquently and diplomatically, as usual- China, at present, isn’t offering a lot of values or ideas that appeal to many people except other groups that want “the west” off their backs. Obviously, there’s been more people lately saying “look at China’s economy, too bad our government can’t just make things happen like they do,” but I doubt that even those people would particularly welcome the trade-offs of going that way.

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  8. Yiyan was just unblocked a few days ago.

    http://www.infzm.com/content/40739
    译言 离开的39天
    作者: 南方人物周刊记者 杨潇 发自北京 2010-01-25 18:25:01

    1月8日,译言更换域名重新开放,原来的蓝色风格也变成了红色主题。一篇“2010译言感恩”的文章这样写道:“译言的存在,是因为有太多的人像我们一样,想要开阔视野,想要了解差距,想要获得前沿新知。只要这样的努力依然存在,译言就会存在……”

    在网站重开后,陈昊芝几乎马不停蹄地接受了数家媒体的采访,他希望媒体能成为沟通上下、消除误会的桥梁。他说,译言的关停,只是大环境中的一个小案例,“Google尚且如此,我不认为自己有多委屈。”他和他的团队,更愿意将这次事件看作一次涅槃,“我想对我们反而有两个好处,以前一些用户倾向于翻译时政内容,但通过这次他们知道这些东西对译言没好处,他们反而理解了;我们在和《卫报》的合作中多少有些迷失,时政内容可以吸引眼球,但比较难换取长期稳定的用户,所以我们会更加注重给用户一个内容导向。”

    This article about douban’s censorshop of a book by 龙应台 has making the rounds lately. Another victory by the Ministry of Truth. The blog post itself is interesting in that it shows how young people are taking to these websites. The author, I believe, is a undergrad journalism student at PKU.
    http://www.fangkc.cn/news/internet/dictator-douban/
    独裁者豆瓣
    25Jan
    本文隶属类别:互联网行业观察 本文发表时间:Mon, 25 Jan 2010 17:18:57 +0800 版权 Comments: 132

    其实,在一向谨小慎微的豆瓣上,是不可能出现这本所谓“禁书”的条目的。豆瓣的图书条目以ISBN为识别依据,《大江大海一九四九》这本书的 ISBN早已被设定为不可添加了。但道高一尺魔高一丈,网友们总能想到办法对抗。方法之一,就是盗用另一本书的ISBN号,然后填上“大江大海”的书名。

    当然,管理员也不是吃素的,发现一本打击一本,而网友又会去寻找其他的书作为篡改的目标,这样的“猫鼠游戏”无时不刻不在上演。

    “老鼠”太多,而“猫”精力毕竟有限,所以总有些漏网之鱼。前几天,我看到不少友邻的广播中都出现了“读过《大江大海》”。但1月22日上午,我发现大家的广播都变成了“读过《新高考题典–数学》”。

    看来是被管理员发现了。我点进条目(http://www.douban.com/subject/1643617/)一看,发现虽然名字被改回来了,但相关的评分、豆列仍在,所以你会看到滑稽的景象:一本《新高考题典》被打了9.4的超高分,被打上“苦难”这样的标签,还被收入“禁书目录”等豆列……

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  9. @ULN – Spot on. The problematic mentality is plain to see in the wording of the question. It shouldn’t be a battlefield. The problem is of course that there are the same binary minds on both sides — among Chinese and among Anglophone westerners, and if you look at the comments sections of blogs and online MSM stories, or YouTube comments or what have you, it sure does look like a battle.

    The only thing that unfettered Chinese access to the rest of the world’s Internet might do is reduce to some extent the maddeningly patronizing attitude one so often finds in online debates between Chinese and Anglophone westerners that “You guys live in an information-controlled environment, and you’re therefore ignorant and completely brainwashed.”

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  10. The person at anti-cnn is correct. The problem is that most westerners believe that they are superior culturally, mentally, politically, socially, and financially compared to the Chinese. You hear this kind of attitude projected from Western Politicians like HRC and these ‘Western ‘experts’ like Rebecca MacKinnon and James Fallows and soimehow their attitude is that they need to ‘export’ their opinions and values onto the Chinese people. The problem is that many Chinese have their own set of values which the West thinks that it is backwarded. I doubt that you will see an agreement between the 2 with or without the GFW.

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  11. @ Pug_Ster,

    Yes, there are lots of arrogant people out there. I don’t know that MacKinnon and Fallows are at the top of that list, though. They have opinions, but they don’t seem particularly pushy about them—unless just having well-worked-out opinions about China is in and of itself pushy.

    Regardless, when you say that “many Chinese have their own set of values,” which Chinese people do you mean? What is their class background, specifically, i.e. what interests do they bring to their values? And what exactly are those values? What is the argument they are presenting to the world? Why should the world listen?

    I tend to disagree with Wahaha, but at least he (or she) goes out on a limb and argues passionately—and often persuasively—for the merits of a particular growth strategy for developing countries generally and China in particular, namely mild authoritarianism coupled with openness to foreign investment.

    I don’t typically hear anything that coherent from Chinese nationalists, just anger at various criticisms of their country and contempt for other cultures… which seems awfully similar to right-wingers in other countries, from the United States to Serbia to Turkey to Switzerland.

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  12. Since when a common Westerner read Chinese newspaper or understand Chinese culture. Most Westerners don’t care about them, and expect Chinese to adopt Western ideas and culture. Give me a break.

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  13. OTR,

    Regardless, when you say that “many Chinese have their own set of values,” which Chinese people do you mean? What is their class background, specifically, i.e. what interests do they bring to their values? And what exactly are those values? What is the argument they are presenting to the world? Why should the world listen?

    Perhaps that’s the difference of what you think of ‘universal values’ is actually Western Values, and many other people who have different set of values than you.

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  14. That this question is being asked reveals insecurities on the part of China. One cannot totally ignore/disregard international opinions, but an overt eagerness/desire for favorable opinions makes one’s opponent think/realize that they have the leverage over you – that their opinion is important. This puts China in a vulnerable position.

    Timothy Wu, in an essay on Western media’s coverage of China concludes by remarking: “China is an awkward place that just wants to be loved—and that makes it particularly easy to kick around.”

    China therefore needs to gradually shake off the impression that it needs good opinions from the West. It should realize that a perceived eagerness for such opinions will only render itself vulnerable to even more unfriendly attacks. At the end of the day, as one anti-CNN reply rightly says, it is the hard power that matters. America can usually afford to maintain a lordly indifference to others’ opinion. China should work to improve itself to also perhaps one day be in that position.

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  15. @ Pug_ster,

    You didn’t respond to any of my points. I didn’t say anything about “universal values,” I asked what values—of any sort—the “many Chinese” you referred to want to bring the world, what they want to do “battle” for. Those values could be different from mine (basically, democratic socialist, if you want to know). I would hope they would be different, for variety’s sake. But you haven’t said what they are.

    You also haven’t commented on WHO the “many Chinese” you refer to are. Are they middle class college graduates? Migrant workers? Workers in old, state-owned enterprises? Managers in foreign companies? Government officials? Artists?

    @ Yinbin,

    Good points. I would go a step further. Constant anxiety about other’s opinions not only makes a group of people vulnerable, but also prevents them from coming up with cool, interesting opinions of their own, opinions that can serve humanity. This doesn’t just apply to China, but other countries, too.

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  16. OTR,

    Difference of values could be many things, like why many Chinese actually approve the British citizen who was put to death because of drug smuggling. Cultural values like ‘internet freedom’ could lead more chaos. Values of war Chinese believe wars should be fought when your sovereignty is in danger. I don’t know what you are asking. It is difference of opinions where you are asking questions but somehow in your questioning that you expect that everybody shares the same values when they don’t. Here’s an interesting opinion from Chinadaily about this issue.

    http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/opinion/2010-01/29/content_9400604.htm

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  17. As a long time reader of Anci-CNN and an occasional participant, I can tell you right now that most Chinese patriotic netizens are not interesting in bringing a set of “universal value”s to the rest of the world. They don’t want China to, in the Western sense, “contribute” to the world – something they interpret, rightfully so at that, as attempts at imposing an ideological monopoly over “lesser” cultures. They are interested in one thing and one thing only – the national interest of China as a political entity as well as as a single, unified ethnicity. It is essentially realpolitik in that politics is typically kept amoral, since morality is, in their eyes as well as in reality, largely defined according to Western standards.

    If you see Chinese netizens discussing the possibility of spreading Confucianism or Taoism to the rest of the world, that just means they would like to use them as ideological “weapon”s that serve China’s national interest in the same way as how the US and other NATO states have used Western liberal values for their own benefit.

    It is, then, completely meaningless to have debates between the people inside China and those outside, because they operate on completely different axioms. Westerners (or at least those who hold Western liberal viewpoints) view concepts such as “Wester-style liberal democracy”, “human rights”, and general “freedom” as values that have universal appeal and must be applied to all societies, by force if necessary. Many Chinese, however, only support the spread of these concepts on the grounds of complete stability, unity, and growth of China as a unified state and nation, within and without her borders.

    As Westerners (mostly those more extreme liberals whose ideals border on anarchism, but also the public at large) really have no reason to care about anyone’s national interest but their own, the spread of liberal “universal” values on Western terms will never become acceptable to the Chinese public until the West succeeds in pushing individualism in China to such a degree that the Chinese people fail to recognize themselves as part of a single political and ethnic entity.

    In any case, Western attempts at giving China the “gospel” of Western liberal values have been largely dominated by political and economic needs. An example would be the fact that AFL-CIO is one of the major sources of funding for the NED. How would it be possible to have an open, genuine discussion between two parties that have irreconcilable conflicts of interest?

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  18. Chaji,

    The fundamental flaw with your comparison, and the clarity with which you attempt to completely dodge the points of those first commenters who very illustratively outlined their points in the opening comments, is that you assume that China and “the West” are two parties with irreconcilable conflicts of interest.

    Bottom line: the only reason they need to be that way is because you say they do.

    You can say that your mercantilist nationalism is the right way because the world is, in fact, a never ending game of thrones, but I don’t think I’d be alone in saying that your kind are a dying breed.

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  19. @ Pug_ster,

    The article was interesting, thanks.

    As to your point about values, with the exception of the anti-war one—which I more or less agree with—the others all seemed to relate to the general idea that it is dangerous for a country to relax its guard over its people, because people are like children and the government is like a strict but benevolent parent. Accordingly, not only should a country tap phones and require real-name registration of YouTube users (as the China Daily piece noted the U.S. and Korea do, respectively), but it should also actively prevent certain opinions from being spoken in the public sphere at all and it should hold the power to end the lives of anyone who commits a crime, even if they are mentally handicapped (an area where the U.S. and China agreed until very recently).

    The difficulty with these values is that they don’t lead anywhere clear. They are means but not ends. What is the end? Stability? For what? Stability is also a means to something, presumably.

    Chaji makes the point that China doesn’t need to push its values on others, that the only values that matter for Chinese, or at least the only ones that matter for the Anti-CNN.com crowd, are making the Chinese state stronger, bringing power to the Chinese people, etc. Well, that’s by definition not something that anyone else in the world is going to care much about.

    So, if Chinese nationalists want to just talk about making their country strong and the imperative of killing handicapped, foreign drug dealers or whatever and don’t have any broader suggestions for humanity, that’s fine. But they shouldn’t be surprised that GFW or no, they won’t be getting much serious attention from others—not any more than nationalists in any other country get.

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  20. Josh,

    What I find disturbing is the religious ferver with which many attempt to spread Western liberal values across the globe, while their leaders clearly operate on nothing beyond simple pragmatism, essentially using their electorate’s zealotry for either nationalistic goals or for their own personal interests. It may be less clear now, but during the Cold War, my point was made obvious by the fact that the American people would elect one president after another, who would make the promise of spreading their values to every last living soul on Earth, then go on to establish fascist dictatorships, military juntas, or even theocracies across South America, the Middle East, and the Far East solely for their anti-Communist properties. Christian missionaries between the 1700s and the early 1900s served a similar goal in assisting their home countries’ imperialistic ambitions.

    Simply because you *believe* you’re offering the world something better than what they could develop indigenously does indeed mean you’re an ideologue, if a rather delusional one, but it does not change the fact that the strength of your belief is being used to advance nationalistic goals. This, at least for the forseeable future, isn’t something that’s going to change.

    Regardless, most Chinese patriots simply aren’t interested in having citizens of foreign states identify with their ideologies. As far as I can see, they’re only interested in having a say in a Western media market dominated by sinophobia, thus (amorally) advancing their own national interests by swaying the public opinion in their favor. The exact method they wish to accomplish this is irrelevant – the point is that this is about as realpolitik as you can get. It’s absurd to assume that Chinese people, who do not come from an Abrahamic universalist religious background, are genuinely interested in “spreading the word”, so to speak, in the same sense as today’s Western ideological hegemony and ethical monopoly.

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  21. I think what the Chinese netizens are getting at is the condition of China’s “soft power,” a somewhat jargonish term from security studies that simply means the cultural, diplomatic, and, to some extent, economic influence of a country. While it doesn’t mean as much by the time the tanks are rolling out, it can make a country more or less resistant to criticism and sanctions and give it more power over the direction that new treaties go in. “Battliefield”, however, still suggests a zero-sum game, and unlike hard power, where it doesn’t matter how many tanks you have as long as you have more than your opponent, soft power doesn’t work that way. Countries have the same relative soft-power in a world where everyone is nationalistic and suspicious of each other as one where everyone is fascinated with each other and engages in many cultural exchanges, but clearly the second world is a better one to live in.

    I think a better way to phrase the original question in English is: “Would dismantling the Great Firewall enhance China’s soft power in North American and European countries?” (I also don’t like being lumped together as “the West”, thank you very much.)
    I think the answer is “yes” for two reasons. The first is that the GFW and the other controls on information and free expression that it represents givrs a stigma to Chinese public opion in the eyes of the rest of the world. The assumption, an incorrect one from my experience in China, is that Chinese people are misinformed and that all published media has the seal of approval of the Chinese government. Argue about the rightness or wrongess of that stigma until your blue in the face, but it’s there and it has an impact. Bringing down the GFW would be a key step towards destroying that stigma.The second point is a more long term issue that I tried and pretty much failed to describe in my post above (my apologies for the horrible writing, it was late and I was tired).I firmly believe that controls meant to inhibit political discourse inevitably inhibit cultural discourse as well. It’s a straight forward connection, political circumstances create the social enviroment which is arguably the greatest source of inspiration for artists. In America, the Vietnam War spurred on the counterculture movement and folk rock, and the Golden Age of Hip-Hop (not the swill released today) came out of anger of race inequality and the condition of inner-city communities. Even today, the War on Terror, if not the outright subject of most works, is at least used as a theme or subtext.

    While teaching in China, my students often made skits about events in the Cultural Revolution and the Chinese Civil War, even going as far as saying they’d wished the former had never happened and that Mao should have made peace with the Nationalists and not taken so much power for himself. I never encountered these ideas Chinese mass media, which was much more simplistic and one-noted in how it discussed the world. Clearly, there are a lot of creative anxieties in China that the Chinese media is not allowed to tap in to.

    Which is a shame, because Chinese culture has as much potential as any other culture of the world to capture people’s imaginations and confront both national and world issues, but it’s held back by the controls on the media and information that the GFW symbolizes. By pulling back on internet censorship and allowing for an independent media, the Chinese government could erase the stigma and benefit from the untapped potential of Chinese artists confronting Chinese and world politics. Within a couple of generations, Chinese pop-culture would become respected and consumed around the world.

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  22. I think the points above about “soft power” make sense. And I share some of Chaji’s skepticism of a particular, missionary form of liberalism. Highlights of that historical liberalism are the Vietnam War and, later, the Iraq War.

    But I nonetheless maintain that ideas matter in and of themselves, apart from the needs of different states and races—admittedly a distinctly modern, not post-modern posture—and that the world is in need of new strategies for achieving an equitable, prosperous, and ecologically sound existence for all humans.

    At one time China offered a potent alternative vision for the world, different from the one offered by the U.S. or the Soviet Union, and one that was not restricted to China’s own borders and the country’s own historical grudges. This was the idea of global class struggle and the unity of the “global countryside.” The idea had its shortcomings, but at least it advanced discussion.

    What ideas do Chinese nationalists have today? I would say none that are meaningful for anyone outside of China, in part because the nationalists are, of course, nationalists—not communists, not liberals, not conservatives, just nationalists. They could care less about anyone who wasn’t born in the same nation-state as they were.

    So, they lecture us about the importance of some aggression against their country a century ago, the importance of their ability to execute some person, their need to shut down some website, their need to control this or that people on their borders, etc.

    But the world would benefit from more ideas from China. Maybe one conduit would be the meetings that have begun to occur between Chinese and African civil society activists. Or the worker activists in China who have innovated new forms of resistance that their comrades in Indonesia or Mexico would do well to follow. Or the Chinese painters who have made some kick-ass images when painting was just being consigned to the scrap heap of art.

    But none of those ideas will come from Anti-CNN.com

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  23. Lewis,

    That all sounds nice, except it involves what is essentially Western (yes, I’m lumping all of you together because of your common Western European background) “approval” of Chinese culture, and the integration of China into what is essentially a Western-based world culture. You’re suggesting, basically, that China should subject its internal workings to international (again, largely European ) standards, and seek approval from those that dominate the world stage.

    But what’s wrong with that, you might ask. After all, China would influence the world too, right? It’s not like Chinese culture is destroyed in the process. It simply lives on in a different form, as part of a homogeneous global culture.

    Well, two things.

    First, this would require that China reconstruct itself in order to comply with Western values and standards. This means that China needs to develop a liberal democratic political system, an individualist and consumerist society, etc etc. Concepts such as feudal tribes and emperor/subject relationships, developed over thousands of years, must be completely abandoned.

    Whether you like it or not, concepts such as “freedom” and “liberal democracy” are nothing more than cultural values that have no universal applicability. In this day and age, when the idea of multilineal cultural evolution has replaced the ancient, excessively ethnocentric unilineal model of societal development, it would be incredibly foolish to suggest that China should, for its own good, adopt a philosophical system developed solely under the West’s specific cultural and historical background.

    Second, believe it or not, Chinese patriots are very different from their interventionist ideologue/missionary countarparts seen in the West. While the West seems to be obsessed with the idea of a new liberal world order, China simply desires to be left alone. Chinese people are, due to China’s unique geopolitical situation throughout history, isolationists by nature.

    Chinese people do not necessarily object to Western liberal values in and of themselves, but many believe that any ideology used in governing the Chinese state must be developed indigenously, a result derived from the failures of China’s Communist experiments during the Great Leap Forward as well as the failure of the ROC. Thus, if the Chinese society reaches equilibrium at the point of an ideology resembling Western-style liberalism, no Chinese would ever object, and it would be happily adopted. But if a societal equilibrium at some other philosophical system was achieved, that would be just as acceptable.

    Many in the West does not seem to realize that attempting to play God and interfering with the development of a culture on the other side of the planet that had developed under completely different circumstances is extremely dangerous and can have catastrophic consequences, and that worries me greatly.

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  24. @ chaji: I think there aren’t as many Westerners trying to “play God” as you think. China being isolationist and doing everything according to its own standards is all well and good until it becomes powerful enough that that starts affecting other countries. Not to say that Western powers haven’t and don’t do similar things, but China props up genocidal African governments, exports dangerously flawed food products and children’s toys because of lax regulatory enforcement, etc. etc. These are things that are in China’s best interest, but they affect the rest of the world, and the rest of the world has every right to complain and comment.

    Whether Chinese people are fundamentally isolationist or not is, at this point, totally irrelevant. You can’t be a world power and be isolationist, and China is a world power, so get used to the meddling. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, and neither can any other world power.

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  25. @Chaji, That kind of meddling in Chinese affairs is not what I meant at all in my statement.

    The first point, about the stigma, relates purely to how Chinese culture is received OUTSIDE of China. I was specifically answering the question of Anti-CNN on whether dropping the GFW and other visible signs of opening up would increase China’s soft power in other countries. Whether or not this is gain is worth whatever China would lose by doing this is completely up to the Chinese (government) and no foreign power.

    My second point was that I think it would be worth it. Particularly if the government drew back on other forms of monitoring and public information/propoganda, I think it would give the CHINESE people the chance to more openly confront CHINESE issues.

    To illustrate with a hypothetical situation, lets say the Chinese government were to suddenly become strongly pro-Western and tried to stamp out those traditional Chinese values you mentioned and restricted all forms of protest against this policy. I would think this wrong and would argue for the right of Chinese people to protest and keep their traditional ways of life.

    My point wasn’t that China should adopt Western values, but that Chinese values should be decided by the country as a whole and not the privileged oligarchy of the Communist Party heads.

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  26. @ C. Custer,

    The key here is “pragmatism”. China, as a political entity, gets to do whatever it wants, and everybody else gets to complain. China would then modifies its behaviors to address those complaints, such that its interests in foreign countries and in itself may be protected. Everything works the way a laissez-faire economy works, even without the interference of ideologies. Thus, I would argue that improving product quality control is actually in China’s best interest, as opposed to the other way around.

    As for genocidal African governments, I would recommend that you be careful with the phrase “prop up”. China tolerates them, but are in no way affiliated with them beside economic ties, unlike America’s fascist Communist-murdering regimes. Isolating genocidal governments does, in reality, absolutely nothing, and direct Chinese intervention would be actually harming the interests of the older colonial powers, which means you and the rest of your society is still unhappy.

    The Chinese government leaders may not be directly elected, but being the ruling institution of an entire civilization, they are authorized to represent, and thus be responsible for, all Chinese citizens (since that’s how membership in a country is defined) living in China. In other words, if it makes Chinese people richer and happier, there is absolutely nothing with hurting the interests of other countries and their citizens in the process. I’ve always maintained that governments must be amoral to reach their best efficiency, and this is precisely why. See the first paragraph of this post for why the world won’t go to shit because of this.

    Speaking of which, there are two paths China is offering the world right at this moment:

    1. The “Chinese model”: This is the most obvious contribution, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best China has to offer at the moment. Essentially, this involves liberal economic policies, triggering massive economic growth, while allowing political reforms at a comparatively slow pace, maintaining overally stability of the country. This isn’t new, obviously, but so far, other than China, very few countries have been able to pull it off other than smaller, easier to control countries such as South Korea and Chile.

    2. cultural/regional self-determination: if any country wants to learn anything from China, this would be the first thing I’d suggest. Basically, this involves a policy of non-intervention: if it doesn’t harm us, we leave it alone. In other words, societies outside Chinese borders, unless directly related to Chinese interests, are not artificially subjected to any form of cultural or political modification. This way, societies are left alone to reach their own maintainable equilibria, as opposed to being handed morally (read: subjectively) desirable systems that look good on paper, but degenerate to chaos and instability. See the arbitrary partition of Africa and much of the Middle East for examples where Western imperial powers disrupted centuries-old equilibria and stirred up racial hatred in the process.

    @ Lewis,

    The idea that Chinese values should be “decided by the country as a whole and not the privileged oligarchy of the Communist Party heads” is distinctly Western – it implies the right for the average person in a country to have a say in that country’s policies.

    This may sound rather odd, but you must realize that in just about every single civilization, the traditional way for policy-making has been for political power to be concentrated in the hands of a few people, or a class of people. For someone indoctrinated in Western liberal values, you would no doubt find it excessively difficult to accept that this tiny group of people, some possibly even born into their high status, could represent the society as a whole.

    This is where Western liberalism departs from traditional political philosophy. Liberalism defines the state as the organization that makes and enforces policies for a certain group of people, namely, the citizens of the country above which the state rules. Tradition political philosophies, however, due to their relationships with social structures (still present in the “free” world, but less visible that it used to be due to lack of offical class divisions), tend to treat the state as part of the society it governs, usually the leading part.

    In other words, in Western liberalism, the state opposes the people. But in most traditional political philosophies, the state is on the people’s side.

    This setup, for obvious reasons, lead to systematic corruption and violation of the interests of common citizens, and someone educated in Western liberalism would no doubt denouce such a political system, and declare that it is unable to truly represent the interests of the people. Which, I admit, is true.

    The point of the state, however, is usually not to simply represent the people, according to traditional political philosophies. Their other duties, including protection of the country’s ancient ways, honoring their ancestors, or even religious duties in theocracies and states with instutionalized imperial cults, often take precedence over their responsibility toward the interests of the citizens living in the country at the time. Western liberalism argues that the above responsibilities are self-imposed and are thus meaningless, I beg to differ.

    I would argue, therefore, that even states with a ruling class whose interests vastly differ from that of the people, because of their de facto control over its citizens and society, are fit to represent the country as a unity, including its history, culture (assuming the country this state rules over has a unique culture not shared by any other country), and citizens.

    I’m going to borrow from the concept of the Mandate of Heaven, and say that the people alive during a particular ruler’s reign, when their interests are violated, have the right to attempt violent or peaceful overthrows of the ruler(s). But until such an attempt occurrs, the ruler(s), so long as their reign is grounded in tradition, legitimately represent the country as a single entity, if not some of its individual components.

    Thus, I can make the claim that until their destruction as a class (whose very existence is actually rather debtable, given the relatively ease of moving up the class ladder in China) due to their rejection by the entire Chinese civilization and are replaced by another (all complex societies have upper and lower classes, this is unavoidable), the “privileged oligarchy of the Communist Party heads” remain the legitimate rulers of China, and have the authority to make decisions for the rest of the country that affect the common citizens. As previously stated, this authority remains until their rejection by the rest of the Chinese society, and the metaphorical “Mandate of Heaven” passes on.

    Simple version: whether or not the ruling class of a society must act in the best interests of all individuals within a country is a cultural value, specifically a Western liberalist one. It’s obviously good for the survival of the state, but its authority over the rest of the country does not necessarily depend on it.

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  27. What relation is there ever between governments besides economic ties, really? In what alternate universe does giving regional warlords money and weapons in exchange for whatever not count as “propping them up”? It sure as hell would if it was the US government doing the selling (as it often is).

    As for the choices China is offering the world, 30 years of relative stability and hundreds of thousands of “mass incidents” every year even so, might be a little early for China to be prescribing systems of government to others, no? Plus, I thought that was imperialist.

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  28. The United States went so far as to send military advisors to counter the “Communist threat”. As for selling weapons used in conflicts? China isn’t exactly selling nukes; without guns, people who hate each other simply use knives. The lack of weapons has never stopped people from killing each other before, weapons only make the process faster. As I’ve said before, politics and interest are amoral matters. Unless you keep subjective opinions out of these matters, they will start to make a lot less sense than they should.

    What you call “relative stability” is, any sane person would think, far superior to the state of what was essentially anarchy following the fall of the Soviet Union, during which the country itself was dismantled through a series of CIA-sponsored Color Revolutions. No doubt many Westerners would like to see China divided into multiple small states constantly at war with each other, but that’s nothing more than a conflict of interest, yes? The “mass incidents” (群众事件)are widely reported in Chinese media, and they are exclusively cases of corruption on the part of local officials, who are usually punished accordingly. I agree that there should be better legal channels for expressing discontent that such destructive means, but the modern Chinese state is, unlike most Western governments, still very much a work in progress. I’m quite convinced that the “intra-party democracy” (the CCP membership is twice the population of Canada), once up and running (probably around the middle of Xi Jinping’s term of office), will solve a good amount of these problems.

    Your accusations of imperialism is just as invalid. I’m personally suggesting a part of the Chinese development history that other states could potentially learn from; I would most definitely not be in favor of forcibly applying it to other states, and unlike the “go with our way or we’ll declare liberalist jihad on you” Western attitude, possibly inherited from its Christian culture, it’s most definitely not the right way for every country.

    In any case, you’ve failed to address all the other points I’ve made, some of which probably difficult for a liberal universalist (most Westerners) to swallow, especially my second suggestion. Is it unacceptable purely from an emotional perspective, or did you take your own national/personal interests into account (not that you’d tell me)?

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  29. (I didn’t address everything because I don’t have time/care enough. I have been commenting here a lot today because I’m working on the computer anyway, but this is not what I’m focused on at the moment…no offense)

    anyway, re: the second suggestion, it does make a lot of sense in terms of serving national interests, but I’m not a fan for two reasons. One, while I agree that being moral makes black and white issues sticky, I don’t agree that means we should just ignore morality. Yes, it makes it infinitely harder to do anything, but I personally believe the alternative is way worse. Two, to be perfectly honest, I’m not particularly enamored of the concept of “nations” at this point anyway, so things that are designed to serve “national interest” don’t really interest me. In an increasingly global world, I find that personally, the artificial barriers we construct between nations make my life harder than it would otherwise be. How a world without those barriers would look I don’t know — this isn’t something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking through — my point is just that I’m not a gung-ho-let’s-rally-round-the-flag-of-national-interests-and-who-cares-what-anyone-else-is-doing type dude. (If I were, I probably wouldn’t be writing a blog about China). I care about what other people are doing. It makes life harder from a practical, political, and economic standpoint, yeah, but the alternative is even less appealing…

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  30. Thanks for replying despite being busy. I appreciate it. It’s Sunday on this side of the globe, which is why I’m posting so much.

    My point in giving the second suggestion was not that it would serve national interests- my point is that it would allow cultures to independently evolve by themselves, focusing more on their own internal workings. Every culture in the world, whether they are exclusively represented by a state or not, is unique due to its historic and geographic backgrounds. It is understandable, then, that cultures geographically adjacent to each other tend to interact a lot with each other. In these cases, given the technological stagnation observed during most of the past several thousand years, these cultures have been forced to adapt to each other’s presence, if not absorb each other through trading or warfare. In these cases, due to the long periods of interaction, these cultures have more or less become compatible with one an other, and whatever happens between those cultures can be considered a part of natural cultural evolution. Take the many cultures in Western Europe, for example. While there were many different indigenous cultures that had developed independently, the volume of interactions between them had become so frequent that it’s usually considered a single culture.

    The scenario today, however, is different. Technological advancement has connected cultures from opposite sidse of the world, and some, such as the British Empire of the past and the Pax Americana of today, extend across the globe. “The sun nevet set on the British Empire”, it was said, and the same could be said of the modern American equivalent. The problem posed by these massive supracultural systems, as made evident today by the many conflicts it induces, is that the many cultures in contact with each other have not had the time to understand each other before waging wars, either real or metaphorical, against each other. Furthermore, given the extreme differences between cultures, ranging from the extremely individualistic (Western) to the extremely communalistic (good amount of Asian culture), the destruction of one culture in favor of another in the name of “advancement” or “modernization”, fueled by the ethocentric cultures in the technologically advanced states is the destruction of humanity’s alternative futures – instead of looking inward at ourselves, we now focus on the outward expression of advancement in the form of destructive technologies, for that is the only way to defend against acts of aggression committed by the technologically advanced nations.

    The core of my suggestion, then, is to allow entire regions of similar, probably compatible cultures to find their own balances between each other, and between their own social groups. Historically, cultures have always evolved through this process, and most have evolved complex social systems that could be maintained for millenia without the need for changes. If we could evolve to what we are today back when we had no such things as foreign intervention, why should we suspect we wouldn’t be able to again?

    So to put it clearly, my suggestion is that states should, when their interests are not being violated, leave other cultures to their own devices, do not act out of whatever ideology the state may be committed to. Let them stand up for themselves against their enemies, natural or human, and if they fail, let them be absorbed by other cultures, who probably have a better chance of survival anyway.

    Finally, to clarify the topic of morality and politics:

    The reason why I would like to keep politics and national interest amoral is because I am a supporter of moral relativism. I do not see the existence of a moral system that is universally true as a possibility, and given the wide variety of value systems available on the planet, it is impossible to have any state perform actions that are considered moral to every person on the planet. And when even the underlying axioms are different, as is often the case between cultures, there is absolutely no place whatsoever for dialogue with regards to morality. They end up being quasi-religious in nature, and do indeed approximate religious wars in their non-compromisability. Thus, the only thing left to discuss between them, to keep a dialogue going and to keep violence to a minimum, is the topic of interest.

    Anyways, I’ve written a crapload today (you must understand, I’m an engineering student, not a philosopher), and would hate to take any more time out of your already busy schedule. Reply if you’d like, but I don’t think I’ll post comments in this thread anymore.

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  31. Wow, there was a great deal of thinly veiled self-loathing in some of those replies. I am pretty sure that the U.S. had an abiding fear of China before the internet though. I only say “pretty sure” because I have trouble remembering life before the internet, haha.

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