Grow Up China

31 Comments

Hu HarmonyIt’s been a long time since I’ve felt the need to criticize this nation with such a blanket statement as “grow up China”, but in watching and reading the country’s reaction to Obama coming to office – I can think of nothing more relevant to say.

I’ve spent the last year looking at China as a victim. A victim of poor journalism during the Tibetan riots, a horrible earthquake that killed thousands upon thousands, and overt agenda-pushing criticism during what was supposed to be a kickass party. And through it all, I did, I felt sorry for the country.

However, in reading some of the reactions around the Web (specifically at the always volitile China Daily), I just can’t help but shake my head and hum “two-steps forward, one step back…”

Maybe I’m just not getting it. Perhaps you can all help me to better understand how a nation’s media can slice and dice Obama’s inaugural speech to better suit the party line and then criticize Obama’s administration for officially stating they plan to “work to ensure that China plays by international rules.

But then, really, it just goes back to that “victim” bit, doesn’t it. I keep hoping that something will happen on the international stage that offends China and the country will just brush it off with a, “Pshaw, don’t be an ignorant ass. We’re above all that…” But faithfully the country disappoints me and instead bursts out into a tantrum, exclaiming, “Bu.. bu.. but Tommy hit me first!”

When Obama, in his inaugural speech, said, “Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions,” he wasn’t trying to insult the Chinese people. He was saying that the world suffered under fascist regimes and communist regimes, and the way to bring down such regimes is through diplomacy and a belief in liberty.

According to The Telegraph, the above line moved one Sina.com member to write: “Obama is such a brainless country bumpkin. It is already the 21th[sic] century and he still connects fascism with communism. This is a true failure of the USA.”

The amazement, for me, is that anyone in China actually believes they are still a communist state.

But paradoxically, the fact that “to those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history” was also harmonized from the speech did a fantastic job in painting a big Evil Empire star atop the “Communism with Chinese Characteristics” (what most of the rest of the world simply calls “capitalism”, because it’s shorter and easier to say).

Now granted, Obama’s administration has some balls insinuating they have some sort of moral high-ground for ensuring anyone “plays by international rules,” when it’s been a long time (if ever) the US has done so itself. And as much as his presidency is, imho, the best thing to happen in politics during my lifetime, there’s undoubtedly a hard road ahead for the US as it navigates the numerous problems it is mired in.

What irritates me is that China tries hard to prove that it is a super power, (hoping to be) equal to the almighty US of A. Armies of fenqing gather daily and face the West with large mirrors and well-rehearsed, but deeply flawed, rhetoric. The country’s moderates add sensibility to the discourse through the use of smaller mirrors and slightly more educated rhetoric.

None of it illustrates to the world that China is ready for anything more than a timeout. Countries, much like people, don’t gain true power by crying “it’s not fair!” every time something doesn’t go their way. And, they most certainly don’t garner the respect of others by not being able to gracefully handle criticism.

So, as my dear parents said to me not too long ago: if you want people to treat you like an adult, act like an adult. Or, to put it another way, grow the hell up.

Talk on Grow Up China


31 Comments
  1. Someday the fenqing and the CCP will learn that modernity is not about big buildings, gold medals, overpriced cars, or the latest pleather man purse, but rather the ability to tolerate the free and open expression of a diverse range of opinions.

  2. I agree wholeheartedly. I’ve never seen another country that asserts so boldly that what it does is right, but, when faced with the tiniest criticism, curls up into a ball and starts crying.

  3. A very good point; and it needs saying. But it’s not going tp change anytime soon, so prepare yourself for the next time someone ‘hurts China’s feelings’ in 2009, and watch the predictable and silly outrage-tantrum-indignation wailing that follows. And, possibly, some revenge as well. As the French experienced in 2008. And Israel. And Sharon Stone.

    In fact, let’s take bets on who will be the first to ‘hurt China’s feelings’ in 2009 :-p

  4. Isn’t it useful for leaders to focus their people on “the Others”? An example on the US side is Geithner’s ham handed accusation of “currency manipulation” and Greenspan/Bernanke’s long-standing blaming of China for creating a “savings glut” that got us into this mess. So its China’s fault, right?

    I’m ok with a little crybaby whining coming from Chinese press and leaders, if it preserves domestic stability without real, physical domestic repression. As the meltdown continues, there will be harsh rhetoric on both sides. As long as the public continues to be cynical enough not to believe everything it hears, let the whining continue!

  5. Uh…I believe I started the “Grow Up China” cry in the last post – but no attribution is necessary – I’ll do it myself – just kidding.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Ryan’s point, for an officially communist country China is getting lousier by the year in the art that was raised to new heights by the communists of yore – propaganda. If the Chinese leadership is going to insist that it is always in the right (and let’s be fair, what nation’s leadership doesn’t), it can at least do so with some finesse. Same goes for fending of criticism from others – they can certainly take a page from the understated but oh so sharply effective Brits in the sunset days of empire. I guess the mitigating factor for the Chinese is that for them the sun isn’t setting, it is in fact – perhaps even after this whole financial mess is sorted out – rising. In that context if we looked at the jingoism of the Brits in the 18th/19th centuries and the U.S. in the 19th/20th centuries the Chinese don’t seem to be out on such a limb in their pronouncements. Nevertheless, it’s like nails on the chalkboard to modern sensibilities – I think the CCP would do well for itself and China in general by recylcing some of that trade surplus by putting a couple of Madison Avenue agencies on its payroll.

  6. I have to chuckle when you talk about the forums at the China Daily. Wei Chao and rest of the 50 centers are just foaming at the mouth about Obama. Then again, the idea of a minority leading a country is something that is probably the most frightening of all for those in power in P.R. China.

  7. Profile photo of

    @Jaundiced Eye: You’re absolutely right – your comment inspired the “grow up China” sentiment in this post. Sorry, meant to reference it and just got caught up in my thoughts. :-)

    If the Chinese leadership is going to insist that it is always in the right (and let’s be fair, what nation’s leadership doesn’t), it can at least do so with some finesse.

    Absolutely!

    @Matthew A. Sawtell: I was actually referring to their editorials section – the forums are just out of control.

  8. So the rest of the world is getting for the arrival as China as the next potential superpower or stuff like that. Great. And all China shows is that “Tommy-did-it-first!” attitude that is so “Liberation”-era. You know what really bugs me? “X Nation or so hurt the feelings of the Chinese people!”

    In the name of God, if you’re going to get strong and stuff like that, brush all that weaselness off your or something like that.

    I’ve read the People’s Daily. Frankly, I’d like to see more heavy-handed editorial jabs at “how the US has no human rights” than all this Zh*ngnanhai-in-tears behavior. (The People’s Daily last year carried out a scathing review of where the US is wrong in this vein. You can’t dismiss that as “100% trash”, but then you also have to remember that this is a party paper.) China can get strong and tough, but they just ain’t doing it when they need to. They’re not doing it when they precisely need to so that the rest of the world goes, “China means biz.”

    If our next superpower is a crybaby, that’ll be… like…

  9. Excellent and very thoughtful post Mr. Mac, but I tend to avoid criticising “The Motherland” on a public blog. How does Mrs Mac feel about what you have written ?

    …”The amazement, for me, is that anyone in China actually believes they are still a communist state.”…

    I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment.

    Got a power bill ? Go to the nearby bank and pay, not to the nearby Party Office.

    Pay for your phone and Internet ? Go to the nearby bank and pay, not to the nearby Party Office.

    Tap water and gas ? Go to the Building Management and pay, not to the nearby Party Office.

    Rent for the apartment ? Go to the nearby bank and transfer funds directly to the Landlord, not to the nearby Party Office.

    No more balloons,cake and streamers at the Party.

    That is a reason to cry – for the party-goers.
    J.

  10. I’ve told people that perhaps some of the criticism of China would stop if they stopped crying about it. Growing up, when my brothers teased me, I cried and cried and fought against it. My unsympathetic mother said, “they’re teasing you to get you to react”, and suddenly the teasing stopped after I decided to not let it get to me. I say keep treating them like babies, for that is how they act.

  11. …”The amazement, for me, is that anyone in China actually believes they are still a communist state.”…

    Yeppers. It’s an amazing feat of cognitive dissonance.

    Something Yu Hua said in the NYT Mag article I found very interesting were his remarks about the lack of tolerance for ambiguity among a lot of younger urban folks. In some ways that’s a universal trait of youth, but he points specifically to the “new nationalism” among the young and had this to say:

    “These young nationalists have no sense of ambivalence, no idea of life’s ambiguities. But when times are hard, their attitude will change, become more mature, and because capitalism in this form cannot go on in China, it has to end, those hard times will come soon.”

  12. Rick Martin: Nah, I think it’s just the loudest, most insistent voices that get noticed more- at least when it comes to BBS posts and so on.

    Sorry to pick a few nits, but:
    “The amazement, for me, is that anyone in China actually believes they are still a communist state.”

    When has China claimed to be communist? Socialism with Chinese characteristics is the usual phrase. There’s a difference. Communism is the ideal end state in which the State has melted away. Socialism is one of the states a State must pass through on its slow evolution to communism. I suspect if you asked any random Chinese person, they’d tell you China is Socialist, not communist.

  13. I’ve often commented that Chinese leaders should do away with all the infantile tantrums. Unfortunately, their childish rants tend to stick in the minds of the unquestioning populace judging by the echoed views of my students, whose sentiments ebb and flow with their leaders’ rhetoric.

    This is worrying, because, in all probability, China will increase her global leverage over the coming decade. History tells us that even democratic nations that allow a dissenting voice are inclined to abuse the power they have over weaker countries. So, what chance China’s claimed ‘peaceful rise’ as long as the juveniles are running the show with a nationalistic trump card?

    No chance whatsoever.

  14. @chriswaugh_bg: Picking nits, eh? To say a country considers itself “socialist” when its government is called the Communist Party of China, is a bit of a misnomer. Add to that the fact that it is not socialist any more than it is communist and I think my point stands.

  15. I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people.

    You hurted the feelings of the chinese people. APOLOGIZE at once! APOLOGIZE! APOLOGIZE! APOLOGIZE! APOLOGIZE!
    I hope your blog is still accessible tomorrow in China ;-D. APOLOGIZE!

    It is really so easy to talk about China and with chinese Herrenmenschen and to live a life of complete harmony!
    Examples, I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people.:

    “I am a laowai, I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people.”

    “I met my grandmother daladalai lima yesterday, I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people.”

    “I drank 2 bottles of beer yesterday, I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people.”

    “What time is it? I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people.”

    “Don´t call me laowai in my own country, that´s really really lame. I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people.”

    “Do some work for your salary will ya? And stop chatting on QQ the whole fucking day, I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people.”

    Got it? Just add “I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people” at the end of every sentence, every statement and every thought and you will be just fine. HARMONY! APOLOGIZE! SUCKERS!

    I apologize for hurting the feelings of the chinese people.

  16. @Matthew A. Sawtell: I was actually referring to their editorials section – the forums are just out of control.

    Tell me about it, been there for a couple of years and I have seen more bushwhacking, backstabbing, and other mayhem there than I have seen at other newspaper forums. If nothing else though, it is not totally boring. It is surprising what a few people, posing as a large crowd, can actually do.

  17. @Ryan:

    1: I admitted to nitpicking right at the start of my comment.

    2: You should study some more Communist theory. Communists believe that communism is the end state of history in which the State has melted away, allowing the people to live free and equal lives free of all oppression. I’ve never heard any Chinese person, let alone the Chinese government, claim that China had yet reached that state. See, history is supposed to unfold this way: primitive/hunter-gatherer to feudalism to imperialism to capitalism to socialism and finally to communism. China is ruled by a party that calls itself communist, but said party calls itself communist because, in theory at least, it believes that the end-state of human history is that communist ideal in which the state has melted away and the people naturally lead good, communist lives.

    What is that communist state? As Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need”. In other words, in that ideal world we all contribute what we can and receive in return what we need. No communist party I ever heard of claimed to have ever achieved that.

    Communism is to a communist what Nirvana is to a Buddhist or Heaven to a Christian, in other words.

  18. Frankly, most of the leadership isn’t educated in the sort of fields that would quality them for the type of finesse required in public relations. They’re all technocrats, and thankfully that. Some of the first generation of leaders were far less subtle in their speeches and writings.

    The education system in China isn’t helping either. Trained to memorize facts, not write well-crafted arguments, the average university graduate does the same blame game every time something goes wrong.

    Plus, now that it’s okay to be in private business, most of the top young talent is probably going for the bucks, and not for public service. So unfortunately there might not be much improvement in the leadership of the country for a while. The lure to join politics? Likely all the money to be made from bribes. But just as much and more can be made in private enterprise these days.

    And one more kicker – the little emperors are coming into their prime. When they take over and discover they can’t always get their/China’s way… watch out! Tantrums galore.

    So Ryan, I guess it comes down to this. Are we going to see much better? Not for a looooong while in my opinion. The elite upper crust in this country who are well-educated, refined people and hold sophisticated and balanced views are quiet. They are out there, and there numbers are increasing, but they’re drowned out in a system designed for the un-silent majority.

    I think the education system and the quality of people joining the Party and climbing the ranks is going to produce more of the same: hurt feelings and over-voiced outrage at any slight. As medium-term ex-pats we feel for China and try to defend it sometimes. Perhaps we’re being played, being made into apologists for a country that is known to use foreigners. Though sometimes justified, we’re supposed to think China is the victim.

    Great post, I’ve been reading more of this type of ‘grow up China’ theme for a while now. Anyone reading it on Chinese blogs?

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  20. Feds, it is all going down in a big bloody BOOM one day. There is no other way to reset the system. We, as foreigners living here, we better do not make long term plans in China and keep a careful eye on whats going on on the streets and in this beautiful chinese middle ages mind. Do not flee into illusions and react FAST when the day comes.

  21. there are moderate and intelligent chinese, lots of them, lots, absolutely no one I’ve talked to in real life behaved even remotely similar to fenqings, so I know fenqings are minority, you see many of them because they are most outspoken on the web, so it’s an illusion per se.

    so I believe the moderate and intelligent are the majority here, you don’t hear them because they are held back by ignorant mobs and state censorship.

  22. I generally agree with that Peteryang, certainly that the fenqings are the more vocal of the bunch.

    The problem, IMO, is that through passive methods of foreign media discreditation and the micro-managed manipulation of the masses (alliterate much Ryan), the moderates aren’t being asked to be rabid nationals – they’re being asked to be passive aggressive nationals. Not as scary as the fenqing, but almost.

  23. Here, this is an original forum comment:

    如果世界一定要有战争!宁可背负侵略者的名义,而绝对不能被别人侵略,那就什么都完了!!中华民族必将重新崛起,中华文化是世界最优秀的文化,最优秀的统治文化,西方文化是最完善的自然科学文化,管理还是中华文化最强!!中国文化从整体看问题,比如中医,中餐无不证明这些真理!! 中国有理由领导世界,中国也有实力这么做!!

    Machine translation:

    If the world must certainly have the war! Rather shoulders invader’s name, but could not absolutely by others aggression, that anything!! The Chinese nation will certainly to rise, the Chinese culture is the world most outstanding culture, the most outstanding dominant culture, the Western culture is the most perfect natural sciences culture, the management or the Chinese culture is strongest!! The Chinese culture looks at the question from the whole, for instance the Chinese medicine, the Chinese meal proves these truth all!! China has the reason to lead the world, China also has the strength such to do!!

    I wonder, where this stupidity comes from. They spit, they piss on the streets, everything is dirty, they are not able to cooperate with anyone, they act like mentally disturbed fake smiling uneasy idiots when you talk to them face to face, they are not able to talk about anything except how to get rich and QQ and the differences between zhonguoren and THE waiguoren, they are not able to create anything by their own, they throw their shit on the streets, eat on shit, their food consists of vinegar, spicy and nothing else, they do not respect anyone and only care bout their own belly and wallet. beside a few fancy looking 500 years old towers (what´s left; what they did not destroy during cultura revolution) and a beep-cheep opera singing and old men with make-up, what else do they have? God damnit, they are like an smelly ape who comes out from the forest, buys a car, buys am armani suit and appears uninvited to your party, eats your food and gives a lession about his high culture to everyone without asking.

    what a bunch of ridiculous people they are. yes, there are some rare good ones. that pessimist guy is right. we better be very careful here. we do not need to “f***” them (i mean we do not want it anyways, right?). you know why? because THEY will f**** THEMSELFS in the near future. happy us, we can just leave. IF we make it to the airport of course :-D

  24. You sound pissed off man. But i can understand ya! I zhink most of us can! I think, the chinese should get this: Treat others the way YOU want to be treated or do not expect respect and mercy from others if you do not show any respect to them. Chinese do not seem to get it now, they also do not seem to be very realistic about their own situation ;-).

  25. it might be harsh what i said. but hey…isnt it difficult to keep smiling with their actions? enough is enough! i am sure that there is a little bit of truth in what i said. Ryan, feel free to edit/delete it if you please but i do not regret anything. do “they”? ;-). On the contrary: it was still a very controlled posting :-D. thanks for the ventile anyways…:-D

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