Justrecently’s little Press Review, 20080525


Ouzhou ZhongHua ShiBao, Budapest, Hungary

International Edition, No. 530, May 17 – 23, 2008, page 1

Zheng Yongnian: Europeans’ perception of China and fears of China


The article could be written by Professor Zheng Yongnian, who, according to Wikipedia, is teaching at Nottingham University. The topic of the article suggests that, but I’m not sure that it is him.


OuZhouZhongHuaShibao apparently reprinted the edited version of Zheng’s article at Singapore’s “LianHe ZaoBao” ((联合早报), where it was published on May 13. The edited version is also available online.


Maybe the effects of the editing impair my understanding of the article.



A.        Zheng’s Article, the Gist


The topic is the recent conflicts between Chinese and European views, which, as the article puts it, “almost centred around the Olympic Games”. He also mentions that “some forces are using China’s hosting of the Olympic Games to cause China trouble”. These is not the first time of such conflicts, but they hadn’t been that comprehensive and abundant before. These conflicts, the article says, are about interests, but also about values. In either case, there is a “knowledge problem”. Some differences in interest factors and views on values would never go away, but that didn’t mean that conflicts were inevitable.


Zheng’s picture of the matter is this: Behind the forces using the Olympics is the Europeans’ perception change, and behind that perception change is worry, if not fear.

So Zheng wants to look at the matter from the point of Europeans’ changing perception of China.


He takes a look at history and more modern times, and distinguishes three stages of perception:


1. Europe’s main interest used to be on the “Four Books” and “Five Classics”

http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Four-Books-and-Five-Classics – in short, Classical China. One could say that this European approach for understanding China was still going on. But this, Zheng warns, leads to a illusionary Western picture of China, kind of an utopian country. European views of Tibet, he adds, are similar to this utopian one: Shangrila.

(This is the only time in the article that Zheng actually mentions Tibet in his article.)

Then came a fateful discovery: Europeans found out that China was a civilised, but not a modern country. Zheng indicates that there were possibly Westerners who cared about China´s future, but acted as its “teachers”, expecting that China would become like Western countries, and developed a feeling of moral superiority.


2. Next, Europe started to feel the energy of Economic China. At the beginning, says Zheng, there was hope among Europeans that Deng’s reforms after 1978 would lead to economic freedom and democratisation. In Other words, Reform and opening policies should lead to China implementing Europe’s view of values, or, in still other words, “that China would become a country similar to Europe. One must say that this is another Utopia, because China didn’t and couldn’t take a development according to European’s expectations.

After Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 “inspection tour of the South” (Shenzhen), where he encouraged further growth, China’s rapid economic energy started influencing the lives of Europeans, too, in that “everything China produced was cheap” (exports), and “everything it consumed was expensive” (energy, environment, climate, etc.). So from the European trade deficit with China, to the environmental issues, everything became a matter of animadversion on China. If the current status of developing China can already have so much influence, asks Zheng, what will a fully developed China mean? Some people were already talking about an “economic threat”.


3. The European fears of Economical China far from over, there comes Political China, says Zheng. Now the conflict was no longer only about material benefit, but also about values. And they meet developing countries, especially in Africa. As European development models had neither brought stability nor development to African states, “some” were now rejecting Western patterns, and were “rather learn from China’s experience”. [Some doesn’t necessarily mean a small number, when used in Chinese language.]

So in Africa, Europe and China were now competing both in terms of economic benefit, and in terms of values which was a serious challenge for Europe. And the resulting European worries or even fears are hard to alleviate, says Zheng. To achieve that in the long run, not Chinese nationalism was needed, but a rational and reasonable quest to change the West’s ways of perceiving China.



B.        ReadingDifficulties


The idea of looking as to how European perception of China has developed during the past 500 years is an interesting one. But I see a lot of information that is missing in this article. There is no definition as to what kind of Europeans Zheng is referring: to the European elites, or the European “working class” (which certainly fears Economic China for potential job losses)? There is no definition of who actually tried to study China. I would think Zheng is referring to the old European elites here, but who of them, apart from some philosophers, did really study “the Four Books and Five Classics” at all? There is no mention of what kind of media spread the ideas of those who tried.

As for Political China and its influence on other developing countries, even the majority of European elites won’t take a big interest in it. Only experts at the agencies who deal with development will see the Chinese competition very clearly.


My impression is there is no link between Zheng’s description of Europe’s “three stages of perceiving China”, and the conflicts “centered around the Olympic Games”. Another problem is that he leaves European statements about the recent conflicts completely out of account. No chance that Europeans who express concern about the situation in Tibet do actually mean what they say?


As for Political China, I seem to remember that many Europeans expected the same kind of change in China, as we were seeing in Eastern Europe. June 4 was not only disillusioning – it shocked not only Europeans, but also many Asians. Zheng leaves this factor completely out, and uses Deng’s 1992 tour through Southern China as an explanation for economic fears of Europeans. With all due respect to Deng Xiaoping and his historical importance, but June 4 1989 left a bigger impression on me and most people I know, than the renewed economic growth that followed the paramount leader’s tour in 1992.


What is left out in this article is actually what makes it most interesting to read. But I don’t think it is objective. The header of each OuZhou ZhongHua ShiBao edition says “Liberty, Objectivity, Diversity”. The paper is actually pretty diverse, and what liberty and objectivity means can be a matter of an endless discussion after all. But Zheng’s article printed there on page one seems to send an unspoken message: “Although we are objective, our stance is still correct. “


Are you confused? So am I. How can this translate into a reasonable Chinese communications strategy towards the West?


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