Archive for November 20th, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Weekender: Expressing Myself

I started blogging more than a year and a half ago, in April last year. I felt the desire to express my views, without publishing my real name on the internet with every post. I don’t think that I wrote something that I couldn’t have signed with my real name, too, but I value privacy.

So with a blog, I was able to post my views with the necessary ease, and didn’t have to wonder if what I wrote was too childish to befit a grown-up man. I was also at ease with publishing my own little cartoons. It didn’t matter if they would be ridiculous or something to have a good laugh about. By now I know that at least some readers had a good laugh about them.

China will become a stirring issue in the coming years. Its rise, if it continues,  will offend people. It doesn’t surprise me that it offends many Westerners. Sometimes, I believe it does so because there are understandable concerns about the country, sometimes I believe, the offended should look into themselves for the roots of their feelings, or blame our own undone homework, rather than blaming China. But the really eye-catching thing is that China’s growing weight will offend many Chinese people, too – especially the nationalists. The run-up to the Olympic Games gave people overseas a small taste of what is going to come. I believe that no respect a peaceful Chinese rise may earn will satisfy those in China who look at their country’s growing international weight as some kind of compensation for the century-and-a-half of national humiliation and suffering. This patriotic narrative isn’t really historically true: for most Chinese individuals, China’s entire recorded history was a history of humiliation and suffering, and most of this was inflicted on them by big or small Chinese rulers, not by foreigners. Much of China’s nationalism is based on self-deception. But that’s probably the rule with anyones nationalism anywhere.

I’m no psychologist, but when people want the present tense to make up for the past, and for what “others did to us”, no reasonable level of respect will be able to satisfy them. It may be that I’m thinking from particular German experience, but it is a general rule that lasting satisfaction doesn’t come from the admiration of others. It comes from self-respect. Such a lack of self-respect may be one explanation as to why Chinese students thought that they should mob a small supermarket at Bremen Central Station. Monks in a rollercoaster wouldn’t upset mentally balanced people, but they can mobilize people who are already deeply disturbed.

Totalitarianism can draw on such unbalanced mindsets. It surprises me when China’s political system is referred to as (only) authoritarian. It is true that the CCP has withdrawn from many aspects of private life in China. This is sometimes cited as evidence that China is no longer a totalitarian state. But China’s culture is totalitarian. It is quite generally based on the absence of the rule of law – that’s why it seems to be impossible to implement the rule of law, even though top cadres pay lip service to it. Chinese life is still based on dependence, not on freedom. Even many ordinary people are working hard to control other ordinary people.

There is a blog post which seems to combine Western frustration about China’s rise with a Western view of the Chinese practise of dependence and control. To show trust improves the atmosphere. An American citizen didn’t show that degree of trust in people whom he had never met before when they reportedly asked or told him to give his passport into their custody. I think his is a true observation, while as for the title, “stage-managing Barack Obama, I think his interpretations go to far. Obviously, the American president was walking a Chinese stage in Shanghai and Beijing. And obviously, much of what he said was censored before being passed on to the Chinese “public”. But that is nothing new. Americans have only become more sensitive about what the Chinese state is doing, then what they were when Bill Clinton visited eleven years earlier.

I blogged to ponder my own concepts of China. My concepts are by no means impartial. In principle, to be unbiased or accurate is a good thing. But there is nothing wrong, for example, with referring to the National People’s Congress as the CCP’s rubber-stamp parliament – because that’s what it is. And even some Western China experts can use a reminder of this, once in a while. Accuracy is a good thing. But clarity is a good thing, too.

At the same time, I have tried to keep this blog light. There is no use in writing accusing posts about Chinese double-standards. If we took the time and studied all the globe’s nations, one after another, we’d probably find no single one without double-standards. There is also no use in predicting China’s rise. China may rise, or it may crash and disintegrate. Nobody can reliably predict its future. There is no use either in predicting China’s peaceful rise, or its not-so-peaceful rise. There are no records of the future.

I believe that in this respect, China deserves a reasonable amount of trust. It has no history of triggering world wars. And most times when Chinese people committed atrocities, they committed them against each other. Agonizing people of ones own country is no less criminal than doing the same to foreigners – but auto-aggression is no immediate threat to outsiders.

The right approach is to hope and work for the best, and to try to be prepared for the worst. Blind anger or frustration doesn’t help here. To be caught in ones own political correctness doesn’t, either. Sometimes, when Chinese people remind us of our past bad deeds, we should react by cultivating an  insensitivity of our own. is the example in the blogosphere for that kind of self-cultivation, and my personal experience is that an adequate amount of this insensitivity can make us much nicer and trustworthier colleagues, interlocutors, or partners for Chinese counterparts, than trying to be “better” people than them. I’ve tried to show my own insensitivity off here, and I hope it’s become a nice, small showcase.

But during my break, I also noticed that over the previous eighteen months of blogging, the fun of expressing myself was becoming a mild obsession. I spent at least six hours a week on this blog, plus some more hours surfing the internet in general. But the real world isn’t in the internet.

Therefore, I’ll slow down. I’ll still post when a Chinese headline catches my attention, or if Hermit or Net Nanny wish to speak their mind. But I won’t try to blog on an almost daily basis again – maybe not even on a weekly basis. Sometimes, it feels good to blog. But even more often, it feels good to do something more real.

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