A Bookish*) Experience

Occasionally during the past decade, I’ve thought about reading Gordon G. Chang‘s The Coming Collapse of China.  A suggestion that China was headed for the scrapheap of history **) is certainly, umm, thought-provoking. I know how skeptical a number of Chinese intellectuals themselves view their country (even if not that skeptical) – for it’s authoritarianism (or totalitarianism), it’s corruption, and (oh, the irony) its incapability of reform, or for an alleged absence of any specifically Chinese ideology as a tie that would bind, even if the economy got into serious trouble.

I’m sure I’ve bought one or another book in the meantime, since 2001, but not too many. Books have usually come as birthday  or christmas presents in recent years, and I’ve only read half of them, or less. As far as Gordon Chang is concerned, his interviews and the reviews of his book left the impression with me that wishful thinking of his own, rather than solid research, was at work. Of course, I may be wrong – but I may never get to read it anyway.

A few days ago, I overheard an interview on Radio Taiwan International‘s (RTI) German service with a certain Thomas Weyrauch. He’s apparently no renowned sinologist, but an expert on China-related issues.

OK – everyone is a China expert, especially JR (that’s me), but the interview made me curious enough – it contained some of the information to be found here (in German only). It is either information that is rightfully rather unknown because it isn’t true or too relevant, or I’m hopelessly indoctrinated by the CCP’s history books and Edgar Snow.

Given that it was a topic on Taiwan’s foreign radio in itself is noteworthy. Until two years ago, the radio station seemed to mainly reflect the views of the country’s green camp. In the 1980s, it was as Chinese Republican as can be – “The Voice of Free China”. It now  seems to revert to a more KMT kind of position again. While Weyrauch and many pan-greens may share a strong dislike for the People’s Republic of China, they will still be very much at odds when it comes to the term Republic of China on Taiwan.  Wherever you look, the question about what Taiwan actually is or should be appears to be a fairly dogmatic issue. Maybe switching perspectives every ten years or so is Radio Taiwan’s own way of reflecting the country’s political diversity.

Anyway, when buying a book, I’m doing it the old-fashioned way (unless it is no longer available at retail) – I go to a book store. Last week, I asked there for the book that had caught my attention, China’s unbeachtete Republik (China’s unnoticed Republic). It’s apparently only available in German, and it might take a week to arrive. I have no idea if its case is convincing, and it’s fairly expensive.

But I felt in the mood for something exotic. With luck, I can collect it later this week.

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Update: Gang then, Dynasty now, May 12, 2010

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*) The bookishness so far has been that delivery may take up to a week. After all, to bank on the internet instead spells instantaneous availability of information.

**) To be honest, this isn’t necessarily Gordon Chang’s actual finding – it’s how the Washington Monthly summed it down in a review nine years ago.

6 Responses to “A Bookish*) Experience”

  1. Evidently, JR knows sufficiently about Chinese language to understand its culture. More importantly, you manage to keep abreast of what’s happening in China to a degree that even Chinese themselves fail to do. Yet I’m afraid it’s never easy to become a sinologist, or China expert. I mean no offense, JR. Just because I know more doesn’t mean what I know is correct. For instance, I uphold democracy and human rights and despise China’s authoritarianism (totalitarianism), but to be honest, I sometimes can’t help thinking that democracy may not be really suitable for that piece of land. I’m not sure, because democracy never really worked before in China historically. When given a chance to govern the state, can a sinologist who’s supposed to know more then Deng Xiaoping or Hu Jintao create a better picture to the people? I’m really in doubt.

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  2. it’s never easy to become a sinologist, or China expert.
    But that’s why I love the word expert! You can be wrong all the time as an expert, so long as you can explain the reasons for a wrong forecast, and you only need to agree with one fraction of fundamentalists, – the CCP or Falun Gong, for example -, add some clever-clever talk, and you’ll be their expert right away. Expert is one of the least protected nouns that exist, with the possible exception of patriot. But the latter is usually about feelings or sacrificing your life rather than about expertise, and it usually doesn’t pay to be one.
    (Of course, it looks rather useless to be one of the Global Times’ experts who wouldn’t give their names.)

    I’m not sure, because democracy never really worked before in China historically.
    It worked nowhere before it worked for the first time. Btw, democracy is another unprotected word. North Korea is democratic, too.
    I agree that Chinese people and democracy can be a fairly explosive assortment. But a country where most people are locked out from political decisions is even more explosive, because removing a failing government is usually a bloody affair on a big scale. In the end, it probably doesn’t matter how a government achieves the genuine approval of the governed, but it won’t survive without it.

    JR
    China Expertise & Analysis

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  3. “a country where most people are locked out from political decisions is even more explosive, because removing a failing government is usually a bloody affair on a big scale.”

    Agreed. This is what happened in the last Qing (Ching) Dynasty. But I also find it amazing that a government as corrupt as Qing could have survived for about half a century after the Opium War. Perhaps Chinese endurance to dictatorship is peerless.

    “it probably doesn’t matter how a government achieves the genuine approval of the governed, but it won’t survive without it.”

    So, is it logical to say that any existent and surviving government has approval of the governed?

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  4. So, is it logical to say that any existent and surviving government has approval of the governed?
    Yes, I’d say so. It may take a while before it departs, after losing implicit or explitit approval – but the Qing Dynasty survived in times where no alternative was visible – there was no public overseas Chinese could communicate with, both for technical reasons, and because there wasn’t even a public that would have deserved the name.
    As for the 19th century, I’m wondering if the common people in the countryside realized a difference between the times prior to and after the opium wars anyway.

    The best way for the CCP to buy time for another while is to make people believe that China is surrounded by imperialist foreign volves that are biding their time to tear it into pieces. And obviously, we can´t really tell to which extent the governed there agree or disagree with their government – I´ve seen no opinion poll for that matter. 😉

    It may be too early to say – but is the current Thai government still one that rules with the approval of the people?

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