European-Chinese Relations: a Model and an Outline

The following is a Huanqiu Shibao editorial, published on Tuesday. I first thought about adding some context or classification to each paragraph, but then, most readers of this translation will probably be familiar with the different approaches taken in dealings with foreigners, from one paragraph to another. That’s not to say that all readers will interpret them in the same way.

Chinese vice chief state councillor Li Keqiang (李克强) left for Spain, Germany, and Britain today. This is the first tour abroad by a major Chinese leader this year, and he is the third one within three months who visit Europe, after the chief state councillor [Wen Jiabao] and the state chairman [Hu Jintao]. The importance China attaches to Europe is obvious (一目了然).

In fact, the importance Europe attaches to China is also evident. The leaders of most big European countries visited China last year. With the exception of the ideological dispute provoked by Norway towards the end of the year, relations between China and Europe were calm (风平浪静) most of the time last year.The Eurozone had been afflicted by a serious crisis to the greatest degree, China didn’t add insult to injury (落井下石), but was one of the major helpers in the European debt crisis.

As for ordinary Chinese people, “Europe” is a comprehensive concept, and their feelings towards its single countries don’t differ that much. They see Europe as the place where western modernization began, they admire European civilization and living standards correspondingly, and unless there is an active provocation from one of its countries, Chinese society has no bias against Europe, and sees no strategic conflict of interest between the two sides. As for attacks from European conservative forces, Chinese people are angry, and don’t understand them.

Chinese people have an ideal: that there is no need to enter zero-sum competition (零和竞争) between leading powers, but rather, that there should be mutual respect and all-win in cooperation (合作共赢). Chinese people believe that in many regards, Europe is worth to learn from, it doesn’t confront Europe with pride [中国没有在欧洲面前骄傲的资本], Chinese people believe that this is an attitude of good faith, and their greatest worry is that the Europeans may not appreciate this, that they may not see the opportunities China offers.

Europe, as seen from China, is showing some problems. European society is “lacking some energy” (有点“懒”) but doesn’t wish Chinese society to become “industrious” (勤奋).

For a long time, Europe belonged to the top ranks of modernization and couldn’t quite get rid of some haughtiness. More than 200 years ago, the Qing imperial court wanted British ambassador MacCartney to “ceremoniously kneel down”. Now the attitudes have reversed to a degree, and Europe always wants Chinese culture to kowtow to them.

When Europe looks at China, there are certainly many problems, too. But China never snubbed Europe, so why, and for which problems, does Europe need to evaluate its strengths vis-a-vis China (欧洲又何必与中国在谁是谁非的问题上较劲呢)?

For at least 100 years, China has to quite an extent been Europe’s student. Marxism, too, came from Europe. But Europe should understand that this student, carrying a civilization of several thousand years, is not embarrassed to ask and learn from inferiors (不耻下问). China is no small kid in a kindergarten.

There  are no significant conflicts of interest between China and Europe, and most of the ideological clashes are man-made. China exports quality goods at decent prices (物美价廉) to Europe, completely different from Europe’s export of semi-colonialization to China in the past. Some people in Europe  who yell exaggerations about a “China threat” have, to say it plainly, been brainwashed by American-Japanese schemes (说重了是被美日“阴谋论”者洗了脑), or to put it more politely, show the reflexes of narrow-minded people as they are facing China’s rise (说轻了是心胸狭隘者面对中国崛起的条件反射).

If the curse of zero-sum competition between great powers can be overcome, China and Europe are clearly the most likely ones to make it. If this hope should turn out to be utopian, once Chinese-European relations get broken beyond repair, this is also most likely to make people lose courage.

Europe is a model for the human ‘”nature” of modernization, and China is the “quantitative” outline. To live like the Europeans is nothing the energy-consuming model of modernization can support. Therefore, this is still a long way off. Europe should help China in many ways. If Europe helps China to find ways of a new, low-energy modernization, if it helps to integrate with the great West on equal cultural and political terms, this will be much more meaningful than confrontation with China.


Bonds and Arms, The Reader, January 4, 2011
Who is Kishore Mahbubani, December 18, 2010
Wen Jiabao: China is a friend indeed, Xinhua, October 7, 2010
Creative Destruction or Development, March 15, 2010

8 Responses to “European-Chinese Relations: a Model and an Outline”

  1. I agree wholeheartedly that this article doesn’t really require any additional comment, but I’ll add some anyway: it’s common enough to see the mixed hard and soft approach of Chinese negotiation in state to state or company to company relationships, but I have never seen them alternate from paragraph to paragraph in the same fucking article. It’s as if the author of this article became schizophrenic himself in emulation of his beloved schizophrenic government.

    Interesting that you translated 懒 as “lacking energy” – to my mind there is a strong connotation of moral or mental weakness, but that may be a spoken v. written difference that I wasn’t aware of.


  2. 懒 is indeed more likely to stand for lazy or sluggish – but I wanted to be nice and respectful today, on the eve of Li Keqiang‘s arrival on our humble and bankrupt shores. For the same reason, I didn’t put the Lunyu quote (不耻下问) right into the headline, even though I wouldn’t mind tons of traffic.
    Anyway, you’ve fucked all the harmony up within seconds.
    Thank you.


  3. You’re most welcome.

    The Lunyu quote is outstanding. Each European leader that meets with Li Keqiang should preface any question with it.


  4. Yeah, this article seems to have forgotten the golden rule of the good cop/bad cop routine – you must only play one cop a a time. The lunyu quote is particularly passive-aggressive.


  5. This article is “black and white” in the truest sense. A case of balanced journalism that went spectacularly… umm, wrong? Or off the beaten track? Extraordinary? I’m wondering if it was proofread, and if so, if there was a discussion before it was published.
    I’m trying to imagine the unnamed author of the editorial and his deliberations. He certainly weighed criticism and adulation of Europe against each other. When a leading member of the state council goes to Europe, the place can’t be all black. But it can’t be all white either, because there are some problems. I think the article was approved because it was correctly balanced, in quantitative terms.

    I think what struck me most was the editorial’s allegation that Europe always wants Chinese culture to kowtow to them. I think it is the problem of many Chinese people, rather than that of entire foreign continents, that they can only think in terms of rule or submission, rather than of interaction on equal footing. Equal footing, then, too, would be a remote Chinese ideal. In such minds, it probably can’t work abroad, because their experience is that it doesn’t work at home, either.



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