Monday, June 06, 2005

Is China Bi-Polar?

Peking Duck posts on an article by Orville Schell condemning China as “bipolar” for what he saw as the victim mentality behind the anti-Japanese demonstrations.

I responded with a comment reproduced below, in which I posit that the Chinese leadership—and its response to the development in its relationship with Japan—are rational.

A distinction can be made ithat there might be a rational, cynical anti-Japanese strategy cooked up by the Chinese leadership and a putatively irrational response by the Chinese people. And the fact that the Bush administration was able to convert an attack by Saudi and Eqyptian Wahabbists on 9/11 into war fever against a secular/socialist regime in Iraq is a sobering reminder that a regime with disciplined information management can shape and direct public opinion in order to advance its goals.

But, and it’s a big but…

…calling people “bipolar” or “irrational” is, to me, to underestimate the genuineness, the significance, and the “rationality” of the powerful popular response that the government was able to elicit.

If we start from the assumption that the Chinese demonstrators were “rational” and analyze their demographics, ideology, and agenda, we might come away with more useful conclusions than the impression that “the Chinese” are hysterical dingbats hung up on sixty year-old war crimes.

Here’s my post:

My take on China vs. Japan is 180 degrees from Schell's, and more in line with Coll Hanninan's commentary in Asia Times: China is responding to Japan's emergence as a frontline state in the U.S. effort to contain China.

I have a more fundamental gripe with Schell's use of "bipolar", and his implication that China is acting irrationally. Whatever you may think of the CCP leadership, they are not a bunch of guys in rags pushing shopping carts around Zhongnanhai and muttering to themselves about the radio receivers implanted in their skulls. They are hardheaded, ruthless, and rational politicians who have managed, through a tiny Leninist party, to keep control of the world's most populous country for over 50 years.

Painting China as "bipolar" and psychologically crippled by a "victim mentality" implies that the US can't engage with China as a rational actor. This paves the way for assertions that China can't be dealt with through conventional diplomacy as a peer; instead it has to be treated as a potentially dangerous pariah state, to be neutralized through containment, sanctions, and whatever other tricks the Bush administration has in its bag.

The Bush administration tried the same tactic with Saddam Hussein to enable the invasion, even though subsequent events have shown that Hussein was no irrational threat to the world. He was a rational, calculating dictator who knew how to run his country a lot better than we can. Things might have been different if the American public had understood that we were not bringing reason and sanity to the irrational madness of Iraq, but exporting ignorance, error, and wishful thinking to a fragile, resentful country instead.

Is China irrational? Or is the Chinese regime rational but detestable? Yes, there is a difference.


Anonymous said...

China Hand,

Although your post here and in your blog appears to make a lot of sense. How do you explain "the man in the street" mentality of the average citizen in China? I worked with a PhD in Aerospace engineering from the PRC. He liked to say (before 9-11) that he wished that he could carry a couple of suitcases loaded with nuclear bombs to Japan. Given his generation that really surprised me.

I think that a great deal of bitterness, and animosity still exists between the Chinese, Koreans, and others and the Japanese. The Japanese do not help matters with a society that
is inherently racist, believing in the "purity" of the
Japanese race and discouraging "intermarriage". It also does not help when a society believes that they are the "chosen people of God" and that everyone else is rabble.

The same problem appears to exist almost analogously in the Middle East. In Israel European Jews believe this to be true of themselves at the expense of the Arab population (and that includes
the "purer" Arab Sephardic Jews). How do you think the Arabs and the Palenstinians feel about this attitude? Well, wouldn't the same be true for the Chinese et al?

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