Western suspicion at Chinese patriotism should lessen through the inevitable increase in communication and dialogue
Many westerners regard the Chinese people who demonstrated to support the Olympic torch relay in 2008 as nationalists. Last year, I set up a blog, Fool's Mountain, in support of the Olympics and to provide a Chinese perspective in English. So does that make me a nationalist?
Instead of choosing labels, I'd like to share what I believe in. If you ask me if I love China or am willing to make personal sacrifice for the collective benefits of Chinese people, the answer is yes. If you ask me if China is perfect or if Chinese culture is superior to others, the answer is no. Do I believe China should put her interests first? Yes. Do I believe China should further her interests regardless of the consequences to other nations? No. Generally speaking, most people value the lives of their countrymen more than others, just like they care about the lives of their family members more than the lives of their neighbours. If the loss of an Iraqi life were truly perceived as the equal of the loss of an American life in the US, then Bush could in no way have been re-elected in 2004.
Some suggest that the 1989 student generation, many of them western educated, became more nationalistic in recent years.
My take is that they were nationalistic/patriotic to begin with. What else, besides the love for their country, promoted the students to risk their health, even life, without considering personal gain? The same force promoted demonstrations to support the torch relay last year. It might be surprising to some people, but it shouldn't be.
When I was young, the sobering facts after the cultural revolution were that China's infrastructure was a century behind that of the US, and the gaps between China and the western countries were getting wider. In the 1980s, I became aware of many atrocities committed during the cultural revolution. Two of the victims, Yu Luoke and Zhang Zhixin, are my personal heroes. They were both prescient critics of the political manipulations; denounced, arrested, and tortured, yet they never gave up their ideals. Yu was executed at the age of 27, and Zhang's vocal cord was cut to silence her before the execution. After reading these stories, I had nothing but deep scorn toward the CCP's proclamation that it is the party of greatness, gloriousness, and correctness.
A popular book at that time was entitled The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture. The author of that book argued that traditional Chinese culture was the root of the society's ills. He claimed that Chinese culture was like a pot of stale fermenting soy bean paste and anyone who went into the pot got stained. The solution: break the pot.
So my thinking at that time, probably shared by many students like me, was that China needed radical reform at every level, be it economical, political, or cultural. And the best way forward was through rapid westernisation.
Several years later, I came to the US to study and to work. I have tremendous respect and gratitude for my host country. Just recently, I witnessed the peaceful and orderly transfer of power in this democratic society. There are numerous things I treasure; the rule of law, clean environment, easy access to information and educated populace. I hope all Chinese citizens will one day enjoy the same freedom and human rights as Americans do today.
Despite my dislike of the CCP, I have to admit that Chinese government delivered. People's lives are getting better, both in economical terms, and in many instances, personal freedom. I am aware that heart-wrenching tragedies are still happening. I also believe that democracy is the final path China should be on. However, I think now it is in China's best interest to have gradual reforms within the CCP.
Although I have always felt the need of Chinese perspective in English, the first spark for me to start blogging was triggered by an internet campaign to free a blogger, Wu Hao, detained by the Chinese government. I felt compelled to lend whatever little support I could provide.
Then last year, when the story of five girls (including one Tibetan) who were burned to death in the Lhasa riots was apparently not "news enough" in the English newspapers I read, when a Chinese paralympian had to defend her torch in a wheelchair in Paris, I was motivated to establish a platform to counter what I perceived as widespread biases in the western media. However, from the beginning, this blog was meant to cultivate dialogue, not to create confrontation. My experience is that common ground can always be found between two people who respect each other. It is my hope that the inevitable increase in the communication between the Chinese and westerners will foster mutual respect and understanding, not suspicion and hostility.
In 2008, Chinese people were shocked to learn that China had such a huge image problem abroad. Westerners were shocked to learn that the Chinese government enjoyed such a degree of popular support. To know each other, albeit under sometimes unpleasant circumstances, is a first step for good friendship.
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016