Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Nationalism over Reason

For a bit of a more serious post... After having the Olympic flame snuffed out and French President Sarkozy declaring that he would not be attending the games, there's a great deal of anger in China - here's a picture of a cab in Qingdao, posted by Time Magazine from a popular Chinese site:

The irony is that as of 6 months ago, if you had asked the average Chinese person which country they preferred - the US or France, they would have said France without a doubt. France because they've historically had a policy of appeasing China in return for economic advantage. Ironically I've disliked France for those very same reasons - particularly because I believe they bear a significant responsibility for formenting the hate that resulted in massacres in Rwanda.

Nationalism is not in short supply in China. My msn is lit up with almost all my contacts/friends in Hong Kong and China with a heart and the word "China". TechCrunch notes that China hackers have taken down a sports site - sportsnetwork.com speculating that they could have even been hackers sponsored by the government. Frankly, I don't think the government would need to - but I suspect they generally look the other way given the less than optimal ways these people could spend their time from within China. And unless you've had your head in the sand, you know that there's a lot of CNN-hating going - Imagethief's posting a banner ad with bullets going through the CNN logo. It's not going to be a fun-filled few months in China (and that's just adding to the already sweltering polluted air and the throngs of people). China Confidential makes a post about Chinese authorities seemingly concerned about the direction the outbursts are going saying that people ought to 'harness their patriotic feelings for the purposes of economic development'.

Personally, I think that there's a great deal of overreaction. To quote Hamlet: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." But in a way China has gotten what it's wanted - having invested so greatly in the Olympics. Is it any surprise that anyone who has grievances against Chinese rule would act now? I even got a pretty lengthy email from a family friend (who has lived in Canada for decades) who hasn't ever sent anything like that to me before questioning the western bias on China and Tibet. While I would tend to agree that there is this silly attempt to deify the Dalai Lama and whitewash Tibet's sordid past not to mention the Dalai Lama's acceptance of tyrants and feudal lords, China's often heavy handed reactions have not won them friends. Free speech and democracy are rather difficult concepts that I don't think that we in the West always get it right either (look what happens to anyone who thinks that global warming is anything but anthropogenically caused).

If the mark of maturity is that the first reaction to dissent and disagreement is to use words and reason, China (and many of its people) seem to be quite content in the throes of puberty if not even adolescence. And lest there be any doubt, I don't think there is anything that the government in China wouldn't do in order to maintain power and political stability. For this reason, while I acknowledge that it's also self serving, I don't think the appropriate reaction would be to shut China out but rather to engage but respectfully disagree. The Chinese government has drilled the idea of nationalism into the heads of its people for at least two generations now - and it doesn't seem to take much to get them whipped up into a frenzy (witness the manufactured "spontaneous" riots over Japan a few years ago). But if the choice is to have anger directed outwards to what has been a friendly ally or inwards, I have no doubt which way the Chinese government would push. Not that I think anything will happen, I would not want to be part of the French delegation in China during the Olympics.

Update: Hmmm... Something about a cauldron always seemingly ready to boil over... How not to win friends and influence people... (Imagethief)

Update II: Hmmm... not sure if we should be giving China or other questionably governed countries suggestions for next time... (h/t Core77)

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