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Sunday, June 4, 2023

10 ‘myths’ about China that Western media spreads

China is often painted as the anti-thesis of everything we in Bharat claim to be proud of. A ‘hegemonic, Communist dictatorship’ vs an ‘open, secular democracy’, is the facile formulation fed to us by mainstream media. Our only play is to side with the America-led Western ‘liberal, democratic’ order, add our establishment intellectuals and think-tankers.

While the dangers posed by a rising China to Bharat are all too real, we must still be able to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to dealing with our northern neighbor. We must form our own understanding of China, rather than see it through a Western lens as our colonized elite has been trained to do. Notions about friend and foe can and do change rapidly in geopolitics, and it is rather amusing to see so many experts dance around the latent Hinduphobia and other fundamental issues that mar Bharat’s relation with the West. Also, we need a reality check about our experiment with democracy, and take a hard look at the outcomes it has generated as we enter the 75th year of independence. Abstract pride in imagined constructs like ‘Constitutional morality’ and other empty rhetoric does not a great nation make.

A twitter thread by the handle @RealNatashaChe throws light on some enduring stereotypes about China that Western media loves to spread, and which Bharat’s English-language media dutifully regurgitates. The thread is reproduced below, with the aim of furthering our understanding of China and making us challenge some of our own deeply-held assumptions about ourselves and the world:

10 truth about China that mainstream media won’t tell you. I lived half my life in China, half in US. The US media coverage about China is stuck in the cold war and laughable at best. Yet people eat it up.

Here are 10 myths about China you often hear that are patently false.

Note: I’m not interested in value judgments. Reality doesn’t care about what you think how things should be. Read this only if you want to expand your horizon and understand other versions of “truth”. The latter may require temporarily suspending your own belief system.

Myth 1: The Chinese are oppressed and hate their government

If you ask most Chinese if they feel oppressed, they will laugh you off. Chinese government has one of the highest approval rates in the world. Economy has thrived for 4 decades, lifting a generation out of poverty. Society is stable and safe. Social mobility is better than most part of the world.

For most people, what more do you ask from a government?

How about free speech and democracy, you say. Don’t the Chinese care about those? Hate to disappoint you, but most people don’t really care about it.

The Chinese value stability above all else and willing to pay a lot for it. They think government control of speech and media is mostly good for “social harmony”. And nothing is more important than economic stability.

Myth 2: The Chinese government are communists

The Chinese governing party are communists in name only. They are shrewd pragmatists who have embraced free markets. They will happily adopt new ideas that benefit the economy, as long as it doesn’t threaten their control of the country.

Myth 3: The Communist Party will be overthrown by “the people”

For what? China has 1.4 billion people so competition for everything— school, jobs, housing, etc— is fierce. Most smart people are too busy trying to get ahead in society than becoming political radicals.

People in the West listen to their media and think the Chinese live miserably and will “rebel” if given a chance. Rebel against what? Higher living standard and social mobility?

Chinese media is no better, of course. They exaggerate everything to make the US look like a disaster. The media in all countries are simply mouth pieces of prevailing ideology. If you listen to them, you have no chance at independent thinking.

Myth 4: The Chinese want democracy

Only a tiny fraction in China clamors for democracy. They are hailed as oppressed heroes by western media. But these people do not matter in China at all.

If you ask the Chinese if they should adopt democracy like the US, they think you’re out of your mind.

If you mean running expensive dog and pony shows called election campaigns, giving every meth addict who can’t hold down a job a vote, letting new government throw all the projects from previous government in the trash bin, and then 4 years later doing it all over again? Then, no thanks.

Nationalism is alive and well in China. People find it puzzling—and annoying— that the US tries to lobby everyone else to adopt their own system. The State media encourages that lining of thinking of course.

Myth 5: The Chinese economy will collapse

Chinese economy has a wall of problems just like everywhere else. It has got a dysfunctional banking sector, inefficient state-owned companies, poor governance, corruptions, rigidities of all sorts as legacies from central planning era, etc. But don’t miss the forest for the trees.

None of those problems cancel the fact that it is one of the most dynamic economies in the world, which is also becoming increasingly resilient as the growing middle class lifts domestic demand.

Myth 6: Tibet is oppressed and needs to be saved

This is a favorite indignation among my spiritual leftist friends in the US- “Why doesn’t the Chinese government allow religious freedom?”

Why would they? Do realize that unlike Christians in the US, Tibetan religious upper class before communists were the political and economic ruling class— they were the government. Why would the Chinese government allow that given they are all about centralized control?

Tibet is not an abundant place with high altitude, harsh climate, barren land except some parts in the south. It has always been a net recipient of subsidies from the central government.

Most people in China would tell you after the communists took over, Tibetan social structure became more equal, infrastructure improved and living standard much better for the average person.

That’s their narrative. Of course they are biased. But the religious freedom warriors in the West are no less so.

Myth 7: China will let Taiwan be independent if America insists

When you are the central authority of a large tribe, you need the trust from your tribe that you have the power to defend its safety, dignity and status. If you lose that trust, you are dead.

No leadership of China will survive domestically if they allow Taiwan to go independent. They will fight this one to their death and some more.

On the other hand, what do the Americans get fighting for Taiwan? If they start a war with the Chinese on this, it would become another Vietnam in best case scenario. What for?

China is 120% committed to its position on Taiwan while the Americans are halfhearted in theirs. You can deduce the rest.

Myth 8: Other countries in Asia love America and hate China

Smaller countries in Asia increasingly rely on China for their exports. Individually they need China more than China needs them. And they cannot act collectively because these countries’ interests are too often opposed to one another.

So they want the Americans to be around to balance the weight of China in the Pacific, in case they get bullied by the latter. But they have no loyalty to either.

Myth 9: The Chinese government won’t survive [Internet / blockchain / insert your favorite tech savior]

The Chinese are used to being governed by a centralized authority. It has been like that for thousands of years.

They believe when the central authority is strong, the country prospers. When it is weak, the country is thrown in chaos. The history of the past 200 years has only reinforced that belief.

Technology has changed things on the margin, but also given the central government more tools to exercise control. None of this is going to change in foreseeable future.

Myth 10: China can’t innovate because it is not free

The Chinese system over-values conformity, stability, and risk aversion. None of that is good for innovation and it will always be a weakness.

But it is a big country with a big market and many smart people. Entrepreneurs who survive the cut-throat competition in China are truly cream of the crop.

The governments at all levels do not hesitate to throw big money into incubators and startup zones. Their system is rigid so they will waste a lot of money in those. But again, what they lack for producing fearless originals, they make up for it in numbers.

It is too easy to live in our own ideological box and believe that’s the whole world. If you think the Chinese are brainwashed by their government propaganda, know that you are brainwashed by the system you grew up in, too.

Thinking you somehow have more “free will” than them is pure ignorance and hubris. Freedom lies in the ability to hold conflicting points of views and see them as what they are— opinions. Idiocy is forgetting that your opinions are nothing more.

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