How to Think About China

The manner in which America relates to China is tricky at best, and that’s only if we’re looking at things from a foreign relations standpoint.  Then there’s another aspect to the relationship, which is the perception that many Americans have toward China, both as an emerging superpower and economic/military rival to the United States.  Undoubtedly bubbling up from these perceptions are emotions and, perhaps, a difficult-to-define sense of suspicion and fear.  I’m sure many Chinese feel the same way toward America.  And so both countries are filled with people who find themselves in the same conundrum.  Quite understandably much of this sentiment isn’t unfounded.  Even in a paradigm where nations must cooperate (in order to thrive) there is always going to be posturing for influence and natural resources.  But there is an aspect to this that is too often overlooked: and that is the distinction between those in power…and those subject to it, and especially, whether or not those in power truly and genuinely enjoy popular support of the people.  So the conundrum for Americans goes something like this, how do we frame the nation of China in our minds, in light of its form of government, its regional and global aims and its view toward America in the long-term?  What is the most appropriate way for us to think about China both in terms of its role in international affairs, but also in terms of its people who, arguably, are the ‘real China’ rather than those who currently control the mechanisms of public perception?

Americans would do well to remember that China is a nation of 1.3 billion people (over four times the population of the United States).  And yet, only a tiny fraction of that number constitutes the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) – those who control the government, media, military and public services.  While these men and women may have a powerful hold over the nation’s government, economy, and foreign policy apparatus, they may not (and quite probably do not) have control over the hearts and minds [of the vast majority] of China’s citizenry.

But someone else has already raised this point more succinctly, and he is someone who has a great deal of credibility on the subject of the relationship between the people of China and the CCP.  Let me present a short essay titled, “Words from the Heart” by Human Rights Attorney Gao Zhisheng, written in January of 2009, just a few weeks before he was re-abducted into custody (without trial or public hearing) by the Chinese Secret Police.

Maybe, for many Americans who haven’t considered these aspects of China’s current socio-political status, a healthy shift in our mentality toward that nation of 1.3 billion people would include an ongoing distinction between those who control the government, media and military…and those who, presently, do not.  It could be that the vast majority of Americans and Chinese have a great deal more in common than is often thought.

Published in: on January 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm  Leave a Comment  
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