Twelve years ago, in 2008, Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics and the UK BBC TV sent a large number of journalists and technicians to China to cover the event. Jeremy Paxman was in the group and one evening he did an interview with four women entrepreneurs. He met them in a well-to-do restaurant and filmed their conversation. The female entrepreneurs were informed and willing to engage in debate with Paxman.
Paxman manoeuvred the conversation around to issues of freedom and democracy and challenged the four ladies that they were unable to remove the Government of China from power.
The Four just could not understand the question – “Why would we want to remove our Government? They have done such a great job in running the country- Why would we think of pressing for their removal”.
The discussion went on – it revealed a big divide. The Four entrepreneurs had never thought of replacing the government or the Party. They had every confidence that the Party had earned their support.
Paxman was very puzzled – he should not have been. He was merely reflecting the attitude of many in the West who view the Party as a clique of self-perpetuating party members whose primary goal is the maintenance of their power. Paxman and others see the Party through the prism of the old USSR – it is corrupt; it is thinking only of the interest of their members; they serve themselves and not the country; they despise the people and were responsible for the summary execution of its complaining members.
For China – read the USSR. The Chinese Party, thinks Paxman, is bent and corrupt. Its function and purpose is not serving the People and building a Socialist State with Chinese Characteristics but accumulating wealth and influence for itself and its family members.
This pinpoints a fundamental problem that prevents the intelligentsia in the UK from understanding China. They are prejudiced against China because the UK – and the US and other Western countries – is focused on human rights and political protest. China, they say, does not enjoy human rights or political protest. China is a dictatorship; the people do what they are instructed to do by the Party; the Party looks after itself and exploits the people. China cannot be free until China embraces “one man one vote” and regular public elections.
Back to Tony Blair and his encouragement “to understand China from China’s perspective”. Start not with your own pre-conceived prejudices but see things from the other side. How do the Chinese people view their progress? What does it mean to take 500m citizens out of poverty? Why do 138m Chinese tourists all return home at the end of their foreign trips? How does democracy operate in China? How is the Party made subject to the supervision of the People? Why did the four Chinese female entrepreneurs look in amazement at Paxman when he said they had no authority to remove the Party or the Government. “Why should we?”
These are, in fact, big questions. China is on the March and the West does not understand how this is possible.
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