“Well, if you like China so much why don’t you go and live there”
This is often the angry retort of people who become angry when you adopt a stance that is considered to be defensive or supportive of China. If you have a different view on the China-India border, or on Taiwan, or on Hong Kong, or on the Uyghurs, or on the S China Sea or on any of the subjects that divide people in their opinions on China, sooner or later someone will challenge you with the invitation to sell up and take your family to China and live there for the rest of your life.
Actually there are many positives about going to live in China – the sense of common endeavour, the achievement, the atmosphere on the streets, the excitement about the future. But none of them come into play when you decide where you want to settle. Home is home. As individuals we carry the marks of birth and the culture and the ways and the experiences and the history of the country from which we hail. I am British to the core as others are French or Turkish or Nigerian or Peruvian. We are what we are, and respect for China’s considerable achievements does not require us to move – as we say in the UK “lock, stock and barrel” – to China. I am British – I am not Chinese. I respond to the rhythms of British life and British music and British history – warts and all.
That last phrase is part of the whole. There is much about the UK that I do not like – the class system, the racism, the striving for success at the expense of others; but there is much that I do like such as that strong sense of community that has arisen from the despair and death created by Covid-19; the weather, the food, the popular entertainment be that Shakespeare or the Beatles and the Sport. I enjoy my life in the UK. I am fortunate. I am middle class and OK but, for many, life is very different as they struggle to make ends meet and provide for their children and have time for a decent home and social life. In the UK life is good for some and life is bad for many – eyes wide open always.
So being a respectful admirer of what China has achieved emboldens me to write and lecture and talk about China because something important is happening. Something that has worldwide historical significance. Lincoln Steffens was wrong when he said in the 1930’s after a visit to the USSR “I have seen the future and it works”. The USSR experiment failed and many are hoping that China will go the same way – that the Chinese will argue, fight, lose their sense of common destiny and collapse into an orgy of selfishness, self-indulgence, acrimony and eventually violent civil war. They watch from the sidelines focusing on each and every negative and setback as vindication of the deeply held view that China Has To Fail.
So, along with many others in many countries of the world, we wish China well. We want China to succeed. We want to see more progress, the elimination of real poverty, more Chinese travelling overseas, more Chinese investment in pursuit of the Belt and Road Initiative and more prosperity and stability. We do not want to see China go the way of the old USSR. We want China to learn from the errors of the Soviet leadership, avoid corruption, maintain freedom and carry forward the construction of a new society based on common effort and mutual purpose and increasing prosperity and individual modesty.
So the first question I have addressed. Stay at home and tell the story – no need to go to a country which is astounding the world with its achievements but watch it from afar – with the occasional visit to renew friendships and to learn more about its progress.
And the second question – Can China Do No Wrong. Are we starry eyed optimists? Are our heads in the clouds? Are we one-eyed and see only the good? Are we blind to the negatives? Again – emphatically No. Our eyes are wide open. We read about the mistakes and the failings and the shortcomings because they are written about all the time. “China is a dictatorship; the Party is in full control; the people do what they are told to do; there are no human rights; there is no freedom; people do not have the vote; they cannot get rid of their leaders; the Party, not the People, control China.” These statements are an ever-present for those of us, like myself, who enjoy promoting discussion about China. So we go into battle. We go head- to-head with the China bashers. We do not recoil from a good argument. Recognising that China does get some things wrong, nevertheless we are on the front foot and go towards the sound of gunfire and stand our corner, set out our positions and have nothing to fear. We are enthused by China’s progress
But it does not mean we have to want to go and live in China. Home is home. As I said earlier in this piece – we are what we are. So my advice? Stay strong. Understand what is happening in China. Appreciate the dynamics of a society under major development. Be open-minded and know that things can go wrong, and there are casualties (China got things very wrong in the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution – more about that in my next article) . But grasp the essence of what is happening today and the direction of the wind and the momentum that has been created. China is on the move and it is exciting to have the means to confront the lies and the distortions and the misrepresentations.