It seems that whenever a foreign observer criticizes China too strongly, they are labeled as somebody who feels threatened by China’s rise and seeks to undermine or belittle the accomplishments of the last 25 years. But who really hates China? For example, if I hated China – if I really wanted to see China fail – what would I do?
1. I would censor media reports about the spread of HIV/AIDS in China and harass or arrest anyone who seeks to publicize the truth about the extent of the disease while allowing this horrible virus to continue its destruction of lives, families, and communities. Instead of more education about the actual causes and transmission of the disease, I would blame the crisis on immoral foreigners and ‘troublemakers’ in the medical community.
2. I would make sure that economic growth, incomes, and opportunities were distributed unevenly throughout the country because there is no better way to be a ‘splittist’ of a nation than to make one part rich and keep a whole other (larger) part really poor. I would then systematically dismantle social welfare programs so that the ability to pay becomes the primary qualification for access to education and medical care. Those people too poor to pay I would let fend for themselves as a permanent pissed-off underclass, because thatâ€™s never caused problems in China before, right?
3. I would censor artists, musicians, painters, and filmmakers so that the true creative potential of the people can only be reached in secret or overseas. If an international body recognized an artist for the brilliance of their work, I would make sure first that the work was politically correct or appropriately edited before allowing the artist to receive his or her award. This would send a warning to others in the arts community that future creative endeavors must first meet the requirements of state and party. After all, which would you rather spend an evening watching: Zhang Yimou’s Ju Dou or the CCTV New Year’s Extravaganza?
4. I would create a system whereby local officials were never accountable to those they govern. Instead, I would reward officials only on the basis of self-reported economic growth thus gutting of any meaning laws protecting the environment or local communities. I would supervise the courts so that people would find it incredibly difficult to sue the government and, if they do, I would arrest their lawyers, thus further weakening the rule of law and the legal protections of stakeholders in society. Instead, I would watch blandly as China’s careens towards the greatest environmental mess in human history with poisoned rivers, industrial wastelands, and children and adults suffering horrific illnesses due to the toxic smog that envelopes most of China’s major cities. It’s hard to argue with logic that says cancerous particulate matter in the air is an acceptable cost of economic development but drinking a cold beverage is harmful to your health.
5. I would continue to cling to the territorial legacies of past empires and claim sovereignty over peoples that have never had any desire to be ruled by Beijing. I would further destabilize those regions by suppressing the language, culture, and religion of the subject people (including exiling major religious figures). I would anger the local communities by promoting the settlement of Han Chinese into those areas further diluting the culture, and build new railroads and pipelines to facilitate greater exploitation of resources so as to build grand cities thousands of miles away. If some territories did break away and succeeded in forming their own government, I would work to alienate those people from the world community and block their membership in any international organization. I would also promise invasion if that territory ever tried vote to form its own country, because nothing says ‘togetherness’ like the threat of military force.
6. I would create a birth-control policy that results in the abortion or export of unwanted girl children causing horrifically skewed sex ratios and a growing population of unmarried and underemployed young males because that’s a sure recipe for a stable society. Meanwhile, I will label any Chinese who marries or dates a foreigner as ‘immoral.’
7. I would use the basest justifications of geopolitics, amoral capitalism, and resource extraction to guide my international relations and foreign policy. This would ensure that despite Olympic Games and gleaming towers, the world community still thinks of China’s government as an enemy of the people and friendly to thugs. Iâ€™m here to tell you: the United States has used this strategy for over a centuryâ€¦anyone care to turn on CNN and see how well itâ€™s worked out for us?
8. I would create a political ideology that systematically denies the people a voice in the affairs of government. I would make sure that political organizing, activism, and being socially and politically aware were as difficult as possible if not illegal. In this system, I would make the hold on power of an elite few more important than the well-being and potential of the great many. This would trickle down and create a ‘me first’ society that destroys community spirit while breeding mistrust towards others. I would create a society where pushing and shoving are common in public places, where people are treated differently based on their race or gender, and where every person approaches any commercial or social interaction with a stranger by wondering: ‘How am I going to get screwed? How can I screw the other guy?’
9. I would react to anything critical of China by throwing a temper-tantrum and screeching about ‘seeking the destruction of the Chinese nation’ even if the story is about bathrooms, funny English signs, or coffee shops. I would also label any criticism of China, by Chinese or foreigners and no matter how valid or vital, as ‘unpatrioticâ€ or â€œanti-China.’
If I hated China, there are many things that I could do, but few that haven’t already been done by the Chinese government and the CCP. Few observers of China do ‘hate China.’ We choose to live here and work here. Many of us have families here. For my part, I have made the study of Chinese history my life’s work.
Even in the United States there are those in society and government who label criticism of US policies as ‘unpatriotic’ or ‘un-American.’ What’s more, the United States has quite a bit of experience with problems such as economic growth at the expense of the environment and workers’ rights, unequal distribution of wealth, crumbling social services, rampant consumerism, political apathy, immoral foreign policy, and the systematic oppression of a subject people-to name a few. Guess what? We are still cleaning up the mess. Surely, China with its long history and grand civilization can be counted on to be wiser and more level-headed, right?
I am glad that there has been a lot of progress recently, especially in environmental protections, improving the rule of law, working to broker a deal with the DPRK, and freeing the media to report on corruption and local issues. But there is so much yet to be done and it’s worth noting that many of these changes came about as the result of an increasing concern by the leadership regarding China’s image abroad.
I criticize the Chinese government for the same reason I criticize the US government: because I do love the country and it hurts to see what is being done to it. If it pains me, a laowai, how much more should it hurt a self-proclaimed ‘Chinese patriot?’