Bill Bishop, publisher of the Sinocism newsletter, bade farewell to Beijing on Kaiser Kuo’s Sinica Podcast this week. The conversation between Bill, Kaiser and co-host David Moser was fascinating. They’re sinophiles who have devoted their adult lives to living in China and figuring out how to support that enviable habit.
All expressed disappointment at how China has turned out compared to the China-of-the-future they’d envisioned. Their expat friends appear to share their disappointment. For them China has become darker, more repressive, more intellectually and politically straightjacketed and less spiritual.
Their China-of-the-future would have been as exotic, maddening and unknowable as the China of today but its better educated, better traveled citizens would have attitudes more like theirs and their government would be slightly more like ours.
Though they mention the Chinese people’s almost unanimous support for their current government, they did not reflect on why they’re so supportive of an organism that to them appears darker, more repressive, more intellectually and politically straightjacketed and less spiritual. Or to wonder why their feelings are wildly at odds with the Chinese people’s – whom they clearly love, enjoy and admire?
They brushed aside the notion that the Chinese people might connect the U.S coup in Ukraine with the American-supported trouble in the South China Sea – and unanimously assumed that China’s actions there are wrong. Apparently the deliberate American bombing of the Chinese Embassy in 1999 and support of violence near Tiananmen Square in 1989 could not have influenced Chinese perceptions.
I suspect that 99% of Chinese see our actions in Ukraine as an existential threat to their strategic partner, Russia. They connect the attack on Russia’s western flank to the attack of U.S. puppets on China’s eastern flank. My wealthy, educated, British passport-holding Chinese expat friends certainly do. They worry aloud that President Xi does not perceive the dire threat from the West. That he is not doing enough to make China safe. If Chinese who can live anywhere, on independent (Western) incomes are worried for China’s safety, how do ordinary Chinese feel?
Perhaps they’re reassured that their President is acting decisively to prevent China being subverted and invaded. In times of national threat nations usually kick out subversive foreign elements like NGOs and tell complainers to shut up. Chinese civilization has never had much time for public dissent of any kind. It’s not something they’ve found fruitful. Apart from Mao’s 100 Flowers experiment, it’s never been part of their lives. But Kaiser, David and Bill dismissed the possibility.
The Chinese, having been recently invaded, bombed, humiliated and calumniated by us, clearly feel differently. If Xi wants tighter unity and more ideological purity in preparation for American attacks (why, otherwise, does it spend billions surrounding China with military bases?) then that’s fine with them. Their streets are clean and safe, their kids are getting a good education, wages are doubling every ten years, taxes are low, China is regaining international respect, life is good.
The podcasters’ China of tomorrow has turned out more like the China of forever. Chinese civilization is returning to its accustomed course. It has not been diverted, let alone dammed by its contact with us. The Chinese are back to being who and what they want to be: Chinese, and all on the same page. They like being on the same page. And they don’t give a rat’s ass whether we like that or not.
Bill Bishop on Sinica Podcast