When you push that button on your phone to call an Uber (Didi in China) you are never sure what adventure you will have. Last Tuesday, I was on my way to a meeting in the downtown area at 6:00 in the evening. When calling this car, I knew the ride would be about 40 minutes. Climbing in, I nodded a greeting at the driver and began to read a book. I have found that most Chinese don’t believe you can speak the language, and so they don’t speak to you. A few minutes into the ride I noticed the driver’s phone was attached to the dash. I leaned over to see if it showed the approximate arrival time. He glanced at me wondering what I was doing and I asked, “We have about 30 minutes?” He nodded, smiled and said, “You speak Chinese!”
After the typical questions of work, family, Chinese food, he asked about my country of origin. I told him I was from the USA. For 30 long minutes, we talked about the trade issues, safety and gun control, discrimination and then went into world policing and peace. Of course, this was fueled by the ever increasing tension between China and the US. This driver obviously loves his country and sees it as the answer to safety, gun control, trade, community and ultimately world peace. With that conversation in mind, take a minute to watch this video
Propaganda has been around for as long as their have been ambitious leaders. This video could be promoting unity for the Roman, British empire or even our own country’s political agendas in the last century. It was Aristotle that said, “While everything changes, everything remains the same.” We see this in China’s drive to be the greatest power in the world. There is already a strong belief in China, not just within government but also among people, that the Chinese are very special, Chinese culture is very rich and Chinese history is strong. In 2013 Chinese President XiJinPing stated,
“For more than 2,000 years the peoples who live in the heart of Asia had been able to coexist, cooperate and flourish despite differences in race, belief and cultural background. It was a foreign policy priority for China to develop friendly cooperative relations with the Central Asian countries. The time had come to make economic ties closer, improve communication, encourage trade and enhance monetary circulation. The time had come for a ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ to be built. The time had come to breathe new life back into the old Silk Roads, a series of trade routes that once connected Asia, Africa and Europe.”1
Since then, nearly $1 trillion has been earmarked for projects that form part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This push by Chinese to create a community of trade and cooperation is a form of globalization and dominance that is reproduced in various countries in their rise to power. Frankopan states, “We think of globalization as a uniquely modern phenomenon; yet 2,000 years ago too, it was a fact of life, one that presented opportunities, created problems and prompted technological advance.” 2
The world seems to spin on the needle that is honor and shame. How we are seen by the world produces pride or shame by the citizens of the country in question. For China this is closely tied to its history, its accomplishments and global embarrassments. For the Chinese the path is not as important as the outcome. The abuses of power, discrimination of minorities, threatening of neighboring countries by use of military or financial means are all accepted because the State is greater than the individual. Honoring the country while sacrificing a few pawns along the way is not only acceptable but seen as strategic. Chinese have a long memory and I believe still are overcoming their shame and defeat of the past.
“But China has not forgotten the Opium Wars. The conflicts were a humiliation, exposing the hollowness of its claims to be the world’s most powerful empire. They set it on a quest, which continues to this day, to rediscover its strength. Every Chinese schoolchild knows that the modern drive for wealth and power is, at root, a means of avenging the Opium Wars and what followed.”3
As a result of China’s past and drive to overcome the global shame, it has remade itself, building a foundation of wealth and power so it can once again be “Zhongguo”(meaning the middle/center kingdom ); implying it is the center of the cultural universe. China’s aggressive policies have not always been met with open arms, yet Chinese influence and money seem to persuade countries into corporation. China’s Belt Road Initiative (originally called One Belt and One Road) is a campaign to spread its trade and policies over land (belt) and water (road) have produced a powerful impact in many countries of Africa, middle east and Central Asia. Their goals have them moving into Europe and South America in the next 5 years. One can easily see why Frankopan says, ”We’re living in an age of Asia…”4
This has not been an easy transition as we see the US and China relations battle over seemingly petty issues that mark lines in the sand for control. We observe the cost within Chinese borders for discrimination, political reeducation camps, social class systems implemented related to one’s patriotism, students asked to inform on teachers that are teaching “radical” ideologies and other what mind be viewed as abuses of power. Frankopan is known for saying, “There is no space in any civilized society for discrimination of any kind, and that is the greatest lesson of the 20th century.”5 Though we hope the the rise of any country would be with knowledge of history and are not prone to repeating the mistakes or atrocities of the past, I believe we are all short sighted when, like this Uber driving man, put our faith and hope solely in the political system of our own country. Not only does China have to learn to overcome some historical insecurities, but the west needs to learn how to honor (and not scorn) the growing nations of Asia.
1Peter Frankopan https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/china-silk-road_us_5978d667e4b0a8a40e84cec7
accessed October 25, 2018.
2 Frankopan, Peter. The Silk Roads : A New History of the World. First US ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
the-west accessed October 25, 2018
4 Frankopan, Peter. The Silk Roads : A New History of the World. First US ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2016.
5 https://www.thecuriousreader.in/tata-lit-live/favourite-quotes/ accessed October 25, 2018