Monday, January 18, 2010

The Chinese and democracy

I do not often have the opportunity to debate China and its politics with other Chinese in Australia.

This may sound surprising given that I am married to a Chinese woman, am aquainted with many Chinese, and often have dinner with various Chinese born Australians.

Oddly, I have reluctantly concluded that I have a greater interest in China's history and its current politics than most Chinese that I come in contact with. This is a shame given the richness of the cultural and political landscape that is China.

I find that even my very own wife lacks any genuine interest in discussing the increasing prominence of China's actions on the world stage, and what its internal struggle for democracy means for those living in China. She is more interested in events that may impact her directly, such as the value of the yuan or the performance of the Chinese stock market.

There are however a few people I know who do have very interesting views on China, and who are not afraid to express themselves. These people have grown up in China, and so their views are of paticular interest to me.

Having said that I should state from the outset that not only am I an unabashed Sinophile, but that I also appreciate the difficulties that the Chinese government must deal with in order to keep such a large and diverse nation together.

Unlike many of my highly educated colleagues at my work, I do not take the view that democracy above all is the most important goal of a nation. Quality of life must come first, and it is here that I think the cautious but ultimately benelovent approach of the Chinese government shines through.

Make no mistake, I realise that the government has made many serious mistakes and that poverty and corruption is rampant in China, but I am speaking in relative and pragmatic terms, not in ideal terms.

What has really caught me by surprise however has been the general agreement on this point from those least expected.

Why is this so surpising you ask?

Well, these very same Chinese that I refer to were the same Chinese who as students in Australia in the late 1980s effectively defected from China after the Tianemen Square protests. These people had a rabid resentment for the oppressive Chinese government at the time, so much so that they permanently left China as a result.

These same people now praise the current Chinese government and defend its actions.

Surprising yes, but not remarkable given the changes in China over the last 20 years.

Overall, I think that the general political apathy of most Chinese Australians, and the otherwise supportive attitude towards the Chinese government's iron hold of the vestiges of political power, says a lot about the Chinese, their aspirations, values and their hopes.

It seems that at least for Chinese Australians, health, wealth and happiness is the ultimate goal of life, and although political freedom is a nice to have for most people, it plays little role in the thinking of most Chinese.


Franklin said...

Very interesting view. Certainly different from what we hear in the media.

Anonymous said...

Very nice insight. Well written.

Anonymous said...

hi,ninghao,您好i am a local Chinese students ,i am very glad to read your comments ,actually i am the generation away from those political turmoil ,because i am the generation that is born in the year of 1987, yes indeed as you said, most of the younger generation pay no attention to politics ,comparing the westerner's political activeness .but we're very concern about the prospect of China, China is changing rapidly economically ,but not politically, we're looking forward to building a strong and peaceful China,but the time i logged on line, i gotta confused,should we be one-party, like the road of Singapore ,or two-party,the US way .as you said , the corruption is rampant .it's unlikely that the CPC's gonna spit its power,even though ,it would more be likely to evolve into the way of Singapore's way.also , the Tienanmen protest, most western media are talking about the issue ,but most young Chinese don't care ,or have no idea there's a Tienanmen issue ,even they know, we don't think those kids who asked for US-style democracy are rational.

Anonymous said...

my qq mailbox
most young people are much western-enters-minded. human rights ,Tibet, democracy ,or Tienanmen, whatever ,they don't give a damn. the one thing they do care is the jobs , housing, etc.but one thing is absolutely right is that the people are living much much better live ,they have much more freedom ,they can criticize the government, even the freedom is not as broad as some developed country ,they have the opportunities to earn a good life, but those media are too much ideological, western-centered or even distorted to some extent. hope to have your opinions back. Zhuliang

Xiu B said...

Look what happened to Russia.

Too much freedom too quickly.

Crime at every level of government. Government focussed on lining their pockets rather than helping the people.

Some Super rich people (the oligarcs), and everyone else is poor.

Democracy is not some magic solution for a country's problems. If it comes in slowly maybe it may help, but a country has to be ready for it, and I don't think China is.

When the majority of the population is middle class and educated, then maybe democracy might start becoming relevant.

Anonymous said...

Do you work for the Chinese government?

Sounds like you are promoting their propaganda.

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