Why China Will Never Rule the World: The Interview

I read a few books about China each year, usually based upon reviews that I’ve read online or recommendations from friends. While reading blogs is insightful and a daily practice, I find that reading long form material is essential to acquiring a deep understanding of the intricacies of China. So about a year ago when I caught wind of a book titled Why China Will Never Rule the World, I was immediately drawn to it. The title was so bold that I felt like a great onus was on the author, Troy Parfitt, to convince readers of his controversial claim: that China’s apparent rise is not what it appears to be.

Many of us in Chengdu have spent years witnessing the explosive growth of a megalopolis, and we wonderwhat does China’s future look like?

I was able to ask a few questions of Troy Parfitt, a Canadian author and ten-year resident of Taiwan, which he took the time to answer in great detail. Some of the answers are controversial, and there are no punches held. Whether you agree or disagree, I would love to hear what you think in the comment section below.

How would the country be different if China’s civil war had a different result?

It’s impossible to say, but it’s fun to speculate, so here goes.

The Nationalists would have had to choose between Moscow and Washington, so they would have faced pressure from the U.S. to democratize. At the same time, the Americans were fed up with Chiang Kai-shek and his chums, who Truman labelled “grafters and crooks,” thus ending the spell some historians have suggested Roosevelt was under. It would be nice to think Chiang and his Nationalists would have done what they finally did in Taiwan, i.e. create an open society, but that seems unlikely, not least of all because the situation on Taiwan was unique, or that Chiang himself remained in charge until his death. Mao Zedong, in typical fashion, said the Nationalist Party was like a toilet that, no matter how many times flushed, still stank. Mao was right. The Nationalists were horrible.

The Chinese Nationalist Party was primarily a business, a lot like the mob. It’s true it wasn’t nearly as brutal as the Chinese Communist Party turned out to be, meaning the Nationalists weren’t into grand-scale political movements or murdering thousands of so-called rightists or capitalist roaders. Instead, they were extortionists, hideous carpet baggers, which is largely the reason so many stopped supporting them after the defeat of the Japanese.

Chiang Kai-Shek
Chiang Kai-Shek

I suppose what I’m trying to say is: it’s too complex a question to hypothesize about in detail, and I think a lot depends on how much America would have twisted Chiang’s arm. Would the generalissimo have stopped selling opium to raise funds? Would he have eliminated the warlords? Would he have ceased shaking down the business community and the wealthy and set about building a decent society? Would he have made Sun Yat-sen’s ‘three principles’ the foundation of that society? In other words, would China have democratized? Or would Chiang have continued in his bad old ways? Remember, his bad old ways, like his connections to the underworld, remained with him his entire life. And it’s important to bear in mind that he was a criminal with a lengthy record, which included a count of murder. And he was surrounded by criminals. That’s what the Nationalists were: organized crime with khaki uniforms.

One might assume it would have been difficult for the Nationalists to botch things as badly as the Communists did, but if anyone could screw things up, it was Chiang Kai-shek. Ruling Taiwan with an iron fist was easy because it was small, developed, and intact, but China was colossal, backward, and broken. I don’t believe Chiang Kai-shek was capable of change. He was a hopeless fascist, an impossible control freak. But who knows? Maybe after he died, there would have been some kind of opening up and we wouldn’t see the sorry political situation that exists in China today.

What’s your favorite thing about China?

Either kung pao chicken or petite, almond eyes women. Just kidding. Because of the polemical nature of my book, and its title, some people think I hated my way through China, but that’s not so. Although I got frustrated, and even abandoned the third leg of my journey, and although it’s true that I take issue with aspects of Chinese culture and certain “national beliefs,” there are things I like about the place.

I like Beijing, for instance. Having lived in a different Chinese capital for so long, it was fascinating to compare Beijing to Taipei, and Taipei, though friendlier and more comfortable to live in, doesn’t hold a candle to Beijing culturally or historically. Walking around the hutong is like walking back in time and you can practically feel the history. Two years before I wrote about Beijing, I spent five weeks there and got a decent feel for it. It’s an interesting city. There’s no getting around that, and I’d take it over Shanghai any day. So perhaps Beijing is my favorite thing about China.

Beijing Street
A crowded Beijing street, bustling with daytime activity

Or perhaps it’s China’s exoticness. To me, China is still an exceedingly exotic place. It is, of course, so very different from the West, and I’m fascinated by cultural differences, of which China’s got no shortage. It’s also an intriguing place to travel around. I still think about my time spent traveling in the northeast during winter.

There’s been a lot of recent conjecture about China’s faltering economy – where do you think China will be on this issue in the coming years? Will it worsen?

Well, I’m not an economist, so I don’t feel qualified to say much about China’s economy, and I don’t discuss it a lot in my book, except to say that it’s generally very impressive, or so economists think, and now let’s take a look at everything else. However, I recently read an informative if poorly penned book about China’s economy called Red Capitalism, which explains how China is sitting on mountains of concealed debt. The state-owned banks lend to the state-owned enterprises which often default on payments, but the government just strikes the debt off the balance sheet and starts the lending process again to meet its targets. The book reads like an extended journal article that never got peer-reviewed, but it helped me understand how China’s economy functions and confirmed what I had already gathered. There’s so much corruption in China. How could the situation be otherwise? As to what will happen in the future, I have no idea and I’m guessing no one else does either. People say China is the world’s biggest bubble, but who really knows? Despite my book’s title, I’m not one for futurology. In part, the title is meant to mock the China-is-so-amazing titles we’ve been seeing more of. Anyway, to get an idea of where China’s economy is headed, I guess it’d be a good idea to read the opinions of a few credible economists.

I’d like to add that I think analysis about China tends to be one-dimensional, in that people often think China’s economy is the sole determiner of whether it sinks or swims, but nations are about much more than the bottom line. For example, sociocultural context often gets glossed over or ignored during China debates.

What is the single greatest myth that you believe people have about China?

I think there are two big ones: that China knows something other nations don’t and that China’s unknowable. I think these beliefs are virtually ancient and reside in the psyches of Western and non-Chinese people. You read about this in history books: Westerners convinced that China is an enlightened, advanced civilization only to land there and realize that, in some ways, it’s still in the Stone Age. Jonathan Spence wrote a book about naive foreigners in China called To Change China, which I enjoyed. Today, people still believe Chinese society is superior, never mind that there is heaps of evidence pointing to its being way down the list in terms of social progress, etc. Consider, if you will, the most recent (2011) United Nations’ human development index, which measures literacy, education, quality of life, living standards, and life expectancy. Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Taiwan all have respectable positions within the top 22, but China? It’s 101st , in danger, perhaps, of being overtaken by the Philippines.


This summer, I was watching news from the United States and secondary school students were being asked for their opinions about China. Many said it had a far better education system than America’s. Adults believe tosh like this, too, though books such as Battle Hymn of Tiger Mother don’t help. In my book, I argue that if Chinese education were ever adopted by the West, it would soon be labeled institutionalized child abuse. But hey, people will believe anything. Not even the tens of thousands of Chinese students matriculating abroad, or the fact that most of the world’s top universities are in the West, mainly America, can obliterate the myth that Chinese education is better. China-knows-something-other-nations-don’t is similar to the China-is-dynamic line. Dynamic is not a word I would use to describe China. For starters, there seems to be an abhorrence for excellence there.

The China-knows-something-other-nations-don’t myth is connected to the China-is-inscrutable one. China is mysterious, in possession of some sort of elusive knowledge and it’s a nation that cannot be figured out. But it can be figured out. Any nation or culture can, inasmuch as we can ever figure out anything. China is just a country, with a culture, history, mindset, belief system, etc. Sure, there is diversity, but there is much more diversity in, say, Scotland, where I’m living now. And China’s lack of diversity makes it all the more knowable. China is not mysterious or inscrutable at all.

And it can seem that nearly everything Westerners think about China is a myth. Look at the many myths just about Mandarin: that the spoken language is monosyllabic; that there are several dialects underpinned by a common writing system; that the writing system is comprised of pictograms; that you need to know about 2,000 pictograms to read a newspaper. And even things Western people seem to know for certain about China are wrong: that there was a massacre in Tiananmen Square, or that there is a Great Wall. It seems that the only non-Chinese who know anything meaningful about China, apart from academics, are long-term expats, but their voices are seldom heard, or they don’t make themselves heard. Or they’re like the I’m-making-a-difference/everything-is-fine-here characters from Spence’s book and therefore aren’t taken seriously by those who like to apply a dollop of critical analysis to the China discussion.

Taiwan and Hong Kong are to China like… (insert your metaphor here)

… abused children who flee and make something of themselves are to psychotic parents. The children have liberated themselves and now live relatively normal lives. The other children, the ones who didn’t escape, aren’t fully functioning, and the whole neighborhood can see the disparity.

Hong Kong Central
Hong Kong’s skyskraper-filled Central district

Unfortunately for the people of Hong Kong, they’ve been brought back into the family fold. However, the metaphor doesn’t extend to Taiwan. Taiwan, though it has shamed the “national family” (what the Chinese word for country directly translates to) by colluding with foreigners and abandoning the venerable tradition of authoritarianism, is a whole other story.

Unlike Hong Kong and Macau, Taiwan was never really part of China, but rather part of the Qing dynasty, and for a mere ten years (1885-1895). The Qing, as Han Chinese are quick to remind, were not Chinese, but brutal, corrupt, and ineffective foreign rulers. Chinese people still commemorate the Qing, or Manchu, demise, and rightfully so. But the CCP holds that Taiwan is part of China and always has been, never mind that under the Qing, emigration to Taiwan was banned because the island was a foreign territory. The first country to establish governmental controls on Taiwan was the Netherlands and no one ruled it completely prior to the Nationalists except for the Japanese, partly because half the island was controlled by savage head-hunters.

Prior to the Nationalists “strategic retreat,” Mao said he didn’t consider Taiwan one of China’s lost territories. But after the Nationalists decamped, Mao changed his tune. The CCP, aware that once you start a lie, you have to maintain it, has been singing that tune ever since. In my book, I write that as a general rule of the thumb in the Chinese world, the more often you hear something, the more you can assume to be untrue. But that’s not really a revelation. Astute Chinese know that. Just last week, a Chinese national said to me, ‘The government said X number of people died in (some man-made disaster), so we knew the number must have been much higher.’ But getting back to Taiwan, I would like to add that the lie exists on both sides of the strait. The very notion of a “mainland” China vis-à-vis Taiwan is nonsense. There may be a mainland China regarding Hong Kong and Macau, but not Taiwan. Sixty three years later, the Communists and Nationalists are still churning out the propaganda. But I’m very biased toward Taiwan. I admit it. I think it represents a major step forward for Chinese civilization.

How do you think American fear over China’s economic rise differs from the economic rise of Japan during the 1980’s? Do you think we’ll see a similar crash?

Americans aren’t smashing Chinese cars with sledgehammers or invoking the Korean War, so that’s good, but I think there is overlap. It seems America always needs a rival, which might have something to do with its sporting culture. American analysis of China is, sadly, often about as profound as its sports coverage. ‘China cuts America’s lead to 13. Fourth quarter coming right up.’ Sure, there’s intelligent literature and discussion on the subject, but considering how worried about China Americans claim to be, generally speaking, they seem to know bugger all about the country. Some are figuring it out, though.

This summer, I sold a lot of books to American tourists in my hometown in Canada and several told me that, in their field, they’d learned the hard way not to use Chinese parts. The last time I brought brakes for my car, the clerk told me the place of manufacture: Detroit, Sweden (if I recall), and China. The  man said, under his breath, “And you don’t want the last ones.” I think anecdotes like mine and those of the American tourists can be more revealing than the macrocosmic fluff you see on American news. There is good print media in the US, but a lack of China knowledge still seems to prevail. Even Charlie Rose has superficial China discussions, disappointing because his show is possibly the most intelligent one America produces.

China factory

There is, however, a big difference between America’s past and present rivalries. The Americans at least understood the Japanese, in a sense, because the Japanese were brazen capitalists. But China is confusing because it’s nominally communist, so I think Americans see it as a threat to their way of life. Japan was also on much friendlier terms with the US, and of course the Americans didn’t have to worry about the Japanese militarily. But China’s military intentions remain unclear. Moreover, the Chinese government lacks the maturity, intelligence, and foresight to deal with the United States or other developed countries sincerely. China prefers befriending oppressive states with offices staffed by thugs and thieves. There are cheerleaders who think this strategy is clever. It is anything but. As for an economic crash, again, I’m sorry. I have no idea.

What are your top 5 China books that led you to your current beliefs?

The book that first ignited my China interest was Sterling Seagrave’s The Soong Dynasty. At the time I read it, I was teaching at a public high school in Taipei that had, in every classroom, portraits of Sun Yat-sen and Chiang Kai-shek. After reading that book, I couldn’t look at their mugs without smirking or grimacing. I was pretty much hooked on China books after that, and got to know the China sections of Taiwanese bookstores intimately.

Lu Xun's Ah-Q
Lu Xun’s “True Story of Ah-Q”

It’s hard to say which books shaped my beliefs. I think they worked more to reinforce beliefs I’d obtained through observation, but I’d have to say The Ugly Chinaman and the Crisis of Chinese Culture by Bo Yang along with The True Story of Ah-Q by Lu Xun. Lu Xun’s book is timeless and the national characteristics he was attempting to highlight and ridicule are still present. Another book that really spoke to me was Li Zhi Shui’s The Private Life of Chairman Mao. Sure, the Communists aren’t nearly as bad as they were, but that heartlessness, that cold indifference and cruelty embodied by the Helmsman still exists. Just look at the government’s persecution of dissidents. Look at its treatment of Ai Wei Wei. Regard its utter disregard for human rights. And the symbol of that brutal authoritarianism is everywhere to see, on nearly every bank note.

People still tout the 70/30 formula or the “fundamentally-good” line when asked about Mao, and hordes of tourists get their photo snapped in front of Mao’s portrait at Tiananmen Square and in front of his statue in Shaoshan, Hunan province, his birthplace. Mao Zedong was responsible for tens of millions of deaths, yet he remains a national hero. What does that say about a country? Mind, you’ve got a similar situation in Taiwan. Chiang and Sun, the dictator and the fool, are still on the coins and bills. They’re not as popular as Hello Kitty, but they’re popular enough.

What do you make of the Diaoyu Island dispute?

The issue is complicated, but I’m going to stand by my general rule of thumb: the Chinese Communist Party says, vocally and repeatedly, that the islands belong to China, therefore they almost certainly don’t.

It’s a sad fact that all nations can squabble and threaten about something as trifling as a few miserable rocks, but the dispute between China and Japan, at least as far as China goes, is not really about who owns those rocks. Rather, it mainly has to do with the past. With China, the angry present is almost always about the past, and revenge. Mind you, the Chinese have a legitimate reason to hate Japan, but rioting, like people recently did in Shenzhen, is not the way to deal with it. Not that I know what it is.

Again, the situation can be distilled to China’s crippling lack of critical thinking, self-awareness, and reflection. Rather than despise Japan, as the CCP encourages its citizens to do, people might want to ask why China did so little to repel the Japanese during the war. Why did the Nationalists refuse, in some instances, to even remove packaging from equipment donated by the West? Why did they hoard medical supplies and sell them on the black market? Why did China go to war against the US and its allies (in Korea) after the US and its allies defeated Japan and assisted China the best they could? Why does China continue to loath the US and the West despite attempts to assist China during that time? Why did neither the Communists nor the Nationalists ever ask Japan for war reparations? Why were the two Chinese sides more intent on fighting each other than fighting a common and awful enemy?

But, no. There will be no such questions. The government doesn’t allow or create the conditions for them. Its objective is to focus its citizenry’s attention on few, most likely, foreign islands, thereby drawing attention away from China’s myriad domestic problems. China is also likely revealing why it has purchased its “defensive” aircraft carrier. China is a bad actor, a terrible bluffer. It’s showing its cards, too dim to realize everyone can see them, and too dense to grasp that its fiercest enemy is, and always has always been, itself.

I understand that you’ve been to Chengdu before  – what was your impression of it?

Oh, this is a trick question. Should I say I loved every minute of it? No, I’ll be honest.

Chengdu at night
Chengdu at night

I’d just come from Lhasa by plane, and after being in what was a poor but gorgeous place, I was back in another dreary, grey, polluted Chinese city with rubbish-strewn, spittle-flecked sidewalks and car-choked thoroughfares. I remember smelling the pollution in the airport’s baggage-claim area and walking outside to take a bus. The seat I got had piss on it and as we drove along a dismal road I thought, ‘This place looks like hell.’

I didn’t like the panda prison, and it didn’t help that I later got tailed by a couple of undercover cops. But the food in Chengdu was good, the Green Ram Temple was okay, and I rather enjoyed the park – forgot its name – where people rent boats and all the old guys sit around in wife-beaters smoking and drinking green tea.

There was ghastly pollution when I was there, good in a way, because it forced me to be creative in describing it. How many ways are there to describe pollution? China ought to challenge you regarding that question. Paul Theroux thought Chengdu was uninspiring when he was there in the eighties, so at least it’s consistent. I forget what Colin Thubron had to say about it in his Behind the Wall.

Anyhow, I hope I haven’t insulted your adopted home town. My former adopted home town had some atrocious pollution days, too. There’s too much pollution in Asia, generally. That’s one thing I don’t miss. When people in Canada complained about pollution, I always wanted to laugh. I’ve been in the UK for three months and haven’t seen any real pollution at all.

Closing Thoughts

If you aren’t familiar with Troy’s book, Why China Will Never Rule the World (which is a counterpoint to When China Rules the World), check it out on Amazon here.

If you have any thoughts on this interview, leave them below!

108 thoughts on “Why China Will Never Rule the World: The Interview”

  1. Pingback: Hao Hao Report
  2. Fascinating read, Charlie. Its refreshing to hear some criticism/praise from a knowledgable source.

    Wish he had a better impression of Chengdu though, but I guess some people have good experiences and some have bad.

    • The book is pretty overwhelmingly critical, but you really have to expect that just from reading the pitch. I always strive to discover and understand China’s positive aspects but I don’t find the criticism in this book or interview to be unfounded.

      I wish he had a better impression of Chengdu as well, but I’m satisfied that Troy is so honest and unflinching when expressing his point of view.

  3. Excellent choice of questions, really enjoyed the metaphor about Taiwan and Hong Kong to the Mainland, as “… abused children who flee and make something of themselves are to psychotic parents. ”

    Just after a two week stay in Taiwan I felt a great deal of pride, appreciation and hope for the country greater than anything I felt for the nearly 4 years in the People’s Republic.

    Although in recent years I’ve tried to steer away from china books, Troy’s book seems like a good read, and I hope it makes it to our interlibrary loan 😉

  4. I think the author of this book has a very negative opinion of China, which makes it very hard for me to trust his judgement. I live in Taiwan, as well, but I don’t see it as a step forward in Chinese civilization. Unless we assume that certain “Western” values are the best and countries that come closest to us are better than those who don’t.

    As to his view of the Nationalists, it seems to me too harsh. After all, Chiang Kai-Shek was a military man who during his time as leader of the KMT on the mainland had to fight wars incessantly. He united the country, at least part of it, fought against the communist, then the Japanese. Besides, he had to lead the country after the 1911 revolution, where China was extremely unstable and, to be honest, still hadn’t figure out how to fix her problems. Mao, despite not having to fight any major conflict on Chinese soil, did much worse than Chiang. I’m not defending Chiang Kai-Shek, but one must consider the difficulties he faced. Would he have been a better ruler than Mao had he won the Civil War? Well, in my view yes. Perhaps he would have not succeeded the way he did in Taiwan, but he would have opened up the country and tried to implement economic reforms. Better than the Cultural Revolution, I guess.

    Regarding the China-Taiwan relation, one should not forget that Taiwan is Chinese as to her culture. It was colonized by mainlanders in the 17th and 18th century. People here speak Chinese (or Chinese dialects), use Chinese characters, have the same religion and customs as the mainland. Could Taiwan be a nation? Sure. But this issue is highly debated in Taiwan itself. The Constitution of the Republic of China (Taiwan) calls the island of Taiwan simply “the free territory of the Republic of China”, meaning that the ROC officially still claims that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it. The KMT still sticks to the idea that Taiwan is China, but they just don’t see the Communist Party as her legitimate ruler.

  5. I actually find Parfitt’s arguments to be really really superficial. Everything he said could be attributed to someone who traveled through China for three months and then made a prognosis (which is actually what he did – he spent a few months in Mainland China and then wrote his book …)

    Not to say that those superficial things do not exist, but there is so much more to the country than brainwashed peasants spitting on the streets and soul-less corrupt goblins scrambling for cash. If that were it, then every single one of us would have to answer for our presence here.

    There are millions of Chinese who truly care about their country, know all about these problems (much better than Parfitt ever could) and are trying to do something about it. Even if its following a trailblazing Weibo user or seeking out an alternative school or travelling to another country or reading an English book or admonishing those around them to not spit and piss in public. And there are thousands more who are risking their lives to change the country.

    The book would have done much better had he slammed the government and held up the freedom fighters in China as the alternative, instead of just slamming the whole country.

    • Spot on! He set out with an agenda to knock China, and from the interview he clearly misunderstands the West!

      Does China/Asia have ridiculous pollution? Yes. Is it any worse than when the UK created the Industrial Revolution? No, thanks to technology its far more tame – but now we moved our factories over there.

      The rocky islands dispute is nothing to do with the war, its about 2 resource poor countries trying to secure more resources…. umm… why did America, Canada, the UK and friends go to Iraq?… unless he believes in those imaginary WMDs….

      As for not buying things made in China based on quality? I get the viewpoint, and it has some truth, but this is development, and right now its hard to buy a working mobile phone that wasn’t in some way made in China, or computer, or just about a third of the products out there.

      His viewpoint in the interview strikes me of Western nationalism/fascism, its like he’s time poor, so he had time to read the book, but not time to research it. Even his reading list for the book was all the other people that think like him, well that will thrash out a balanced argument! haha

    • Is typical when Westerners/Judeo-Christians “hipsters” draw the dichotomy of “why WE RULE” and the “stone age Chinese” (under a true secular government) don’t (or never should). And these in-the-closet superiority-complexed racists types COME OUT often behind legitimate arguments in response to journalism of “human rights”, “rise of China” (be scared, or not), atheism, “Tibet”, “Taiwan”, “Senkaku”, etc.

      btw. the argument that China should not have fought for North Korea in 1950-53 because “USA helped China defeat Japan” goes to show the lack of awareness and understanding of the REALITY of CCP and USA relationship at the time: for one thing, China’s full scale “WWII” began in 1937 (1939 for Eurocentrically brainwashed people), and while China did have SOME military hardware support from USA regime before the war began (including some volunteer combat pilots like Art Chin, John “Buffalo” Wong), it essentially waned as USA avoided confrontation with Japan as it ran amuck in China, and thus China TURNED TO THE USSR which provided FAR MORE MILITARY SUPPORT TO CHINA at the end of 1937-41. That was until Pearl Harbor, when the USA finally figured out what the REALITY of the situation was. Duh!

  6. Typo: Confucius is not a Tang Dynasty philosopher; he is from the Spring and Autumn Period. I don’t know if that is him in the picture.

  7. Thanks Charlie, for taking the time to ask questions.

    Just to clarify, the take on the Nationalists is not subjective. It comes from, as does much of the commentary on China, research. Generalissimo: Chiang Kai-shek and the China he Lost by Jonathan Fenby and Taiwan: A Political History by Denny Roy are good starting points. You get to see what Chiang did in China in Fenby’s book and what he did in Taiwan in Roy’s. The overarching theme is that he was a pretty crummy ruler (that’s why he lost the civil war; the people realized he and his party were terrible; whole divisions switched sides; Chiang never cared an ounce about ordinary Chinese). Then in Taiwan you get 2-28 (tens of thousands killed) and the White Terror (tens of thousands killed again). If the gentleman who believes my critique of Chiang and co. was too harsh would care to provide a source that counters what Fenby’s and Roy’s books say, I would love to read it. Also, any expat living on Taiwan might want to read Formosa Betrayed by George H. Kerr. It corroborates what Fenby and Roy say. As to the comment that the book should have been about the govn’t vs. “freedom fighters,” I would agree that that’s a good idea for a book, but it is not my book; not the book I set out to write. If I were going to write such a book, which would certainly have an audience, especially if it were translated into Chinese, I would want to interview dissidents personally. Hard to do from Taiwan; impossible now that I don’t live in the region. Perhaps that’s a book for the commenter to write. He has a way with words and seems to care about China. I think such a project would be quite commendable, even noble. Thank you.

    • Hi Troy, thanks for responding, i know it must be tough getting all of the criticism, but it seems the book you set out to write was one of anger and frustration at the “China is going to run it all” rhetoric that still comes out from time to time, so you’re definitely going to get it ;).

      I feel the same way actually, but I find both apologists and harsh critics to be, usually, simplistic, because life in any location is always in the grey areas. I’ve written my share of China rants and I always got hated on for them. My biggest regret is not writing them however, but apologizing for them, ( I did it once, and can never forget it) – so it’s nice to see that you’ll strike back whenever.

      And the Grey Area book would be noble, wouldn’t it??

  8. Hi Sasha,

    The book took five years to put together. It was not born out of anger or frustration. I couldn’t sustain those feelings for that long and didn’t have them anyway. It is true that I found the wow-look-at-China-go argument coming from, mainly, the West, to be ill-considered and silly, and I took advantage of the climate to remind people of China’s many problems. But I was merely filling a gap and couldn’t believe no one had written a similar book. The consensus seemed to be that China is dynamic; I argue that it isn’t, explaining and illustrating why. And criticism doesn’t bother me. Part of the idea is to promote debate, so contrary perspectives to my own contrary perspective are welcome and healthy. And of course I expect counterarguments, naturally. What I think is unusual, however, is that the propositions I lay down are never challenged. They’re dismissed or I’m dismissed. I don’t think a single detractor has argued effectively against, or even identified, one of my arguments. It’s always: he lived in Taiwan; he must be angry; he doesn’t realize it’s only the CCP that’s the issue, etc. And those kinds of statements almost always comes from someone who hasn’t read the book. I would find this annoying – if I didn’t find it so amusing. As for grey areas, I don’t censor myself. I don’t aim for balance because, from a philosophical perspective, I believe it’s wrong and even, in some cases, immoral. The whole idea of research is gather data, think critically, and establish findings, not to determine the range of those findings before you even begin. Imagine a prof saying, ‘Write 5,000 words on the origins of the Holocaust. Make sure it’s nuanced.’ What does that even mean? Don’t criticize too much? What if the criticism is warranted and the author has illustrated there is little to praise? Should he/she then invent things to praise? Doesn’t it then become invalid? I would posit that it’s meaningless to say that life is shades of grey or nuanced. That’s got nothing to do with anything. It’s merely a platitude. But a book about activists… that, as I said, is a good idea. But I wouldn’t read some sort of self-censored book. The writer must be as honest as possible; he/she must employ logic, evidence, thought. As you know. Diatribe out of the way, are you planning on writing a book about China? Are the short stories (which are very good, btw) just a leg stretcher, or are you content with that for the time being? There has to be a topic you’ve identified. China seems to have limitless topics. I guess the trick is to get someone to read about them. Cheers, Troy

    • Hey Troy,

      I guess grey area does sound like “nothing” when you look at it from the standpoint of nuance as platitude. I once heard someone say that if you stay in a place for a month you can write a book, stay there for a few years and you can write nothing – or something along those lines. And I think that hints at the rainbow lurking within the grey, if i can wax hippy for a second.

      The essays are leg stretchers I suppose, I have a few hundred pages of grey area stuff that may have run into the problem you mention: a bunch of words that describe all and nothing at the same time. (Having written all these words, I have profound respect for anyone that can finish a book.) So I decided to choose one topic and one issue and work on that: http://www.thelastmasters.com I am working on this for now. Heading to Emei again this morning actually to visit the remnants of that mountain’s kung fu people.

      I have been sparring with Charlie about China and China’s soul/future for (years) weeks now after he read your book and became a disciple. Out of trotz I read everything about you BUT the book and decided to join the “annoying/amusing” crowd that dismissed you and your book without having read it. Man it was hard to admit that publicly in a comment thread in which I already stated “the book would have been better …” But all is well that ends well right? I am going to buy it and read it and then reject you as an angry extremist.

  9. I reserve the right to remain silent during your gentle appreciation of my confession and Charlie’s guffawing “i told you so’s” until after i have read the book and prepared my scathing takedown.

  10. Sascha,

    I have disciples? I’m going to have to tithe them, maybe start a cult. 😉 I look forward to the scathing take down. I hope you didn’t think I was belittling your writing efforts. It’s just that if I get a chance to talk to someone who likes to write and is really trying to write, I usually pick their brains. It’s interesting to know what their intentions/motivations are. I wouldn’t call what you’re doing “grey area.” It’s something you’re interested in for starters and I doubt you’re inserting much bias (which we all have). I associate “grey” with striving for balance, just for the sake of it; to be “politically correct,” to excessively self-censor, etc. For me, the result of that approach is often bland, the result distorted. What you said about ‘stay in a place for a month…’ is true enough. That’s an inherent weakness in travel literature: a lack of depth. But I tried to mitigate that by adding explanations and potted histories. Can one achieve real meaning within the confines of 400 page book? I think so, if done correctly, but it’s good to remember that your book is just one of many and that people have to read many more to get a bigger picture. Careful of those kung fu kicks. Troy

    • China’s growing economic and political clout leads to a lot of hyperbole in general and this book is hardly alone in that regard. The book that this title is a reference to, When China Rules the World, begins with “Soon, China will rule the world” and went on to sell a quarter of a million copies and collect multiple literary awards. With that said, the title is certainly a controversial hook designed to draw you in and more closely examine the author’s claims.

      I think the book is commonly misunderstood as one that makes arguments like “China demonstrates that it is uncivilized by spitting and stealing intellectual property, therefore it will not rule the world” as Sascha claims they are surface arguments (note that is not an actual quote from the book). I didn’t find the book to be those kind of arguments at all, and found it to be intellectually sound and truthful.

      There are praises to be sung about China and other stories to be told (as Sascha mentioned) but this is simply one book amidst a growing tide of China literature. I don’t think it has a responsibility to be “everything to everyone” regarding China, the author makes his points and in dozens of cases I was nodding my head in agreement with the author’s claims.

      The point has been raised that Troy only spent 3 months in the mainland. I don’t claim to know everything about China but I’ve spent 8 years in the country traveling to hundreds of cities meeting thousands of people and find his claims to be mostly very accurate according to what I’ve observed. I’ve dedicated a large portion of that time to gaining a better understanding of China through personal accounts and literature and I learned a lot from reading this book.

  11. Thanks, and the title is a bit tongue in cheek. It’s supposed to be mocking of the When China Discovered/Will Rule the World books. Some readers will get that, I think. Books like Jacques’s are more deductive, quantitative, and theoretical. “From this chart, we can see that in 2050….” I don’t think that’s the way to understand a country, really. Who’s missing? The people. What’s missing? The culture; the mindset, unless they’re inserted for praise (and there are things to praise, e.g. the work ethic). Jacques argues that Chinese food and a fondness for kung fu films will contribute to China’s cultural appeal. I think that sort of argument is loopy, but, hey, I’m jealous because he’s sold hundreds of thousands of books and it’s taken me more than a year for mine to go on sale outside of North America, e.g. Hong Kong. People like Jacques’s book because it’s positive and optimistic, and because it speaks to some kind of social justice. Here’s a European saying, ‘Take notice Western-led world, an Asian country is about to outclass you.’ It’s a nice idea, but it isn’t going to happen. His ideas are rooted in his Marxist beliefs. I think he’s delusional. And there are so many mistakes in that book, it isn’t funny. Almost everything he says about the Chinese language is wrong and he posits that Sun Yat-sen got his ideas from Mencius, ironic, because Sun Yat-sen got his ideas from American thinkers like Lincoln. Sun wanted a China based on American democratic principles. That’s a big mistake. A bit like saying Mao was inspired by Plato. But people will believe what they want to believe. They can read a book like When China Rules the World and feel they’ve done something intellectual. ‘My goodness, look at this pie chart. Well, well.’ My book’s sub-title, Travels in the Two Chinas, is more accurate, really, but you need an attention grabbing title and it’s not like the title is inappropriate. We were going to call it The Paper Tiger, but we didn’t think Westerners would know what that meant. Zhi hu, in Chinese, is what Mao called the US: only having the look of power, but really just ‘made of paper.’ Anyway, you need a brassy title these days. Sad, but that’s how it is.

  12. Troy: If you don’t mind me asking, what in your 10 years in Taiwan were you doing? Had you imagined at your first exposure to Chinese culture and history that you’d become engrossed in these these seemingly basic misunderstandings the West has regarding China?

    Simply curious as I’ve had several opportunities to chat with Charlie about some of these same questions, but sometimes being an expat of a similar cultural background, with a similar interest/experience in China and having similar motives to remain here leaves me feeling that what we’re doing is simply positive affirmation (not speaking on Charlie’s behalf!)

    I’d have to agree with Sascha (not only in not having read your book) but the title carries the same tone as a lot of articles and writings written recently about China: cynical. I’ve noticed lately a trend in lesser pieces lately of caustic criticism directed towards China (haha please don’t ask me to cite them, I think I might be able to point you towards them, but this is piecemeal memory of a collective of things I’ve seen over the past few months). Sascha, being the author of one such article, gave me a concise explanation as to the motivation for the piece but in discussing the topic face to face was quick to remind me of a deeper attraction with the country and the culture surrounding it that somewhat resonates with my own (see: aforementioned reference to positive affirmation). But I suppose that remains to another realm of writing: the passive observer. I guess everyone has their own way putting a window in a wall.

  13. Hey Jacob,

    I’m not sure what you mean about self-affirmation, but as to your two questions: I was teaching English in Taiwan. And, no, I never imagined I would become engrossed in China studies. I started reading books about China and might have given up had I not discovered the Soong Dynasty. It kind of went from there and I read dozens of China books, mainly histories and biographies, but some literature, too. I also read a lot of travel literature and thought I could combine the two genres I was most familiar with at the time. Cynical, yes. It is. Cynical, to steal a definition from the interwebs, means “Doubtful as to whether something will happen or is worthwhile.” So, yes, completely cynical. But again, I don’t think such labels are useful. Arguments are valid, invalid, partly valid, etc. I don’t read something and think, ‘The writer sounds angry, or cynical,’ or whatever. I just think. Is there merit to this argument? Does it ring true? Is there supporting evidence? etc. For me, motivation is secondary, sometimes not important. Everyone inserts their personal bias, so I don’t think we have to examine motivation too much. Besides, that’s just another way of avoiding the arguments. But hey, as you say, everyone’s got a different way of looking at things. Cheers.

    • I didn’t mean to chew into the title in a negative light. Does it have a bit of a bite to its tone? Sure. I think you agreed in that this sort of thing helps sales and that’s something I get (I own and operate a retail business in China if that gives you any indication).

      In terms of positive affirmation I think there’s a number of fundamental differences in culture and history that bias opinion as you said. My bachelor’s in history so if there’s one thing I understand it’s just that: you can’t escape your own feelings on a matter regardless of how deeply you explored it. So, regarding sharing experiences and anecdotes connected to greater social symptoms and historical context sometimes I feel like when discussing the subject of China and it’s future with others it’s like staring in a mirror. It’s fun looking at the nuances of my face but no matter how long I stare it’s still the same image looking back.

      I guess what I meant to ask is this. Did you hit this same wall in tackling the subject of your book?

      • Jacob,

        I should probably sleep on this question (it’s been a long week), but not sure I know quite what you mean. Are you asking if I could have come to another conclusion? If I were capable of it? Are you implying that non-Chinese can speculate about China all they like but because they’re not socialized in that culture, not inner circle, they’ll always come to conclusions which are extensions of their own conditioned reasoning or something? Yes? No? Something like that? Or that it’s too complex/dynamic a subject to comment meaningfully on? Thanks.

  14. @Troy: i admire your honesty in saying “I’m not an economist’ and your reluctance to forecast China’s economic future, but surely China’s power stems almost entirely from it’s new economic clout? Apart from economically, it seems to have little global influence. If you’re gonna make bold statements like “China will never rule the world” surely you can’t dismiss any economic questions by replying “I’m not an economist”.
    BTW: maybe an alternate book title would be: “China Will Never Rule the World Because It Doesn’t Want To”. ????

  15. Mr. Parfitt is clearly well-read, historically informed, and capable of writing insightful critical analysis. His approach to the China-as-the-next-global-superpower discussion is a useful corrective to the blandishments of China apologists.

    But I take issue with certain rhetoric that Mr. Parfitt uses in this interview. Like some critics of his book (which I have not read, and will refrain from commenting upon,) it seemed to me at times Mr. Parfitt was going out of his way to characterize things in a negative light. I really enjoyed the interview, and agreed with most of it, but found myself taken aback at a few inflammatory remarks interwoven with the well-reasoned critiques.

    For example, I think Mr. Parfitt makes a good point that certain myths about China, which loom large in the minds of Westerners, impair their ability to see China with a critical eye. Yet in the midst of this illuminating observation, he includes the rather grand claim, “For starters, there seems to be an abhorrence for excellence there.”

    I’m sure that Mr. Parfitt had something specific in mind with this remark – and there may be a case that can be made to back it up – but such a harsh condemnation cries for some evidentiary follow-up. It’s hard to imagine how people in China (or anywhere for that matter) could abhor excellence. (I am a big fan of excellence personally.) Without further elaboration, that statement comes across as flippant.

    With regards to the DiaoYu island dispute, Mr. Parfitt says that ‘the situation can be distilled to China’s crippling lack of critical thinking, self-awareness, and reflection.’ That seems glib.

    Leveling these criticisms at the Chinese leadership is certainly fair game. It is difficult to ignore the sad dearth of self-awareness among China’s leadership; whether China is crippled by a lack of critical thinking is a point open to debate. But aside from the question of whether or not these descriptors can fairly be applied to China generally, how they apply to China’s approach to the DiaoYu islands dispute is entirely unclear.

    There are plenty of reasonable grounds on which to criticize the Chinese leadership’s approach to the issue – their nationalistic rhetoric, their dubious territorial claims to regional waterways, their aggressive posturing of naval power – but as far as I can tell, their approach seems deliberate and premeditated, hindered by strategic miscalculation perhaps, but not crippled by a lack of critical thinking or reflection.

    I am far from an expert on the matter, and I recommend, to anyone interested in learning about China’s current naval ambitions and capacities, this informative podcast, hosted by Kaiser Kuo: http://popupchinese.com/lessons/sinica/the-state-of-the-navy

    Even describing minor things about China, Mr. Parfitt is casually pejorative. He calls the Chengdu panda research base “the panda prison” without explanation. I don’t understand his gripe with the place – as far as I can tell, the Chengdu panda research base is a fine facility, on par with most Western zoos. The two pandas in my hometown zoo were born there. A case could be made about the moral hazards of zoos generally – about the ethical ramifications of holding animals captive for human entertainment – but Mr. Parfitt’s dig is not framed in the context of animal rights, just offered as one more in a litany of China’s apparent shortcomings.

    The offhandedly dismissive tone that occasionally leaks into Mr. Parfitt’s writing does a disservice to his well-grounded analysis. It distracts from more meaningful critiques, (leading to prolonged nitpicking, as demonstrated here,) and gives grounds to critics who might want to offhandedly dismiss him. It also generates a certain reactive zeal, and predictably attracts additional hype. I imagine Mr. Parfitt anticipated this consequence of his polemic; his willingness to engage commenters (on Chengduliving and elsewhere) suggests that he is comfortable with it.

    • Thanks for the link on the Navy Eli. Is the Chinese Navy one of your interests? The reason I ask is that Iam currently writing a thesis paper on the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and am looking for source documents and any other material.

  16. Thanks for the interview Charlie. I don’t need much to turn me off reading a ‘big picture’ book about China. This was enough.

  17. Tigerkuma, thanks. I agree with you when you say “surely China’s power stems almost entirely from its new economic clout.” That’s partly what I’m saying: outside business and trade, China has little to offer, infinitesimal appeal, practically no intellectual or cultural influence, therefore how can it ever “rule the world?” You say, ‘surely you can’t dismiss any economic questions by replying “I’m not an economist”’, but I didn’t dismiss the question. I said I didn’t know the answer, that I’m not qualified to speculate on China’s economic future. Economics is not my area. I sort of understand what you’re driving at, but I think your line of reasoning necessitates a couple of questions. 1.) Does one need to be an economist to argue that China will never become a great nation? 2.) What makes for a great nation? Economics alone? (And please see earlier post re book title being somewhat tongue in cheek.) As for China’s not wanting to rule the world, sorry, but I don’t think that’s a very developed counterargument. You must be aware there’s a widespread belief that China is on its way, that it’s rising to counter the US in various capacities. The book When China Rules the World has been mentioned several times on this thread and it argues that China has much more to offer than just business. Many Chinese think the twenty-first century belongs to China, whatever that means. Americans talk a lot about China’s great rise and Beijing hopes to expand its influence beyond economics. Look at the hundreds of Confucius Institutes.

    Eli, please, just call me Troy. Mr Parfitt is way too formal. You say that I include “the rather grand claim, (that) ‘… there seems to be an abhorrence for excellence there.’” Right, well, I would suggest that the hedging language “there seems to be” disqualifies it as a rather grand claim. Can one use such hedging language in making a rather grand claim? Not sure. Let’s try it out: ‘Uranium seems to be radioactive.’ No, it doesn’t work.(But, hey. You’ve also hedged with ‘rather,’ so you know what I mean.)

    If you’d like an example of an area, not a case, where excellence is lacking, I think education is a good one. A quick look at the Times Higher Education World University Ranking tells us that China has three universities in the top 200. Excellence is, as you know, a curriculum or program or university goal. China seems to be sorely lacking in this regard, yet it prides itself on its educational traditions. I would say China also lacks excellence – nay, appears to have a profound aversion for that thing called quality – in many other (overlapping) areas: government, human rights, public safety, rule of law, environmental protection, freedom of expression, innovation, wealth distribution, social justice, oh, and diplomacy, which brings us to the Diaoyu islands.

    I disagree that criticism should be restricted to the government. The government is to blame, but so are those hooligans who smashed up shop fronts, cars, etc. I’m not referring to peaceful demonstrators, but rather the flag burning, criminal contingent. Like policy makers, those people aren’t thinking (the peaceful demonstrators probably aren’t thinking very much either). Those down-with-the-Japanese-devil types are told something by the so called media, or their neighbour, or the guy at the fish market and the next thing you know they’re lighting Japan’s national flag on fire while wearing a bandana cutting off circulation to their brain. I mean, if Canada and the US were at loggerheads over some shitty rocks, I would be disappointed in both sides. I would want to see the thing go to court and I wouldn’t want to see or hear any stupid anti-American rhetoric, or anti-Canadian rhetoric on their side. In Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell refers to the “primitive patriotism which could be appealed to whenever… necessary.” And that’s what’s going on re those islands. What I’m saying is a more thoughtful approach is required. The puppets and the puppeteers need to be more reflective. The lack of critical thinking, self-awareness, and reflection re the island-dispute is reflective of a more widespread (and crippling; that’s the right word), lack of said qualities. Please see ‘excellence’ above.

    As for the Chengdu Panda Breeding and Research Center, I thought it was a dump. What else can I say? Negative? I guess so. Flippant and dismissive? Absolutely. And my visit there was bizarre, as I describe in the book. The place is not a zoo, so no, it doesn’t, as you say, have much to do with “the moral hazards of zoos generally.” I’m no expert, but I wonder if seeing all the tourists affects libido. I mean, I would imagine a panda might find it difficult to get in the mood watching me walking by. And are pandas supposed to sit around in tiny, concrete cubicles in blast-furnace hot, polluted cities in the lowlands? But then, you don’t know what the centre looks like, do you? You’ve never been there, have you? Yet it’s me who’s making off-hand remarks, yeah?

    As for being negative, I don’t see what that has to do with anything. Does being negative invalidate an argument or perspective? If so, how so? Should I be more positive? Toward what or whom? Why? Thank you.

    • Troy,

      The hedge modifies the certainty that the author attaches to the claim, not the scope of the claim itself.

      A sweeping claim is a sweeping claim, regardless of the degree of confidence with which it is asserted. Your uranium example is an invalid comparison, because it is not a grand claim to begin with, it is a statement of known fact. If you were to have said, “applesauce seems radioactive,” it would remain a grand claim, hedge aside.

      But of course your ‘hedge’ defense is a bait-and-switch anyway, because you proceed to move away from the contention that there is an abhorrence of excellence, in favor defending the position that there is a lack of excellence.

      I’ve got no problem with that argument. I agree that there are serious problems with the Chinese education system. Maybe China’s education system is not excellent. But then you try to sneak in the back door by equating this absence of excellence, a point for which you provide substantiation, with an aversion to excellence, a point for which you offer none.

      You double down on this specious correlation by invoking additional areas where China is lacking in quality, suggesting this as further evidence of an aversion to it.

      I reject the notion that China’s social problems are attributable to an ‘abhorrence of excellence,’ or an ‘aversion to quality,’ and I think those motifs are highly fraught. They shift agency away from structural factors, which are supremely influential, and reduce the explanation for social problems to something that resembles bad taste by the citizens. If China’s problem is an aversion to quality, then it just needs cultivate a predilection for it.

      We agree, with regard to the DiaoYu islands, that the protesters are not driving China’s government’s approach towards the issue. You describe their relationship as that of puppet and puppeteer. So how can we ‘distil the situation’ to the characteristics we observe in the puppets?

      There are arguments to be made indicting China’s strategic approach to the issue, but you confine your explanation of the ‘lack of critical thinking and reflection’ tag to the protestors. It does not follow that their shortcomings necessarily apply to China’s overall approach however, unless the tail is somehow wagging the dog.

      I confess to hairsplitting here. I do think that China’s handling of the issue is problematic. But conflating the thoughtlessness of demonstrators with thoughtlessness on behalf of Chinese leadership is a mistake.

      As far as Chengdu’s panda park goes – yes I have been there, quite a few times. I guess it just doesn’t meet your lofty panda park standards, despite being “the world’s most successful panda breeding center,” according to the BBC. (http://tinyurl.com/2bqguhd)

      Lastly, I didn’t criticize you for being negative – you can leave that straw man on the shelf – I criticized you for using rhetoric that outpaced your argumentation, which happens to skew negative. If it were unsubstantiated flattery that you were spouting, I would see fit to similarly criticize.

  18. Eli,

    You make some good points and I really put my foot in my mouth re assuming you’d not been to the panda centre. I’m extremely busy at the moment, but will try to provide better explanations to the points raised when I can. Thank you.

  19. Regarding the “abhorrence of excellence” point, I recently heard a Chinese academic relate how at a conference a prominent Chinese official said that China wasn’t interested in Nobel Prizes because what the country needs right now is existing technology that will help develop its national economy (as opposed, I presume, to breakthrough science that won’t be applicable for a decade or two).

    So maybe it’s more a “dismissal (for now) of excellence” for very practical reasons, which would still support Troy’s basic point about there being a very deliberate lack of a pursuit of excellence at the policy level…

  20. Eli,

    The panda centre. When I was there, it was blistering hot and the air was so polluted it was almost metallic. Certainly, it couldn’t have been good for the pandas to breathe and I wondered if such heat were suitable for a large, furry animal whose natural habitat is the mountains. I arrived by bus and the driver and a guard immediately got into a nasty spat, a real Sichuanese shouting match. Welcome to the flagship of panda research centres. (And how many panda research centres could there be anyway?) Anyway, inside, I saw pandas in cement cubicles looking pretty unhappy. Now, I know it’s a breeding centre and happiness might not be top priority (and what does a happy panda look like? I’m not sure), but still, it made me sad (for the animals, lest that need to be pointed out). I also thought the place was dumpy and it had weird, cutesy English signs saying things like “Wildlife is not food.” The hao ke ai signs didn’t exactly match, what seemed to me, a gloomy environment. Re the educational segment of the tour, I wrote, “Inside a stupendously insipid museum, we were treated to an English-language film on the giant panda’s breeding habits, which was really the only decipherable information provided on the entire excursion. The male, accented narrator’s voice explained: “The mother cleans the yearling by licking it. She even eats its feces. This intense mothering is something that I can really relate to…” Little joke there. But I also wrote, “The red panda, which resembles a rust-coloured raccoon, appeared to be fairing much better in an environment of actual trees and grass.” Better means better than the big, black and white pandas. I conclude by saying I came away feeling “profoundly disappointed.” But I used a similar approach in the interview. I said I liked some things about Chengdu, e.g. the food and Ren Min Park, and didn’t like others. But you’ve not mentioned the compliments, just the “casually pejorative” manner in which I deal with the panda centre, making the curious claim that I do not frame the “panda prison” remark in the context of animal rights. I did think it ironic that China’s national symbol was housed in that centre, but my argument is framed in part in terms of animal rights.

    I think you’re on firmer ground when you call into question my abhorrence for excellence remark and my poor attempt to clarify. Perhaps I should have used more precise language. Maybe “It can seem that…” vs. “It seems that…” would have been better. The statement, “It can seem that there is an abhorrence for excellence in China,” is probably what I should have said. Now, do I really think people abhor excellence in China? No. The statement is, in this form, admittedly, used partly for rhetorical effect. But there is such a dearth of quality (if I may be permitted to equate quality with excellence) that one wonders…. It can seem that… quality /excellence/doing things well can be held in low regard. Excellence is often not a goal, in other words. It’s not about quality, but quantity. More is better. At least that’s how it seemed to me.

    I assume you’re familiar with Hu Shi’s The Life of Mr. Chabuduo? Students in Taiwan have to read it. I don’t know if they read it in China or not. It doesn’t prove there’s a glut of mediocrity in Chinese society, but it could be considered an indication. It’s online if you want to see it. There’s an English translation at the bottom for anyone who struggles with complex characters or pinyin. http://www.readchinese.net/chabuduoxiansheng

    In your last post, you said, “I reject the notion that China’s social problems are attributable to an ‘abhorrence of excellence,’ or an ‘aversion to quality.” Fine, but I never said China’s social problems were attributable to an abhorrence of excellence or an aversion to quality. What I said was, “I would say China also lacks excellence – nay, appears to have a profound aversion for that thing called quality – in many other (overlapping) areas….” That means a lack of quality is present in those areas, the implication being it is a contributing factor, not the sole factor.

    Re rejection of your grand claim comment, you’ve got me there. An established fact cannot be considered a claim. A point to you.

    Re the Diaoyu Islands, however, you said, “conflating the thoughtlessness of demonstrators with thoughtlessness on behalf of Chinese leadership is a mistake.” But I’m not conflating anything. My original statement was “Again, the situation can be distilled to China’s crippling lack of critical thinking, self-awareness, and reflection. Rather than despise Japan, as the CCP encourages its citizens to do, people might want to ask why….” in which you can see I criticize the government and the people (meaning the people who buy into the government-backed stage performance that is this dispute). That’s the sad reality of crummy government. The propagandists in office lose and so do the people who buy into that propaganda. It’s a lose-lose situation. China’s government is more or less a lying machine; officials don’t have the intelligence or foresight or balls to realize that picking a fight with Japan and spurring its citizens toward violence is not going to get anyone anywhere. Sure, it shores up power, creates a temporary diversion, makes people aware of the terrible other, but those are not victories, not in the larger sense. But I imagine you’d agree with me on that point.

    Your point that the perceived glibness, negativity, choice of phrase, etc. detracts from the effectiveness of my argument is noted. I suppose I feel rather passionately about the subject and that sometimes colours my commentary. I’d like to think that it’s an informed flippancy or denigration, at least. I think that when it comes to certain Chinese themes, it’s easy for me to be dismissive. I’ve thought about them, don’t see much or any merit in them, so I dismiss them. Chinese medicine is a good example. I’ve taken it, had acupuncture done numerous times, read books about it, talked to Chinese traditional doctors and ethnically Chinese “Western” doctors about it, and, although no expert certainly, I can’t see much in it. Acupuncture is interesting and I think it can work for muscle pain or tendonitis or things like that, but I don’t believe that it and other forms of TCM have much legitimacy. Now, if express that view as I just have, people might think ‘That seems measured, reasonable.’ But if I say TCM is largely a racket exploiting people’s ignorance and offering false hope, then I’ve provoked a reaction, no doubt. But in both instances I’ve said what I believe. I guess it’s just a matter of personal taste. But I appreciate your feedback and will let you have the last word. I don’t think I have the time to comment any further and Charlie’s posts are marching on. But really, thanks for the comments. You’ve made me think about things, always good.
    And you never once belittled me for living in Taiwan. 😉 Cheers, Troy

    • Troy,

      You make it difficult for me when you come back with such a polite and measured response. Is it too much to ask that you have a couple cocktails, stub your toe, and write a response while the pain is still fresh? My nitpickery requires sensationalism. Your moderate retrenchment leaves me with precious little territory to call my own. I will take one more swipe at the issues, though I respect your decision to bow out of the discussion gracefully.

      Re excellence, your criticism of China’s mediocrity is totally justified. I seek only to make a point about intentionality. Let me use the example of an abusive parent.

      You say, ‘look at the way that parent treats his kids, he clearly does not love them.’ I say, ‘he loves his kids, that mistreatment is just a terribly misconstrued expression of his love.’ I think China’s relationship to excellence is somewhat analogous. If you asked someone in power, I’m sure they would claim an aspiration toward excellence the same way that an abusive parent would claim love for his children – with tragic sincerity.

      Re the DiaoYu islands, I think the question is ‘how much are the decision makers imbibing their own nationalist propaganda?’ Maybe the strategists behind China’s approach to the DiaoYu islands don’t hate Japan any more than the architects of the US’ invasion of Iraq really feared weapons of mass destruction.

      Ginning up patriotic fervor could be a pre-meditated tactic within a calculated attempt to expand China’s territorial sphere of influence. In that sense, I’m not sure it is a lose-lose, since unleashing a tide of ignorant xenophobia might actually have the desired effect of increasing China’s leverage in the dispute by putting economic pressure on Japan (http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-10-10/noda-calls-for-china-talks-as-island-dispute-threatens-growth.)

      Granted, that distinction is not exculpating, since the difference between being racist and inciting racism for political means is ethically trivial. But I suspect the folly of the people running the show is not thoughtlessness, though it may be something equally insidious.

      Re the panda park, I am ready to fight you in the street, wearing hand wraps dipped in glue and glass, like an ancient Thai kick boxer. 😛

      Seriously though, I’m sorry it left you disappointed. Maybe it was the hot weather and pollution; Chengdu is unbearably hot in the summer, and unbearably polluted pretty much all the time. I’m sure you’re correct that the pandas would be happier in their native lowland forest habit, had it not been decimated by human encroachment. There are many negative externalities over which panda base has no control – those dice have already been cast. It remains a good facility, and a fun place to visit, those shortcomings notwithstanding.

      I would mention the bamboo-lined paths, the fish-filled lake, the free roaming peacocks, the numerous verdant outdoor enclosures and air conditioned indoor areas for pandas… however, I think I know the real reason you didn’t enjoy it – you didn’t get to see a panda on his hind legs, stumblingly clumsily while swatting at an apple being dangled above his head: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xNYK2q7L0ec. Most of the times that I’ve visited, the pandas were lethargic and boring. But I saw this in person once – its part of the panda exercise regime – and it was delightful.

      Thanks for your thought-provoking post, and your generous responses here in the thread; reading them has been a pleasure. Your ability to engage dissenters in substantive and courteous manner is admirable. We will keep an eye out for your next publication. Best regards.

  21. Sorry, I said I didn’t have time to reply, but I lied.

    Eli, you’re not going to score any points with a certain emotionally and cognitively schizophrenic contingent of expatriate China watchers quoting the likes of Business Week and failing to call me a racist tourist who wouldn’t know Beijing from betel nut. Geez, all these thoughtful comments, impressive lexical items, and ‘I think this is where our opinions diverge slightly’ comments represent a departure from the usual anonymous vitriol and ‘You-just-don’t-understand-THE-REAL-CHINA-bubs!’ accusations that abound on the tubular interwebs vis-a-vis the Sino-sphere. Could it be China debates are maturing? That its participants are becoming more knowledgeable, analytical, and articulate? Gosh, one shudders at the very thought.

    Cheers, Troy

  22. I guess none of you are chinese, well, I am, I live in Chengdu, a “uninspiring” city. I’m not gonna defend CCP, I’m not happy with it either, but I can tell you if I have to choose, I prefer socialism.

    I not gonna say China will rule the world, if you go through China’s history you can see we’re never interested in that kind of thing.

    I’ve been visiting American news sites everyday and read all comments Americans made about China. I got tell you, Troy is no different from them. “China steals technology from us”, “Stop buying junk made in China”, “free tibet”, “Han Chinese are piles of poop”, blah….

    “Taiwan was never really part of China”, wow, big talk. I really don’t have the responsibility to teach you China’s history and get you rid of embarrassment.

    First of all, you think Qing dynasty isn’t China, so Taiwan isn’t belongs to China but to Qing dynasty. Who put that thought in your mind, Yeah, Qing Dynasty ruled by Man (满) people, but that doesn’t mean they are not 中国人, “Chinese” is what you aliens call us, we call us 中国人. And 中国人 includes all kinds of people who have been lived in this place for thousands years. Can you say African-American aren’t American, if you do you will be charged of racism, am I right? Yes, Han and other minorities fight againt each other in history, but when Japanese invaded in china, we fight back as a whole country.

    Secondly you said Qing dynasty only ruled Taiwan for ten years. Are you out of your mind, Qing dynasty took control of Taiwan in 1684, and forced to give it up to Japanese in 1894, you see, 1894-1684 = 210.

    Thirdly, who ruled Taiwan before Qing Dynasty took over. It was Zheng Chenggong(郑成功)family, who is he, you said you lived in Taiwan for ten years, you tell me. He is a chancellor of Ming Dynasty prior to Qing dynasty, Ming dynasty was ruled by Han(汉) people, when Ming dynasty lost mainland to Qing dynasty they retreated to Taiwan and took control in 1661, you see 1684-1661 = 23.

    Who controlled Taiwan before Zheng Chenggong got it back. At the beginning of 17th century, Qing and Man were fighting each other, Spanish grab this chance conquered and colonized Taiwan, in 1642, Dutch colonists kicked spanish out of Taiwan and controlled it for 20 years. And before these colonists Taiwan was ruled by 中国人.

    Need I keep going? Here is advice, if you want to write a book about a country, PLEASE PLEASE spend more time to study it, because you are defining a whole nation and its people, and speading your idea to the rest of the world.

    And don’t play god in front of me, how many of the advanced contries have a clean history, how many of you advanced nations didn’t do anything horrible things to other countries or people. Need I list them out. And don’t play saver in front of me? United States assisted China the best they could to fight Japanese, really? United States declared war on Japan in 1941, because they were attacked by Japan. When was Japan began to invade China? 1937. What did you do during the four years, nothing. So don’t tell me you helped China, we helped each other, that’s all.

    You said “Why did China go to war against the US and its allies (in Korea)?” Can I ask you why the US and its allies go to war against Korea, who are you to stop a nation’s efforts to reunite. Yeah, I know your government tell you you were fighting evil socialism and led people to freedom, to democracy, you fight like heroes, the chosen one. Is that really true?

    And China is bluffing other countries? Who is the biggest bluffer of the world? Who is there when there is a chaos? Who is sending warships surround china? Who holds the largest miltary spending more than the rest of the world combined?

    And Panda in prison? Do you know why panda is now a rare animal? Go to ask Roosevelt, maybe he knows. Do you know what’s the level a species has to preserve to survive?

    You know nothing and you fancies yourself as a writer? Please try to wear your learning a little bit lightly.

    Usually I don’t comment on foreigner’s article, because they wear colored glasses. And I just want to know what they think of China, but its not my duty to correct them. When I read your guys’ comments I’m really happy to see some people finally like China for what it’s worth being liked, and hate china for what it deserves to be hated.

    • Hi WTG,

      Thanks for your comment. Since this post was published almost a month ago, it’s possible that Troy will not respond to your comments. I will share a few of my own thoughts though.

      You say you prefer socialism, but I do not consider China to be very socialist. In Marxist theory, socialism is a transitional state between capitalism and the realization of communism. Looking honestly at conditions in China right now, does socialism fit? Record-breaking speed of growth in income inequality, most executions in the world, State-threatening corruption, etc. I see it as a transition from feudalism to capitalism. Regardless, China is one of the last remaining “officially” socialist holdouts, along with 3 other countries on the planet (Lao, Cuba, and Vietnam), down from several dozen countries in the mid-20th century.

      Your comments on Taiwan are interesting. I don’t know enough about Taiwan’s history in particular to have much of an opinion on them though.

      Your claims about Western journalists saying that China steals technology, haphazardly manufactures inexpensive products for the world market, and suppresses expression are true. Are those not facts to you? Many journalists write positive things about China as well, especially about the rate of market growth and hard-working nature of the Chinese nation. But right now much of the China debate is framed around the fear that China is rising to become a major world player that doesn’t want to play by the rules of the rest of the world. In many ways, China comes with it’s own rules, and this presents a problem since the power structure and diplomacy of the world has been well established for many decades. When Japan skyrocketed economically in the 1980’s, they were an advanced and modern country that cooperated well with the established powers. China, not so much. It’s note a hate of the Han people or anything like that.

      About World War 2 and America defeating Japan – I don’t think anyone has ever made the argument that the U.S. did that for the sake of China. We joined the war for our own sake, as did everyone else. It was China’s luck that we had common enemies, and that we defeated our enemy. We didn’t do anything previous to Pearl Harbor because it wasn’t our war to fight.

      You mention foreigners wearing colored glasses. I believe that in a lot of cases foreigners know Chinese history more than Chinese people. Not because Chinese people are dumb, but because they often lack two things. The first is knowledge about recent history, since many details are neither taught through China’s education system nor made available for those with interest (a related point is that reading does not seem to be a popular activity in China, certainly in comparison to Western countries). The second is because only a tiny fraction of mainland Chinese have the means to leave the country and to cultivate an objective look at their own culture along with a big-picture look at the world. Most foreigners in China have been to many countries, speak Eastern and Western languages, etc.

      I’ve been in China for 7 years now and many of my best friends are Chinese. One of my best Chinese friends, who I’ve lived with for almost 5 years, has been in Chengdu for about the same length of time as I have (he’s from another city in Sichuan) and we talk about these and other issues often. Occasionally I will discuss these type of issues in person with other Chinese people (very carefully, of course) and there’s a clear trend for Chinese people to think that all foreigners are alike. This is very clearly not true, but the argument that “foreigners are this or that” is ever-present. I hope that you can look at us as willing participants of China, who care about it but are fully capable of identifying and speaking about its deficiencies. That is what this interview is all about.

      Thanks again.

      • I think that it is interesting to note from both yours (Charlie) and WTG’s comments the significant difference in how both sides interpret history, but I have to say that I would be more helpful if Chinese folks who share WTG’s opinions were less emotional in their delivery.

        But, having said that, I would agree with WTG that westerners do, in fact, tend to toe the “party line” when it comes to commentary on China in particular and Asia in general.

        It seems disingenuous to imply that xenophobia or even racial chauvinism plays no significant role in how the west views the rise of Asian economies.

        Japan’s economic rise was also met with some considerable degree of hostility, fear, outrage, and no small amount of blatantly xenophobic racial opposition. Just like the Chinese, the Japanese were accused of “underhandedness” in their industrial and economic practices, and were heavily criticized for stealing technology and ridiculed for producing low-quality products. And there was the accusation that the Japanese were out to “take over” the world. Even Korea, to a lesser degree, faced this same type of hostility.

        The problem was that most of this shrill alarm over Japan’s rise was exaggerated at best and made up at worst. This happened even though, as you say, Japan was a solid democracy. Likewise, so much of what I see being written about China follows this same pattern – lots of exaggeration, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we discover that much of it is made-up.

        My guess is that China would be accused in this way regardless of whether it was democratic or authoritarian.In fact, if China held free elections tomorrow, I doubt that the shrill alarm about her rise would dissipate.

        • I agree with you about the tone of Western media coverage on China – much of it tends to follows the “they’re cheating” framing agenda.

          I feel that Japan’s rise was quite different though because we were in a strategic and multi-faceted partnership that was economic, military, and cultural. Japan and the US each saw each other as their main ally in the West and East and were united against Soviet Russia. The US bought Japanese exports in incredible numbers while Japan financed our debt and invested heavily in the US as the value of the Yen went way up. Japan innovated in important and incredible ways while proving that it could out-engineer the US.

          The relationship between China and the US is more tumultuous by comparison – Romney said of China “They’re stealing our patents, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our products.” I’m not a fan of Romney but the fact that a political figure of his stature would speak in such direct terms speaks to the level of vitriol.

          Thanks for your comment.

  23. Charlie,

    Glad to read your comments. I said I prefer Socialism, I didn’t say china is a socialism country, China turn to red capitalism long time ago, this is a common idea shared by most chinese. In Marxist theory, it just describes what socialism looks like, and never tells how to organize government, and this is where china goes wrong, you can’t assert socialism is bad just because china is lost, china is not socialism at all.

    You mentioned Western journalists are saying bad words about china, it’s not just them, it’s an epidemic opinion shared by many western people. I see lots of china’s deficiencies, however, I doubt the fact that china steals so many from the West that they put a label on china as technology thief. Maybe you can provide some convincing cases to make me believe. You also mentioned china is dumping cheap goods to the USA, many manufacturers are not even mainland chinese, they come to china for cheap workforce and sell products back to their countries, that’s how they make fortune. It’s globalization’s fault,it’s the nature of capitalist. if it’s not china today, it’s someone else tomorrow.

    You complain china doesn’t play with rules. That’s because those rules will do harm to china. Established powers advocate those rules just because they made those rules, and those rules works for their own benefits, that’s all. and you praised japan’s cooperation in the 1980′s onward. Japan is just a joke around the world, they are stupid enough to sign the Plaza Accord with the USA and put themselves in the swamp of economic stagnation. Back then, Japan was the largest debtor of United States.

    At last you mention foreigners know Chinese history more than Chinese people do, you are just making a joke, right?

    It’s interesting to know what foreigners think of china, there is a website where groups of people translate articles into chinese, dozens of languages are covered, go check, http://www.ltaaa.com/


    • A few years ago a book titled “Heaven and Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism” was given to me. I read it reluctantly but it told the story of how socialism was man’s most ambitious attempt at replacing religion, but it reliably failed to create the societies of abundance that it purported to. So yes, I do think that Socialism doesn’t work, which is why walls fell, regimes collapsed, and the Socialist movement which had consumed half of the world came to an end.

      I agree when you say that globalization is the root cause. We want cheaper products, and poisoning real lakes to make plastic fish that sing is our tragic and current reality. Unfortunately we have not yet developed a better system. On the bright side, the world is overall better off now than it ever has been. War, violence, disease, and famine are down, life expectancy is up, and people are being brought out of poverty faster than in recorded history.

      Japan is a joke around the world? I have never heard that from anyone in any country that I have ever been to.

      Unfortunately, when I said that foreigners often know more about Chinese history than Chinese people, I was not joking. I’ve had this exact conversation with Chinese friends that I know and trust on many occasions over the years. As you surely know, discussions on much of China’s history are forbidden because they threaten the harmony of Chinese society. It is certainly arguable that this policy has benefits to the cohesion of China, still a developing country, but it is to the detriment of knowledge. China is geared for economic growth, and has been long before there were people blogging about Chengdu. Of course, there are many very well educated and informed people everywhere in China, what I’m referring to is the phenomenon of significant portions of Chinese history which are redacted by the institution.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and linking to that site, I will give it a look. This looks like a great resource for Chinese people who want to know what’s going on in world news.

    • I agree that the coverage is skewed and the voices (China’s vs. The West’s) are also very unbalanced.

      The US, in particular, is a hypocrite; I believe the second largest hypocrite in the world behind the CPC.

      According to the Western voice, the major differences between the US and China is the freedom of speech and the rule of law. Every developed country in the world has these two institutions and although they are abused on a regular basis, these two very important elements frame a country’s actions, a citizen’s rights, and a society’s moral compass.

      Without them, a country’s actions are unpredictable and can be easily hijacked, a citizens rights do not exist except on paper, and a society’s moral compass whirls wildly.

      It’s not democracy, or being Western, or money or anything like that. It’s the right to say: you are wrong, without fear of a black jail or worse and the knowledge that the laws of the land have more power than the whims of the powerful.

      Sure, the HSBC US branches were recently caught laundering hundreds of millions in Mexican Drug Money, and they got off with a light fine. Had they caught me selling drugs on the street, I would have probably gotten a stick in the gut and a boot in the face. Plus years in jail. If I were black, MANY years in jail.

      No system works perfectly, but China’s system works even less than ours and it’s a scary system to many Westerners.

      Another point I thought of: Fear and Jealousy.

      Beneath the righteous argument that China needs law and freedom, lurks fear:

      What if China does end up richer than the West, more powerful than the West … what if they seize the Diaoyu Islands and no one does anything about it? What next? What if they sign agreements with Iran and form an alliance that can withstand Western aggression? What if they buy up our companies, our land, our homes, and end up being (GOD FORBID!) our bosses!!!!

      Big issues for some Westerners. The fear goes deep, because East Asians are very different from Westerners in terms of looks, culture, views … A great book for everyone to check out is Edward Said’s Orientalism, which describes these views in detail.

      East and West must continue doing what we are doing right now and COMMUNICATE with each other. Because it is all too easy to fall back into racist, fear-laced, aggressive views of each other.

      For example:

      Nobody outside of China and North Korea believes this bullshit about “China never was an expansionist empire” because it’s not true – the Han, Tang, Ming and Qing all expanded as far as they could, look it up. Nobody believes the “peaceful rise” rhetoric
      because it’s just a cover-up for expansion in a different way.

      Just as nobody believes the US is fighting for freedom, or bombing for peace. Our enemy is the callous greed and dismissive, nonchalant violence of the corrupt among the ruling classes.

      In this respect, Socialism can be very useful, because Marx above all recognized that the people of every nation have much more in common than not, including a common problem: bad leadership and often the inability to do much about it.

    • @WPG – I agree with the thrust of your comments. I get the feeling the book was read to gain sales through shock value. On a personal level I consider this an irresponsible way of writing, and lets face it his own inspiration for the book came from reading the works of people who thought the same as him, not from balancing the views of people who thought differently. Isn’t this how dangerously one-sided views take place?

      Is China wrong on some stuff? Yes. Isn’t China right on some stuff? Yes. Isn’t life more complicated than we would like it? Yes. Doesn’t it take a smart person to write something balanced about the world? Yes.

      Like your rebuttals though, and enjoy the fact it wasn’t from a “China is great” stance, but from a “do you have to be one-sided?” stance (or at least that’s what I read in to it).

      This is a great thread!

  24. There is a film named The War On Democracy, presented by John Pliger, I can’t tell if all the material is true but at least it provides a new perspective. Check out here.

  25. The article states the following are myths held by Westerners: “that there are several dialects underpinned by a common writing system; that the writing system is comprised of pictograms; that you need to know about 2,000 pictograms to read a newspaper. And even things Western people seem to know for certain about China are wrong: that there was a massacre in Tiananmen Square, or that there is a Great Wall.”

    Color me ignorant, but as someone who has been studying Chinese and visiting China since the 1980s, could someone explain how any or all of this is patently false?

    Well, I guess most of the Great Wall is no longer standing, perhaps you can read a newspaper by knowing only 1500 (or is it 2500?) characters, and maybe the massacre happened just outside the square itself, but I’d say these facts are close enough that those who hold them should not be bashed for knowing so little about China.

    • Perhaps… but there is no such thing as “The Great wall”, never was, never will be.

      In regards to T square, I believe the truth is most of the violence took place outside the square and in every city in China. It was a national revolt.

      As far as the language, most Chinese people can’t read or speak it properly. As far as characters go, I learned a few hundred once. Not useful.

  26. Some nice quotable lines in this interview: “if Chinese education were ever adopted by the West, it would soon be labeled institutionalized child abuse” is particularly witty!

    TRoy a nice guy, but from reading his interviews and the numerous private correspondence I had with him, I can’t help feeling his China impression, though correct, was primarily the result of mainland culture shock.

    Still waiting for Troy to send me a free copy, alas, it hasn’t arrived yet ;o)

  27. I’ll tackle WTG’s claims about Taiwan:

    Firstly, Taiwan was made up of random tribes until the Kingdom of Tungning came about in 1661 founded by Kongxia a Ming Dynasty Loyalist. Essentially he was an invader and he never controlled the entire Island, not even a 1/3rd of it actually. Anyway, his occupation of a small part of the island only lasted until 1683. The reason he invaded Taiwan was because the foreign Qing had invaded China and he thought he could fight a war to get reestablish the Ming government from this foreign land (much like ol’ Peanut Head did centuries later). Anyway, he died and the Manchus (Qing) invaded and set up a small state within Taiwan in 1683.

    The Qing actually “annexed” Taiwan and ruled it from 1683 to 1895, but they never really ruled all of it. Much of the island was governed by indigenous people and other areas were ruled by European colonial powers like the French. At various times, the Qing state lost complete control of their little corner and other rulers reigned supreme. Over the Qing’s short tenure on the foreign land, there were over 100 rebellions against the Manchu overlords (Qing).

    From 1895 – 1945 it was legally ruled by Japan. At the time Qing willingly gave away Taiwan, they were only in control of a mere 40% of the island at best. Anyway, Qing China said Japan could have Taiwan and a host of other islands in perpetuity.

    How this history supports yours or the ignorant CCP buffoons claims that it was a part of China is beyond reason and beyond me. Using this kind of illogic, one could claim that all of China belongs to Britian because they controlled Hong Kong for so long…

    As for claiming Manchu people were Chinese, that’s pretty damn funny. Just like how Chinese “history” books claim Chengis was Chinese too. Hahahaha!

    I think this is exactly what Troy and others are talking about when they say you can’t talk to Chinese about Chinese history because Chinese people don’t know anything about it.

  28. I don’t really see why you guys make such a big deal out of the Chinese not knowing their history (if that is indeed true). Americans don’t know their own history or their geography – even of their own country. Something like 80%+ couldn’t locate Iraq on a map, and 25% don’t even know basic history like the fact that America won its independence from Britain.

    • True. Most Americans don’t have the faintest clue about their history, just look at Columbus day and Thanksgiving. Nuff said. But if America was using this ignorance to justify claiming the South China Sea or the Arctic Circle or something, then there’d be a problem. All Chinese know is that there was 3000, 4000, or 5000 years of history, culture, or civilization here. (And there is that pretty much everywhere. China is not special.) They don’t generally know anything else about it though.

      • Just checked, as suspected, America does try to justify various claims in territorial disputes. I think most countries are at this. Not sure America could claim the moral upper ground as one of its key disputes is with Mexico in an area South of America, which would not be something America could claim if they hadn’t invaded the various Spanish parts of America anyway. Link

        I’m not saying America is right or wrong (I really have no opinion), I’m just of the view most countries dispute land if they think they might get something out of it. They then fit justification to that dispute.

      • It doesn’t make sense to say that ignorance is used to justify territorial claims – what exactly are you trying to say here? Besides America’s ignorance has been exploited to justify policies ranging from the invasion of Iraq, to the mini-Cold War with Iran.

        Americans just aren’t taught that the Iranians hate us so much because we propped up an extremely brutal dictatorship before the revolution, or that much of the Muslim world thinks we are assholes because we also prop up the oppressive Saudis. Oh, and we do also exploit American’s historical ignorance to justify support for Israel.

        So, again, I don’t really see why you and others make such a big deal specifically out of Chinese people’s supposed historical ignorance.

    • That’s a quite unrelated point to make since the topic of discussion is China and the Chinese understanding of it’s own history. But I take it as acknowledgement of the charges since your defense is that Americans aren’t well versed in middle eastern geography.

      • Charlie

        Fair enough! Just trying to determine the significance (or lack thereof) of China’s historical ignorance. I think it is overblown as a factor in stunting China’s industrialization or its ability to be a global player.

  29. The big deal about China’s historical ignorance is that the Chinese are not even the custodians of their history. Chinese history is recorded, studied, maintained, discussed, augmented, debated, etc. in the West, mainly in universities and/or by historians in Britain and America. China’s rulers are so obsessed with disinformation, or lies, that recorded history doesn’t really exist in China.

    Many Americans, on the other hand, DO have an understanding of their history; they can go to the bookstore or library or see an intelligent show on, say, PBS about some aspect of US history. Even John Stewart, no intellectual heavyweight, has insight into eras of American history, and often has historians on his show plugging their books.

    Sure, history, the word, and phrases like, “History’s written by the winner,” are bandied about by fools of all nationalities, but my point, again, is that in the West, history is accessible; in China, besides, perhaps, some underground publications and word of mouth, it isn’t, not unless authorities find it useful, at which point it becomes propaganda. (It’s mainly just propaganda anyway.) Moreover, “You do it too,” is not a justification. That only works to deflect from the topic at hand.

    Returning to the topic at hand, it is interesting what Chinese people tend to believe. The Qing are a good example. They are either colluding foreign invaders or bona fide Chinese. In discussing the corruption, brutality, and inefficiency of their reign they are Manchu scum from beyond the Pale. “Down with the Qing; restore the Ming!” When talking about Taiwan, however, they are Zhongguo ren. They are whatever is required. It is what Orwell described as doublethink:

    “To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy….”

    Another belief, which WTG has mentioned, is that when the Japanese invaded, China stood up as one to fight them. I wish that were true. I became rather interested in China’s resistance during the Second Sino-Japanese War. I wanted to know what kind of fight the KMT and fledgling CCP put up. It is not a very impressive account, I can tell you that. The Chinese effort, was, in fact, a sort of omnishambles. I don’t say this to be glib. The Japanese were, in my opinion, worse than the Nazis and the Russians. It’s a sensitive and tragic subject, but the truth is always more interesting, and complicated, than the ‘We united,’ ‘Taiwan is ours,’ sentiments that Chinese people have been conditioned to believe. The message is always simple; it has to be so people can pass it on.

    The book, Taiwan: A Political History by Denny Roy is a great source for understanding how nobody controlled Taiwan until the Japanese(and even they didn’t control it for decades – half the island was headhunter territory; it took Japan many years and men to suppress them; Taiwan was a dangerous place). Jonathan Fenby’s biography of Chiang Kai-shek explains what China did during the war with Japan, and it is a sad, sad story. Neither of those books, as far as I know, were published with permission from any government and neither is available in China.


    • Troy

      I’m not justifying anything – simply wondering why so many ex-pats seem to harp on so much about Chinese people’s ignorance of history, but never really point out why they have such a problem with it. My sense is that it is a way of asserting authority but without possessing any.

      And I’m not simply saying “You do it too!”, if ignorance of history is such a huge problem then it is a huge problem regardless of who is guilty of it – and if Americans are ignorant of their own history, then why should we trust them as authorities on anyone else’s? After all, American’s ignorance enables our “shoot first ask questions later” foreign policy.

      But that brings up an interesting point; is it better to be willfully ignorant of history (apparently, the American way), or ignorant because of being misled? The scorn for the supposedly “ignorant” Chinese is misplaced – they don’t seem to have much choice. Americans on the other hand have all the opportunities for knowledge, but instead seem to choose ignorance. And so what if there are some Americans who know history – that doesn’t change the fact that huge percentages don’t.

      I don’r see what point you are trying to make with your last two paragraphs – every nation believes that they stood united against foreign invaders. It is an aspect of national unity, but the nuanced history is always, well, more nuanced than the national narrative. This is true for most countries and most histories.

      But surely as a fellow American you are accustomed to cynical sloganeering by political types whose simpleton-stroking rhetoric ignites patriotic passions in the ignorant masses. America – Fuck Yeah!!

      Perhaps, we rage against the Chinese because they seem more familiar to us than we are comfortable acknowledging.

  30. Hi,

    I lived in Japan in the 1980s, being one of those people who wanted to know everything about Japan because of their rise during the 70s and 80s.

    Now, about 25 years later, it’s “China’s going to take over the world” instead of Japan. We all know what happened with Japan in the 90s and beyond.

    I started reading about the rise of Japan through books that talked about the enlightened way of life that the Japanese had, how their ways were unique and even “inscrutible” by Western minds. Then, in 1989 a book called “The Enigma of Japanese Power” by Van Wolferen came out. It was considered a “Japan-bashing” book that was sour grapes about the West’s inability to stop Japan’s international growth. *Here’s the wikipedia link for that book-

    That is similar to what your book is doing. But like all new theories, they first are laughed at, next furiously derided, then in historical hindsight finally seen to be either correct or at least heading in the right direction. You need to wait a little longer to see which way your book goes. (Van Wolferen only needed to wait about 5 years).

    I have a Bachelors degree in Asian Studies, and recently finished my Masters degree in Applied Finance, and my minor was in international finance and Asian business, so I am familiar with the issues that China is going through now (though no book release is planned (joke)).

    With the social and economic problems that China is facing, the expansion of the economy and business is exacerbating them. The gradual, natural growth that should have happened after World War 2 was stymied by Communist rule, and suddenly was let loose in the late 70s, early 80s. Foreign direct investment flowed in, and the economy took off.

    Recently, there has been talk of China getting caught in the “Middle Income Trap”, in that when the GDP per capita approaches the US$10,000 mark, the growth trails off, and can possibly lag there for decades. South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong are examples of economies that escaped the “trap” because they developed their own outward foreign direct investment (FDI) structure, and invested in other countries, taking advantage of the cheaper production costs.

    Countries like Malaysia and Indonesia have not escaped the trap, and they can’t seem to break through the US$10,000 level. This is a lesson for China. If they stay within their borders and just take in inward FDI to grow, their initial cost competitiveness will dwindle away, and companies will just go to the next cheapest country. It is already happening with companies going to Vietnam, and they’re beginning to eye Burma now that it is opening up.

    Some are saying now that China will “grow old before rich”, and that will come down to how they negotiate the “middle income trap”.


    • I have always somewhat viewed China’s rise through the lens of experience in the 1980’s with Japan as well. It must have been incredible to be there during that time when Japan was such an innovator and economic powerhouse. I see a lot of differences between China now and Japan then, though, as I’m sure you do as well.

      I hadn’t heard about The Enigma of Japanese Power before but I will seek it out, thanks for mentioning it. I think it’s fair to draw a parallel between it and Troy’s book. It will be interesting to see how we look back on this time 10 years from now.

  31. B said, “The scorn for the supposedly “ignorant” Chinese is misplaced – they don’t seem to have much choice. Americans on the other hand have all the opportunities for knowledge, but instead seem to choose ignorance.”

    That’s true to an extent, but, again, not all Americans are ignorant of their country’s history; think of all the students who major in history, for instance, or people who like to read history, or people who, say, watch an intelligent documentary on the Civil Rights Movement, Slavery, or Prohibition. My point is the history is there; it’s accessible. In China, it doesn’t exist anymore, unless you include bookstores and perhaps universities in Hong Kong. Chinese history exists largely in the West, its keepers historians, not ignorant plebs. I’m talking about history as an academic discipline, not a tool for pols and propagandists.

    But people everywhere are ignorant of their history, including me. I’m Canadian and have only read two books on national history. And I only have an undergraduate degree in history; it’s not like I have a PhD or something.

    What I was driving at was it’s hard to talk about history with people from China because they have “a different view,” meaning a provided view. The Dutch in Taiwan were “colonizers,” whereas the Chinese who were there when the Dutch materialized were “rulers.” (In truth they fled China to what was a foreign territory, and were farmers.) Zheng Chenggong was a “hero” who kicked the meddling Dutch out (what’s never said is that he was half Japanese, insane, and a brutal tyrant; the Dutch were not having a love-in with the Fujianese peasants, who were living in the lowlands, but they, the Dutch, brought a semblance of security, an alphabet [learned by some of the aboriginals], medicine, etc. There was tension and the Dutch were there to make money; still, it appears the Fujianese fared better under them than Zheng Chenggong. That’s what Denny Roy writes. It’s almost certainly what all Western historians of Taiwan say.)

    Also, Zheng Chenggong was pro-Ming. He wanted to revive the Ming, and the little dynasty he established on Taiwan was modeled after the Ming. From Taiwan, he raided China hoping to topple the Qing and restore the Ming. So, people like WTG believe Zheng was an anti-Western, pro-Han hero bent on kicking out the foreign Qing (or Manchus), while also believing post-Zheng, Qing “rule” (more like plunder) on Taiwan helps solidify the claim that Taiwan is a part of China and has been since time out of mind.

    It’s these endless inconsistencies and the mindless regurgitation of the official view that bothers Westerners who’ve cracked a history book or two. Sure, in part, everyday Chinese are not to blame for being conditioned, but they can seem SO conditioned it makes you (at least, it makes me) wonder if they are capable of a little independent thought.

    However, it is a very touchy situation. Imagine the shock of finding out that just about everything you were ever told about your national history was nonsense. It is this deep perversion, and the believe that there is international conspiracy to shame China by mentioning “fabricated” historical stories (e.g. that Tibet was once a country) that bothers me. If that is China bashing (not your words), so be it.


    • Troy

      American’s ignorance of history is true to a significant extent – and yes, Canadians are also ignorant of their own history. The fact that there are Americans who know their own history is actually irrelevant, as I suspect you understand. It is the ignorance that is exploited that enables our simplistic bomb-the-bastards foreign policy.

      Perhaps it is a moral issue that these historical literati don’t seem to try to help us to learn from the mistakes of the past. This isn’t accessible its esoteric and fundamentally pointless since historical literacy seems to play no significant role in informing our progress. If that is the case, then it becomes simply moot to complain about Chinese historical ignorance – the free world is effectively exactly the same as China in this respect; objective historical literacy is irrelevant when it comes to policy.

      It makes criticism of China’s supposed historical ignorance seem somewhat overblown and minor.

      I think that part of the problem may lie in the way we might expect history to play a role in world affairs. Politicians all over the world (including the Us re-interpret history on a regular basis and from press conference to press conference.

  32. Yeah, not sure I follow your reasoning there. Historians don’t seem to try and help us learn from our mistakes? Can you give an example? And who’s “us”? History is esoteric? As esoteric as other disciplines? More so? Less so? What do you mean? History seems to have no part in informing our progress? A rather broad statement, don’t you think? And who’s “our”?

    The criticism of China’s, as you put it, historical ignorance, is not “somewhat… minor.” Not at all. Again, for the third time, Chinese history and the study thereof, does not really exist in China. But, for example, Italian history and its related debate exists in Italy. Anyone could go to Italy and study it, unimpeded. They could alter its understanding by writing and publishing about it. They could use it, if need be, to illustrate that some bit of public perception was incorrect. They could write a book about any aspect of it. They could even shape public opinion with it. But that couldn’t happen in China.

    We’re talking about vast quantities of information – a nation’s historical record – modified to the point of nonsense. The custodians of China’s history are, in the main, Western academics.

    Yeah, a pol in the States might use some historical trickery to try to achieve some malevolent aim – and then you could read about how what he/she claimed was baloney in a dozen newspapers, magazines, etc. the next morning. Again, that doesn’t happen in China. People need to resort to word of mouth, weibo, the underground press, etc.

    If I can decipher what you’re trying to say, you seem to be arguing that the situation in China is essentially the same as it is in the US or anywhere because historical tidbits can be manipulated by people in power. But the overlap between the situations is insignificant. It’s basically the same? Nope.

    • I fear this has gone a little off track.

      I don’t think many people would dispute China’s distorted views of history, I think people were just pointing out that its not only China playing that game and not only the Chinese who make that mistake (I’m British we played that game so well half the time we don’t know we’ve been duped, and in Europe we are frequently amazed at American attempt to brazenly rewrite our history (i.e. a multimillion $ movie acting out one of Britain’s top WW2 missions, but with the Americans doing the mission!)).

      As it happens, I agree with Troy’s sentiment that the hype of China suddenly displacing the West is exaggerated. They are only just finishing their industrial revolution and are still working desperately to reduce poverty, its hardly a precursor to leading the information age (China is also demonstrating the human rights and environmental issues the UK had in their industrialisation). It took the UK 200yrs to go from obscurity to the world power, took us 2 world wars to lose it, the US did it a little quicker, although from a higher base point, and also lost it quicker. China’s base point is quite far back, so its a bigger guess whether they’ll get there.

      History is a bunch of repeating patterns, China has led the world before, and one day might lead it again, but there’s a lot of variables in this.

      I think the responses here were due to the way your interview came across (most of us, myself included, have read the interview and not the book). It might be that you weren’t asked questions that lead you to give a balanced view of China. It might be the way it was written. Or it might be that you needed to write a controversial book to get a decent publishing deal that allows you to put bread on the table. Either way, the interview above looks one sided, and I think people were trying to search for a counterbalance.

      I for one wont be buying any book on the rise or downfall of China, because the subject just doesn’t worry me. I am interested in lessons learned, and whether China gets things 90% right and 10% wrong, or 90% wrong and 10% right, I believe each country has at least some lessons to be copied, emulated, and better. A book on where China gets it right and wrong, I might well buy into.

      Anyway, that’s my piece. I hope on all sides we stop a one-upmanship of which nationality is the most ignorant (you are more ignorant than I, no you are, no you got this wrong, but you got that wrong). Bottom line is all nationalities contain good and bad, and all countries are a flavour which some like, some don’t, and some like to see if they can find a better way to cook with it.

      • @Heath

        Good post, just one myth:
        “History is a bunch of repeating patterns, China has led the world before, and one day might lead it again, but there’s a lot of variables in this.”

        In my reading of history, China never lead the world, nor has any other empire. And as Empire’s/Kingdom’s go, it certainly was not the most advanced. I’m thinking of Rome, Egypt, the Mayans, the Persians, the Inca, Byzantium, etc. here. I think what has happened is that you have a nation today erroneously claiming uninterrupted heritage from ancient dynasties, many if which were run by foreigners.

        Certainly, 2000 years ago, Rome was the premiere empire/culture on the planet, not China. In the post Roman years, the West stagnated a bit, but when the British arrived for their little opium wars, the descendants of Rome were still on top of the pile. And today, for better or worse, it is the Americans. If we were to look at “Western” history as people do with China’s, we would see the US and the EU as the continuation of Rome with a history spanning thousands of years. Taken this way, China of old, and China of today has never really been as important as people seem to think.

        I’m not saying the ancient empires that existed in what is now called China were not great, I’m just exercising historical perspective.

        • KKK:

          Sir, your grasp of history is quite impressive, However, I have one question if you don’t mind answering regarding the post-Roman period of Western history:

          “Certainly, 2000 years ago, Rome was the premiere empire/culture on the planet, not China. In the post Roman years, the West stagnated a bit, but when the British arrived for their little opium wars, the descendants of Rome were still on top of the pile.”

          Could you please tell me, sir, what happened to the Roman Empire after the Germanic savages (Goths, Visigoths, Franks, etc.) invaded and destroyed Rome, transforming the most advanced city in the world (as you claim above) into the ruins that tourists who go to Italy every year visit today? What do you mean by the “West stagnated a bit”? From the Fall of Rome to the Italian Renaissance, do you mean to say that the West fell behind China?

          Thank you for any response.

    • Troy

      Yes, it is basically the same. The degree of personal historical literacy is completely irrelevant because in both the US and China, history’s contribution to policy is almost always interpreted subjectively for the greatest benefit to governing body.

      Unless I’m mistaken, the contention on the table here is how China’s lack of historical literacy doesn’t lend itself to its, so far unsubstantiated, aspirations of global dominance. I’m saying that this is how politics works (both national and international) and it is how politics has always worked. Objective historical accuracy is usually incidental to any given goal.

      In that sense, whatever historical culture exists amongst Americans is irrelevant to the way that politics is conducted. Yes, there is a culture of historical debate – and that is laudable – but ultimately, its role in how policy is conducted is incidental. This is true of China and the US – and everyone else.

      This is why I find the criticism of Chinese people’s supposed historical ignorance to be little more than mountains out of molehills – and almost definitely irrelevant. Hopefully this clarifies my position.

  33. Well, perhaps we can agree to disagree. I think when, for instance, countries like the US do something like invade Afghanistan or Iraq, the pols behind the policy don’t usually invoke history. They appeal to security, freedom, revenge, etc. They usually don’t act on historical claims. There might be historical roots in actions (the second Iraq war, for example), but, and although no foreign policy expert, it strikes me that, at least overt, references to history, i.e. historical events, aren’t frequently mentioned as justification or to sway public opinion.

    But in China, the conditions are established to use history as justification. That’s the whole idea. The whole point. History is essentially manufactured and disseminated by the state. In the West, and everywhere, history can be used as a tool for leverage of all types. But in China, unless we’re talking history of Ming porcelain or something, it’s overwhelmingly a massive, state-orchestrated political tool that establishes the conditions and claims to do whatever the state wants. It established public consent well in advance. That’s the fundamental difference, and it’s a whopping big one.

    It’s so effective that people like WTG think that North Korea was simply trying to unite the Korean peninsula (and what was wrong with China’s helping hand in that?). If you say, well, according to this 1,000 page biography of Kim Il-sung, that’s not exactly true… you’ll be shouted down for believing your government’s version of history. But your government doesn’t create history. China’s does.

    • Troy

      Yes I think that is where we are at – agree to disagree.

      But I think that it is ungenerous – and somewhat illogical – to complain when a government resorts to historical arguments to assert territorial claims. Aren’t all territorial claims based fundamentally on the historical connection between a state and the territory it is hoping to claim?

      Otherwise, we could all just roll up and claim territories for random reasons – like Europe’s past colonial powers. i would hope that none of us wants that anymore.

      Surely you can see that some of these appeals to security, freedom, and maybe even revenge, rely heavily on a public that is ignorant of history. Claiming, for example, to invade any given country (Iraq, let’s say – in “Operation Iraqi freedom” 2003) relied heavily on a significant – and morally suspect – ignorance (largely willful) of America’s historical support of the Iraq regime with financial and military support that enabled the years of abuses of freedom we were supposedly horrified by.

      On a final note, I have to question the objectivity of your position, since there seems to be an implied moral higher-ground that is insinuated in your position but far from actually established. This is evident in your final paragraph – all states manipulate history to favour themselves. I have been given no reason to believe that China’s tactic is any better or worse morally than our own – again, it boils down to making a mountain out of a molehill.

      • B wrote: “Otherwise, we could all just roll up and claim territories for random reasons ” Like Taiwan, the Senkakus, Tibet, Inner Moingolia, Gansu, Xinjiang, Manchouko????

        As far as history is concerned, Britain had a longer and more well established foothold in China than China has had in any of those regions.

        • @ KKK

          If I remember correctly the thieving Brits only officially leased pieces of China – strongly suggesting that the rightful owners were the Chinese in principle, if not in practice.

          • Could be, but that was after the 1st Opium War. after the second, I believe it was “in perpetuity”. Anyway, like Korea, the Qing didn’t really control the area they were signing over to Britain. Guangzhou could hardly be thought of as Manchu territory, let alone Taiwan! Why do you think most of the Southerners supported the British invasion?

  34. Yeah, well, I’m aware that many Westerners, adrift on a sea of cultural moral relativity, come to see things in China as being the same as they are in the US or anywhere. They think they are onto to something. They are not.

    • Well, I was going to move away from this discussion, but you have me confused about what you conceive of as “moral relativism”. I don’t think that applies here – in fact, your position may, perhaps, be closer to moral relativism than mine.

      The moral relativist would hold that there are varying degrees of morality, e.g. interpreting history to support a political goal regardless of its veracity has degrees of “goodness”. The non-moral relativist would hold that any or most state upheld historical untruths would be morally suspect. I lean to the latter position, you seem to lean to the former.

      Happy New Year!

    • This article is fantastic and echoes a lot of the things which Troy has made both in this interview and in the comments. It’s brilliant to see that this article was written by a Chinese person in China which gives the piece some additional dimension.

      • An article written by a Chinese in China but published in the propaganda mouthpiece of U.S. Imperialists doesn’t do much good to the journalistic integrity of the said author, who should be dismissed as nothing more than a paid hack.

        Besides, Mao is dead. The Cold War is over. And China has moved on from Mao’s Communist era. Commemorating Mao’s 120th Birthday, President Xi Jinping admitted that Mao made “mistakes”, stating that:

        “Revolutionary leaders are not gods, but human beings. We cannot worship them like gods or refuse to allow people to point out and correct their errors just because they are great; nor can we totally repudiate them and erase their historical feats just because they committed mistakes.”

        Instead of wallowing in anti-China porn, the American Idiots running the U.S. of As-holes would be wise to follow the example of the Chinese Communist Party in learning from past mistakes. Yet, the only thing that the American Idiots running the U.S. of As-holes keeps repeating is to open their big mouth while shooting its own foot.

        • First of all, it’s hard to tell if you’re being serious or this is an elaborate troll. The vitriol of your anti-US sentiment is remarkable. But…

          The journalistic integrity of the author is widely acknowledged around the world. He’s an award-winning superstar writer in both America and China. That’s no small feat.

          Despite being dead, Mao is hardly gone from the national conscience of China. Xi Jinping’s “Mao is human” speech was in defense of Mao’s legacy, after all. Throughout his term as president he has frequently defended Mao and celebrations surrounding the Mao’s anniversary have been epic productions, to the tune of billions of renminbi. I wouldn’t say that China has been moving away from the legacy of Mao under Xi Jinping’s leadership at all.

  35. My two cents:

    1. Troy is entitled to his opioion the same as rest of us. we may disagree with his view but he has every right to express it. Personally I do have some reservations on “history”, tcm, taiwanese, ww2, vitnam war, korean war, gulf war, irag war, and fishing isles. but the issue here is about troy’s book, his biased view.

    2. We all have a pair of glasses on, let them be colored with history or propaganda or whatever, otherwise we would all be innocent/ignorant (beauty is in the eyes of the beholder). However, I do agree that freedom of speech with responsibility is essential for a somewhat less-biased conclusion. China is changing, like it or not. Nobody can stop the progress towards the responsible freedom of speech. we should advocate not tint it.

    3. China does have its history, let it be full of lies or facts. history, by spelling, means his story. Western or Eastern, Americans or Chinese, it seems the same. The important point is not how we intent to use it but how to use it, for personal amusements or government policies or whatever. We may have different view such as the roles and contributions chinese and americans did in ww2, and who was what,but the facts speak loud and clear. We all agree that japan invaded china in 1937 and we all know how Douglas MacArthur faired. let the data speak.

    4. I hate to compare an apple with an orange, especially when some people claims that the orange tasted awful simply because the person consumed it unpeeled. I am not used to many things I am now experiencing here in chengdu, the food, the air, the traffic, the ways certain people do and think, …… that is what makes we the people different, right? I’ve lived in the states for almost 30 years working with all legs of professionals and lay-people, and have run into plenty rednecks, boneheads, airheads, let alone other bad names in states. However, there are even more, much more, nice folks and generous souls. underneath, we are all the same, with very same needs and respects we all deserve. Let us be civil, and less emotional on issues.

    Finally, I’d like to engage in any discussion with facts and solid data, at least the ones we can all agree on. However i’ll not participate in any debate, nor bash any entity with personal hatred or disgust.

    Thank you, Charlie, for such a nice interview and this stimulating discussion.

    • Thank you Vic, for sharing your thoughts and being so reasonable. This discussion has been fantastic not just for its content, but that ideas about sensitive topics like Chinese history and identity can be exchanged without resorting to insult and argument. The real thanks goes to Troy for authoring his book. If anyone involved in this discussion hasn’t read it, I recommend you check it out. It’s a #1 bestseller on Amazon with the Taiwan travel guide category and is $7 on Kindle: http://amzn.com/B005J4C0R8

  36. “let us be civil,”

    “thank you, charlie, for such a nice interview”

    Indeed. Civility. I would like to ask you, civilly, if you have, by any chance, read my book.

    Thanks you,


    • Troy,

      Yes, there is bias in everything indeed. The key is to admit it bravely and embrace it friendly. Have you read anything yingtai long (龍應台) wrote by any chance? Like? She’s not afraid at all of her personal bias on histroy and she just presents her story.

      Btw, I live on the east coast but have lived in SF in 1990’s.

      Yes, I have placed an order on the book and will read it for sure.



  37. Thank for the advice re bias, Vic ol’ pal. I shall take it heart.

    Speaking of bias, might you be the author of the recent one-star review posted on Amazon.com? I ask because the writing is remarkably similar to yours in style (e.g. a lack of capitalization; an American perspective, but not a native speaker, etc.) along with stance and tone. Also, the location is listed as San Francisco. The author of the review, posted below, wrote the bit on Jan. 4. You appeared on this thread Jan. 8. I mean, it could be someone else. Hey, it probably is.

    Isn’t it?

    Here’s the review, which, as you can see, has virtually nothing to do with the book, and strongly indicates the reviewer never read the book in the first place – which is rather biased, and not very friendly.

    “the book never asked the simple question, does china WANT to rule the world?

    “china is too busy making money, investing/buying resources worldwide, taking people out of poverty, improving living standards, building high speed rail (5,800 miles done and 20,000 miles more to go). i don’t think they have the bandwidth to think about “rule the world” let alone doing it.

    “it is us, the exceptionalism United States of America have the bandwidth to rule the world. our troops are deployed in 156 countries in “active operation” (according to Pentagon), we are “pivoting” to asia (meaning more “active operation”) and we are busy talking “american value” to change cultures from Pakistan to Myanmar. (although we can’t even change our narco addictive culture, obesity fast food culture). meanwhile, our citizens, despite Bill of Rights ,are afraid to send their kids to school lest some lone gunman do a OK Coral. against this backdrop, americans own about 280,000,000 guns, many are busy loading up their semi automatic weapons preparing for Delta Force come crashing in any moment. in the Congress, they are busy passing laws to give tax cuts and at the White House, busy printing dineros. yes, we are ruling the world.”



  38. Sorry buddy, that review was not mine, not my tone and/or style any way. don’t want to take credit for something i did not do.

    i have tried to restrain my view strictly based on the interview and exchanges herein. if you want my take on the book, you will have to wait a while, even then i’ll probably still want to reserve my privileges though, because i want solutions, not just complaints. hope you understand.

    Btw, the title of the book 《大江大海 1949》(the great turmoil around 1949) i recommended was edited out in my post, as i thought you might be interested in reading it since you have lived in taiwan.



  39. Sorry Vic ol’ sock. I’m getting paranoid these days. I think it’s because I’m living in Scotland and never see the sun. Big River Big Sea. Sounds like an Inuit punk band, but seriously… I haven’t heard of it. I think there are lots of obscure (and probably quite good) China books out there that I don’t know of.



  40. Hi y’all, just moved to Chengdu. Been reading some of the blogs, advises and articles. Very helpful and entertaining and helped me adapt to this place. I am an oversea Chinese and lived in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Canada and the US. Been to China before the cultural revolution, and before all these “economic miracles”….was in Canada watching exchanged students from China longingly examined a small transistor radio in a store on Yonge Street in Toronto and their “supervisor” looking over them. Now the Chinese “tourist” are buying handbags worth thousands….and buildings and American and Canadian companies by Chinese companies….Just wanted to see what Mr Parfitt was trying to say in his book so I went on Amazon and read the reviews….very interesting….and like WTG, I couldn’t help but put my 2 cents in…I will not buy Mr Parfitt’s book…too bias…wonder why he is still in China (Taiwan)….now that his book is selling well maybe he will survive back in Canada….Anyway, why would China want to rule the world….just buy it….if every articles in the store is “make in China” and all countries are indebted to China like the US (?1.5 trillion dollars in debt)….by the way Japan was hated by the west many years ago when “made in Japan” was on every articles in the store…. but not as much as China because Japan was not threatening….by the way some comments on corruption…. every country has corrupted officials…Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, China, the US (how does Obama become a millionaire ?) China is no worse but nobody hides behind “christianity” here, it’s life….like I said why would China want to rule the world and police it like the US…..waste of money….ulterior motives…China can go into a country and help the people and gain their “friendship” like what it is doing in Africa…..one can read history books and justify events by facts but all books are opinionated including Mr Parfitt’s….but personal experience and what one feels deep inside about the experience is what counts in our daily living…and for now China has made great progresses and will continue…in spite of Mr Parfitt’s book…China will go to the moon and space (the US stopped)…will keep on making money by selling to the US….It is still a young country in an old body…versus the US and Europe….old countries in young bodies….incidentally countries like Spain, Italy, Portugal and France are getting old and poor….they have used up all the money they stole from Asia and Africa…..

  41. Normally I can’t bother to argue with males about anything political cuz they tend to feel superior on the matter.

    But this sir really got a BIG EGO, aside from the book title, his metaphor didn’t make him sounds witty nor fun as he thought it would be. On the contrary, it reveals how ignorant and arrogant he is.

    “Abused children who flee and make something of themselves are to psychotic parents. The children have liberated themselves and now live relatively normal lives. ”

    Oh, so the British didn’t forcibly occupy Chinese territory but helped it free from evil control of it’s own government? Maybe we should all help New Jersey to flee America cuz his older brother New York abuses him all the time.

    I’m sorry it’s just his logic doesn’t make any sense.

    And as for what happened in the Square,he knows nothing about it.

    no offence, I’m just being “honest and unflinching when expressing my point of view”. But nice questions though, charlie.

    • In the case of Hong Kong, they were becoming educated and building wealth, infrastructure, and a modern society while the mainland was an unimaginable hell on earth. Conditions have been improving in recent decades, but there’s still a very long way to go, especially when compared with Hong Kong which is by many measures among the most modern and civilized societies on earth. British colonialism played a huge part in that. It was forcible, but counter-intuitively, it was also good for Hong Kong – they got a big head start on modernization.

    • It’s great this article was posted for all the world to see. However, I have to agree with QQ User on how ignorant and arrogant the author is. And it’s not just the author of the book but also some of the audience in this dialogue who are mostly white males from Western Countries, exhibiting an intellectual disorder which Edward Said called Orientalism. In a sense, I can detect a paranoia, a fear of China — the Yellow Peril Syndrome — that compelled the author to write his book and motivated some of the participants to support his thesis with even more bizarre assertions of historical misinformation. Although I commend him for his earnestness and sincerity as proven by his prompt and courteous replies, just the title alone of his book reveals an anxiety which he tries to placate with self-serving pseudo-intellectual delusions. Ultimately, the author (as well as some of his supporters) come off as some kind of bitter laowai unable to get laid but forced to shoulder the “White Man’s Burden” of Western Enlightenment that has somehow escaped the heathen Orientals in Mainland China but which presumably have been bestowed to HK and Taiwan by virtue of Western Colonization (as in HK) or Western patronage (as in Taiwan). Compared to Rudyard Kipling, the author is decidedly amateurish in interpreting both modern and historical China in the 21st Century. But I would still grant him the benefit of the doubt as young and restless as the author is with still decades of history — China’s History — yet to be witnessed.

      Again, many thanks for the publication of this review and comments therein.

  42. Charlie, it’s capitalism…not colonialism….that was good for HK, Singapore, Taiwan…..in addition, the size and population of these countries made them easy to be governed….HK by the brits, Singapore by a benign dictator LKY, and Taiwan by CKS (dictator also?…look at the size of China and its heterogenous population…she just have to go through the revolution to be able to be governed and become capitalistic and become rich and advanced…..China has come a long way in 50 years but the US went through the same thing in its 200 years growth (child labor in the industrial revolution, corruptions in politics, human right violations etc ), though much easier; like I said before China is still a young country but I believe that China will not be like the imperialistic countries from Europe and USA….

    • LSS,

      The British brought their own sense of how a society should be constructed, and it was to Hong Kong’s benefit, not detriment. I understand the criticism of Troy’s perspective, but I think it is logically sound despite being controversial and unconventional. Some of the issues raised in the book, like the Square, are issues that I don’t know much about personally and I reserve judgement on. Despite that, I thought they made for an interesting read in his book.

      I think that most countries aspire to being imperialistic, certainly to include China. We’re past the era of territorial imperialism on a large scale but China, like the US, has a variety of tools that it uses to increase its strength and influence, thereby gaining a strategic advantage relative to its rivals.

      • Charlie:

        Thank you for taking the time to interview the author and post it online. But I beg to disagree with your characterization of the author’s conclusions as “logically sound”:

        “I understand the criticism of Troy’s perspective, but I think it is logically sound despite being controversial and unconventional.”

        When B confronted Troy regarding his moral relativism, what did the author do? He committed the logical fallacy of begging the question by performing the rhetorical equivalent of semantic gymnastics. Applying one set of moral standards to the Chinese Communist Party and another set to the U.S. Imperialists betrays what B calls his moral relativism.

        Your statement that “I think that most countries aspire to being imperialistic, certainly to include China.” implies two things:

        1. That YOUR country, the U.S.A., is imperialist as proven by countless wars waged by the U.S. Military in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

        2. That China will become imperialist as well, thus contradicting the thesis of the author that “China will NEVER rule the World.”

        Finally, regarding China’s alleged “historical ignorance”, I’d prefer the word “amnesia” because obviously the CCP knows about the unmitigated disaster that communist ideology has brought to China. And that’s why the CCP, despite its “communist” label, doesn’t believe nor practice Orthodox Marxism-Leninism, a European ideology imported into China that has been thoroughly discredited.

  43. I don’t feel it necessary to interject with any additional views or opinions here, I think anything that needed to be covered has been. I did want to say however that having just read this article and comments through, it is without doubt one of the best reads on China I’ve come across in my (almost) 3 years here. And it didn’t get hung up on the contrary science of (voodoo) economics to boot.

    Great stuff.

  44. Wow, great article and great thread below. I wish I’d read this a long time ago.

    I tend to like the author, Troy. He’s not afraid to argue. And his points are all very logically laid out based upon his understanding of the region and its history. He has a very convincing grasp of the history, I might say (while MTG was very emotional and flawed -not really his fault). It seems Troy spends most of his time reiterating his logical deductions in response to emotional sinophiles.

    The fact that he spent only months in the mainland is quite troublesome, though not a deal-breaker. I do think that the culture in China for the past 10 years (that I’ve been here) has been so tragically narrow and simplistic that it wouldn’t have been impossible to size it up in 3 or 4 months (Guy Delisle also did a pretty great job with “Shenzhen”).

    Personally, I loved the jab at the “panda prison”. Last time I checked, it was a masturbation festival of people wanting to cum all over cross-eyed pandas while taking selfies and ramming souvenirs up their asses.


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