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Things to help better understand China

Posted March. 03, 2014 07:03,   


Paradigm shift in the history of global civilization is under way amid China’s robust rise. Understanding China has become an essential thing, rather than a matter of choice. However, even people who are known as “experts on China” have said in unison that “The more I come to know about China, the more difficult to understand it gets.” Lying behind this contradictory phraseology are three large factors.

The first is scale. More than 1.34 billion people (based on 2010 census), or one fifth of the world’s population, are living in the Chinese territory, about 100 times the size of South Korea. China is so extensive in terms of territory and population that the 6 Chinese people consume 1.6 million pigs and 24 million chickens daily. A 1,000-km distance, which takes 10 hours to travel by train, is considered a short distance by Chinese people.

There is saying that people’s view is proportionate with the size of land. The sheer scale of territory and population has defined the Chinese people’s way of thinking and behaviors. Several years ago, a Chinese professor who is famous in the diplomacy field confidently stated to Korean students, “Koreans talk of Northeast Asia, while Japanese talk of East Asia. However, we talk of Asia,” which gave strong impression to this writer. China openly classifies other countries into large nations and smaller states in dealing with diplomacy.

Chinese people also have long-term concept about time. Deng Xiaoping instructed that China continues reform and opening for 100 years. The Communist Party of Party adopts as national agenda “two 100-year national goals.” Specific goals to achieve include that China’s marking the centennial of the Communist Party’s foundation in seven years (2021), and centennial of the foundation of New China in 25 years (2049). In whatever business, one who has a narrow and impatient view in dealing with China and the Chinese people is inevitably set to lose.

China is also a complicated state. China has a population equivalent to the combined populations of the U.S., Canada, 12 Latin American countries, and 43 European nations, including the U.K., France and Germany. Just like one cannot adequately analyze 57 countries, we cannot analyze China. The book “the Portrait of Chinese people” suggests that a former minister of China told his foreign friend, “You are a very competent person. But if you rule China, China will fall into chaos in less than three days, and you will be sacked. If I do the job, I will be able to serve for up to two weeks, because I engaged in Chinese politics and hence have some understanding. Then, China will fall into chaos again, and I will be fired too.” Dozens of years has passed since critics predicted the demise of China due to corruption, income disparity and ethnic conflict, but China has continued its economic growth.

If you keep in your mind that China is large and extensive beyond your imagination, you will not have too hasty expectations about China or get disappointed prematurely.

One also should remember that China has been a unified nation for a long period of time. Of its 5,000-year history, China was a unified state for more than 2,000 years, and especially a country ruled by a central government. Different regions in China have unique dialects that are distinctive one another like foreign language, and people in those regions have different physical characteristics, including looks and height, but the Chinese people have the sense of nationalism as single nation within their genes.

중국의 국력이 급성장하면서 100년 넘게 억눌려 온 중국인의 민족의식도 분출하고 있다. 시진핑(習近平) 국가주석은 ‘중화민족’ ‘중궈멍(中國夢·차이나드림)’ 등 민족의식을 자극하는 표현을 즐겨 쓴다. 일본 아베 신조(安倍晋三) 정권의 역사 왜곡과 우경화에 중국이 발끈하면서 중국인의 민족의식은 언제 폭발할지 모르는 활화산이 됐다. 민족의식은 중국이라는 거대하고 복잡한 국가를 일시에 하나로 묶을 수 있다. 주변국은 늘 주의를 기울여야 한다.

With exponential expansion of China’s national power, Chinese people’s sense of nationalism that has been suppressed for more than 100 years is erupting as well. Chinese President Xi Jinping frequently uses the expression‍, “Chinese people’s China dream,” which stimulates the sense of nationalism. As China angrily reacted to Japan’s history distortion and right-leaning political orientation under the Shinzo Abe administration, Chinese people’s sense of nationalism has become an active volcano that could erupt at any time. Their sense of nationalism could instantly unite the country that is humongous and complicated into one. A neighboring country should be constantly vigilant.

Will China become a great nation that is responsible and gentle, and which plays a role model to the world, or a superpower that is selfish and dangerous, which devours natural resources around the world and threatens peace? This writer concludes five-year service as The Dong-A Ilb’s China correspondent by expressing the hope that China takes the path of the former, rather than the latter.