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China: A Giant Power or Not?

China used to be one of the mightiest empires and oldest civilizations in the world in human history, but its modern history, starting from the middle of 19th century, was full of disgrace, disorder and chaos as perceived by Chinese people, who has aspired to revive its historical glory in decades of efforts. Only with economical boom during recent years, which was built upon a huge yet cheap labor market, did China manage to become an influential force in international playing ground. However does it mean that it is the Renaissance of Chinese Culture, consequently as a result of economical growth? Given the prevailing attitude of overheating nationalism and outspoken patriotism among Chinese people, is the resurgence of powerful Middle Kingdom a down-to-earth course we should take, or only a daydreaming public illusion?

Obviously the answer would be blowing in the wind since the changing of China is so rapidly that even the most genuine effort to foresee its future seems to be like fortune telling. Each interest group gave their version of prediction, only making the matter more confusing. Indeed no one dare to say what China is going to be exactly in next 20 or 30 years. All that we can be sure is that, this generation of Chinese, grown up in market-oriented value without threat from hunger and war, truly wished their country to be more powerful, peaceful and influential.

Recently a documentary series was aired by China Central Television, the official TV network in China, named “The Rise of Giant Power“(“大国崛起”), which has been a key subject for discussion on the Internet and traditional media alike. The 12-episode documentary started its narration from the 15th century when the Age of Discovery brought prosperity to Spain and ended with the rising of latest modern empire: United States. With up-to-date techniques like interviews, reconstruction of historical scene and computer-generated special effect, it tried to teach China and its people, a rising nation-state, on how to learn from the experiences of has-been giants on the world. (See excerpt video here)

For those liberal-minded people, who stick to the principle that the government should take the benefits of its citizens as top priority, the true and wholehearted wishes for Great China should not be manipulated by the government as an excuse to ignore basic and fundamental rights of its people. Lianyue, one of the most popular bloggers in China, wrote a post titled “It Should be the Rising of Giant Citizen Instead“:

无论大国小国,国民的幸福感受是第一位的,把国民压到最小,把国家放到最大,这种斯巴达式帝国,早就证明了是泥足巨人,行之不远。大国与小国并不重要,重要是要有大国民:他们的幸福是放在第一位的;他们不幸福了,就有资格抱怨、不满、用选举把做不好的人换下来。也正是因为这点,最大多数人的最大多数幸福,才是一个政府及一个国家的最终追求。不幸福的人多了,你连存在的合法性都会受到质疑。

The happiness of its citizens is the top priority of the government, whether it is a big or small country. It should be a Sparta country that reduce its citizen's happiness to minimal and amplify the interest of state to maximum, which has already be proved to be fragile and would not develop further. It doesn't matter for being a Giant Nation; Instead it is important to have Giant Citizens, whose happiness should be considered first. If they are unhappy and unsatisfied, they are entitled to complain, resent and substitute those who are no longer fitting in position with their votes. The happiness of vast majority of people is the ultimate goal the government should pursue. Your legitimacy would be even questioned when there are too many unhappy people.

让国民觉得幸福,有长远的诚实方法,让他们吃得饱、穿得暖、读书看病不至于破产、有房子住、财产与生命不受威胁、思想得到尊重、观点得以表达,那么容易满足的国民一般就会觉得幸福——至少我认为中国人会觉得满足。短视一点的做法是让人相信从吃饱穿暖到思想观点都不重要,没有这些一样可以很幸福,不过没有被逼急的人一般不会采取这种下下之策。

There are some long-term and upright means to make people feel happy and satisfied: they would have enough food and cloth; they would not go bankruptcy in order to offer family education and health care; they would have a secure place to live, without threat to their possessions and lives; their independent thinking and needs for free expression would be respected. Thus the citizens would feel happy and satisfied, at least for Chinese people, I can guarantee. The short-sighted means is to make people believe that they can be well off without enough food, cloth and right of expression. But generally nobody would adopt this method except for those who are driven into extreme circumstances.

中国很大,这二三十年也迅速积累了财富,这提供了足够的多面性,150万户家庭占据了中国百分之七十的财富,按每个家庭辐射20人来统计,这三千万人多数是幸福满溢的,只看到他们的话,当然觉得中国是大国。如果想到其他十多亿人只有的那百分之三十,又觉得我们离最大多数人的最大多数幸福还差得远,在数量庞大的贫困人口(数字从三千万到一亿,各种版本都有,不太确定)与远远超过贫富差距警戒线的基尼指数之下,谈单个国民的重要性,谈国民的崛起(如果一定要用这个词汇的话)可能才是当务之急,不然”大国”谈得多了,云里雾里的,就会觉得拖了国家后腿的穷人们不懂事、不争气,在自觉不自觉当中就会忽略他们以成就大国梦想,那样的大国,要来做什么

China is a vast land, with wealth accumulating for past few decades, which has provided enough diversity to our probe. 1.5 million families have possessed 70% of national wealth, i.e. there are about 30 million people who are fully satisfied with their living if we count 20 persons for each family. China would be a giant if we only focus on these people. But when taking the rest of national wealth and more than one billion people into consideration, we are much far away from aim of “utmost happiness for vast majority of people”. Faced with the huge population of the impoverished (the number varied from 30 to 100 million) and Gini Coefficient much higher than average, the most urgent task would be talking about the importance of individual citizen and rising of citizenship. Otherwise we would be enthralled by ourselves talking too much about the Giant Power. Subsequently we would think these lagging-behind poor men to be unapprehensive and unaspiring, then consciously or unconsciously dropping these people out of consideration to fulfill our dream of Giant Power. Why should we need such a Giant Power?

China is also a complex which are quite difficult to penetrate single-handedly. The foreign correspondents and businessmen who are flying over Beijing and Shanghai, like Thomas Friedman, will never truly understand this country for its diversified and even conflicting moral, ethical and cultural agenda. How about the natives? Can Chinese themselves understand its homeland without barrier and prejudice? A post titled “Rising of Giant Power, Blind Men and Elephant

不错,中国的经济数据很漂亮,而且越来越漂亮,但大家不能不看到,中国是一个奇怪的复合两面体:既是奢侈品消费力最高的国度之一,又是少有的内需市场十年几无起色的经济快速增长国家;既是近年来法律法规出炉最多的国家,又是公认的法制建设亟待完善的国家;既是最大的高度中央集权单一制国家,又是地方保护主义猖獗、土政策土法规多如牛毛的国家。在这个国家里,某些地区和另一些地区的发达程度差异,并不比美国与苏丹间的差异小多少;在这个国家里,社会保障和医疗保障体系之苍白让绝大多数国民惴惴不安,城市和乡村间的户籍鸿沟至今毫无缩小的迹象;在这个国家里,一纸赞住证如老兵般不死,一个”油改税”的改革近 20年寸步不前……中国是个大国,从来都是;但一个存在如此多问题和隐患的大国,也是前所未有。

Statistically, Chinese economy is very fascinating, and becoming more and more fascinating. But we should acknowledge that China is a weird double-edged compound: The robustest buying power on luxuries while a fast growing economy without strong domestic demand; a country establishing laws and regulations frequently while its legal system badly needed to be improved; the biggest nation with highly centralized political power while local protection and rules are still rampant. The distinction between different places in this country would be no less than that between USA and Sudan. In this country the social security and health care system has put majority of its people into unsecured life. The huge gap between city and rural residence is still unsettled. In this country the certificate of temporary residence was hovering like phoenix. The fuel added tax has been reforming for almost 20 years without any progress…….China is a giant power;yes, it used to be and will be, but it is also a giant power with most problems and unease we ever knew.

外国观察者目光所及,通常只是这头大象的体形、外表,无法探知肌理脏腑,他们望闻问切,发表着对这头巨象得各种观感心得,但这些或铿锵、或悠扬的大哉之言,却只能是盲人摸象得来的体会罢了

What foreign observers get from their angles are usually the shape and appearance of this elephant, not knowing its inner structure and organs. They can look, touch, feel and smell it and uttered their opinions. But such big words were only blindfolded.

As for the segment of Chinese people who has been synchronized with globalized lifestyle and enjoying their social status quo, what did they think about their homeland? Is it already giant power as our Chinese banks are breaking IPO records or Beijing will hold Olympics in 2008? Economically, yes; culturally, probably not. Wang Xiaofeng, another opinion leader in Chinese blogosphere:

现在不是大国崛起这个话题时髦么,大国乃至超级大国的标志是什么?首先你经济实力要强,国民生产总值至少要占全世界的一半。不好说美国现在是否占到一半,但他们在最强大的时候确实超过了一半,所以对全世界经济有”控股权”,所以就有话语权,所以他们就有制定游戏规则的权利,所以他们说宋祖英是世界音乐她就是世界音乐,说宋祖英是说唱你也得听着。这就叫霸权逻辑。

Now it is a fad to talk about rising of giant power. What is symbol of being a giant power or super power? First of all you should be economically powerful. You GDP must be half of the whole world combined at least. Though it's not sure that whether America has shared half of the world's wealth nowadays, but it did do before. It is the major stockholder of world's economy, thus they deserved the right of game-ruling: Song Zuying is of world music genre if they prescribed it in this way. You have nothing to do even if they call her an rapper. That's the logic of hegemony.

我觉得,美国那边有点什么风吹草动,我们这边都心神不宁,一个破奥斯卡,逼着张艺谋拍了一堆烂大片。一个破格莱美,也整天让我们念念不忘。现在的中国吧,一个貌似大国却与一帮穷光蛋为伍,正卡在嫌贫爱富的裤裆上,什么判断都别别扭扭的。中国在世界上似乎有制定游戏规则的投票权,但却又没有最终裁判权,所以我们老产生幻觉,看云的时候很近,看你的时候很远。就这样被弄得乎乎悠悠的,干什么都不那么理直气壮.

I always felt that whenever there are anything happening in USA, trivial or not, we would react sensitively and nervously. The Academy Award has impulsed Zhang Yimou to direct a bunch of B-movies. Now the Grammy Award makes us concerned. Today's China seems to be a giant teamed up with a gang of busted losers, who is stuck into the way while despises the poor and favors the rich, with its judgment distorted. China has the vote power on world's game but without ruling power. So illusion were always lingering on our minds and rendering us a hasty view of what is in front of us. We are fooled. We can't do anything assuredly.

2 comments

  • China: A Giant Power or Not?…

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  • […] [snip] 更重要的是,文化要发展,民族也要前进,我们就必须像鲁迅先生说的那样,对自己的风俗习惯也要”加以研究,解破,分别好坏,立存废的标准”。就是说对于不好的,不适合时代要求的落后的东西,也有个取舍的问题,而对于别的民族、国家那些好的东西也可以拿过来加以改造、借鉴,以便形成我们自己的更加先进的文化。 一个大国,而且号称正在崛起的大国,不但在经济上、政治上要站在时代的制高点思考问题,在文化上也同样要站在时代的高峰,以海纳百川的胸怀与气魄,面对其它民族的文化传统,只有这样,我们才能取得发展自己的主动权。 What’s key, though, is that cultures will develop, and nationalities will progress, and we must do like Mr. Lu Xun said, and “study, dissect, differentiate between the good and bad and abolish established standards” of our own customs and habits. That’s to say, for bad things, backwards things that don’t meet the needs of modern times, there’s still a matter of choice. And things that are good for other nationalities, other countries, can be taken in, altered, and used to make our culture all the more progressive. For a great nation, and one said to be on the rise, not only does it need to be in the forefront of the times in considering matters of economics and politics, but in culture as well, with an all-accepting mind and spirit, facing down other peoples’ cultural traditions. Only thus will we be able to develop our own intiatives. […]

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