When China’s political leaders speak, what they say is seldom what they mean. Consequently, Western analysts are left to play the role of interpreter. Such was the case recently when the words of Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) were published in the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) magazine, Seeking Truth. At an annual policy meeting, Hu warned the CCP’s powerful, 371-member Central Committee of the “international hostile forces ... intensifying the strategic plot of Westernizing and dividing China,” adding that “ideological and cultural fields [were] the focal areas of [the West’s] long-term infiltration.”
Citing accompanying statements and a directive to ramp up cultural production at home while further promoting Chinese culture abroad, Western media have taken Hu’s remarks as a sign China’s rulers are principally concerned with the corrosive influence of Western soft power.
However, if China’s senior leaders are worried about the appeal of Western pop culture (as a pledge to spend US$6.4 billion on propping up Chinese culture strongly suggests), they are infinitely more anxious about the allure of Western political ideals. Many Chinese wish to see, if not democracy, a more democratic way of doing things: more transparency, greater accountability, less corruption and fewer restrictions.
Hu’s statements are a reminder to his “subjects” and his subordinates that challenges to the CCP’s integrity and supremacy will not be tolerated. For Westerners, Hu’s pronouncements betray the Chinese government’s true feelings. They are as close as we might ever come to China’s No. 1 saying to the Western world: “We don’t like you.”
In the Chinese world, blaming the West is an old standby. Mao Zedong’s (毛澤東) censure of “imperialism and its running dogs,” crusades in the 1980s to eradicate “spiritual pollution” and “bourgeois liberalism,” and a cadre’s denunciation last year of the meddling foreign press during a prolonged “mass incident” in the village of Wukan are modern-day expressions of the millennia-old notion that China represents the pinnacle of civilization and is surrounded by marauding barbarians.
This year, millions of Chinese schoolchildren will be taught that China’s greatness was derailed by Western imperialism. The Opium Wars and the subsequent “century of shame” will be presented as the starting point of modern Chinese history. An eighth grade social science textbook opens with the line: “Our motherland ... was once an advanced and great nation … but after the invasions of the European and American capitalist Great Powers, a profound national crisis occurred.”
It is not so much Westerners themselves or their decadent lifestyles that China’s politicians deride, but Western democratic governance, often portrayed as treasonous — a threat to China’s very existence. In 2009, a politburo member said China needed to construct a “line of defense to resist Western two-party and multiparty systems, a bicameral legislature, the separation of powers and other ... erroneous ideological interference.” Another senior official argued against having an independent judiciary because of “enemy forces” attempting to hijack the law and divide the country.
One wonders how China, with its desire to become a nation among nations and restore itself to its former glory, is going to cooperate with the West while blaming the West for its problems. One also wonders to what degree the party believes in its own rhetoric.