Thursday, 17 April 2008

Fear of a jasmine flower . . .

I spoke on the phone to a very good friend of mine in Shanghai today, asking whether he had heard from a government official aquaintance of ours recently he demured and said simply that he had heard from him, but that "Nearly he first thing he said was 'Everyone knows that Tibet is part of China' - how are you supposed to have a discussion with someone like that? Even if you don't care about Tibet". I had been hoping that the stridently nationalistic tone of some of the headlines in the Chinese press were not actually representative of the views of the wider public, but my friend went on to say that "Most foreigners have given up talking with locals where they might be heard by others about Tibet or Taiwan - anyway, what can you say?".

Now, whenever examining a situation like this you still need to filter out the usual ex-pat paranoia, but the mood of national victimhood and nationalistic resentment seems much more elevated than I can ever remember it being - even compared to that during the anti-Japanese disturbances of 2005. Any western protests, any western boycott, any resolution or speech comdemning recent events in Tibet - none of them will be heard by the ordinary Chinese people as anything but a continuation of western oppression. This is, of course, no reason not to make speeches, pass resolutions or even to boycott events.

Anyway, I had all this in mind when I read this piece by Adam Minter on a performance of Jasmine Flowers (茉莉花) he heard at recent concert -

Like many foreigners in China, I have struggled over the last several weeks to square my affection for this complex country and culture with the painful news that continues to be made in Tibet and West China. I make no excuses for what has happened out West. At the same time, though, I cannot deny that last night’s concert represents, in some small way, the strides made in China over the last thirty (nay, one hundred?) years, as well the issues that are still to be resolved and forgiven. I feel no shame in admitting that I continue to struggle with those contradictions.

Most of the Chinese I have spoken to have expressed the opinion that those who opposed the torch relay and who protest the events in Tibet are doing so out of ignorance and hatred of China. What more can one do to convince people this is not the case?All I can say is that I lived in mainland China for five years as well as living in Taiwan for one year, that I still have friends in China with whom I stay in touch, that I have a great liking for Chinese culture and think the Chinese lifestyle superior to the British in many respects, that I have a love for the Chinese language and many great memories of my time there. That I found the government there oppressive is the reason for my opposition to the CCP - not some imagined hatred of China.

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