Monday 4 February 2013

"Sinocentrism" is not an ideology

I enjoyed this piece in today's Washington Post (H/T Rectified Name) describing what they see as the possible reasoning behind the hacking of the New York Times' computers after their publishing of an article disclosing the massive wealth held by the family of former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (AKA the loveable 'Grandpa Wen'). The piece essentially says something very familiar to China watchers - that Chinese nationalists see outside criticism of the Chinese government as basically a form of attack on the country, and that as such it is permissable to take measures against such criticism which would, were such measures directed by foreigners against Chinese, draw accusations of meddling in Chinese affairs.

All the same, what they refer to as 'new Sinocentrism' (let alone the potentially tautologous nature of the word 'Sinocentric') is an extreme over-complication of a very simple phenomenon. Every powerful country in history has, with varying degrees of justification, been accused of seeing themselves as the centre of the world. The mere fact that some Chinese have a world-view that applies different rules to China than to other countries does not mean that they have developed an internally consistant ideology around that idea. In fact, it may just as easily be considered an example of how the Chinese government still lacks such an over-arching ideology and must instead rely on nationalism that comes more from the gut than anywhere else. A country operated according to an established ideology does not need to control debate in countries that do not subscribe to that ideology because that debate created outside the context of that ideology is invalid.

Just as important, such a 'Sinocentric' view is not 'new' in any meaningful sense of the word, because China's leadership never ceased seeing things this way. Even during the Mao years, the theory of "unequal treaties" (that is, treaties forced on China following a military defeat) formed the basis of all negotiations with former colonial powers and their successors, despite China's reliance on treaties which were, to all appearances, also formed 'unequally'.