“The Chinese population is not an uncritical and passive mass” - Plataforma Media

“The Chinese population is not an uncritical and passive mass”

‘The Shortest Story of China History’ is Linda Jaivin’s latest book. The Australian author – an expert on China – talks about diversity, women and how they are ostracized, and explains how an era has come when the country led by Xi Jinping feels that its time has come. The translator – including films by Chinese directors Zhang Yimou and Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai –, essayist and writer, guarantees, among other certainties, this: “The party cannot control everything”

– About the book, she says that “it is essential to know the history of this extraordinary civilization to understand Chinese power and the more aggressive approach that characterizes it today”.

Linda Jaivin – China was one of the most envied, rich, civilized and scientifically advanced countries in the world. One of the pillars of Xi Jinping’s ideology is the ‘Chinese Dream’, which is concretized in the idea that China will rejuvenate and regain lost glory. Xi says that under Mao’s leadership, China had to rise up; with Deng Xiao Ping, it had to prosper; and that now is the time to assert yourself. This position will draw on that glorious past and status it lost because of 100 years of humiliation – another strong idea of ​​Xi’s ideology.

– Are you referring to the Japanese and Western invasions?

L.J. – The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) narrative is based on this premise that China was great, but that it lost grandeur because it was humiliated for 100 years thanks to attacks and invasions by imperial powers, and that it was the party that regained Chinese grandeur. ‘We rose, we prospered and now is the time to assert ourselves’. It is important to understand the history of China to understand Xi Jinping and what motivates him. In the light of history, corruption has always been what brought about the end of each dynasty. It was no accident that Xi launched an anti-corruption campaign. He knew he could prevent the country from asserting itself and be a threat to the CCP, which is even worse.

– She is a scholar from China, where she lived and where she has traveled. Is the censorship effective, does the population agree with the regime or is there another reason for silence?

L.J. – Surveillance and tight control measures are the biggest deterrents to criticism and anger. And they have grown with technological advancement. However, anyone who speaks Chinese knows that the Chinese complain and object.

– But censorship prevents criticism from gaining relevance.

L.J. – If the Party finds it non-threatening and even important because they can use it to change and improve, allow it; otherwise – as with the allegations of sexual abuse by Chinese tennis player Peng Shuai – censorship tightens, but it works in different ways. Sometimes like a knife, sometimes through algorithms. Comments that support the party line – which it calls ‘positive energy’ are promoted.

L.J. – One of the points I make in the book is that China, with 1.4 billion inhabitants, is very heterogeneous. A farmer living in a village has a different perception of government, concerns, sense of satisfaction and dissatisfaction than a citizen in Shanghai. If we analyze the internet, we don’t see passivity or a voice. We see multiple voices. People know what is sensitive and work around it. One thing is certain: the Chinese population is not an uncritical and passive mass.

– Would it be important for the majority to vote or do you have another conception of political participation?

L.J. – Contrary to what is said, it is not about having an eastern and western vision of democracy. Taiwan is a consolidated and vibrant democracy, and it comes from the same culture. Korea and Japan have similar philosophical-cultural heritages to China – Confucianism – and they are democracies. In Hong Kong, the struggle for democratization – butchered – also shows that the way of understanding political participation has to do with people’s childhood and experience. In China, those born after 1949 did not know what democracy is and were exposed to successive propaganda against liberal democracies.

– I was in China at the time of the Tiananmen Massacre. Do you think you contributed to the silence?

L.J. – Absolutely, but this is limited to those who lived it. The generation that came out of the Cultural Revolution saw improvements in the 1980s. It was believed that China was opening up and that it could change. The protests did not arise for democratization, but against corruption. It was repression that turned it into a struggle for democracy. Nobody anticipated the outcome: tanks on the streets, soldiers firing on civilians. The generation that witnessed this event was deeply traumatized, but the trauma was not passed on to succeeding generations thanks to the media and education.

– China almost went from an imperial to a one-party system. Did that determine how politics and human rights are viewed?

L.J. – Sun Yat Sen idealized a democracy, but also defended the State’s obligation to guarantee the well-being of the population. It was a rather imperfect democracy in which, for example, only men could vote. Between 1911 – when the last dynasty fell – and 1949 – when Communism took power – the country was a republic with civil wars, there were many problems and it never worked. Then came Communism and what the party calls a democratic dictatorship was implemented, which means that the PCC – which sees itself as a democratic entity – exercises the dictatorship in representation of the majority. However, when the UN Declaration of Human Rights was drafted, one of the main drafters was Chinese and was representing the Republic of China, pre-1949. This means that China’s vision regarding this issue was very much in line with the vision of the rest of the international community.

– Beijing argues that it has a different notion.

L.J. – Everything changed with the Chinese Communist Party, which claims to have been the one who ensured human rights to the country and that the most important thing is to live with dignity. The party advocates that it lifted the population out of hunger and poverty. Most of those who disagree with this view are in prison.

– Returning to the subject of humiliation, he attests that Beijing’s persistence in ‘unification’ has its origins in this idea. Is there a desire for revenge?

L.J. – Since 1949, China has had three approaches to international relations. Mao fought to export the Revolution, to encourage other peoples to make their own; for Deng, the priority was prosperity; with Xi, we see an assertive China that wants to assert itself as a great power.

– Hong Kong made that clear.

L.J. – What happened was tragic and did not start in 2019 with the protests or in 2020 with the National Security Act. We are witnessing the progressive erosion of what the people of Hong Kong thought they would have for 50 years – autonomy.

– Could it have been a dangerous move?

L.J. – I don’t think Xi Jinping loses hours of sleep thinking that China may have appeared that it is not trustworthy because he violated the agreement. At the end of the day, they will always say that Hong Kong belongs to the country and that it was stolen by the British through unfair deals, that they were very good for not having regained the region by force beforehand, that it is a domestic affair and that England is the guilty. This is Beijing’s vision. With Macau it was different. Portugal wanted to hand over the region, but China, which was in the grip of the Cultural Revolution, refused. In addition, there is the Greater Bay plan, of which Hong Kong will only be a part. Do you think Beijing is concerned that Amnesty International has abandoned the region?

– Is there no risk that the spell will backfire on the sorcerer?

L.J. – They know that there will always be someone who will want to do business with them. It’s the game they’re playing with the invasion of Ukraine. They have helped Russian propaganda and therefore the inhabitants do not know what is happening. At the domestic level, there is no problem. Internationally, Beijing has been careful to avoid falling under the sanctions.

– In the book, he deconstructs the image of monolithic China and reveals a diverse country. We do not see much apology for this diversity in the official discourse.

L.J. – It is not the aim of the Communist Party, but it is a reality. In 2013, the Minister of Education admitted that Puntongua was the native language of less than 10 percent of the population and dominated by 13. The party wants to promote Mandarin, and crack down on the use of regional dialects and languages, but they are deeply rooted. It can be policed ​​to some extent, but it is difficult to extinguish. Another aspect of diversity that I address has to do with the condition. Even two people who live in Shanghai can have completely different views. The Party cannot control everything.

– Women are prominent in the book. Is not justice done to them?

L.J. – As a rule, we know negative figures like Mao’s wife, but China has always had incredible women: warriors, poets, among others, but this force was repressed. There is not a woman in the Politburo. The party has taken some steps to include women in politics, but at the provincial level. It is a very patriarchal and conservative society. The aging of the population and the demographic crisis that the country is going through have aggravated this condition with new policies against women. The point is that today they no longer want to have children and want to be independent.

Este artigo está disponível em: Português

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