China’s polity and society is shrouded in a cobweb of myths. Several
countries with whom China has trade surplus suffer from an understanding
deficit. Let us review some of the myths heretofore.
Myth 1: China has
no religion: During the 1920s, a Chinese intellectual Hu Shih proclaimed that
China is a country without religion, and Chinese are a people who are not bound
by religious superstition. Religion in China could never be eliminated. It has
however seen periods of tolerance and persecution. Qing dynasty built schools
in place of temples, churches, shrines and spirit writing altars. The present
government believes that secularism would rise pari passu with economic
progress. Modern China since its establishment in 1949 has granted right to
religious belief. As such, China, now, has Buddhist association (since 1953),
Protestant Church (1954) Islamic Association (1954), Daoist Association (1957),
Catholic Patriotic Association (1957).
Chinese are traditionally obsessed with survival, not eternity, or
higher spiritual values. Chinese philosophy of Daoism, Confucianism, and
legalism are mechanistic. They are concerned with values as a means to an end.
Pragmatism is the key attitude. Buddhism stands secularized to align gods with
wealth and kitchen not spiritual alignment.
The Chinese society is in transition. Materialism now means faith in a
bright future. Even spread of Christianity in both rural and urban areas is not
tantamount to rejection of traditional values. During the Tang dynasty,
Buddhism emerged as complement to, not repudiation material secularism.
Uyghur’s persecution and social issues: The Uyghurs, alternately Uygurs,
Uighurs or Uigurs, are a minority Turkic ethnic group originating from and
culturally affiliated with the general region of Central and East Asia. The
Uyghurs are recognized as native to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of
the People’s Republic of China. The Uighurs are the people whom Old Russian
travellers called Sart (a name which they used for sedentary, Turkish-speaking
Central Asians in general), while Western travellers called them Turki, in
recognition of their language.
The Uighurs are the people who old Russian travellers called Sart (a
name which they used for sedentary, Turkish-speaking Central Asians in
general), while Western travellers called them Turki, in recognition of their
language. They are mentioned in Chinese records from the 3rd century. They
first rose to prominence in the 8th century, when they established a kingdom
along the Orhon River in what is now north-central Mongolia.
Insider dated December 24, 2019 reported that China has initiated a
“Pair Up and Become Family” program to dilute Uyghur minority. Han Chinese men
are sent to live with Uighur women in China’s western region of Xinjiang.
“Neither the girls nor their families can reject such a marriage because they
will be viewed [by Chinese authorities] as Islamic extremists for not wanting
to marry atheist Han Chinese. They have no choice but to marry them. It
is alleged that the Han Chinese have been raping Uighur women in the name of
marriage for years. China denies the allegation.
Be it observed that the Uighurs is not like Orthodox Muslims. Both
Pakistan and the Uighurs criticise each other. Andre Small (p.80, ibid.) states
`Pakistan’s criticism of the Uighurs’ irreligiousness or fondness casts
aspersions on their standing as Muslims’. It is said that `Turkistan
separatists are supported by the United States or India in order to drive a
wedge between China and Pakistan.
Chinese concept of Social evils differs from Pakistan’s. Divested of
morality, an ordinary Chinese consider it just normal to give or take `body
pleasure’ for money. In Khanewal some Chinese engineers scuffled with police
when it tried to prevent them from going to a `red-light area’. Recently some
Chinese gangs have been busted at Faislalabad, Lahore and Rawalpindi for fake
marriages with Pakistani girls including some underage and later exploiting
them as sex slaves (Dawn, Tribune, etc. dated May 9, 2019). The police
recovered illicit aphrodisiac `drugs’, `gold ornaments’, `dowry’, Chinese
passports and weapons. It is generally believed that the arrests are just a tip
of the iceberg. In some Karachi areas, Chinese have rented congested adjacent
housing units in various Karachi areas and turned them into `out of bound’ to
Pakistanis. What they do there is anybody’s guess. Traditionally, Chinese
prefer to develop and live in China towns wherever they go on the globe. In
Pakistan, they have avoided doing so as what they eat (cats, dogs, monkey
brains, insects) may sound revulsive and non-kosher.
Corruption almost eliminated: Xi Jinping began anti-corruption campaign
immediately after becoming general secretary of Central Communist Party in
November 2012.The government arrested 184 ‘tigers’ besides tens of thousands of
`flies’ (lower-rank officials).
XI constantly admonished Chinese not to divide history into the history of
the People’s Republic of China into a Maoist period and a reform period. The
latter period is distinguished austere Maoism by slogan `to get rich is
This slogan led to widespread corruption in bureaucracy. People had
muffled resentment against corrupt bureaucracy. They hold CCP responsible for
XI instructed officials to remove their children from foreign
universities. But, her own daughter, then an undergraduate student at Harvard
did not come back. During 2005-2006, there were 62,500 Chinese students in
foreign universities. By 2015-2016, their number rose to 3, 28,000.
Myth 4: Sino-US
relations stable: China is, at once, feared and envied by many countries, the
United States of America in the forefront. Its sheer size and population is
awesome. China’s economic progress has engendered apprehensions that it may
overtake the USA and emerge as the new hegemon. The USA harbours a love-hate
relation with China dragon. The relation reflects distrust, fractiousness and
tension coupled with watchful competitiveness.
The USA looks upon China as a copycat out to obtain economic advantage
for its state-owned enterprises through cyber-espionage. Cognitive dissonance
in US-China relation is obvious. The USA likes China’s economic progress, as long
as it suits American interests. But, it abhors China’s efforts to occupy more
strategic space in the region around it, particularly the South China Sea.
China, too, wants to keep an eye on the USA. Its universities and think
tanks teem with specialists on the USA, European Union and the rest of the
world. There are 150 think tanks focusing on Australia alone. The mutual
suspicion may result in unintended confrontation.
Myth 5: Chinese
loans are predatory: The US has expressed its apprehensions about Chinese
investment in Pakistan, Sri Lanka as elsewhere. For the US, the investments are
a predatory debt trap that could lead to ‘asset seizures’ like Hambantota port
of Sri Lanka.
The factual position is that Chinese infrastructure loans have not led
to the forfeiture of a single valuable asset abroad. The US view is based on
Rhodium Group study, which mentions only Hambantota port as the lone instance
of seizure. The claim of forced lease or seizure is questionable. The
Hambantota port lease, held jointly by the Hong Kong-based China Merchants Port
and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, was negotiated over 2016-2017.
Payments of the principal and interest for the port loans included only
about 1.5 per cent of Sri Lanka’s external debt repayment obligations. The Sri
Lanka Ports Authority promptly paid dues using revenues from Colombo port,
which includes a container terminal run by China Merchants Port.
China holds an estimated nine to 15pc of Sri Lanka’s low-interest
external debt. It owes high-interest loans to Western commercial banks.
International sovereign bonds account for about half of the external debt, with
Americans holding two-thirds of their value and Asians only about eight per
Sri Lanka is liable to pay interest averaging 6.3 per cent on
international sovereign bonds and the principal must be fully repaid in about
seven years. In contrast, more than two-thirds of the value of Chinese state
funds lent to Sri Lanka from 2001-2017 (including two-thirds of the Hambantota
port loans) were at two per cent interest, and mostly repayable over 20 years.
Media reports about Sri Lanka’s government being forced to sign the port
away on a 99-year lease after failing to repay Chinese loans at 6.3pc are
The Sri Lankan government still owns the Hambantota port and funds
received for the lease were used to pay off expensive Western loans. There is
no Chinese military base at Hambantota
Myth 6: China
wants to colonise Pakistan: China never harboured any such ambition. History
tells that China did its best to ensure protection of Pakistan’s sovereignty. A
strong Pakistan is a bulwark for C china’s security as well. Andrew Small, in
The China-Pakistan Axis (page 34) tells `In 1982, a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft
belonging to the Pakistan military left Urumqi, capital of the North-Western
Chinese province of Xinxiang, headed for Islamabad, carrying five lead-lined,
stainless steel boxes, inside each were 10 single-kilogram ingots of highly
enriched uranium, enough for two atomic’ bombs. He adds, `China began supplying
both M-11s and M-9s in unassembled form, which required development of a
dedicated missile assembly facility near Rawalpindi’ (p. 40, ibid.).
There are marked differences between China and Pakistan that rule out
Pakistan as a colony for China. China’s pragmatism as `religion’, now
dollar-orientation, obedient labour force, enlightened leadership with a world
vision, and hard work ethos is different from Pakistan’s.
Take water aspect alone. Our lethargy marks a contrast with China’s
history. There are more than 22,104 dams in China over the height of 15 m (49
ft.). Of the world’s total large dams, China accounts for 20 per cent of them,
45 percent for irrigation. The oldest dam in China Dujiangyan Irrigation System
dates back to 256 BC. In 2005, there were over 80,000 reservoirs in the country
and over 4,800 dams completed or under construction that stands at or exceed 30
metre (98 ft) in height. As of 2007, China is also the world’s leader in the
construction of large dams. The tallest dam in China is the Jinping-I Dam at
305 metre (1,001 ft), an arch dam, which is also the tallest dam in the world.
The largest reservoir is created by the Three Gorges Dam, which stores 39.3
billion m3 (31,900,000 acre feet) of water and has a surface area of 1,045 km2
(403 sq mi). Three Gorges is also the world’s largest power station.
China’s Marxist-social metamorphosis defies our religious moorings.
China was able to bridge the stark differences that existed between rural and
urban lifestyles. The hukou system was designed to prevent rural to urban
Our banking sector has consumer orientation. The Chinese system with
about 37 tiers has investment orientation. China `entertained’ foreign investors
in every possible way. `In 2001, a count of the out-of wedlock children
produced by Shenzhen’s working women and mistresses over two decades numbered
5,20,000…the sex industry is one of the few robust conduits of money backs to
China’s impoverished areas (Ted C. Fishman, China Inc. 2003, p. 98). There are
karaoke clubs to entertain burly foreign investors.
Aside from Tiananmen Square political protest, China has no tradition of
industrial protests. `A fundamental problem with the Chinese working class is
that it was disorganized and its protests were often leaderless (Alvin Y.So and
Yin Wah Chu, The Global Rise of China, p.144). The so-called unions just
collected funds to organise birthday parties and recreational events. In
November 1999, the government announced new rules for public gatherings
regarding assemblies larger than 200 to obtain approval from local
Pakistani onlookers. Chinese leaders have a world vision
Pakistani sand-dune `leaders’ have none.
Myth 7: Chinese
to be Pakistan’s second language: The popularity of a language rises or falls
pari passu with a country’s place in the comity of nations. Historically,
English, French, Russian, Arabic and mandarin were the languages of imperialistic
or conquering states. Shifts in power triggered shifts in the status of
languages. English continues to hold sway as it has dominated the commercial,
scientific, commercial, scientific and technological fields.
Sir Syed understood the link between power and language. Britain and
France insisted upon enforcing English and French in their colonies. During the
heyday of the Soviet Union, Russian was the lingua franca from Prague to Hanoi.
After the demolition of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the Germans
began to take pride in speaking German at international forums. People follow
language of the dominant power. In the subcontinent, the English language
supplanted Persian, the language of the Moghuls. So much so, that that Persian
is now archaic in South Asia.
Hong Kong’s effervescence for mandarin is due to the rise of China.
When, around 2050, China displaces the USA as the world’s premier economy,
English is likely to give way to mandarin as the world’s new lingua franca.
In Pakistan, Sindh set the trend. The NED Engineering University and
many private school systems have started teaching mandarin. The Technical
Education and Vocational Training Authority, Punjab, offers free language
courses for students of all ages.
To attract, Chinese investment in our country, we should say Ni hao to
Myth 8: The
21st Century will be China’s, not America’s: The fear is that China will
surpass the USA within next 10 to 20 years. Cash-rich Beijing with over US$ 30
trillion in foreign capital-reserves will be increasingly uncompromising
diplomatically. To entertain a rising Chinese middle class, the world would
become more and more `Sinicised’.
The truth is that the Western view of China is a bit too alarmist. The
world will have to compromise with China’s economic and cultural heft. The two
world views can coexist. One is based on protection of individual
self-interest, and the other is top-down Confucian patriarchy. Yet, the diarchy
may co-exist peacefully without a Manichian struggle of the ilk of good and
evil, darkness and light. Be it observed, aside from hype China has so far been
non-hegemonic at heart. It has no desire to spin existing geo-politico-economic
order out its axis. China will move on its peaceful trajectory for another
thirty years. China is unlikely to replay misadventures of the Great Leap
Forward’ and the `Cultural Revolution’ to re-shape the nation in Mao Zedong’s
The people are becoming more and more resentful against bureaucratic
control, lethargy and even perceived corruption. On average over 150000 `public
disorder events’ occur each year. Massive abuse of `eminent domain’ is
conspicuous from compensating owners of seized lands at fire-scale prices.
Restructuring led to dislocation of workers. Internet is an outlet to fan
concerns about government’s impartiality and favouritism. People are sick of
fat-cat-like bureaucratic lifestyle. Chinese ministry of state security has
about 100,000 employees who employ sophisticated algorithms to monitor and
censor sensitive online chats, and micro-blogs. Mao Zedong is still revered as
`70 per cent positive and 30 per cent negative’.
Ascendancy of American-style individualism: Chinese are becoming better off
with a rising middle class and concomitant changes in cultural outlook. Yet,
they are far off from American ethos of `life, liberty, and pursuit of
happiness’. The cultural wave is manifest from China’s role rock scene, loaded
with a rebellious spirit, and bands like Hutong Fist, Tomahawks, Catcher in the
Rye, Twisted machine, Queen Sea, Big Shark and Wild Children. Surely
people have abandoned colorless conformity in favour of individualism.
Yet, the brutal; truth is family life discourages individualism.
`Pursuit of happiness’ is at best an adolescent fantasy. It is soon forsaken
under stress of marriage mortgage, mother-in-law and motor car ownership.
Parents teachers bosses never encourage defining oneself independent of
society. The clan, not society is the primary productive unit of society. Ego
gratification is not synonymous with individualism,. Success with societal
acknowledgment is the norm, not sol flights.
revolutionary influence of Internet: China is a country in East Asia and is the
world’s most populous country, with a population of around 1.428 billion in
2017. As of July 2016, 730,723,960 people (53.2% of the country’s total
population) were internet users. They are free to play violent computer games,
indulge in free music-downloads access to boot-legged movies, and e-commerce.
Too, gap between rulers and the ruled have been narrowing. Anonymous sentinels
(Weibo, China’s Twitter clone) relay reports of corruption in real time.
Yet, internet is unlikely to upend people-to-government relationship.
Internet chats do not crystallise into massive organised dissent. Pre-occupied
with welfare of their families few would dare risking trouble with authorities.
Very few people knew of dissident Liu Xiabo’s arrest, or his Noble Peace
Chinese cyberspace is like a walled crystal-globe. People can gaze
through it over the world around but they can’t take part in violent agitation.
The government cleverly uses cyberspace in advancing social harmony. It
facilitates e-commerce platforms. They expand supply and improve quality of
consumer goods available in lower-tier markets, down to the rural fringe.
Digital technology has improved Party’s responsiveness. There are over
50,000 net-police monitor-bulletin-boards which alert leadership about
discussion on sensitive topics and unharmonious rumblings before they flare up
into untoward incidents.
Myth 11: Chinese
people are akin to Europeans: Not so. Average Chinese values stability in
family above individualism. There are no political or religious divides as in
Europe: lackadaisical Italians versus industrious Germans, anti-institutional
Protestants versus statist Catholic.
China displays differences in the north, dominated by bureaucratic
state-owned enterprises and the south close to the sea, encumbered by
governmental hierarchy. Generally, the Chinese have an identical world view.
As of November 2019, China’s population stands at 1.435 billion, the
largest of any country in the world. According to the 2010 census, 91.51% of
the population was Han Chinese, and 8.49% were minorities. China’s population
growth rate is only 0.59%, ranking 159th in the world.
The major minority ethnic groups in China are Zhuang (16.9 million), Hui
(10.5 million), Manchu (10.3 million), Uyghur (10 million), Miao (9.4 million),
Yi (8.7 million), Tujia (8.3 million), Tibetan (6.2 million), Mongol (5.9
million), Dong (2.8 million), Buyei (2.8 million), and Yao (2.7 million), Bai
(1.9 million). The identified 56 minorities remain outside Han cultural fold.
Myth 10: Inscrutable Chinese consumer: Usually reticent, Chinese evince
warmth once trust has been established. They are not complicated and display
warmth and directness in everyday attitude. They are attracted to Western
brands just as any other consumer.
Myth 12: China
growth bubble is about to burst: Beside COVID19 impact on economy, critics
outline a host of challenges to Chinese growth model. They include rising
inflation and commodity prices, wage increases inimical to low-cost
manufacturing, bureaucratic hurdles to bold structural reforms, urban-rural
income militating against social harmony, and an education system that
squelches harmony. The fact is that resilient Chinese economy is not
over-heating. The economist noted that China’s accumulated investment in fixed
assets is still low and real wages have been rising strongly, which should help
boos consumption in the medium term. Talk of popping bubbles is confined to
high-end neighbourhoods in coastal capitals.
China is emulating American experience in becoming an industrial
powerhouse in the twentieth century. Formation of supplier-and-producer
clusters is facilitates through cost-slashing in different regions now
specializing in different sectors. The middle class has completed a successful
production-consumption circle akin to the USA.
Burgeoning poverty due to unbalanced growth: China was able to bridge the stark
differences that existed between rural and urban lifestyles. The hukou system
was designed to prevent rural to urban migration. In China today, poverty
refers mainly to the rural poor, as decades of economic growth have largely
eradicated urban poverty. The dramatic progress in reducing poverty over the
past three decades in China is well known. According to the World Bank, more
than 850 million Chinese people have been lifted out of extreme poverty.
China’s poverty rate fell from 88 percent in 1981 to 0.7 percent in 2015, as
measured by the percentage of people living on the equivalent of US$1.90 or
less per day in 2011 purchasing price parity terms.In 2017, China lifted 12.89
million rural people from poverty which put the poverty rate at 3.1 percent
compared to its 4.5 percent the previous year. Around 500 million people, or 40
percent of the population within China, survive on $5.50 per day or less.
Productivity has overpowered lack of innovation, creaky distribution
networks, patchy tax collection, and even corruption…
Myth 14; China
is militarily aggressive: China is accused of harbouring outlandish territorial
claims in South China Sea, confronting Japan on the high seas and the
Philippines. Over 1000 ballistic weapons aim at Taiwan.
Its annual defence spending has been increasing by 13 per cent since
1989. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) estimates
the overall 2018 figure at $250 billion and the International Institute for
Strategic Studies (IISS) puts the number at $209 billion in 2017. The US
Department of Defense concludes that China’s 2018 defense budget likely
exceeded $200 billion. In 2017, the magazine Popular Mechanics estimated that
China’s annual military spending is greater than $200 billion, around 2% of the
But, be it noted that the U.S. spent $649 billion on its military to 2018,
according to a report published in 2019 by the Stockholm International Peace
Research Institute. That’s significantly more than China, second on the list of
top military spenders. Of course China is now making aircraft carriers and
missiles with range over 900 kilometers. Still, China is nowhere near the USA
in military capability. Nor does it have any ambition to invade other countries
or challenge USA’s military supremacy in any way.
Temperamentally, Chinese shield themselves from danger (The great Wall).
But, they have no itch to wage a war.
India unilaterally `annexed’ Chinese territory in her maps. China did
nothing more than protesting verbally or sending emissaries to India for talks.
China wants to overcome present and future challenges, it has no manifesto
detailing goals for the next two decades. The alarmist or envious view of a
rising China engendered many myths. Once could however peek through XI
Jinping’s pronouncements, or his predecessors, to sift his `benchmark vision’.
There are three benchmarks. In the first ten years, the goal was to
provide adequate food and clothing to Chinese population (already achieved). In
the second phase, the plan is to build a moderately-prosperous country by 20120
with a per capita gross Domestic Product of around US$ 13,000. The final phase,
2020 to 2050, envisions complete modernization of both rural and urban parts of
Since early 2013, XI has been talking about `fuqiang guojia’ (`rich,
strong, powerful country’). To realise his dreams, he need to stay in power.
Yet, his dream is threatened by emerging challenges to China’s stability and
development. The most potent challenge emanates from US machinations to
destabilize China (tariff and trade war, religious concerns, BRI/CPEC
concerns). True, there are social issues involving China’s unity, need
for political reform in view of the Party’s long continuation in power and
economic or political deterioration in the international environment. How Indian forces torture them?