Search This Blog

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Long overdue post

The journey has been tiring and satisfying.

Here're the opening few paragraphs of the dissertation thus far. Progress has been slow, and it's been one that's painstaking. Here goes.

There is a growing sense of fear1 today in the world today as communist China awakes from the doldrums of recovering from the Cultural Revolution and a century of humiliation from the West and Japan.2 China is well underway in transforming from a ‘Sleeping Dragon’ 3 into a global superpower. Benefiting from ‘capitalist roader’4 Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms from 1978, China is now on a path of ascendancy alongside a growing Asia-Pacific region. Deng had then famously declared, “To get rich is glorious”, and was the chief architect behind communist China’s ‘socialist market economy’. The paradoxical formula of communism and a market economy had allowed China to surge ahead, experiencing accelerated growth on many fronts. The world and in particular, the West, is beginning to perceive the resurgent China as a threat that will ultimately upset the balance of the world. Current indicators such as China’s growing economic, military and political might are just the tip of the iceberg.

This negativity is not only imagined by the West. It has also been imagined and further felt as a disconnect by sections of the Chinese diaspora who left the mainland at various times in history to reside all over the world today. Although there is little consensus5 on an apt description for the ethnic Chinese residing outside mainland China today, they can be broadly described as ‘Huayi’ 6, people of Chinese descent. These overseas ‘Huayi’ are descendants of the Chinese diaspora, the biggest human movement in history. Whilst ‘Huaqiao’ (first generation Chinese who left the mainland and the ancestors of today’s ‘Huayi’) viewed themselves as temporarily abroad rather than as permanent emigrants7, the ‘Huayi’ have, over time, assimilated into their host nations’ culture and now found themselves with little in common with their Chinese roots other than they way they looked and spoke. Them being Chinese, had become more of a simple ethnic definition that transcended political borders, rather than a cultural one linked to the mainland.

There was now a disconnect that needed to be bridged. Their feelings towards their land of ancestry today have been shaped by a number of factors. They include the varying periods of separation from the mainland, which is compounded by a understanding that is perceived through second-hand sources such as the media, or word-of-mouth. These factors usually exclude the primacy of actual experience, or a deeper and holistic understanding of China and what it means to be Chinese. An example below shows the feelings of a 20-year-old Singaporean Chinese student -

"PRC (People’s Republic of China) people are scheming, shameless, unethical, selfish, immoral and uncouth. For them, the means justifies the end. They can be very thick-skinned and openly ask for money without any shame. It is not surprising that their Singaporean counterparts shun and despise them. There is a big PRC population in Singapore - FTs, PRs and converted citizens. OK - this is an opportunity for the PRC community in Singapore to show how gracious and generous they are towards their own countrymen. Let time tell." 8

This is about to change. Indicators from the aftermath of the Beijing Olympics in 2008 show that China is beginning to master the use of cultural production and its agenda setting ability to great effect, informing the world they are out to make friends, not war. An article by Sheng Ding9 sets the scene for this paper. He noted that scholars had been questioning whether a authoritarian and nationalistic China would be able to adhere to international norms and fully integrate into the existing global system without causing friction to the status quo. He proposed that China was well aware of this, and was on the way to establishing a favorable national image, a China that was peaceful and responsible with great power. This ultimately creates a friendly international environment for its ascendancy - a sign that China is now placing great importance to nation image building as foreign policy.