18.07.2013 Author: Roman Pogorelov

Chinese Alternative

360_china_1116Today there are more publications related to the People’s Republic of China and its achievements in particular. It is connected with the problems accumulated in the modern world and the ways of their solution. The main locomotives of the modern world, United States of America and the EU countries, are not in their best position and cause more doubt as to whether they will be able to cope with the challenges and crises of recent decades. Well, these doubts are justified, it was West, who became the world’s hegemonic power after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and who have led to the current state of affairs in the world. In this vein, Celestial Empire is an alternative to the West capable to solve its problems and having taken the baton from the first world’s economy to lead the entire world civilization further along the path of progress. The calls to learn Chinese wisdom and effectiveness in different spheres of life are often heard with the focus on ancient Chinese culture and identity, as well as on today’s achievements of China, primarily economic ones. Meanwhile, only strong economy is not sufficient to become a world leader, a generator of new ideas and the bearer of universal values. It is much more important to have cultural, in particular cultural and ideological tools of influence. The very same tools that Joseph Nye has combined in the term “soft power”. Whether China has “soft power” and how it can be used – that’s a topic for another publication. Here we will suggest whether the PRC is a subject or an object of cultural influence. Since the object does not have to claim itself as a universal standard and an ideal worth of being strived to. It is a single part of the integral worldview where someone else sets the rules of the game. In this case the choice of the Chinese way of development is at least compromised, especially during an astute analysis of those factors that are at the heart of the Chinese economic “miracle” and the role of the Chinese people in it.

In the era of globalization there’s hardly a State that is not influenced by another cultures. Modern China has not escaped this fate as well. At this point proliferation of western values in Chinese society should be mentioned. Apparently, liberal reforms of Deng Xiaoping were not in vain, because today’s China is now far from those communist ideals introduced into the public consciousness by Mao Dzedun and his companions. It goes without saying that, every society strives to improve its well-being during development process. As the saying goes, there’s no law against living a good life. And a good life in the Celestial Empire now is as seen in American movies, despite the limited and fairly rigid censorship. So, until recently no more than 20 foreign films a year has been in China, but in 2012 the number was increased to 34. The interest of the Chinese audience to Hollywood movies is very high, that makes trouble to the local cinema. It looks like an “American dream” appeals to the Chinese public. It is remarkable that the literal translation of the Chinese name of the United States “mèjguo” is “beautiful country.”

There is no wonder that America is a role model for China today. For example, world classics are presented mostly by European writers in the Chinese book market, but in regard for the whole mass of modern literature, Chinese prefer to translate and publish mostly American authors. Although foreign literature is not so much presented that the Chinese one, it appeals greatly. The most popular are works on economics, management and business.

Popularity of European and American festivals has been increasing in China in recent years. Costumed parties for Halloween are arranged by young people, and talks about American Thanksgiving Day are held in kindergartens. Under the influence of Hollywood movies the best part of Chinese society has become to make a Christmas tree and make gifts to beloved ones for Valentine’s day.

Foreign culture fascination has resulted in mass teaching of English in China and the business that turned around in this area. Chinese parents, irrespective of their wealth, do not spare money for English courses or even a tutor for their often the only child. The teacher must have European appearance and, preferably, come from America; pedagogical skills and education play a secondary role. People with dark skin, like African-Americans or Indians are less preferable, but still more than any Asian, even if he is a native English speaker. A foreign teacher automatically raises the status of a University, school or kindergarten that will allow increasing tuition fees.

At the same time, Chinese officials do not often send their children to study in prestigious universities in Europe and America, where the latest knowledge is instilled along with a Western perception, values and attitude towards life. Still they are little confused by the fact that many Chinese are dissappointed, because high ideals and love for the motherland are not the core of such reactions, but rather the financial side of the issue and political restrictions. That is the Chinese students would flood the Western institutions, whether their parents are the same political and material possibilities as the elite. And these possibilities are gradually increasing. In the school year 2011-2012 194 thousand students went from the PRC to the United States. Thus, China ranked the first place by the number of foreign students studying in American universities.

Foreign language expansion is one of the negative consequences of the English language culture widespread. Similar trends have taken place in the 18-19 century in those parts of China where European influence took place. Thus pidgin-English-Chinese-English hybrid language was popular among the merchants of Guangdong Province, where the English modified language is combined with Chinese grammar. Pidgin was later eliminated as a legacy of Western colonization. However, Chinese linguists point out an active inflow of new words that do not fall under influence of Chinese language. For example, such words as “sûèpin” — shopping, “coo”- from the English “cool” and others. Still some English words, such as “OK”, “hello”, “bye bye”, actively push their Chinese counterparts and are becoming quite common in a spoken language. Experts say that if such trends continue, it could lead to the formation of a new pidgin.

In this regard, the Government began to take measures to protect the Chinese language from foreign influence. New regulations prohibit the use of foreign words during television and radio air time. Similarly, under Chinese law, foreign words, if any, in any publication, must have explanations in Chinese. However, this is actually not the case, because even official publications use English abbreviations and words without comments.

It should be mentioned that the sources of Western influences on Chinese society vary. Such countries as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan and the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong S.A.R. who had time to adopt and adapt Western values under the Eastern worldview, and now pass them to China as well, are prominent. For example, despite the dislike for the Japanese, the Chinese, especially the youths, often copy the Japanese. This is most apparent in all kinds of fashion trends. Modern Chinese canons of beauty, hairstyles, dressing style and stuff is often copied from the closest neighbors, where they have been developed under the influence of the West and differ greatly from those traditional.

Well-known Chinese ability of adopting also contributes to the process of Westernization. So, Yan Junqi Deputy Chairman of the NPCSC during the opening ceremony of the Beijing Forum – 2012 called “Harmony and Shared Prosperity of Civilizations”, noted that “although today’s China has achieved tremendous progress, it still needs to borrow those remarkable cultural achievements from foreign countries, to expand cultural exchanges with foreign countries in various forms and at different levels.” It is appropriate to ask the question: whether a State, which needs replication and borrowing for development, can generate its own ideas and values, pretending to be universal?

While the obsolete Western values are predicted to be replaced soon with the Eastern alternative that will allow to overcome the existing crisis of the modern world, placing China as an example, the Middle Kingdom increasingly discusses the problems in this area. Delegates from the 18-th Congress of the CPC, representing the organizations of culture and arts, drew attention to the fact that “culture and art workers should focus on forming the values of contemporary Chinese society”. It seems that the Chinese themselves are well aware of the magnitude of the cultural influence from outside and its threats. Chen Yan, one of the delegates of the 18th Congress, said: “we need to learn from the experience of our ancestors, in view of the traditional Chinese culture, but not the foreign one.”

Time will tell whether China is be able to develop an alternative way, other than the western one. Meanwhile China is along the way of copying and imitation. Of course, any borrowing, coupled to the local reality, becomes some kind of identity, in this case, more known as the Chinese specificity, creating the appearance of something new. Such unique Chinese “features” are numerous, but with no fundamental differences. The core of the problem is still in perverse ideas and values that lead mankind to stagnating. China as an object of cultural impact follows the system of values imposed from the outside and is not able to offer his own worldview. China is trying to challenge the leadership in an existing system without makin any changes. That is why the Celestial Empire will inevitably face the same problems as the West, and while these problems are bound to be wearing the infamous Chinese specifics, the overall picture is unlikely to change.

So whether the Chinese can offer something new to the others while looking at the world through the eyes of strangers?

Roman Pogorelov, journalist, orientalist, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Please select digest to download: