Ques­tion­ing China

BBC History Magazine - - Letters -

Michael Wood’s col­umn on the growth of China ( Com­ment, Oc­to­ber) was in­ter­est­ing, if flawed. It sur­prises me that a man of such learn­ing would take the claims of the ‘scholar diplo­mat’ Zheng Wei­wei at face value. Most ci­ti­zens of ev­ery to­tal­i­tar­ian one-party state in the last cen­tury would have been adamant that they were liv­ing in a utopia. They are con­di­tioned to be­lieve so from child­hood: they are told this is the case ev­ery day by state pro­pa­ganda and the me­dia, which is usu­ally state-con­trolled.

The claim that China is con­sci­en­tious in pro­tect­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, for in­stance, is eas­ily ex­posed by the num­ber of en­dan­gered species that are be­ing hunted to ex­tinc­tion across the world to meet the de­mands of the mar­ket for Chi­nese folk medicine – or, in­deed, by the deadly smog that hangs over China’s cities.

When read­ing the ar­ti­cle, one is re­minded of the novel 1984. The Min­istry of Truth is clearly still ac­tive in the Chi­nese state. It seems fit­ting to end with a quote from that book: “Ev­ery record has been de­stroyed or fal­si­fied, ev­ery book rewrit­ten… ev­ery date has been al­tered. His­tory has stopped. Noth­ing ex­ists ex­cept an end­less present in which the Party is al­ways right.” Joanna Ar­man, Chich­ester

Michael Wood replies: Thank you for this very thought­ful let­ter. I wasn’t tak­ing all that Wei­wei says at face value – just re­lay­ing his al­ter­na­tive per­spec­tive to my read­ers, which was the point of the piece. And of course, as you will have gath­ered from the “wry smile”, I think Wei­wei was teas­ing me a lit­tle, too! It is up to the reader to make of that what they will.

Re­gard­ing your thoughts about the en­vi­ron­ment: it was dev­as­tated un­der Mao and through the re­form era, but my point was that China has now signed up to the Paris Ac­cords and is in­vest­ing mas­sive sums in such in­no­va­tions as ul­tra-low emis­sion tech­nol­ogy. The Chi­nese know that they have to move fast – my ques­tion was: can they re­ally do it? As for the Party: ev­ery young per­son in China knows how to get round the Great Fire­wall of China, and 130 mil­lion Chi­nese trav­elled abroad last year alone – a fig­ure pro­jected to ex­ceed 700 mil­lion be­fore 2025. It may be a one-party state, but I’m not sure that 1984 de­scribes it.

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