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.