Thursday, January 02, 2014

The culturally insensitive Chinese

China may face a revolution of rising expectations |

"In 1793 the envoy Lord Macartney appeared before the Qianlong emperor in Beijing and asked for British trading rights in China. “Our ways have no resemblance to yours, and even were your envoy competent to acquire some rudiments of them, he could not transport them to your barbarous land,” the long-reigning (1736-96) emperor replied in a letter to King George III.

 “We possess all things,” he went on. “I set no value on strange objects and have no use for your country’s manufactures.”

Well, ethnocentrism was not a Western invention. Many of the standards used to condemn the West would, if applied to the East, yield even more damning verdicts.

This is worth keeping in mind in the coming years as the Chinese become more aggressive and confrontational. In many quarters the first reaction to Chinese provocations will be to point out the crimes and failings of the West in the colonial era. But this ignores that the Chinese were every bit as much an imperial power as were the nations of the West, and that the immediate victims of contemporary Chinese revanchism are themselves non-Western countries.

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