The Discussion Group meets on the second Thursday of each month and at a recent meeting we focused on China. Much in the news these days, China is a country well known for its many dynasties and 4000 years of history, long predating any equivalent in the West.
The last dynasty, Qing established in 1644 ended with the Boy Emperor in 1911. In the 19th Century the European powers established imperial trading settlements such as Hong Kong and Macau weakening Chinese domination in their own country which led in part to a collapse of the monarchy and establishment of a republic in 1911 under Sun Yat Sen and later Chiang Kai Chek in 1925.
The Japanese in phases also occupied Chinese territory, but by taking on the USA and the UK in 1941, the Japanese failed to achieve their war aim of imperial parity with the western countries losing all territory on the Asian mainland and Sakhalin Island when the Bomb was dropped and the Soviets invaded in Aug 1945.
The Chinese civil war, held over during WWII, reignited and culminated in Mao’s victory in 1949 and his consolidation of power was brutal, notoriously that of the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s. The activities of Mao’s Red Guards came close to inviting a Soviet inspired incisive strike in 1969. Rapprochement with the USA followed with Nixon’s ping pong inspired visit and new leadership after Mao’s death in 1976. At this time China was still poor and often hungry but then embarked on a very successful wealth creation programme.
As communism fell in Europe and western Asia, a moment of truth came for China in 1989 with vast protests by students in Peking/Beijing mustering in Tiananmen Square. Following a stand-off these were brutally put down by the People’s Army and China turned away from the counter revolution so prevalent elsewhere. Even now the three T’s, Tibet, occupied in 1951, Taiwan, formerly Formosa and the redoubt of Kai Chek’s successors, and Tiananmen are items forbidden from open discussion.
Parts of China’s cities are now very wealthy, as are some citizens, though many more still live in poverty in the country. Perhaps there is more disparity of wealth between rich and poor than anywhere else on earth, a strange state of affairs for a communist country.
China has followed a rather different route of foreign impression from the west going back nearly 60 years. From about 1960 transport links were built in East Africa and more recent investment has included building factories and introducing wealth in many countries of the world. There has been a preparedness for Chinese worker bees to get their hands dirty in this wealth creation. Chinese students and others have studied and travelled abroad bringing the latest thoughts and technology home.
Unlike the Soviet Union, there has been no major fear of foreign influence upon returning citizens rather a welcome for what they can offer. Some have commented that China has the ‘digital world’ wrapped up, noting Huawei etc, but also that the Chinese tend to follow rather than initiate a development. They are also fully astute in the demands of trade, notably the preciousness of rare earth elements so vital for the latest electronic systems.
Those of us who have taught Chinese students comment on their intelligence and aptitude for mathematical and technical challenge, and interestingly a lack of learning obstacles and afflictions common with their Western counterparts.
In the 1930s there were fears of the Yellow Peril in which a combined Sino-Japanese coordination would gravely threaten the West long term. This has never materialised ‘per se’, possibly due to the continuing rivalry between China and Japan and the propensity to follow rather than lead, but in the group discussion, we did have concerns as to where China may now be headed.