By Steve Kelman

Blog archive

Unhappy China?

An recent article in the Financial Times of London discussed a hot new bestseller in China, called “Unhappy China.” The book came out in March, and has begun generating an enormous amount of comment traffic in Chinese chat rooms and blogs. (A Chinese friend told me that the title of the book was suggested by the publisher, in order to hype sales.)

According to the article, the book argues that China has not been aggressive enough in seeking its place as a world power -- “the country should stand up to the west to claim its rightful place as a global power.” The book’s authors “look to a patriotic young generation as a source of national strength and unity.” In an interview with one of the authors, he stated, “For a rising power like China, there are only two choices open to it: to become a hegemon or to get cast aside. I’d rather choose the first.”

The message of this book ties in with an ongoing debate in the US about how China sees its rise. According to one view, China sees itself as an important but modest part of the international community, trying to modernize its economy, but still very poor if you take the country as a whole. In this view, China is trying to gradually improve its political system in the direction of democratic ideals, and is not a threat to other countries.

According to another view, Chinese see themselves as superior, and on the road to creating the “Middle Kingdom” of old. In this view, the nation sees itself as coming out of two centuries of marginalization to become -- again -- superior to the West.

Obviously, in a nation of over a billion people, there are many different opinions, but I think Americans are unsure about which of these views, if any, is dominant either among Chinese in general, the economic and political elite in particular, and the new generation of students.

The book’s message has apparently been quite controversial in the Chinese blogosphere and Internet world. I would like to promote a discussion, if possible, involving this blog’s Chinese and Taiwanese readers, for American readers to participate in as well, about what direction China should go in as it rises in economic and political clout. Are China and the US destined to clash, or not? Is China’s foreign policy too weak from China’s perspective – or too aggressive? Is China “unhappy”? What do Chinese and Taiwanese readers think? What about American readers? Any readers not from these places are welcome to participate as well!

Posted by Steve Kelman on Apr 16, 2009 at 12:08 PM


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