Seven myths about China

Chinese demonstrators in Beijing. For perspective, try and picture contemporary Germans marching under swastika flags and placards of Hitler. Pic: Reuters

“Greater China”, wrote Samuel Huntington in 1996, is a rapidly growing cultural and economic reality and has begun to become a political one. 20 years later, few could doubt China’s emergence as a global superpower. Nations are scrambling to deal with the increasing muscle-flexing of what remains, after all, a (politically, if not economically) Communist state – one rapidly returning to a rule of absolute power by a president-for-life.

Nations like Australia and New Zealand are long overdue for a serious debate about dealing with the wakening dragon.

For those debates to be conducted intelligently and productively, it is vital that we think about China in a clear-headed manner.

Unfortunately, the field is cluttered with myths about China, sedulously propagated by the Chinese Communist Party, which hamper debate. Here are seven that need dismantling to clear the field.

Myth 1: China is simply resuming its “natural” position as the world’s greatest power

China may be big, but that hasn’t meant it was a global power. China was frequently humiliated by “smaller” powers, and often ruled by foreigners. On the other hand, China never ruled Taiwan, except for briefly under the Manchu overlords, nor did they ever conquer Japan.

it was a regional power, not a global one in any meaningful sense.

Myth 2: China’s strategic culture is non-expansionist and pacifist

The idea of “China” and its name derive from the warring state of Qin which … [waged] a series of ruthless wars to “unite all under Heaven”

On the Asian mainland, China has frequently been an aggressor. But China was never a naval power, which always limited its ambitions.

Myth 3: Chinese elites have a wise, long-term view of the world

This baloney is reminiscent of Seinfeld’s Mrs Constanza taking someone’s advice seriously, simply on the basis that, I thought I was gettin’ advice from a Chinese woman!

If Chinese leaders are so wise, why has China so often been, frankly, a shithole? How did the monstrous calamities of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution happen? The Chinese are human – no wiser, no stupider, than the rest of us.

Myth 4: China’s current borders … date back to “ancient times”.

Despite the self-serving historical nonsense propagated by China, Tibet was an independent kingdom for centuries. Taiwan was only conquered by the Manchus in 1885 – and promptly flogged off to the Japanese.

it is simply untrue to say that China’s borders have been fixed in place for any length of time

Myth 5: Chinese mariners sailed all around the world long before Europeans, discovering the Americas and igniting the Italian Renaissance.

This claim has about as much factual basis as delusional Islamic claims to have invented everything from astronomy to flight.

These statements are entirely without historical foundation.

Seven exploratory voyages over 25 years, in the 15th century, marked the beginning and the end of China’s maritime adventures.

Under the boy emperor Zhengtong, however, these exploratory voyages were ended abruptly.

Myth 6: The Chinese Communist Party has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty

This myth is akin to claiming that the Nazi Party created the pacifistic Germany of today.

It credits the party with something that, by and large, the Chinese people, unshackled from communism, have done for themselves.

The Communist Party kept China impoverished and miserable. When the Party lifted the yoke, the Chinese people lifted themselves out of poverty, with the assistance of investment from the wealthy Chinese diaspora, as well as the generosity of the global economic and political community, who extended every aid to China.

Myth 7: Liberal democracy is incompatible with Chinese culture.

This is like arguing that, in Aristotle’s words, some people are fit only for slavery. It completely disregards the lived examples of Asian nations like Japan, Taiwan or Korea. Japan was an insular, feudal society until the end of the 19th century. Then it slid into a dictatorship in the early 20th. Today, like South Korea, it is a thriving democracy.

The truth is, rather, that democracy is incompatible with Communism.

In important respects, Taiwan is the test case … Chinese culture was not the issue, nor was Leninism an ­insuperable ­obstacle. What was required was political leadership and strategic choice.

In summary:

Good history has always been about refuting myths and getting realities clearer. Regardless of the propaganda coming out of Beijing, we should [be] … informed and [put] aside sentimental and ­imperial nonsense about the “Heavenly Kingdom”.

This will be important, if we want to thrive on our own terms in the era of Xi Jinping and his “Chinese Dream”.

The Australian


Do you want:

  • Ad-free access?
  • Access to our very popular daily crossword?
  • Access to daily sudoku?
  • Access to daily code cracker?
  • Access to Incite Politics magazine articles?
  • Access to podcasts?
  • Access to political polls?

Our subscribers’ financial support is the reason why we have been able to offer our latest service; Audio blogs. 

Click Here  to support us and watch the number of services grow.