THIS IS Morten Jorgensen's international baseblog.
Check also out BRENTBLOG, where you can follow the progress and development of my forthcoming novel "Brent".

On INTERMASHONAL you will find essays and comments and articles and links, including links to all my other work.

INTERMASHONAL will gradually become more active, as I am transferring my authorship from Norway to The World. I'll tell you why in two essays called POWER TO THE READER, which you will find here. Enjoy!

My Norwegian blog is STOR M (Capital M).

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Beijing in retrospect 02: The Nobel Peace Prize and post-colonial megalomania

* In September 2011, Morten Jorgensen travelled to Beijing in China for research on his forthcoming novel BRENT. This series expresses his non-novel related reflections on China and China's relationship to the West. 

Before leaving Norway for China, I had been warned that there might be resent- ment in China towards Norway, due to the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarding the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
Determined on breaking any and all conversational taboos while in Beijing, I brought this subject up myself, expecting it to be, if not perilous, at least touchy.

It was neither. There were four of us around the table, dining and drinking Chinese rice liquor. I asked my new Chinese friends if China was angry with Norway for awarding Mr. Liu the Prize? Who? they asked. Liu ...? Oh, right, they could vaguely remember hearing something about that, yes.

Politely, as I was their guest, they assured me that, no, no, there was no resentment against Norway or Norwegians in China. It was a political question, something that concerned the government and their officials; a diplomatic issue. It became obvious to me that they were not really very concerned with the subject matter at all.

Curious, I probed a little. Mr. Liu was an advocate of free speech and multi-party system, right? Yes, they agreed, and this was when I got my first glimpse of what we maybe can call The Beijing Consensus. There were three generations seated at the table, and they were by no means a homogenous group of people, but they all concurred when the "interpreter", who had taken business education in Europe and North America, spoke, on the behalf of them all:

China is China, and the West is the West. They were all highly skeptical to the multi-party system of the West, as it in their opinion, only led to division and strife. It was as if I could hear the voice of Buddha in the background: "Harmony, harmony ..."

Some days later, a student with detailed knowledge of Western politics, used the then recent crisis in the US Congress to illustrate why the Chinese are not all that keen on a multi-party Constitution. The partisan battle between Republicans and Democrats in the US (with president Obama in the middle) seemed to him more or less absurd, a confirmation of the forthcoming Decline of the West. 

"In China," he said, "something like that could never have happened. The partisan tug-of-war and the inevitable diluted final compromise is totally contrary to the way China does it. In the West, you plan and build for re-election, and you base your politics on bland compromises. China plans and builds for a hundred years."

It is a myth that there is a Communist Party elite that takes all the decisions. The Political Bureau is of course extremely powerful, but when it comes to participation in the political process, China's credentials are actually rather impressive. The Communist Party of China has +80 million members. If we exclude children, it is close to 10 % of the Chinese population. In Norway, the parties of Parliament have appr. 200 000 members, or 3 % of the population (excl. children). In the UK, appr. 500 000 are party members, or appr. 1 % of the population.

This is how the Chinese technocracy works: If you are talented, you are encouraged to join the Party. If you are skilled and innovative, you are promoted. In the end, you might become the head of an agency or a department. As a Westerner you would have to go through a complicated political process if you wanted to change or achieve something. In China, you take decisions.

One example is the public toilets of Beijing. Before the Olympics 2008, the Communist Party said: "Beijing needs public toilets." So they most likely called their sanitation department, or wherever their most skilled sanitation engineers might be located, and said: "We need toilets. Do it." So now you can't walk anywhere in Beijing without a maximum of 200 meters to the nearest public toilet. There are toilets everywhere.

In Norway, toilets would instantly become a partisan, even ideological issue. The Left would go for public construction and ownership, the Right would go for private. There would be discussions on cost, location etc. There would be hearings, propositions, debates. Maybe even organizations formed and rallies held. It might take years. Not so in China: "Give us the best solution, as you see fit. Now."

The West cherishes opinions. China honors skills, efficiency and competence.

So my Chinese friends quickly changed the subject. Not because the topic was taboo, but they were simply not interested. And who can blame them? After 800 years of colonialism, imperialism, post-colonialism and whatnot, someone is awarded a prize for declaring business as usual, i.e. that the West is the best and always has been:
"Modernization means whole-sale westernization, choosing a human life is choosing Western way of life. Difference between Western and Chinese governing system is humane vs in-humane, there's no middle ground... Westernization is not a choice of a nation, but a choice for the human race".
                                                                             (Liu Xiaobo)

There is a certain beauty to the naive, almost touching aura of European self-centeredness in awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a person, who in China is known, if known at all, for stating that the West is superior to China, that China must become like the West. "... choose Western way of life."

Personally, I tend to think that to the average Chinese, this sounds like high treason. The fact that Mr. Liu's organization is funded by the US Congress will hardly further Mr. Liu's case in China. Try telling that China is "in-humane" to the four young Chinese who were cheering ecstatically at the table next to mine as China beat Jordan 70-69 on live television, in the finals of the Asian Basketball Championship while I was finishing my Guinness.

The Beijingers are a polite and courteous creed, but they just might be inclined to ask: - Sorry, but who did you say gave him the award? The answer would be a committee in Norway, Scandinavia. Population 4,9 million.

My little China girl
You shouldn't mess with me
I'll ruin everything you are
I'll give you television, I'll give you eyes of blue
I'll give you men who want to rule the world

While in Beijing, I encountered a China that is predominantly concerned with ... China. The China I met, did not seem to take Mr. Jagland's Nobel hint all that seriously. His transparent agenda would be like China awarding a prize to the chairman of the Workers' Party a.k.a. AKP (m-l), the Norwegian pro-Chinese Maoist extremist left-wing party of the 70ies, who actually did propose that Norway should adopt the Chinese way of life, an imagined scenario that the Chinese leadership never was unwise enough to enter.

No, I am not a supporter of political incarceration. No, I am not a Communist, on the contrary, I am a devout anti-Communist. But I am no supporter of stupidity either.

Who in the West would take seriously anyone declaring that West should "... choose the Chinese way of life"? Who in China can take the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize seriously?

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