Sunday, March 28, 2010

Confucius and Freedom in China

JK at Varnam wrote about the current debate going on China regarding its future direction from the recent past communism. Maoist variety of communism, after taking its brutal toll of about 60-million Chinese, is fairly dead in China. Is the future western democracy, some mix of British or American or European democratic mishmash, that we have in India, amended to death from a 60-year old decent constitution of Dr. Ambadkar, or is it back to Confucius future in China? As JK, Sebastian Mallaby writes in Washington Post that Confucius seems to be winning for the moment:
[Yan Xuetong] quotes the ancient scholar Xun Zi, who taught that great powers must respect others if they aspire to be "as secure as a boulder." Moreover, Yan says, the Chinese tradition requires powerful states to help weak ones. If pirates menace citizens of countries that lack the seapower necessary to fight back, a country with a strong navy has a duty to enforce order on the oceans. If this means that a powerful China will be a benign global cop, its rise may turn out to be welcome.

But Yan's conclusions can also unnerve. He explains, for example, that the Chinese tradition rejects the idea that human life has an intrinsic value. "Not everyone's life is equal," he maintains. "[A]n uncivilized person -- a barbarian -- his life is less meaningful." It follows, Yan says, that a powerful China would see no strong argument for combating a global health crisis such as AIDS. Barbarians are not worth saving.

Might a powerful China want to help barbarians attain a state of civility? Yan says no: In the Christian tradition, missionaries strive to make converts, but in the Confucian tradition, teachers are not supposed to recruit pupils. In the Chinese view, barbarians are welcome to learn from China's example, but if they don't, that's their concern. China will do business with barbarians -- think Zimbabwe, Burma or Sudan -- but it will not try to change them.
There is also a freedom debate going on in China: how dead is communism really in China. With Google deciding to leave China, its co-founder Sergey Brin, who escaped Soviet communism in 1979, says he did it because the current censorship crackdown reminds him of Soviet Union. Yasheng Huang argues, asking Google to reconsider leaving China, comparison with Soviet Union may be a bit of stretch and that Google's presence in China does promote better lives and freedom for Chinese:
Anyone who has spent time online in China can testify that the Internet community there is easily one of the most dynamic and vibrant on Earth. On any issue, there are passionate debates and opinions across the ideological spectrum. Maoists, Hayekians and Confucians trade barbs with insults and zealotry. Blogs by serious intellectuals attract audiences unimaginable in the West. China's market for ideas is enormous. Last month, the Chinese premier, Wen Jiabao, went online and personally answered netizens' questions, even some that, by Chinese standards, were rather blunt. (One answer Wen gave on the real estate market prompted a blogger in China to post all the past statements Wen had made on controlling real estate prices -- alongside an index of rising prices.)

Western observers are fixated on dramas such as the Tiananmen protests and the condition of human rights dissidents. They forget that bread-and-butter issues, such as high housing prices and polluted rivers, now animate citizens as much as ideas of freedom and democracy did two decades ago.

Another point that Indian peddlers of western ideas ignore that the means of communication in China is Chinese, mostly Mandarin.  That itself will ensure that what ever future Chinese decide for themselves, with a strong involvement of state, of course, will be based on Chinese ideas, not borrowed and hoisted ideas that we get from Indian elites who crawl at any idea that emanates from western English world with no indigenous cultural mooring.

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