I find myself thinking about certain issues every day. Work and family are obvious but the one which is hardly far from my mind is China. I’m always caught up in thinking about the turmoil, the progress, the weaknesses, the potential, and its glories and failures. Throw in history, cuisine, architecture and culture, as well as sports and travel and it’d be fair to say this is approaching obsession, if not already reached. Yet I know that I can’t really be a part of this world that Taiwan is both part and not part of, especially as I am largely illiterate in Chinese with 600 characters loosely being my maximum in terms of reading.
It’s struck me that over the past year, there’s been a huge shift in how the world sees China. As China continues its rise, it seems that the world, and definitely the West, has seen fit to portray it as both a superpower and a supervillain, akin to the next coming of the Soviet Union and so on. In the past, the coverage tended to veer towards admiration and reverence, as if we were seeing the coming of a new age, the resurgence of the world’s oldest and grandest civilization. Lately though the perception and coverage of China has taken on a more ominous tone, which has not been helped by fiascos on China’s end like the Ai WeiWei detention and a maritime standoff with Japan over some uninhabited islets.
Of course that’s not to say the coverage is all onesided because you can come across articles covering both extremes. Take the Wall Street Journal which had two opinion pieces, one which lauds China for making the US seem third world (absolutely no irony) while another admonishes China over its “triumphalism”. Both came out 2 days apart in July.
I’ve long been skeptical of China as a superpower in the near future as there are too much domestic pressures and problems. But cultural and societal issues play a big part as well. What led me to believe this is not any special experience or insight in the past, or that I might soon be reviewing a book boldly stating why China will not be a superpower, but my experience here in Taiwan. I really want to touch on that more because I can’t hold in all my disappointment or frustrations here.